"The Lady Vol Pact," as it is officially called, was an offshoot of a players' only meeting organized before the Connecticut game in Hartford. Junior center Nicky Anosike took the initiative to summon the players and ask them to come up with six objectives.
"I just felt like we needed to get straight what exactly we wanted to do and get straight who we wanted to be and what we wanted to be known as," Anosike said. "We all just came together and wrote down – it's called The Lady Vol Pact – six things that we really wanted to focus on for the rest of this season. We made a pact and we all signed it, and that's going to hold true for the rest of the season.
"I wrote them out for everyone to have a copy. We read it before the game just so we can refresh exactly who we want to be. … If you're going to tell me you're going to do something, well, do it, and if you don't, well, I'm going to show you a piece of paper that says you signed your name here."
Anosike won't divulge the contents of the pact, which every player contributed to and then revised as a team to formulate six specific items.
"It's six concrete things that everyone has to do," she said. "We all agreed on it."
The players re-read the pact during their gathering before each game – they did so at Florida and will continue to do so before every game for the rest of the season – after their meeting space is cleared.
"Coaches get the boot," Anosike said.
Summitt and the staff don't mind a bit.
"Every year the same words come out of my mouth: If the team takes ownership we've got a chance to be a great team," Summitt said. "It just works so much better. When it's the coaches' idea, it just doesn't have the same impact. It has to be something that the student-athletes really want for themselves, for the team, for the program. If it's their idea, it just works better. They make it work.
"Over the years we've had a number of players that provided great leadership. But just take the carryover from last year to this year of this team, and this team is very different from last year's team. So obviously they weren't as successful last year, and I'm not convinced that they really ever pulled together to the level of commitment that they needed to have. At least they figured it out. They didn't like the end result."
Missing the Final Four can have that effect on the returning players.
"Absolutely when you go as often as we've gone," Summitt said.
Summitt and her pact of players will be back in the spotlight Sunday when No. 4 Tennessee (15-1, 2-0) takes on No. 15 Georgia (14-3, 2-1) at 1 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens.
Summitt is expected to stay with her starters: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (7.4 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.4 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (20.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.7 blocks per game); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (8.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
Georgia coach Andy Landers is expected to start: Ashley Houts, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 1 (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg), earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors twice this season, tied a school record with 10 steals against Memphis; Janese Hardrick, 5'6 senior guard, No. 14 (9.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg), joined the 1,000-career point club this season, had a season-high seven boards against Stanford, hit 10 free throws against Rutgers; Cori Chambers, 5'9 senior guard/forward, No. 21 (16.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), preseason First Team All-SEC, only player to start all 17 games this season, holds the Georgia career mark for three-pointers with 253 and is No. 9 on the SEC career list; Rebecca Rowsey, 6'3 junior forward/center, No. 50 (5.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg), had 12 rebounds against Stanford, has already been accepted to medical school in Memphis after scoring a 32 on the MCAT; and Tasha Humphrey, 6'3 junior forward, No. 34 (13.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), preseason All-American, has averaged 19.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg in four meetings with Tennessee.
Landers could opt to start Megan Darrah, a 6'3 junior forward, (9.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg), instead of Rowsey. Georgia has additional size in Angel Robinson, a 6'5 redshirt freshman forward (9.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
On Saturday less than 400 tickets remained and would be put on sale at 11 a.m. Sunday at Stegeman Coliseum, which holds 10,523.
"Your crowd is always important," Landers said. "The bigger the game, the bigger the crowd and the more important the crowd becomes. We're looking forward to a sold-out arena on Sunday when Tennessee blows into town."
Tennessee beat Georgia last season three times playing three different styles of basketball. In the Jan. 12, 2006, game in Knoxville the two teams ran up and down the floor with lots of offense – the final score was 94-85 – and very little defense.
In the Feb. 16, 2006, game in Athens – a rematch the Lady Bulldogs mentioned they were looking forward to before they left Knoxville in January – Summitt slowed the game to a crawl and played zone defense for all but the last possession when Georgia needed a three-pointer to tie in a game UT won, 58-55. It was the first game without Hornbuckle, who had broken her wrist just days before. Tennessee had to come back from being 14 down midway through the second half.
In the third game in the SEC tourney on March 3, 2006, Summitt moved Parker to point guard and used her posts, Anosike and Tye'sha Fluker, to help Parker bring the ball up the floor. Her best shooters, Spencer and Shanna Zolman, were stashed down court where Georgia had to release guards to cover them instead of pressuring the ball full court. Parker played a true point guard position in the 89-79 win.
To say that Georgia and Landers are tired to losing to Tennessee – especially after the three games last season – would be an understatement. Landers didn't even come to the post-game press conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the SEC tourney.
"Tennessee is absolutely one of the best basketball teams in the country with the best basketball player in the country," Landers said before this upcoming game. "But it certainly goes far beyond Candace Parker. They have terrific outside shooting ability and great quickness on the perimeter. They rebound the ball very well. They defend well. Tennessee is a team with no weaknesses."
The raucous environment won't be new for Tennessee – it's a road show everywhere the Lady Vols go – but in this case it's an SEC and border rival.
"I think it's going to be crazy," Hornbuckle said. "Like you said, we beat them three different ways (last year) and the second time was on their home court. We were going through some adversity then."
Hornbuckle couldn't even make the trip to Athens last season. She had undergone surgery to place a pin in her fractured right wrist and tried to watch the game from her dorm room before getting restless and needing to walk.
"I was actually in the locker room watching it after the drugs wore off," Hornbuckle said. "I was like, ‘I've got to get out of this room,' so I came to the arena."
Hornbuckle, along with the other players, foresee a battle against the Lady Bulldogs.
"I think they're going to be ready for us," Hornbuckle said. "I think they have the type of motivation like, ‘Look, Tennessee beat us three times last year. They're coming first to our home court, and we've got business to take care of, and we need to send a message.'
"They're a very talented team, from what I've watched so far and talking to Tasha. They're going to be gunning, and we've got to be very prepared."
Hornbuckle and Humphrey are good friends who talk and text message during the season.
"You can be best friends up until game time, and then at game time it's all business," Hornbuckle said. "Afterward, it's all laughs, hugs."
Spencer, a senior, will be making her last SEC stop in Athens and hasn't lost there. The UT seniors' only loss to Georgia was in 2004 at the SEC Tournament in overtime. Every game since then has been close.
"Playing at Georgia is extremely difficult," Spencer said. "We always tend to play a little bit faster there for some reason. I think our road games thus far being at UConn and North Carolina, and Texas and Arizona State and LaTech have really prepared us because all of those are hostile environments.
"No one likes Tennessee. I think that's definitely prepared us for this environment, but it is tough to play at Georgia. I think that we just have to play within our own game, and we'll be fine. We can't play outside of ourselves."
The schedule this season has allowed Summitt to pitch her newcomers into the proverbial fire. After an early adjustment period, Bobbitt, Alberta Auguste and Cait McMahan have settled down for the most part. Bobbitt's development especially was key since she's the starting point guard. She struggled against Arizona State in mid-November but has steadily made progress as a playmaker, shooter and leader.
"I think it's big," Summitt said of Bobbitt's road progression. "It's got to be big for her to have been in a lot of venues that were loud and very challenging from a communication standpoint, just being in more of a hostile arena. I think Shannon has matured a lot from the Arizona State game."
At least one upperclassman is impressed with how the new players made in-season adjustments.
"If you can play at UConn, you can play anywhere," Anosike said. "I'm pretty sure they're ready. I never thought we would progress as fast as we did, because it's hard when you first get to a place like this to play on the road. I know; I've been there. It's really nerve-wracking when you go to a different place, and you have to play.
"Everyone has just been soldiers about it –Cait, Shannon, Bird – they've all been soldiers about it, and I'm just surprised by how quickly they've matured. They know how to get themselves focused. It's hard to really concentrate and focus on what you need to do when you're on the road, when you're in the hotel. You're out of your daily routine, but they're obviously mature enough to handle it."
McMahan, who grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, in Blount County, is keenly aware of the rivalry with Georgia. Landers is originally from Louisville, which is also in Blount County, and just a short distance as the crow flies from UT's campus.
"There is a big rivalry there. I think they're our biggest rival in the SEC just because they're right below us," McMahan said speaking of where the states of Tennessee and Georgia are situated on a map. "And it's always a good game between the two. I'm excited."
Summitt expects another classic clash of the longtime rivals.
"We always have close and hard fought games against Georgia," Summitt said. "They are strong year-in and year-out and they play well against us. … We've been fortunate to make some big plays down the stretch, but there have been games that in many cases could have gone either way.
"That's the past. Now it's just two teams going at it. This is new and different, they have new players, we have new players, but it's still Tennessee and Georgia and it's been a longstanding, intense rivalry in the Southeastern Conference and I don't expect it to be any different on Sunday."
Tennessee could ease its coach's mind a bit during the game if the Lady Vols would shoot better as a team. Parker and Spencer have been reliable – Parker is shooting 55.8 percent; Spencer is at 49.0 percent and a nation-leading 54.3 percent behind the arc – but the Lady Vols' overall percentage has been dipping of late and now stands at 47.2 percent. After starting off the season shooting in the 50s, the percentage has fallen into the 40s and 30s in recent games.
"We have been inconsistent with our field-goal percentage," Summitt said. "Certainly, Candace Parker and Sidney Spencer have been our go-to players. I think part of that is the schedule we play. We've played against some tough defenses. Connecticut's defense was very challenging for us, and we did not shoot the ball as well as we did earlier this season.
"The tougher competition has something to do with it, but I think we have to be more efficient from the outside. In particular Alexis Hornbuckle and Alberta Auguste need to be able to put up big numbers and be more consistent from the two-guard spot."
The only remedy for shooting woes is repetition in the gym. Anosike, who also has seen her shooting percentage dip recently after she started out significantly improved over last season, is usually the first one on the floor before practice. Other players also have been staying afterwards to get in extra shots, including Parker and Spencer.
Anosike said she needs to return to what worked earlier: taking a split second for composure purposes and shoot with the belief that the ball will fall through the basket.
"Shooting with confidence," Anosike said. "I just think I need to shoot with more confidence. I think the same thing goes for Lex."
Balanced scoring could be a component of the Lady Vol Pact. Or not. The players are restricting the six items on a need-to-know basis, and that list is limited to those who wear a uniform. But it's apparent that the pact could become a turning point to the season in terms of accountability.
"I just felt that we had a lot of people saying that they were going to do stuff, then we'd forget what we said we were going to do and it was so disorganized," Anosike said. "It was like maybe if we have it written down on paper, this way we can refer back to it when we need to and this way if I go to you and say, ‘You told me you were going to do this, this and this, and I have your signature.'
"It's like concrete evidence that you gave me your word. At the end of the day everyone wants to be a woman of their word. I just felt like that was more effective than just having a meeting and everyone saying, ‘Well, I want to do this, and I want to do that.' That's getting old. I'm not into that."
Anosike is into results. And if this team is to win the SEC regular season outright and increase its chances to earn that coveted No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament it will need to wring out every ounce of sweat from its starters and short bench.
But the coaching staff is clearly pleased with the pact and its potential impact.
"Anytime your team buys into a system of their own and they're all on the same page you can't go wrong," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "They've all decided on what they want to do, and they've bought it into. They cite it before every game. They started it at the Connecticut game, and they did it (at Florida) as well. It's working. I hope they continue to do it."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report on Georgia. Here is her assessment.
When Georgia has the ball: "They're going to run the ball. They're going to selectively run. They're really committed to their inside game. They run a lot of high-low stuff so we're going to have to make sure we don't allow them to isolate their posts. They have great shooters. Cori Chambers is playing really well, shooting the ball really well. Hardrick shoots the ball well. They all shoot the ball well actually. We're going to have to be ready to play."
When Tennessee has the ball: "I think he's going to mix up playing zone and man. I think he's going to try to be physical with our post play. I think they're going to guard certain people and not guard certain people. They're really going to double down on the post. Our posts are not going to have too many wide-open looks on the block. We're going to have to figure out how to move them around and get them open looks because they're going to double down on our posts quite a bit. The thing about Candace is she can score from not only on the blocks."
Pat Summitt saw a balanced team – inside and outside scoring – when she watched film on Georgia.
"I think he's got good balance offensively," Summitt said. "Tasha didn't have a very strong game (against Mississippi State, the game prior to the one with Tennessee). Well, that just means she's going to put up big numbers. Like a Candace she can really get on a roll, and she can put up great numbers. I think we just have to be very aware, and we may have to change defenses."
Warlick, who has played and coached in this series for Tennessee, expects a rowdy road game with quite a bit of orange and white splashed among Georgia red and black.
"We have a bunch of fans down there and their fans come out," said Warlick, who added she wished Lady Bulldog fans would pack Stegeman for other games. "It's a shame because they've got a great team. They deserve more fans. They only get them when Tennessee plays, and I think that's a shame. Andy does a great job, and he's got a great team. The fans are missing out outside of just watching them play us. They put on a good show regardless."
Tennessee has developed rivalries outside of its conference, such as games with UConn and Texas, but an SEC rivalry is always special.
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "We have a strong tradition. It's a healthy rivalry. We have great respect for each other's teams and coaches. They've always been one of the best teams in the SEC, and they will continue to be."
ON TAP: All 12 SEC schools are in action today. The other matchups are: Alabama at South Carolina; Arkansas at Auburn, Florida at Vanderbilt (CSS, 3 p.m. Eastern); Ole Miss at Kentucky; and LSU at Mississippi State.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Georgia, 36-14. The Lady Bulldogs last won in Athens on their home court, 78-51, on Jan. 17, 2000. The Lady Vols have a 9-7 record in Athens. This will be the 51st meeting in a series that dates to the 1968-69 season. Only Vanderbilt has played Tennessee more often with 53 games on record, per UT. … Tennessee is 14-3 in games played on January 14. The three losses were to Western Carolina, 77-72, in 1976; N.C. State, 65-59, in 1984; and Auburn, 75-69, in 1987. … Since 2000, the average score of UT-UGA games is 71.2 for Tennessee to 66.7 for Georgia with UT sporting an 8-2 record in those matchups. … Tennessee has a slim +3.9 rebounding margin over its opponents and averages just 37.5 rpg. The 2005-06 squad earned the dubious distinction of being the worst Lady Vol rebounding team ever with 39.4 rpg. The previous record was held by the 1977-78 team with 39.7 rpg. This current team will assume the mantle of worst ever if the current production level continues on the boards. … This Tennessee team, does, however, play defense. The Lady Vols are averaging 13.4 steals and 6.5 blocks per game. They also are only giving up 56.8 points a game while scoring 77.4. The average 16.9 turnovers while forcing opponents into 23.4 turnovers.… Candace Parker has 947 career points and needs 53 more to tally 1,000. When she reaches that plateau, she will become the 29th Lady Vol to do so. If Parker does it before her 57th career game – she has played 52 so far – she will be the fastest Pat Summitt-coached player to do so. Chamique Holdsclaw hit the 1,000-point mark in 57 games and Tamika Catchings notched it in 58. … Georgia coach Andy Landers will be inducted into the class of 2007 at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville.