"We definitely want that to happen," sophomore forward Candace Parker said. "We want to keep mama happy."
"Exactly," said Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick with a smile.
"We've been in situations many times where we've gone home for the holidays with a loss; it's tough and not any fun, I can tell you that," Summitt said.
No. 5 Tennessee, 10-1, will line up against Old Dominion, 3-6, at 5 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU, Lady Vol Radio Network) at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Virginia. It's the last game for both teams until Dec. 30, when Tennessee takes on its second Big East foe of the season in Notre Dame in Knoxville; and ODU, also playing a Big East team, hosts Rutgers.
Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said focus at this time of year is "always a concern," and coaches wonder if the players already are "singing ‘Jingle Bells' on the court."
The way to try to counter that is to keep the same routine, he said.
"We have to make sure that we are preparing just like we do whether it's a November or December game," Lockwood said. "The preparation process is the same. You can't talk about breaks and planes and all that stuff. We've got to make sure that we're very focused, especially considering that it's on their court. They're going to be fired up to play, and it's their farewell game for Christmas, too. I think our players do understand that, but our preparation process needs to be exactly the same, and it will be."
Summitt acknowledged that games like this don't set her at ease.
"I think when it comes to that game at Old Dominion before getting ready to go home for the holidays that one always makes me a little anxious as far as how are we going to step up and play, will we have the leadership, will we have the discipline and the focus to finish out before the holidays?" she said. "Or we will be wondering at that point in time how soon can we catch our plane and what are we going to get for Christmas? I always address that. It's always a concern."
Summitt is expected to stay with her starters: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (6.0 points per game, 1.1 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (10.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.6 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (12.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (18.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (8.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
She was unhappy with the play of the bench in Wednesday's 66-51 win over West Virginia and said her substitution pattern would change in terms of how many new players would enter the game at a time. That approach should help with offensive continuity since it's easier to incorporate one new player into a scheme than several at one time. It also should help on defense since there's less likely to be confusion on matchups in full,- mid- and half-court sets.
Tennessee also needs to be ready to see more zone defenses – some schools may stubbornly refuse to play zone, but as more game tape becomes available more teams are going to want to try to defend the Lady Vols that way. West Virginia hadn't shown a lot of zone so far this season but stuck to it for extended periods of time Wednesday. UT's scouting report for the Mountaineers anticipated zone action, but it's harder to prepare for with the scout team if the opponent hasn't tipped its hand before the game.
"I didn't think we handled it well in the first half, thought we did a much better job in the second half," Summitt said of the Mountaineers' zone. "Standing entirely too much in the first half and obviously it made a difference, too, when Candace wasn't on the inside because she's such a strong presence and obviously a target which we can usually find whether it's zone or man. And when she wasn't in the game then we did struggle even more."
The Lady Vols also need to keep their focus on both ends of the court, regardless of who is in the game.
"Initially, when we came out we jumped on them defensively," Hornbuckle said after the win over West Virginia in which Tennessee surged ahead and then sputtered. "For us, the Tennessee team this year, we generate our offense by our defense, and I think we did that in the first eight minutes.
"Then we kind of got lackadaisical on defense, and we weren't scoring, we weren't converting on the other end, and our defense wasn't exactly where it needed to be. It kind of put us in a slump and gave them the confidence that they needed to kind of keep the game a lot closer than what it should have been."
That will also be a concern for Summitt and her staff since the Lady Monarchs, coming off of two consecutive losses to UNC-Charlotte and Middle Tennessee, will be looking for their own redemption.
This will be the 40th meeting between the programs in a series that dates to 1977. Tennessee leads, 30-9, in a series that ODU dominated early. Then Tennessee became a national power, and ODU hasn't won a matchup in the series since 1997. That was on ODU's home floor in January – it was also coach Wendy Larry's 250th career win – and later that season the Lady Vols defeated the Lady Monarchs in Cincinnati to claim a fifth national title. But ODU has given Tennessee fits at times in games played in Norfolk.
"Old Dominion is always a team that is up to play us and we have a longstanding rivalry and matchup with them," Summitt said.
Larry is expected to start: TJ Jordan, 5'8 junior guard, No. 23 (15.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg), CAA Tournament MVP started 24 games last season; Jazzmin Walters, 5'2 sophomore guard, No. 4 (5.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg), scored a career-high 13 points against Middle Tennessee this week; the Norfolk native was the 2005 Tidewater Player of the Year; Sherida Triggs, 6'1 senior forward, No. 34 (7.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Second Team All-CAA, was first in field goal percentage for the Colonial Athletic Association last season at 57.3 percent; Shahida Williams, 5'11 junior forward, No. 11 (6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg), had a career high 19 points last season in an NCAA tourney loss to George Washington; and Tiffany Green, 6'2 redshirt sophomore center, No. 45 (7.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg), missed last season with a fractured foot, made CAA All-Rookie team as a freshman.
However, that lineup should be written in pencil with the exception of Triggs, who has started every game, as Larry has used various combinations this season. Other potential starters are Tish Lyons, a 5'10 senior forward averaging 7.1 ppg and 2.98 rpg; and Tamara Ransburg, a 6'4 junior center averaging 8.6 ppg and 5.1 rpg.
The Constant center is the site of Parker's first collegiate dunks, though the opponent was Army in an NCAA Tournament first-round game and not Old Dominion. ODU lost on its side of the bracket to George Washington and didn't face Tennessee in the second round.
This game doesn't hold that kind of importance on the floor – it's not the postseason – but Tennessee wants to get the job done and get home.
The team took a charter flight to Norfolk on Thursday, and the players and staff will fly various commercial flights out on Saturday – either to their hometowns or back to Knoxville. Some also can ride home from Norfolk with family members who attend the game. The team will reassemble in Knoxville for practice on Dec. 27.
The two games this week – West Virginia and Old Dominion – are about carrying momentum into the break.
"You look at the two teams we're playing and they're two winnable games for us," Lockwood said earlier this week before both games. "If you're looking at it right now prior to playing the games, a loss to either one would be quite a torpedo shot to our hull. We wouldn't be feeling real great about that. I think it's very important for both these games we play well and we get the job done."
It's not just the players that want a peaceful break. The coaching staff doesn't want four days off to ponder a bad game.
"You're not thinking about a bad performance over Christmas break," Warlick said of the primary benefit of playing well Friday. "We have the time off, and we just jump right back in it with Notre Dame. We need a break, but as coaches it's hard to give them a break because you don't want to lose the conditioning, the focus that we have. We've gotten to this far. I think they're mature enough that they'll be able to handle it."
For the players' part they are looking forward to some rest and relaxation.
"It's going to be really nice for us," Parker said.
But she also recognized the importance of performing well on Friday so that next Wednesday the team can pick right back up.
"It'll be going in with Pat in a happy mood," Parker said. "We need to just keep her happy and feel good about ourselves going into break because we have a tough stretch coming up."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report on Old Dominion. Here is his assessment.
When ODU has the ball: "They're very much a team that creates off the dribble drive and penetration. So much of what they do – they're good athletes – so they try to create things off the dribble. They need to dribble to score. They're a very good offensive rebounding team. They're averaging 18 offensive rebounds a game and they're getting to the free throw line.
"We, number one, have to guard the dribble drive. Number two, they do a lot of high-low action; we have to prevent the ball from being in the center of the floor a lot. And then we have to do a great job rebounding. Right now they're not shooting the ball as well as they will shoot it as the year goes on – they're shooting 39 percent – a team that's shooting 39 percent you say they're not real prolific on the first shot, but the second shots will kill us. If we let them have second opportunities they will kill us so we've got to make sure we just keep them off the boards."
When Tennessee has the ball: We want to still push tempo; we want to run the ball. We want to make them have to guard our various actions. We don't want to just quick shoot it and settle for OK shots. If we don't have great shots in transitions – layups or paint shots or wide-open jumpers for shooters – then what we want to do is make them grind it out a little bit, have to guard screening and cutting and passing. If we can make them guard our actions and run them through the stuff that we do, that's good for us.
"And then obviously we want to get inside touches because I think that's what gets us started and going well. We do want to get the ball to the posts."
PERFECT GRADES: Three Lady Vols had a grade point average of 4.0 for the fall semester: seniors Sidney Spencer and Elizabeth Curry, who both are majoring in sport management; and junior Nicky Anosike, who is majoring in sociology/criminal justice, political science and legal studies. Anosike intends to go to law school.
ODDS AND ENDS: Of Old Dominion's nine wins in the series, four have come in Norfolk. Tennessee has won 16 times on ODU's home floor. …Tennessee is 3-0 in games played on December 20. …. Coach Wendy Larry got the 500th win of her career this season on Dec. 9 against Chicago State with 451 of those wins coming during her tenure, 19 years, at ODU. She coached at Virginia Wesleyan College (1978-79) and Arizona (1985-87) before coming to Norfolk in 1987. … By the numbers: ODU is out-rebounding opponents (+7.2) but averaging 22.1 turnovers a game. Tennessee is averaging 13.4 steals per game. Ball security, whether off the glass or on the floor, will be key for both teams. Both teams can disrupt shots. Tennessee is averaging 5.8 blocks per game with ODU at 5.3. … Pat Summitt will be seeking her 550th win over an unranked team. Her record in these matchups is 549-32.