Summitt had spent the last week of practice beseeching her players to become more physical and to use their collective strength to impose their will on a team. She spent the off days – it was exam week at Tennessee – watching game film of the Dec. 7 win over George Washington – too much sporadic play – and then the Duke-Texas game last Sunday, in which Summitt noted how physical the Longhorns and Blue Devils were, especially compared to her team.
That is why Texas coach Jody Conradt's post-game remarks could be the most eye opening in terms of how far the Lady Vols have come between contests.
"In our last two games against top five teams, we've played two different kinds of teams," Conradt said. "Duke is well-balanced, deep and more of a finesse team.
"Tennessee is the type of team which gets right up in your grill and doesn't let you breathe. We need to play them so that our young players can see different styles of play and what teams at the top of their games are doing."
That is precisely what Summitt has been seeking and wasn't seeing in her relatively young team.
"I liked the fact we played physical," Summitt said on her post-game radio show with Mickey Dearstone.
No. 5 Tennessee was paced by Sidney Spencer, who had 15 points and eight rebounds, and Candace Parker, who had a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards and overcame a horrid first half of shooting.
Parker finished 5-15 after starting the game 1-8. As a team Tennessee shot 31.4 percent in the first half and 57.1 percent in the second half to finish at 42.9 percent.
Spencer was 6-13 – she hit 3-4 from behind the arc and is now at 26-41 for the season for an unheard of success rate of 63.4 percent – and also got on the glass with four offensive boards. Spencer was named the player of the game by Dearstone.
Texas also was having trouble putting the ball in the basket and never got on track. The Longhorns shot 22.2 percent in the first half and 40 percent in the second to finish at 30.8 percent. They were led by Brittainey Raven, who was 6-11, and poured in 15 points. All-American candidate Tiffany Jackson had a rough day – 2-13 from the field – and finished with eight points with four coming from the free throw line.
"The game started off with two teams not shooting the ball well at all," Summitt said. "Both teams got great looks, and Texas got a lot of points in the paint and off of second shots. We talked about it at halftime, and came out better defensively. Our perimeter defense helped with the pressure we put on the basketball. If you can't see it, you're not going to be able to make a play."
Tennessee dominated on the boards, 48-30, led by Parker, Spencer, Anosike, who had eight, and Fuller, who had five, all of which came on the offensive end. Alexis Hornbuckle had four boards to go with seven points, three assists and two steals, giving her at least one takeaway in 46 consecutive games.
Other statistics of note came from the point guards: Shannon Bobbitt had seven assists to only one turnover, and Cait McMahan drained her three-point attempt with the shot clock expiring. Also, guard/forward Alberta Auguste hit both of her shot attempts – though one was intended as a lob to Parker – to finish with four points.
"I thought what you saw from Shannon is what Shannon needs to bring to us all the time," Summitt said. "I think it just took her a few road games to realize that this (being on the road) is a tough environment and that you have to be able to match the intensity of the home team and not let the away environment take her out of her game. I thought she did a great job of running our basketball team."
Summitt wanted to see her team push tempo and get back on defense. For the most part the Lady Vols did but after two consecutive Texas fast-break baskets in the second half Summitt called timeout. On the next three offensive possessions coming out of that break, Spencer drained a three, Spencer stepped back and drilled a shot with a defender in her face and Bobbitt bottomed out a three to give Tennessee a 50-31 lead, and the Longhorns got no closer than 15 points from that point on.
The loss was the first for Texas, 7-3, at home this season. It was Tennessee's first win in Austin since Dec. 22, 2000, and erased the memory of the game two years ago in which the Lady Vols' bus broke down en route to the Frank Erwin Center, which was followed by the team sputtering on both ends for 40 minutes. The 21-point win ties the largest margin of victory by Tennessee in the center since the 86-65 win on Nov. 28, 1998.
"That was a really, really tough and hard-fought intense basketball game," Conradt said. "I thought the first half was about two teams going after each other. Neither team shot well, neither team had much going offensively. I thought it was dominated by the defense. I was really pretty pleased with our team because in the past when we have had difficulty with scoring we have gotten discouraged and had defensive breakdowns. I thought we worked through some of that in the first half."
Tennessee's lead was a very manageable one at halftime, 27-18, but the Lady Vols didn't let the frigid shooting affect them in the second half.
"Coach said, ‘Don't get frustrated. Just keep going,' " Spencer said to Dearstone of the team's first-half shooting woes.
Tennessee found its offense and Texas kept struggling.
"The second half we were still having some problems operating offensively, and Tennessee started to make a lot of shots," Conradt said. "The game got away from us when we took some plays off, and they got easy baskets and when we gave up offensive boards – time after time."
She added, "They are very hard to guard. Pat's team can play on both ends of the floor with anyone in the country."
Summitt summed her feelings up on her radio show, "I'm really proud of them."
Tennessee will return to the practice floor Monday and begin preparations for West Virginia, which will pay a visit to Knoxville on Wednesday. The Lady Vols will play Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., on Friday and then take a break for Christmas.