Tennessee returns to Duke on Jan. 28 in a made-for-TV matchup on ESPN2 as part of the network's "Big Monday" promotion. The last time the Lady Vols played in Durham, the student section jeered then-sophomore Alexis Hornbuckle from warmups to the end of the game over a nearly two-year-old shoplifting charge that occurred in the summer after her senior year in high school.
Tennessee did end up renewing the series after Duke played in Knoxville last season. The latest home-and-home series opens in Durham.
"It bothered me enough last time that I really and seriously considered not going back," Summitt said. "We don't have to subject our student-athletes to that."
Duke is scheduled to return to Knoxville in the 2008-09 season and after that both schools would have to sign a new contract for the series to continue.
Summitt has no issue with loud fans or the close proximity of the students to the court.
"As loud as Stanford was there wasn't any of that," Summitt said. "They all had a lot of class."
But the coach took exception to the taunts directed at Hornbuckle when Tennessee played at Duke on Jan. 23, 2006.
"It's not something I'd want our fans to do," Summitt said in 2006. "It was constant. Even if she had anticipated something like that might happen I don't think she realized how long they would sustain it and just how harsh it could be."
The students held up Wal-Mart bags, where the theft of sunglasses and a towel occurred, and shouted at Hornbuckle in unison. Initially Hornbuckle shrugged off the hecklers, but as the game wore on, it wore on her.
"I wasn't really surprised but for that many people to get involved with it that surprised me," Hornbuckle said this week. "I was sure it was going to come up."
If it happens again Hornbuckle said she's ready for it this time.
"It's something I laugh about now," Hornbuckle said of the treatment by the students. "I'm not even kidding. It's something I did when I was 18 years old. I'm 22. That's back in the day. I was still in high school."
Hornbuckle characterized the incident as a "stupid" decision on the spur of the moment and one she has long left behind. The case was adjudicated with community service and a fine, and Hornbuckle, who called Summitt to apologize even though she was not yet on campus, was sincerely contrite afterwards.
The students' antics two years ago took Hornbuckle completely out of her game – Duke won 75-53 – and also affected the rest of the Tennessee team. For that reason the student section might be inclined to repeat the taunts this Monday.
"If they do they may cost the series," Summitt said. "I'll be honest with you. Why would you subject student-athletes to that type of harassment? I guarantee you some of the people yelling have made mistakes in their lives. That hasn't happened here, and it better not."
Summitt has already approached her administration in case there is a repeat performance by the students, known as the "Cameron Crazies," because Duke plays at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Hornbuckle may be able to laugh about it now, but Summitt certainly isn't.
"I feel strongly about it," Summitt said. "I've already talked to the administration about it. I'm not going to subject our student-athletes to that type of harassment. That's in the past and hopefully that's a dead issue. If they choose to do it I may choose not to play."
Summitt has already shown she won't hesitate to make scheduling decisions that might not be popular. She dropped Connecticut from the regular season schedule after last season for reasons she has never publicly disclosed. If she were to drop Duke to protect one of her players from harassing taunts – and in this case future Lady Vols who play at Cameron since Hornbuckle is a senior and will make her last appearance there Monday – the decision would reverberate in women's college basketball.
Some would agree with her reasoning; some won't. Summitt's response is that she and the administration are entitled to schedule non-conference foes as they see fit during the regular season.
"My reaction is we can determine who we want to play and who we don't want to play outside of our conference," Summitt said. "Obviously the Duke series has been a great series, but I was very disappointed the last time I was there with the behavior, in particular the students, towards Alexis.
"I thought they stepped way over the line on that one, but hopefully we've moved on, and we don't have to worry about that."
Meanwhile, Tennessee held a lengthy and up-tempo practice Friday to get ready for Duke. Freshman Vicki Baugh, who missed the second half of the Arkansas game on Thursday because of stomach illness, was able to practice Friday and had a standout session on both ends of the court.
"Definitely one of her best practices," Summitt said. "She looked to score. I thought she was trying to set the assist record here for a while."
The session ran for 2.5 hours – and the players lifted weights afterwards – but the players sustained a high energy level from beginning to end. Summitt will give the team the day off Saturday – a weekend day off is a treat for the team – and then return to practice Sunday before traveling to Durham.
"Great practice," Summitt said. "I think we're doing a good job as a staff of recognizing with our numbers being what they are – and I'm very comfortable; I like the rotation – they're getting a lot more playing time and repetition in games so we're giving them days off, which they deserve.
"If we want to require them to play 40 minutes and play hard and up and down the floor and press, then we have to practice that way. You're going to play the way you practice. I've seen that in the last two games. I think we've definitely turned up the intensity of our practices, and it's been reflected in our performance."