Summitt let the team pick the next practice day this week. The players chose Friday – they want to use Thursday as their designated off day to get caught up academically – so Tennessee will practice Friday afternoon and then leave for Ohio for the Dayton Region.
Tennessee, 30-3, will take on Marist, 29-5, at noon Sunday (ESPN, Lady Vol Radio Network) at the University of Dayton Arena.
The Lady Vols are trying to take care of business in Dayton so they can go back to Ohio next week for the Final Four in Cleveland. If that isn't sufficient motivation a perusal of the Sweet 16 should suffice. Although all four No. 1 seeds arrived safely, three No. 2 seeds did not with Stanford, Vanderbilt and Maryland, the defending champion, eliminated.
Marist, the Lady Vols' next foe, took out the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in Ohio State and Middle Tennessee. Ole Miss, a seven seed, wiped out the Terrapins' hope of repeating as champs, and will face No. 3 seed Oklahoma in Dayton. The winners match up next Tuesday for the right to go to Cleveland.
"I think it speaks to the parity in the game," Summitt said. "I think it also speaks to the fact that if you're not ready to play on a given night you can get beat. Going into the Pitt game last night I knew that was going to be a tough game, and they played tough.
"Everyone is fighting to advance. There's such a sense of urgency at this time of the year. I told our team, ‘Take nothing for granted.' "
Tennessee fended off Pitt, 68-54, on Tuesday evening at the Petersen Events Center. The Lady Vols got off to a quick start and never trailed after Shannon Bobbitt hit a three-pointer to put Tennessee up, 3-2.
"Shannon I thought last night got us off to a really good start, a lot of energy and aggressive and that's exactly what we needed," Summitt said. "This is all new to Shannon, but I was pleased with how she started that game."
The team chartered a flight home after the game and arrived in Knoxville well after midnight. The players went to class and then came to practice. They held a session that lasted more than two hours and was upbeat and high-spirited throughout.
"I like our mental toughness," Summitt said. "I liked it today. We came back in here. We had a tough practice. We've had tough practices, but what's allowed us to have those is just the mentality of this team."
The team also got focused in a hurry. The scouting report on Marist had been prepared by Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, and part of Wednesday's session was tailored specifically to game preparation.
"We just went right to Marist," Summitt said. "They are a very disciplined team. They obviously push tempo, but in the half-court game they just run motion, and we haven't had to guard a lot of motion. I think that in itself is going to get us focused. It's not like set plays. We've been defending set plays and more structured offense, and this right here is more reading. But I thought we had a great preparation day coming off a late night and a hard-fought ballgame."
Summitt watched the Marist-Middle Tennessee game on television while in Pittsburgh. She watched part of a game tape again Wednesday morning.
"The interesting thing is I've never seen Marist play so I didn't know what to expect," Summitt said. "Then when they beat Ohio State I thought that's going to be a tough game with Middle. But it was more contrasting styles and with Middle's press I thought it would give them a lot more difficulties there, but they handled it and handled it well. I watched it again this morning, the first half. They execute really well in the motion."
Summitt does know the Marist coach, Brian Giorgis. She met him six years ago when he traveled to the nearby Smoky Mountains area.
"He came to the office," Summitt said. "I think they had a family vacation in Pigeon Forge and the mountains. I just vaguely remember it and what jogged my memory was (USA Today's) Dick Patrick calling me and said, ‘You met Brian.' Because I kept sitting there the other night looking at him (on television) and I said, ‘This guy looks so familiar. I know I know this guy.'
"Then when Dick Patrick said, ‘You met this guy in your office,' I was like, ‘Yeah, he was here on a vacation.' Just chatted for about 15 minutes."
At the time Giorgis was at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he coached for 19 years and won four state titles. He stayed in Poughkeepsie and took the job at Marist, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, in 2002.
"What a small world," Summitt said of the encounter then that later ends up with a coaching matchup in the Sweet 16. "It's about sharing, and obviously I love talking basketball."
She said this while seated before three writers from different sports media and well into a lengthy post-practice interview despite the fact she hadn't had much rest since the team's return and was facing a quick-turnaround to Dayton with a lot to do over the next two days.
Summitt has gone into that preternaturally calm state that she reaches in the postseason.
"I think it's a time where we all have to be focused," Summitt said. "We don't want to be helter skelter or in a panic. As I always say we don't want any panic plays. We want to have composure."
That remark caused her to segue into an observation about Tennessee's win over Drake in the first round game in Pittsburgh.
"I think what happened in our first game we were playing so hard on defense and generating so much and then we didn't switch gears offensively," Summitt said. "We talked about that going into the game last night. You did a great job defensively but now when we go to offense we need to really be focused on running our sets, setting and using screens, player movement, ball movement. But we can't go 100 miles a hour and really get what we want."
SEC SUCCESS: The SEC got five invites to the NCAA Tournament and four teams, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia, made it to the Sweet 16. Vanderbilt fell to Bowling Green, 59-56.
"I think it's great," Summitt said. "With Vanderbilt I understand (Dee) Davis was not feeling well. You take her away from full strength. If she's at full strength I've got to believe that they're in, too. That'd be like (Candace) Parker being ill."