No. 1 Tennessee (22-2, 8-1) takes on No. 25 Vanderbilt (19-6, 8-2) on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern at sold-out Memorial Gym in Nashville (TV: Fox Sports Net; Lady Vol Radio Network). The Lady Vols will lose that top ranking after Thursday's defeat to LSU, and the last thing they want to do is drop another conference game.
Tennessee managed to lose a 19-point lead at home and ultimately the top spot in the SEC standings, but the team has to regroup quickly and recover from what was a crushing blow, both on the court and psychologically.
"You have to because we play too much," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "We've got Vanderbilt at their place, Georgia away. We've got Mississippi State and Florida coming in here. It's disappointing absolutely, but we don't have time to dwell on it. Try to figure out what we did wrong, try to correct it, but we don't have much time. It doesn't give us a chance to lick our wounds."
Friday was used to identify what went wrong – though the coaches had been warning the team all season of its shortcomings – and hold three meetings. The coaches met, the coaches and players met, and the players met alone.
"It's not a difficult thing to figure out," Summitt said. "We are not committed to being a 40-minute team. You can go down the schedule and when did we play for 40 minutes? That's a concern. We've probably played about three 40-minute games (Texas, DePaul and Arkansas) out of 24."
Four others areas have been identified: offensive discipline, guard performance, rest for the starters and bench play.
Tennessee's offense has been a strong point all season, but the team has struggled in recent games against Duke, Rutgers and LSU to either get into or maintain an offensive flow.
The LSU game was characterized by too much standing on offense and the ball ended up sitting in a player's hands because teammates weren't cutting, screening or coming to help.
"The caliber of opponents has obviously been really strong, but the lack of discipline offensively," Summitt said as her voice trailed off. "We've got to be more disciplined coming out of huddles, what we've got to do and carry it over. There has to be a greater sense of urgency on the part of all five players on the floor, whether they're on defense or offense."
Tennessee beat Vanderbilt, 79-63, in Knoxville on Jan. 20. In the rematch the Lady Vols will emphasize having an aggressive mindset.
"I think there are some things we're stressing as we go into our game at Vanderbilt – just being more aggressive offensively with and without the ball," Summitt said. "I just feel like at times we don't make speedy cuts. The ball gets stuck in people's hands. We've got to keep it moving. We've got to break down the defense with our penetration. That's what Lex and Shannon can do."
Alexis Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt can shoot from outside or penetrate, and Hornbuckle can finish at the rim, but Bobbitt, because of her height, needs to pull up and look for a floater in the lane or a short jumper. Against LSU, despite Summitt's directions, she went inside among the tall post players, including the 6'6 Sylvia Fowles.
"Shannon again takes the ball too deep," Summitt said. "There's just a glaring lack of discipline."
Shooting guard/forward Angie Bjorklund is a sharpshooter from long range. But LSU blanketed her on the perimeter, and Bjorklund attempted only three shots, though she made two of them.
"They did the best job of anyone of just sticking to her and limiting what she got offensively," Summitt said. "We have to do a better job of screening for her. She has to do a better job of coming off screens and better reads."
Guard play has been a strength for Tennessee, but Bobbitt and Hornbuckle are out of sync offensively. Play at that position has to get better.
"Absolutely. Immediately," Summitt said. "Alexis is a senior. It's time for her to step up and bring it and hold others accountable but give them the example through her own performance. Lex has not played the way she has to play for us to win."
Fatigue is also an issue. Tennessee has nine active players, three of whom are freshmen and one of which, Bjorklund, is in the starting lineup and averaging 26.0 minutes a game.
Players also can wear down in the waning days of the regular season, especially freshmen who have never encountered the level of expectations and demands on time, as far as games, travel, practice, weights, conditioning, film sessions, meetings, classes and mandatory study hall.
"I think fatigue at this time of the year, if you're giving them days off, is more mental than physical," Summitt said. "We're giving them days off."
Summitt has given the team quite a bit of time off – they were off Tuesday and Friday this week from practice – but the downside is the missed practice and repetitions on the floor as a team.
When Summitt has gone to the bench, the drop-off has been considerable at times with leads either lessened or lost. With the pace that Tennessee wants to play, the starters have to get some breathers.
"We may have to call more timeouts if the bench is not going to come in and at least keep us even," Summitt said.
But what Summitt wants the bench to do is step up and contribute consistently. Auguste, a senior wing, has been a spark off the bench – she played the best game of her career against Mississippi State offensively and defensively to help spark the comeback – but she hurt her left shoulder in that game and has struggled since.
Fuller, a 6'3 junior forward, played a solid game against Rutgers after struggling at Mississippi State, but LSU was a bad matchup for her on the perimeter as the quicker Quianna Chaney darted by her and Bjorklund. As far as the inside, the 6'6 Fowles was looming.
But, outside of trying to match up with Fowles – a difficult draw for any defender on any team – Fuller is much more effective if she can defend on the inside. On offense, she can play in or out, and can hit shots. She scored a career-high 19 points when she started in place of Candace Parker against DePaul.
"We wanted Nicky on Fowles for the most part," Summitt said of the LSU game. "We may have to move Candace or Nicky to the perimeter (defensively), because Alex struggles on the perimeter (defensively), and we need her offense."
The team also needs contributions from Baugh, a 6'4 freshman forward who will get on the boards and showed what she was capable of against Duke, a game in which she scored inside when Tennessee desperately needed offense.
"She needs to contribute," Summitt said. "I need to talk to her because here we are headed to Vanderbilt, and we need her playing. She was fired up at Duke."
Smallbone is a freshman guard who can shoot the ball but is learning on the go on defense. Other players were getting beat against LSU – "Some of our best defenders gave up a lot of points," Summitt said – and Smallbone can hit shots so Summitt may need to look at what she can do well, instead of what needs work.
"She'll play at Vandy," Summitt said.
The players also heard from a Lady Vol legend this week. Former All-American Tamika Catchings, who now plays in the WNBA and for the USA Senior National Team, stopped by practice Wednesday and addressed the team in the locker room.
"Tamika talked to them this week," Summitt said. "She even talked about in practice when y'all got ready to switch ends, everybody walked. The '98 team everybody sprinted. Of course the '99 team didn't. She sprints all the time, but as a team, the '98 team had a great sense of urgency and they go undefeated. They got back the next year and lost at Purdue (early in the season), lost in the regionals."
"It didn't fall on deaf ears. They listened to her. I'm sure they have so much respect for her. Just encouraging them to play together, basically things that we've been talking about, having a commitment to working hard in practice. She talked a lot about how intense the practices were and how hard they all worked in practice."
Summitt does not see any chemistry issues with this team so that indicates, if so inclined, the players can work out what ails them.
"I think they enjoy each other's company," Summitt said.
They also have some vocal leaders, including senior Nicky Anosike, who looked ready to tear something or someone limb by limb as the clock ticked down against LSU.
"I'm sure she'll speak up," Summitt said. "She really hates to lose. It's their team. They need to take ownership. That's what I told them."
Summitt has said this season that her players are the most talented in the country but they are not the best team. The loss Thursday had no effect on that assessment.
"It didn't change my mind about their talent," Summitt said. "They're not playing together. They're not playing together on defense, not playing together offensively."
Sunday is the first shot at changing that.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.9 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (10.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.4 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.4 apg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (20.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.4 spg, 2.1 blocks per game); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (9.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.9 spg, 1.2 bpg).
Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb is expected to start: Jence Rhoads, 5'11 freshman guard, No. 22 (3.9 ppg, 3.4 apg), averaging 4.8 assists in conference games; Jennifer Risper, 5'9 junior guard, No. 2 (9.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), had a career-high 20 points against Ole Miss; Merideth Marsh, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 23 (8.3 ppg, 2.6 apg), made first career start in win over Duke, scored 15 points against Mississippi State; Christina Wirth, 6'1 junior forward, No. 34 (13.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg), ranked in Top 10 in SEC stats in scoring, shooting, three-point shooting and minutes played; and Hannah Tuomi, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 15 (5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg), was SEC Freshman of Week after scoring 14 points against Georgia and double-double, 10 points, 11 rebounds, against Tennessee.
Wirth scored a career-high 24 points in Knoxville – she hit six 3-pointers – and moved from the paint to the perimeter in the second half to take advantage of her shot-making ability.
Balcomb brings Liz Sherwood, a 6'4 center, off the bench, and she is used to effectively run high-low action. Sherwood averages 12.0 ppg and 4.5 rpg for the Commodores.
The Lady Vols practiced Saturday in Nashville to get shots in at Memorial Gym and let the newcomers get used to the configuration. The court is raised above floor level, and the benches are on the baselines.
"I remember watching that on TV," said Angie Bjorklund, a Washington state native who will play at Memorial Gym for the first time. "I was like, ‘What are they doing on the end?' "
HIGH-LOW GAME: If it seems like a lot of teams are using the high-low offense this season, it's because they are.
"In the game of basketball every season something is highlighted," Pat Summitt said. "This year it's been more of a commitment from opposing teams, as well as ourselves, to the high-low game. I think that's one of the hardest things to defend because once you can center the ball at the high post, you can get high-low action and it takes away the help unless people choose to cover the paint and leave shooters open."
Defending the high-low has been hit and miss for the Lady Vols this season.
"We've gotten better," Summitt said.
The high-low defense broke down in the second half of the loss to Stanford because of lack of pressure on the passer and letting the ball get to the middle. There also were lapses against Oklahoma, but "we were just fortunate enough to make the shots and win," Summitt said.
Tennessee has since defended it better, especially early in the game against LSU. The Lady Vols defense held Sylvia Fowles to 2-7 shooting and five points in the first half before the wheels fell off in all aspects of the game for Tennessee.
Tennessee is also well suited to running this type of action.
"Candace is attracting a player and a half and a lot of times we have that high post look and that's where Nicky and Vicki and Alex they've got to get there and knock down shots," Summitt said. "When Candace is on the low block she's not usually there with one defender. She's going to have at least a defender and a half. A lot of times they're going to back off the high post so they can double on the block."
This is one spot where Vicki Baugh could be very effective because she can hit the short jumpers from the elbows.
"Absolutely," Summitt said. "She's more comfortable in the face-up game. She has the green light there. She has got to think shot first, pass second. If she didn't score for that team (in high school) they got beat. She doesn't feel like she has to score for this team in order for us to win.
"That's the way I want her to think: You've got to score for us to win. We can post her up. We can flash her. She does a good job playing off the dribble. She has already improved her offensive skills. She's just going to get better. She can play anywhere on the press. She and Candace have both played on top of the press. I like her up there. She's so active, so athletic."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Here is her assessment.
When Vandy has the ball: They run when they get the chance. They do a lot of inside-out, shoot threes, pretty active on the offensive end. I don't think they're going to do anything too different.
"We've got to identify shooters. (Liz) Sherwood did a good job of posting us up. We've got to match up early. A lot of people think they're not a running team, but they push the ball quite a bit. I think our transition D has to be right on point. We've got to play solid defense. They're a good offensive team."
Tennessee has often not played well in Memorial Gym and has a tendency to spot the Commodores a lead, sometimes a substantial one.
"It's a struggle every time we play there," Warlick said. "It's a different gym; it's a different environment. They play well at home."
Warlick expects the Commodores to deploy zone and man looks on defense.
"They'll play their matchup and then they'll play man to man," she said. "When we played them here they played more man to man than I anticipated. I think they had a good game here."
When Tennessee has the ball: "We've gone down there and shot the ball well and gone down there and not done so well. I think it's a mindset for us. I think our biggest thing is taking care of the ball. At times we didn't take care of the ball against them when they were here. For us it's taking care of the ball, making them work on defense. Get in the flow of the offense.
"I think we've got to give ourselves opportunities to make plays and make open looks and make shots that are make-able for us."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Vanderbilt, 50-6. The Lady Vols are 23-0 in Knoxville, 20-4 in Nashville and 7-2 at neutral sites. … Tennessee is 9-3 in games played on February 17. The three losses were to Maryville, 37-5, in 1906; Appalachian State, 67-57, in 1973; and Belmont, 79-71, in 1976. The last win on this date came against South Carolina, 74-44, in 2005. … Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle are closing in on milestones in their Tennessee careers. Anosike, who has 994 points, needs just six more to become the 33rd member of 1,000-point club. Hornbuckle has 324 career steals and is just 10 thefts away from becoming the all-time leader at Tennessee. Bridgette Gordon owns the 19-year old record with 333 career steals. … Shannon Bobbitt is among the finalists for the 9th annual Nancy Lieberman award, a national project of the Rotary Club of Detroit, which honors the nation's top collegiate point guard in women's Division I basketball. The announcement of the three finalists and one winner will be made during the Final Four weekend, April 6-8, in Tampa, with the award presented at a luncheon at The Detroit Athletic Club on April 23. The finalists are: Matee Ajavon (Rutgers); Kimberly Beck (George Washington); Shannon Bobbitt (Tennessee); Kristi Cirone (Illinois St.); Leilani Mitchell (Utah); Renee Montgomery (UConn); Andrea Riley (Oklahoma St.); Kristi Tolliver (Maryland); and Erica White (LSU). … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 78.8 points per game while allowing 60.7. Vanderbilt averages 73.1 points while allowing 56.2. The Lady Vols shoot 45.7 percent overall, 37.8 from behind the arc and 72.5 percent from the line. The Commodores shoot 47.2 percent overall, 38.3 percent from behind the arc and 66.0 percent from the line. Tennessee averages 40.7 rebounds a game while allowing 36.5 for a +4.2 margin. Vanderbilt averages 37.0 boards a game while allowing 33.8 a game for a +3.2 margin. The Lady Vols average 16.5 assists and 17.2 turnovers while forcing 21.3 turnovers from its opponents. The Commodores average 16.1 assists and 17.4 turnovers a game while opponents surrender the ball 21.7 times. Tennessee averages 12.1 swipes and 6.2 swats a game. Vanderbilt averages 10.6 steals and 3.3 blocks.