"You've got Coach Fulmer behind the bench," Pearl said. "You've got Coach Summitt and the Lady Vols staff out there in a timeout. You've got Peyton Manning. Pretty strong family. How can you lose when you have that kind of family?"
Tennessee (21-9, 9-6), handed rival Florida (25-5, 12-3), an 86-76 loss – the Vols had led by as much as 27 points in the second half – that kept the crowd in a frenzied state throughout the game. It began with the ovation for Bradshaw, who was honored at center court with his family, and continued every time Manning was shown on the video board.
The crowd also knew that Summitt and her staff, Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick and Assistant Coaches Nikki Caldwell and Dean Lockwood, would be performing at the first media timeout of the game. When that moment came, fans stayed in their seats, and ESPN didn't cut away for commercials.
The four coaches walked onto the floor tucked inside a circle of the actual cheerleaders, who parted at center court. Summitt emerged wearing a short skirt, a ball cap with orange-and-white feathers and a Tennessee cheerleader's top. Summitt sang "Rocky Top" and was accompanied by what sounded like every fan in Thompson-Boling Arena, including Manning. Among the onlookers were members of the women's basketball team, who cheered from their seats for their coaches.
The coaches assisted the cheerleaders with the V-O-L-S placards to lead cheers and then – with Lockwood and Warlick as her base and Caldwell out front in full cheerleader pose – Summitt became the top of the human pyramid and thrust her arms into the air as the crowd erupted. The three assistants also were clad in cheerleader outfits. Lockwood had a megaphone and used it to keep a steady cadence by hitting it like a drum as Summitt sang.
The coaches then ran off the floor and into the concourse under the stands, where a full celebration began complete with whoops and high-fives. The routine was done to reciprocate what Pearl had done a month ago – he and some players and a team manager painted their chests orange – to support the women's team at a game.
"I think what Bruce Pearl and Pat Summitt have done this last month to promote pulling for each other makes a real statement for women's athletics and being part of a team," said UT Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan. "I know there are a lot of programs in America that wish they could do something like this."
Summitt spoke to the media three hours before tipoff and announced that she was probably going to "make an idiot out of myself."
"This is something that is going to be very different for me," Summitt said. "I usually wear warmups and I will have a lot less on tonight than my warmups, and I am going to have to perform. Bruce performed, didn't he?"
When she was told that Lockwood appeared to be nervous Summitt said, "He'd better not drop me. That's all I'll say. That's why he's nervous. I told him if I fall, you're fired."
Summitt said she wasn't nervous at that moment, but "I probably will be when I walk in here and this place is packed, just the anticipation of everything. Once I get out on center court I'll be fine."
That turned out to be true – she nailed her lines and nobody dropped her – but she was anything but calm in the moments leading up to their debut.
"I saw her pace the floor, and I have never seen her do that," said Warlick, who added Summitt wasn't pacing before any of the team's six national title winning games. "She was pacing back here. I've never seen her more nervous. I said, ‘Pat you're going to be cool. It's cool.' She was afraid she was going to forget her lines."
Summitt, who conducted her post-routine media interviews in her cheerleader attire, acknowledged that was true.
"I was nervous before I went out," she said. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't forget the lines or something. I knew there was going to be so many people there and I was like, ‘What am I going to focus on?' I said, ‘You'd better focus on your words.' "
Summitt's mother, Hazel Head, was in the stands, along with Summitt's son, Tyler.
"Last night before we went to bed he said, ‘Mom why don't you practice one more time on Rocky Top?' Summitt said. "I think he was starting to get a little nervous for me. It doesn't surprise my mother because she knows the other side of me."
The other part of the routine that made Summitt nervous was the decision to have Warlick and Lockwood boost her up.
"When they suggested that I step up on Dean and Holly, I said I can't fall," Summitt said. "If I fall I can't coach. They said there's no way we're going to let you fall."
So the coaches came in about 3 o'clock Tuesday afternoon and practiced the routine before the Lady Vols' team practice.
"We had three runs just to make sure we didn't go over the time limit," Summitt said. "Jimmy (Delaney of marketing) helped us. We stayed right on it."
The coaches finished their routine in one-and-a-half minutes. The max they had was two.
"We had already rehearsed it so we were cool with it," Warlick said. "Pat was nervous that we were going to drop her, but we had a (spotter) behind us."
Summitt opens up her corporate speeches by singing so she has done it before a crowd but not one that numbered 24,047 and certainly not before a live television audience on ESPN with Dick Vitale providing courtside commentary.
Summitt placed her feathered hat on Vitale's head just as she was getting to the last line of Rocky Top.
"The hardest thing was putting on the short skirt and going out there and performing," Summitt said. "I wanted to wear the sleeveless top, but I'm telling you I couldn't breathe. I couldn't believe how tight they were."
Caldwell, like Warlick, is a former Lady Vol player. So what made her more nervous – playing or this?
"Probably this," Caldwell said. "This was a great experience. This is one that I will truly remember. I'm out of my element. But I have a newfound respect for cheerleaders having to perform every timeout and get on that court and really trying to get the crowd amped. It was good."
The current Lady Vols sat near the court and watched their coaches in roles they had never seen. They howled with laughter and cheered the performance.
"That's awesome," Summitt said. "It's good for them. They got to see another side."
"They got a big kick out of it, but this is great," Caldwell said. "This just shows how much togetherness we have at this university, the support that we have for one another, both men's and women's basketball, so it's great for Tennessee."
Lockwood, who was a head coach for two men's teams in Michigan at Northwood University and Saginaw Valley State University, is hoping his former players were nowhere near a television set.
When told he would never be looked at the same again, Lockwood, who was soaked in sweat and still in his outfit, roared with laughter and said, "You and several thousand other people. I am so nervous right now. I so hope that former players at Northwood and Saginaw Valley in particular were otherwise occupied during the last 20 minutes because if they were not I'm in serious trouble probably for the next five years. Some of them are brutal, and I can envision the next five years being hard."
Lockwood was happy he didn't focus on Summitt's pre-game admonition about what would happen if he let her hit the floor.
"It's better not to say that," Lockwood said. "It's just like (telling) players you've got to make shots. If you say that to them you might not make the shot."
Summitt didn't know what Pearl thought of their efforts – "He was probably too busy coaching to hear it," Summitt said – but the reverberations elsewhere were apparent as local and national television kept the highlights in heavy rotation.
"I think there's a great camaraderie among the men's and women's staffs," Lockwood said. "There's a great spirit of cooperation and a mutual respect because we're both trying to do hard things and we try to cooperate and help each other.
"Within our staff there's a tremendous love and respect and a unity of purpose. We share a lot of the same visions and values about basketball and life. It's like a lot of things. I can't tell you exactly what it is but I know it when I see it, and that's what we've got, and we really appreciate this group."
"We have a great respect for Bruce and what he's done with his program," Warlick said. "He helped us. We have a great relationship with both programs so it wasn't a big deal at all. It's all about helping them. He did what he did, and we did what we did. I thought it was pretty cool. It's a great relationship."
Lockwood said he didn't notice the women's team during the routine, but he expected to hear quite a bit about it.
"I did not at the time because I'm very into the moment," Lockwood said. "But I have a feeling I will hear about this as well. It's going to be hard for me to be demanding in my next post breakdown. I'm going to have to really crack a whip I think."
Lockwood does get a one-day reprieve. The team practiced Tuesday before the men's game and will take off Wednesday.
"Thankfully," Lockwood said.
After the Lady Vols practice session ended, Candace Parker was asked about the anticipation of their coaches' sideshow.
"I can't wait to see Coach Summitt and the gang in cheerleading outfits," Parker said. "I really honestly think that there's no program in the country that women and men support each other as they do. You're not going to find that anywhere."
She also promised to deliver what Lockwood feared.
"Oh no," she said. "Never going to let them live this down."
SEC HONORS: Forward Candace Parker was selected Player of the Year in the SEC by the league's coaches. Parker also was named to First Team All-SEC, where she joined Lady Vol guard Alexis Hornbuckle. Forward Sidney Spencer got Second Team All-SEC honors, and Pat Summitt was named SEC Coach of the Year.
"I think anytime you're recognized by your peers it is special," Summitt said. "They're in it just like I am every day. They know the requirements and the stress of the season and the demands of the job.
"But I think this is also a reflection of what this team accomplished, and I've just got an unbelievable staff. Anytime I'm in a huddle I am clearly not alone. They have helped me make a lot of decisions. We all talk about what we want to do and then we collectively make that decision. Sometimes I overrule them but very seldom because I have so much faith in them and confidence in their decision-making as well. They could all be head coaches so really you're talking about four people who have head coaching mentality."
Parker, who was the SEC Freshman of the Year last season, became the first Lady Vol to win the conference's POY award since Chamique Holdsclaw in 1999.
"It's a huge honor to be mentioned in the same breath, and that's one of the reasons why I came to Tennessee is to play amongst the best every day in practice and also be compared to the best every day, compare yourself to the best every day," Parker said. "Like I've said you won't be mentioned in the same breath as them until we hang one of those, one of those banners up there (for a national title). Hopefully we can do that.
"Chamique Holdsclaw's one of my favorite players in history. It's special. It really is."
Parker is the first Lady Vol to get the rookie and player of the year honors in back-to-back years. The other SEC players of the year for Tennessee were Bridgette Gordon (1989), Dena Head (1992), Nikki McCray (1994, 1995) and Chamique Holdsclaw (1998, 1999).
"It's a tremendous honor," Parker said. "I feel like I wouldn't be where I am right now without my coaches and my teammates supporting me. I feel like the Southeastern Conference is a great conference and has tremendous players in it, and it's an honor to be considered one of the top players in the conference. I feel like our conference is one of the strongest in the country."
Hornbuckle earned top team honors for the first time in her career. She was a second team selection in 2006 and a unanimous All-Freshman selection in 2005.
"First and foremost, I'm happy to be part of this team," Hornbuckle said. "Every time we step foot on the court, it is a team effort. It is a great honor to be named All-SEC, but I'm even more honored to be able to play and help my team."
Spencer joined Hornbuckle on the second team. She currently ranks second in the league in three-point accuracy (.435) and stands in seventh place for most treys made by a Lady Vol in a single-season. She was a third-team Academic All-Region IV selection by ESPN the Magazine earlier this season and volunteers in the greater Knoxville community, which earned her a spot on the 2007 SEC Community Service Team.
"That's huge for us," Parker said of her teammates' honors. "I'm really proud of how Lex and Sid and everybody, a collective effort, have played this year. We really stepped up. Going undefeated in the regular season is huge for us. I think it's a testament to how if one of us doesn't necessarily have the greatest of games other ones step up. It's huge for us."
Lady Vol players have earned 66 spots on the All-SEC first and second teams since 1982, including 47 first team accolades.
The following players were named to the First Team. An asterisk means the selection was unanimous: DeWanna Bonner, Auburn; Tasha Humphrey, Georgia*; Sylvia Fowles, LSU*; Armintie Price, Ole Miss*; Alexis Hornbuckle, Tennessee; Candace Parker, Tennessee*; Dee Davis, Vanderbilt; and Carla Thomas, Vanderbilt*.
The following players were named to the Second Team: Lauren Ervin, Arkansas; Marshae Dotson, Florida; Cori Chambers, Georgia; Sarah Elliott, Kentucky; Samantha Mahoney, Kentucky; Quianna Chaney, LSU; Sidney Spencer, Tennessee; and Caroline Williams, Vanderbilt.
The All-Freshman Team consisted of: Donica Cosby, Arkansas*; Jordan Greenleaf, Auburn; Ashley Houts, Georgia; Christy Marshall, Georgia; Angel Robinson, Georgia; Allison Hightower, LSU; Alliesha Easley, Ole Miss; and Alexis Rack, Mississippi State*.
Houts was selected as the Freshman of the Year, and Price was picked as Defensive Player of the Year.
The 6th Woman of the Year award went to two players: Marshall and Liz Sherwood of Vanderbilt. The Scholar-Athlete of the Year was Sarah Pfeifer of Arkansas.
Earlier this week Parker also was named the SEC Player of the Week for the fifth time this season and the sixth time in her two-year stint at Tennessee.
In the last three games of the regular season, Parker averaged 25.7 points and 14.7 rebounds. She blocked 13 shots for an average of 4.3.
In yet one more honor Parker was named to ESPN The Magazine's Academic All-America Second Team. It is the first such award for the sophomore standout, who is the youngest member of the first or second teams.
"My parents always instilled in me the importance of education," Parker said. "Growing up, if I wasn't playing basketball, I was studying. I am proud to be honored among some of the nation's best student-athletes."
Parker, a sports management major, has a 3.29 grade point average. She has amassed 1,200 career points, 572 rebounds, 167 blocks and has started all 64 games in which she has played. In UT's record books, she ranks in the top 10 in 13 different categories a combined 20 times.
Parker is the seventh Lady Vol to garner Academic All-America accolades. She joins Peggy Evans (third team, 1992), Tanya Haave (third team, 1983; first team, 1984), Lea Henry (third team, 1983), Kara Lawson (first team, 2003), Jill Rankin (first team, 1980) and Shanna Zolman (first team, 2006) as the UT recipients of the most prestigious national academic award for college student-athletes.
"Anything that comes her way right now, any of the accolades, to me it's all about her improvement and she stepped up her game, her intensity overall, and she's playing both ends of the floor, obviously takes on the big challenge," Summitt said. "The greater the pressure, the greater her presence is. I'm really proud for Candace because of the commitment she's made to her game and to our team and this program."
Parker and her teammates – minus Spencer who remains out of practice with stomach illness – practiced Tuesday, their last session in Knoxville before leaving for Duluth, Ga., where the SEC Tournament will be held March 1-4.
The team will take off Wednesday and then travel Thursday to Georgia. Tennessee will hold a shoot-around and walk-through later Thursday at a local facility since the Gwinnett Center will be in use for the first round matchup games. Tennessee plays Friday at 1 p.m. at the center against the winner of Thursday's Auburn-South Carolina matchup. Spencer is expected to be able to play Friday.
LADY VOL NEWS: After taking part in victories in three events that spurred the Tennessee women's track & field team to its second SEC Indoor Track & Field Championship in the past three seasons, sophomore Sarah Bowman has been named the Lady Vol Athlete of the Week.
Bowman, from Warrenton, Va., won the 3000-meter run on Saturday night and on Sunday took the mile run crown and anchored the distance medley relay team to a come-from-behind victory to clinch the team title. Bowman scored 22.5 points over the course of the meet, a total ranking second only to SEC Commissioner's Trophy winner Patricia Sylvester of Georgia, who had 26.
Bowman won the 3000 meters in a career-best time of 9:20.43 and then came back about 18 hours later to take the mile run in 4:44.47 and chart UT's first individual double since Felicia Guliford of Gallup, N.M., won the SEC Indoor 3000m and 5000m titles in 2005. Bowman had entered the meet as the favorite in the mile, but she possessed only the 20th-best SEC time this season in the 3000 meters.
Bowman also brought home the baton for Tennessee's distance medley relay. Her 1600m leg, coming after contributions from freshman Rose-Anne Galligan (County Kildare, Ireland), sophomore Kimarra McDonald (Lumberton, N.J.) and freshman Phoebe Wright (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), put the Lady Vols into first place in the race.
She clinched the team triumph by crossing the line first in 11:24.35 and giving the squad an insurmountable lead over runner-up Georgia and third-place LSU with only the 4x400m relay remaining.
Bowman is provisionally qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in four events. She stands ninth nationally in the mile, 18th in both the 800 meters and 3000 meters and is anchor of the nation's fourth-fastest DMR (distance medley relay). She will return to action March 9-10 in Fayetteville, Ark., as qualified Lady Vols take part in the NCAA Indoor meet at the University of Arkansas' Randal Tyson Track Center.
In softball news, Tennessee, 15-0 and one of just three unbeaten teams remaining in the NCAA Division I top 25, became the first unanimous No. 1 of the 2007 season on Tuesday, according to the ESPN.com/USA Softball ratings.
UT's current 15-game winning streak marks the third-best opening to a campaign in school history after a 16-0 start in 2005 and a 24-0 beginning in 2006.
The Lady Vols wrapped up their perfect 11-game, 11-day West Coast road trip while outscoring 11 foes, 79-5. The UT pitching staff has only permitted six scores combined over all 15 games this season for a team ERA of 0.31.
Tennessee returns to the road this weekend for the last regular-season tournament at the Frost Classic in Chattanooga. The opponents will be Illinois-Chicago, Oakland, Tennessee Tech, Toledo and Austin Peay.
Senior Monica Abbott is just one win from tying and two from breaking the NCAA Division I career victory mark of 151 held by former Southern Miss pitcher Courtney Blades.
Live stats will be available when possible at utladyvols.com and periodic updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).