"They all agreed in the locker room, ‘You don't lose the memories,' " Marist Coach Brian Giorgis said. "I know for Tennessee this is an expectation, but for us this was the greatest moment in a lot of our athletic lives."
Tennessee, 31-3, may expect to make the Elite Eight, but it doesn't mean the Lady Vols were any less appreciative to be there after Sunday's win.
"Excited we advanced, excited about how our kids played," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "We played hard. Just survive and advance."
Tennessee will meet Ole Miss, 24-10, after the Rebels knocked out Oklahoma, 28-5, in the second game. The SEC foes will play Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Dayton Arena for the right to go to the Final Four.
The Lady Vols began Sunday's game like they didn't want any part of the starring role in Marist's Cinderella run to the Sweet 16. Ohio State and Middle Tennessee had already played those parts, and the Lady Vols spent two practice days in Knoxville specifically preparing for the Red Foxes' motion offense.
"We had two good days with our practice guys at home that we got to work on our scouting report defense," Summitt said. "This was Holly Warlick's scout, and she did a great job of presenting concepts of flare screens, and down screens and back screens and curls, and we guarded all that action. I think had we have not had time to prepare – if this had been a one-day turnaround – this would have been hard. It would have been a lot harder to play them for the regional championship than it would have been for the first game just because we did have preparation time.
"We don't play another team that plays that way. … It's more reading than set plays so you guard concepts instead of set plays. You just really have to communicate and when we had somebody break down it's glaring. If I'm curling and I yell switch and you don't switch we're beat. You've really got to trust your teammates. It did (help to focus) because it was all new. If it would have been a team of set plays then we might have said, ‘Well, we've guarded this.' But they knew they hadn't guarded nothing like they were going to guard, and I think it did help them."
The glaring breakdown came early in the second half. Tennessee had spent the first 20 minutes forcing Marist into 10 turnovers – one under their average for an entire game – and led 42-21 at halftime. The Red Foxes scored inside on three layups by Rachele Fitz and cut UT's lead to 44-27, at the 18:08 mark.
A livid Summitt called a 30-second timeout – and the team packed a lot into it – and lit into Candace Parker before she reached the bench. The coaches gathered for a few seconds, and Nicky Anosike stood up and directed her teammates to play defense. Summitt sat on a stool in front of her players, slammed down her clipboard and delivered an impassioned speech. Fitz scored three more points in the game.
"Summarize," Summitt said with a smile.
"Well, since it was aimed at me, I think I'll take this question," Parker said to much laughter from her coach and teammates. "Coach very calmly told me that I needed to play defense, and I didn't come out with same intensity in the second half. So it was timeout for Candace.
"It's not a good feeling. You just come back, and she tells you what you need to do. She let me know what I needed to do."
Anosike also laughed when reminded of her own coach moment during the timeout. This team has demonstrated that players can talk to each other – even confront each other – and respond without hurt feelings or pouting.
"I think we're just so mature," Anosike said. "We have only one true freshman (Cait McMahan), and she's mature for her age. We can get into each other's faces and we'll forget about it the next play. We're just mature enough to do that. Since I've been here we haven't had teams that were mature enough to handle that."
It certainly makes Summitt's job a lot easier.
"Nicky has a good pulse on this team," Summitt said. "She is such a competitor, and she plays so hard. She's going to be the first one to get upset if everyone else is not giving what she's giving, and rightfully so. That's what we have to do."
Tennessee had plenty of defense and enough offense to win the game. The lead went to double digits at the 14:29 mark of the first half when the score was 15-5, and it never went to single digits. The Lady Vols shot 48.2 percent for the game.
Parker had 16 points and nine rebounds. Sidney Spencer and Shannon Bobbitt added 11 points apiece. Hornbuckle had eight points and eight boards. Anosike had seven rebounds and six points. Alex Fuller added eight points off the bench and hit two 3-pointers.
Bobbitt even got in on the rebounding end – she had two offensive boards – and Tennessee won that battle, 35-24.
"We definitely had the height advantage, and we were going to take advantage of that," Bobbitt said. "I know great teams and smart teams take advantage of mismatches. Our main goal was to take advantage of mismatches and guard their three-point game."
Marist came to Dayton loaded with three-point shooters, but in this game the Red Foxes were 2-14 from behind the arc. Guarding the three was a key point of the scouting report, and the coaching staff was pleased with that performance.
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "It was a difficult guard because they're a motion offense. They penetrated, they shot threes, and I thought our ball pressure affected them. I was very pleased."
Marist was led by Meg Dahlman with 16 points and eight rebounds and Fitz with 13 points. The Red Foxes' three starting guards – Alisa Kresge, Julianne Viani and Nikki Flores – were 0-8 from the field. Giorgis made adjustments at halftime to get the ball inside since Tennessee's defense was swarming the perimeter.
"I think my disappointment was in the first half, and I really got on my big people, we didn't post up strong, and that's what we needed to do because one of the things that we noticed on film is Candace Parker is a great help defender, and that's when she throws them all over the place, but when you attacked her, she also has to think, ‘I need to stay in a game so I'll give up two points before I'm going to start going crazy and possibly get in foul trouble,' because they can't afford for her to get in the foul trouble," Giorgis said.
"Same thing with a lot of those kids. I really challenged Rachele at halftime that she needed to get physical, which sometimes for her is tough, but she did. And we got the ball inside more because their perimeter defense was just excellent."
Anosike, who is 6'4, picked up Flores, who is 5'4 on the perimeter. That was the prototypical mismatch that Giorgis had fretted about the day before the game.
"Everybody kept asking me how are you stop Candace Parker? Great question. I'm sure that's the question every coach gets asked," Giorgis said. "My worry was more what could we do against their defense. We don't have a lot of height. And Nikki Flores is trying to get by Nicky Anosike, and it almost looks like a Tom and Jerry cartoon type of thing. Their size is just incredible and their quickness and they're just so physically strong."
Tennessee clearly came out intending to take out Marist early.
"That's the mindset that we came out with, and I'm really proud of how we handled everything in the first half," Parker said. "We've just got to bring the same fire in the second."
The start of the second half was similar to the start of the Pitt game in the second round game with a comfortable halftime lead cut by the opposing team within the first two minutes of the play.
"That's two games in a row where we've done that where we come out in the second half … I feel like it's my responsibility to bring the energy defensively and offensively and come out in the second half like we do the first," Parker said.
"We know that the teams are getting better," Anosike said. "We can't go out there and expect to win by 20 every game. A good team you give them eight-plus points on you, and you might not recover from that, and we need to realize that. We can't make that a habit to keep letting people come back in the second half."
Hornbuckle said the fix required a mental approach, not a physical one.
"We knew they were going to make a run, and we didn't answer that run," Hornbuckle said. "We just broke down defensively, and you can't have that. A good offensive team is going to take advantage of every weak spot that you have, and they did that. They had three layups back to back, and you can't have that whether it's Marist or whether it's whoever is in the next round playing against us. We've got to step up and take care of that. We don't really have much time to prepare, but it's kind of a mental thing."
Summitt had no issues with Anosike or Hornbuckle's defense. Hornbuckle only had one steal, but she harassed and hurried the Marist players with the ball. Anosike had two steals and dwarfed her player on the perimeter. A guard can't throw the ball to what she can't see.
"She's got such great size," Summitt said. "They really couldn't see. We talked about what the ball could see. We had to have good ball pressure so they wouldn't have good vision, particularly inside. We broke down in the second half, but they started running a different screening action with the ball in the middle of the floor and cross-screening action, which is hard to defend, and we got caught a few times, not real decisive on whether we're going to switch or stay and looking back we probably should have switched so we'd have a chance to cover it better."
"I think Alexis set the tone for us from the outside as well. Bringing the pressure that she brought I thought was key for us."
Hornbuckle had not played well defensively against Pitt and wanted to redeem herself. It hasn't happened yet, she said.
"I think I redeemed myself a little bit, still not satisfied," Hornbuckle said. "I'm a hungry-type player. I'll never be satisfied until we come out on top. Ask me that three games from now and hopefully we'll come out cutting down nets, and I'll definitely be satisfied."
That is the expectation at Tennessee. The Marist players and coach noted as much in the post-game press conference.
"They're Tennessee," Kresge said. "They're a number one seed for a reason. They're a great team, and that's what they do. They came out ready to play. They weren't taking us lightly. I give them respect. They did a great job."
The Tennessee players returned the compliment by noting they never overlooked Marist and were impressed with the team's fight.
"Of course I've heard of them. I'm from New York," Bobbitt said. "They play with a lot of heart, they play together, they trust each other. That's a definition of a team right there."
"I think they did a great job of playing together, one of the best that we've seen," Hornbuckle said.
"We approached it like we do any other game," Parker said. "We knew that a lot of people wanted us to lose and wanted their Cinderella story to continue. We rallied around each other and said we want their story to end now, and I think we came out with great intensity in the first half."
The fact that Marist was in Dayton was one of the best stories of March. The 4,000-enrollment school from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference was the first MAAC school, men or women, to make it to the Sweet 16. A 13 seed had never made it to the Elite Eight in the women's bracket, but Marist came closer than the other two 13 seeds that matched their feat. Texas A&M lost by 26 points to Purdue in 1994 in the Sweet 16 and Liberty fell by 42 points to LSU in 2005.
"I'm glad now that Marist is out there and people actually know where we are from and before people were like, ‘Who's Marist?' or ‘Where are they from?' " Fitz said. "We put Marist on the map."
Tennessee is trying to keep the postseason on the map of Ohio. Tuesday's winner gets to go to Cleveland next weekend for the Final Four. This tournament has taught the Lady Vols that lower seeds are dangerous.
"I think it's great for women's basketball," Hornbuckle said. "Now you turn on the TV and don't know what to expect. Everything is so up in the air. Everybody has to bring their ‘A' game because anything can happen."
"Just play your ‘A' game and never give up," Bobbitt said. "Play like it's your last game."
The Tennessee players have repeated that mantra since the tournament started, and they actually seem to believe it. They are a confident group – winning a national title was a preseason goal – but they certainly aren't overconfident.
"Don't look ahead; don't ever look ahead," Spencer said. "As a senior you definitely want to advance and that's why we just try to play Tennessee basketball every game and focus on our next opponent."
Spencer repeated what her teammates had said – the first half was great; the second half needed work.
"I think we came out playing with energy and emotion and just determined that we were going to stop them on defense and then create our offense from that," Spencer said. "I think we did a great job of that. Everybody brought a lot of energy and so I thought our first 20 minutes were really good."
Tennessee will need 40 minutes against No. 7 seed Ole Miss, which is playing some of its best basketball of the season. The Rebels' defense has been relentless, and Ole Miss scored 29 points off turnovers in its 90-82 win over Oklahoma. The two foes are familiar with each other – Tennessee won 81-69 in Knoxville on Feb. 15 but senior sparkplug Armintie Price spent most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble.
Summitt didn't know who her opponent would be when she spoke to the media – the Rebels played the second game – but she knows defensive lapses to anyone at this point in the season can end the season.
"Obviously really excited and pleased about this win and in particular how we played in the first half," Summitt said. "I thought our defensive intensity and ball pressure and coverage was really, really tough, and full-court pressure also generated some scoring opportunities for us.
"Went into halftime feeling great about things. Came out in the second half and thought we played in spurts defensively. We had some people on the defensive end who didn't play at the same intensity that we need to do. If you're a team trying to get to the Final Four you need to understand that every possession, which is what I shared with our team. But I'm obviously proud of how we played and overall finished out this game. Survive and advance. That's what you do.
"They know I'm not real happy about that (lapse), but I'm happy for this team to be playing for an opportunity to go to a Final Four."
It would be Tennessee's 17th trip to the Final Four if the Lady Vols make it. Tennessee is now 22-4 all-time in the Sweet 16, and Summitt's overall record in the NCAA tourney is 95-14. Since the tournament started in 1982, Tennessee has reached 22 of 26 regional finals and has a 16-6 record in those games.
"In most regional games, there's a lot of pressure," Summitt said. "As a coach, I just try to live in the moment with the team. It's all about what they need. It's not about what I'm feeling. I think it's important as a coach and a coaching staff that we keep our composure.
"It may be that I can lose my composure in a matter of seconds, but I hope I don't have to. If our team needs for someone to give them a little jolt then we can give it. If they need us to calm them down and keep their composure where it needs to be then that's what we'll be talking about. But I never predetermine that going into a game. It's just a feel that you have."
OLE MISS-OKLAHOMA: The Rebels made sure it would be an all-SEC final in Dayton by deploying its suffocating defense on the Sooners and scoring 90 points despite shooting only 37.8 percent from the field.
Oklahoma had 26 turnovers, and Ole Miss seemingly converted every opportunity for 29 points. The Rebels, meanwhile, only had 11 turnovers, and the Sooners only got eight points off takeaways.
Both schools had a player tie the Dayton Arena record for points in the NCAA Tournament – Armintie Price of Ole Miss and Courtney Paris of Oklahoma each scored 31 points. Price set an arena record for steals in a tourney game with five. Her 31 points set an Ole Miss program record for points in a tourney game. The 90 points by the Rebels set an arena record in the NCAA Tournament. Paris set an arena tourney record with 20 rebounds, which was also a Sooner program record in a tourney game.
Price had significant scoring help from Ashley Awkward, who scored 25 points with 12 of those coming from the free throw line. Alliesha Easley added 12.
Meanwhile, the Rebels had no solution for Paris.
"How do you double-double a double double?" Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross said in trying to explain Paris' stat line. "Courtney's a great player, and she plays with so much spirit. She's got great heart. There's not a whole lot we did to Courtney that really impacted her. She was tremendous for Oklahoma."
Price was just as brilliant for Ole Miss. The senior had those 31 points and five steals. She also added 10 rebounds and five assists to zero turnovers.
Ross lauded the effort of Price and the other seniors, Awkward and Jada Mincy, who had seven rebounds.
"We are here because of their will to win, their will to compete," Ross said.
Paris lauded her opponent in the post-game press conference. The Oklahoma players also noted how fast to the ball Ole Miss was, especially on the glass. Despite being outsized the Rebels out-rebounded the Sooners, 49-44.
"They outplayed us today," Paris said.
"I can look at the stat sheet and dissect it a million ways," said Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale, who noted that 29 of Ole Miss' points came from the free throw line.
The Rebels have made a habit of that in their three postseason games so far. They use their speed to dribble penetrate and also get fouled on breakaways to the basket off of steals. They had 16 steals against Oklahoma. The Sooners had five.
Coale said Oklahoma was "trying to play faster than we're capable of playing," and that hurt the Sooners, especially against Ole Miss' pressure. It was 92 degrees inside the arena during the game, and Coale said the frenetic pace and heat could have affected her team's concentration.
Coale noted her seniors' accomplishments during their Sooner basketball careers and pointed out their overall success in the NCAA tournaments and winning Big 12 championships.
Ross noted that Ole Miss emerged from the rugged SEC well prepared for postseason.
"Championships run through Tennessee," she said.
When Price was asked if she was looking forward to playing Tennessee, she said excitedly, "We have to be. We play them next." The remark brought laughter from Ross.
"We know a lot about Tennessee," Price said. "They've been here many a times. We're going to do what we do best and that's run and try to get them a little bothered."
"Everything they do presents a problem for us," Ross said. "They beat us pretty good. It wasn't a big margin, but we never really got into what we do best.
"They've got Candace Parker, who is so versatile and can do so many things. It's very hard to find ways to get to her. She's got a great supporting cast. Bobbitt's quick, got great ability to move the ball around off the dribble. You've got Hornbuckle, who is a great playmaker. You've got Spencer, who if you leave her open you know what's coming. It's going to be an accurate shot from the two or three. You've got Anosike who is a workhorse and gets it done.
"And then you've got a bunch of orange people coming off the bench. It's a lot for us. We obviously didn't handle it well the first time, and we will try to figure out something better this time."
ODDS AND ENDS
COACH TALK: Pat Summitt and Brian Giorgis shared the memory of their meeting several years ago when he was a high school coach in New York and stopped by her Knoxville office while on a family vacation to the Smokies.
"I told him today who would have ever thought the two of us who were just having a casual meeting in the office in the summer and you were a high school coach that you would be playing in the Sweet 16, and we would be facing each other," Summitt said. "It is a very small world. In women's basketball to see someone go from the high school ranks to the college ranks and do what Coach Giorgis has done it's very, very impressive."
Giorgis indicated he was hooked on postseason success now.
"Once you do it you just want to do it again and again and again," Giorgis said. "That's what I think our kids feel. That's what they said in the locker room. And maybe somehow make history and dare to knock off somebody like this. But as you see today we've got a long way to go. That's just an incredible, incredible program led by the one of the most-incredible people I've ever met, and I haven't met her long."
UPSET LESSONS: No. 1 overall seed Duke dropped out of the tournament Saturday after Rutgers used relentless defense to stymie the Blue Devils' attack. Senior guard Lindsey Harding missed two free throws at the end that could have tied or won the game.
"We found out on the bus," Tennessee senior Sidney Spencer said. "Somebody got a text message or a phone call that they had lost. I felt really bad for Lindsey Harding. I know a game doesn't come down to one possession, but she's always going to remember that. I just felt for her. She's been a great player all year long.
"Every time a team loses, whether it's our men's team or whoever, just to see that look of disappointment, because that's what you've worked for all year long, I don't want to feel like that. I hate that feeling, and I don't want to feel like that."
MORE COACH TALK: The UT players obviously knew of the Duke loss, but the coaching staff didn't make too much of it with them.
"No, we really didn't talk about the Duke game," Pat Summitt said. "The only thing we talked about was respecting Marist for 40 minutes and understanding that if we broke down defensively they make teams pay because they shoot the ball so well and from a lot of different positions and a lot of different places on the floor because of that motion. We tried to encourage players to really stay in the moment defensively. We didn't talk about an upset. We talked about what we had to do to avoid it basically."
MOST PREMATURE QUESTION: An Oklahoma City sportswriter asked Candace Parker about a possible matchup with Courtney Paris. Oklahoma and Ole Miss were minutes away from tipoff when the question was posed.
Parker noted that if that were to happen, "It's not a matchup between Courtney Paris and I; it's a matchup between Oklahoma and Tennessee. We are going into it with that mindset. We've done that all season, and we're a team and we're not any one player. I don't think Oklahoma is any one player either."
Shannon Bobbitt smiled and nodded as Parker answered.
BEST HUSTLE: That of Tennessee guard Cait McMahan, who raced down court after a teammate lost the ball to try to prevent a layup. She ran down the Marist player and got the foul, but her momentum carried her across the baseline, where she flew past a cameraman and tumbled to the floor beyond the photographers.
"It was some chair that was in the way," McMahan said. "It happened so fast I didn't even know what happened. That's just me."
BEST ADVICE: McMahan to her teammates in the first half: "Do not let them hang around!" The score was 34-17 at the time. Tennessee increased the lead to 42-21 at halftime.
BAND PARTICIPATION: The Tennessee pep band members chanted, "Oh, how embarrassing," every time a Marist player missed a free throw. They only got to do it twice. Marist was 12-14 from the line.
BEST CELEBRATION: That of Tennessee's Dominique Redding, who screamed, "Let's go!" after a defensive stop.
Tennessee had blocked a three-point shot and then scored off the resulting fast break to go up 20-5 at the 9:50 mark of the first half. Marist called a timeout and right out of the timeout Redding doubled on a trap and immediately forced Marist to call another timeout to avoid a five-second call.
"It was a crucial time in the game, and we needed to get stops," Redding said. "I was focused on defense today, not offense. I think that's why I missed all my shots."
Aaaaaaaawwwwwwwwww: The crowd's reaction when Candace Parker opted for the left-handed layup in the first half on a breakaway instead of a dunk. A Marist player was trailing on the play.
BEST ASSIST: Parker to Shannon Bobbitt at the post-game press conference. When Bobbitt's microphone didn't work, Parker tested hers and then passed it to Bobbitt.
BEST SPECTATORS: The Tennessee players. They sat behind one basket and watched the first half of the Ole Miss-Oklahoma game. Bobbitt said it was nice to play first, secure the win and then go watch.
"It feels good," Bobbitt said. "We're definitely going to go out there and watch a little bit of the game and see what happens."
BEST CHANTS: The Ole Miss fans and band with repeats of "We Are Ole Miss" with 16.7 seconds left. They concluded with "SEC! SEC!" with 7.6 seconds left.
BEST HUG: That exchanged by Oklahoma's Courtney Paris and Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross after the game. Ross was Paris' post coach on the 2005 USA U19 World Championship Team.
BEST SIDVILLE MOMENT: That which occurred between Sidney Spencer and Alexis Hornbuckle.
Hornbuckle got a defensive rebound but lost her shoe. Her teammates had headed down court, except for Spencer, who was nearby. Hornbuckle passed her the ball and turned back to get her shoe. Spencer seemed surprised to get the ball from Hornbuckle in the backcourt and immediately passed it back.
Hornbuckle, who had her back to Spencer at that point, caught a glimpse of the ball as it went by. She managed to track the ball down in the corner and retrieve her shoe while the crowd howled with laughter.
"I grabbed the rebound and the girl is on my heel and the shoe just comes off," Hornbuckle said. "I tried to get the ball to Sid, and she threw it back at me. She didn't know my shoe came off. I don't know what she thought."
Spencer laughed and said, "No, I didn't know."
Hornbuckle had one other foot problem earlier in the game when she came down awkwardly on her right ankle. "Walk it off," Hornbuckle said with a smile.
That's expected from her, but she also got the OK to play from Jenny Moshak, the team's head of sports medicine, and was fine after the game.
REGION OF HELL: Dayton was called the region of doom after the selection show because of the number of top programs stacked there. With the inside temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Sunday it was more like the region of hell. Two large mounds of snow had been pushed aside in the parking lot – evidence of cold weather just a week ago – but it was unseasonably warm this weekend, and most of Dayton Arena is not air-conditioned, including the court area and locker rooms.
"It's hot in this building in case you didn't know," Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross joked with the media.
When Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale was asked if she were prepared for the heat, she said, "Personally I wasn't or I wouldn't have worn a long sleeve shirt and a jacket."
Coale said she opted not to discuss it with the team to avoid drawing attention to the discomfort. Ross took the opposite approach and told her team to think of a sweaty gym in July in Mississippi when a high school coach is making you work out and you did it because you loved the game.
During timeouts the Ole Miss players had wet towels draped around their necks.
It was also uncomfortable during the Tennessee-Marist game.
"It was hot," Pat Summitt said. "I was really hot when I came in at halftime."
The Lady Vols have been practicing this month at Stokely Athletics Center, which also is not air-conditioned, because Thompson-Boling Arena has been closed for renovations.
"It definitely didn't take long to get warmed up in this gym," Parker said. "We have Stokely so we know what it's like to play in, so we'll be fine."
"When we practice in Stokely, man, it's hot in there so we were definitely prepared for this," Shannon Bobbitt said.
Jenny Moshak said the preparation began Saturday when the team held the open practice and realized how warm it was inside. Fluids were the most important.
"We were working on it before, we worked on it at halftime," Moshak said. "We did some ice towels, some wet towels at halftime and wiped everybody down, pushing the fluids. We're going to try to replenish tonight as much as possible. And actually practicing in Stokely before we came here probably helped."
Summitt would prefer not to be in Stokely – the team also lost its locker room and the coaches' offices for the postseason because of the renovation.
"Obviously that's not my favorite place to practice, but I know why we're doing it," Summitt said. "And sometimes it's good to get them outside their comfort zone and create a little havoc for them, because that's what the game's all about. It's total chaos so we had total chaos last week. We had the volleyball team practicing, and we were practicing, and people coming and going."
Bobbitt said that experience ultimately helped the team in Dayton.
"Exactly," Bobbitt said. "Not getting fatigued and staying strong in hot weather."