"It takes our team to a whole new level because we're not dropping off in substitution."
Vicki Baugh had a standout game against Duke on Jan. 28 and then sort of faded into the background over the next five games. That led to a conversation with Summitt in which she let the freshman know her output and effort on the court were needed.
"Ever since we played Mississippi State, she and I talked, and also after Rutgers and LSU," Baugh said. "She felt like I didn't really contribute coming off the bench and that's what we have to have to be a team and to win. We basically had that talk of how I had to step up and be a scorer because every man counts on this team."
Baugh was effective in the last two road games against Vanderbilt and Alabama. She can build on those performances this afternoon when No. 3 Tennessee (24-2, 10-1) takes on Mississippi State (16-11, 4-8) in a rematch at 2:30 p.m. (TV: FSN; Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday.
The national championships rings for the 2006-07 season arrived last week and the players were presented with them in the locker room after practice on Wednesday.
The four freshmen, Baugh, Angie Bjorklund, Sydney Smallbone and Kelley Cain, who is recovering from knee surgery and taking a redshirt this season, could only watch as their teammates celebrated the long-awaited final piece of their championship hardware.
"I looked at it for a very long time," Baugh said. "I tried on Lex's. I tried on Cait's. Definitely I'm looking forward to getting one of those on my own. At first I was kind of jealous. It just made me want to get my own even more."
Summitt's message this month is that if Tennessee is to earn another ring Baugh must be ready to play when she enters the game.
"She felt like I write it off," Baugh said in refreshingly straightforward fashion. "I felt like they could just win without me. She said that we have to have every player every game ready to come out and play, and I have to be a scorer."
Baugh had 12 points against Alabama – she was a perfect 4-4 from the floor – and also pulled down four rebounds.
"Very comfortable," Baugh said of the difference in that game from other games this season. "The first thing I looked to do was score in the paint, and that's always the first thing I (should) look to do. That's my role and position with the team, and that's what she wants. Definitely scoring and rebounding is my role."
In earlier games this season, Summitt saw a player who couldn't wait to get the ball out of her hands and into someone else's.
"If you go back to the first half of the year she was constantly looking to pass," Summitt said. "I thought she wants to be the assist leader, and she needs to be a scorer. (Against Alabama) she was aggressive. She's very active. She's got great feet."
Baugh also has reached a comfort level in the paint – she had not played with her back to the basket in high school – and has learned the plays to the point where she can execute without having to think so much about position. She also had to learn the power forward and center spots.
"I've been thinking a lot, and that's something that pulled me back," Baugh said. "I wouldn't remember the plays because I'm thinking too hard."
Baugh is as athletically gifted as Alexis Hornbuckle, who just set a new school record for steals – 335 and counting.
"Lex is a very relaxed player," Baugh said. "She just goes out there and plays. I feel like I do some of the same things, too."
Summitt took Baugh's development one step further against Alabama by running some "quick hits" to her. Quick hits are essentially just that – offensive plays, typically run to a post, intended to get a quick basket.
"When I asked her specifically that we wanted to run some quick hits, are you comfortable with that? Yes. Not one time did she say no," Summitt said. "It's taken her awhile to get comfortable so that when we call sets she knows all the action. A lot of time she plays two different positions, four or five, and that's a lot when you come out of high school and as she would tell you, ‘We just played.' "
"(We ran) some to her and some to Nicky or Candace or Alex. I did it by design to see if she's gotten better. And she's gotten a lot better."
"I would say the most help that I get from a post (on the floor) is Nicky Anosike," Baugh said. "She talks to me the most but definitely Candace and Alex help. Candace helps a lot on the floor, little things that she knows freshman can forget. She always tells me to look to face up because she says that's definitely something I'm strong at and no one can stop me. She helps a lot with moves, and Nicky, too.
"I've learned different moves out of it. Now I face up to the basket and I can still penetrate and do things that I used to do. That just comes from help from Dean and working with Nicky and Candace."
Parker's praise of Baugh has been effusive all season.
"She's an amazing athlete, an amazing talent, and she's going to do great things here at Tennessee," Parker said.
Baugh and Fuller provide post play off the bench that could be the difference for Tennessee in the postseason.
"It doesn't put as much pressure on our starters," Summitt said. "It gives them a chance to get some minutes of rest and us not losing anything. I'm not saying we've got to increase the lead during that time, but we've got to maintain at best.
"That's strong off the bench And if we can get Bird playing at a different level, look at that. She needs to be in the gym every opportunity she gets. She's too laidback. She's got to be more intense every possession. Her career is winding down. If she wants to play at the next level there has to be a sense of urgency all the time."
Alberta Auguste is a senior wing player who can play lockdown defense but has been sporadic on offense. She had her best game of the season on both ends of the floor against Mississippi State in Starkville on Feb. 7.
Summitt noted guard play from Auguste, Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt has to tighten up for Tennessee to succeed this postseason.
Bobbitt seemed to turn a corner against the Crimson Tide with seven assists and an up-tempo mindset.
"At times the ball's gotten stuck in her hands," Summitt said.
Sometimes Bobbitt tries to get too much from a possession – such as driving in among the taller post players and getting too deep to be effective – but film sessions with Summitt have helped.
"I thought she was there for a number of games and kept talking to her about it," Summitt said. "I think she's looking now just to push tempo really hard. When she does that she gets the ball out of her hands and we get the ball moving offensively a lot better. The one thing about Shannon is she's very coachable. We've watched film, and I think that's really helped her.
"If you look at her game and her style, she shoots the three ball and goes to the hole, and her midrange game we see occasionally but that midrange game for her, to me, is more important than her going all the way to the basket. And I think she's aware of that now. I think in her career in high school and in junior college she'd go right at the rim."
Summitt wants Hornbuckle in the gym taking shots. Every other aspect of Hornbuckle's game is solid.
"I think Alexis really needs to tighten up her offensive package," Summitt said. "If she'll come in there and really work on her catch and shoot, dribble into her shots, keep herself on balance, I think that's key for this basketball team. That's a big piece of the puzzle if we want to cut down nets. She knows.
"And Alberta. If you're going to win championships you've got to have great guard play. Obviously I like our frontline, but who's going to get them the ball? Who's going to do what they have to do offensively and defensively? Both sides of the ball, the guard play it's huge."
With three games left in the regular season, Summitt's focus is on daily improvements that will matter in the postseason.
Guard play tops her list, along with consistency for 40 minutes. Tennessee has started squirting turnovers again – the Lady Vols had 18 against Alabama – but the circumstances are not such that Summitt is overly concerned because of the team's fast style of play.
"I think we can be much more efficient in taking care of the basketball," Summitt said. "We get a little careless. I'm not overly concerned about it at this point. Alberta's got to be an efficient player for us. I think there are times she's indecisive, but she's such an important piece to this puzzle for our team. She needs to be in the gym shooting more and constantly working on her skills offensively and her ball handling."
As that statement shows guard play is very much on Summitt's minds. Fortunately it's also on Hornbuckle's mind.
"We need to work on definitely putting together a 40-minute game, which means not taking possessions off," Hornbuckle said. "Offensive efficiency, sometimes we struggle with that. (Thursday) night we had back-to-back turnovers. So taking care of the ball, getting on the boards consistently. The latter part of the game we were allowing Alabama to get rebounds that we should have controlled. No matter the score, if we're up by 20 or down by three we should want to control the boards every time.
"You have to have the same mindset. If there's 10 minutes left in the game and you know the game is won, it doesn't matter. We're trying to work on Tennessee. We need to have five people on the court that's willing to not take possessions off, whether it's passing, moving, cutting, knowing plays, just the simple stuff."
Summitt has often mentioned the killer instinct shown by her 1997-98 team that got opponents down and never let them get back in the game. There are apparently some seeds of that spirit tucked away in Baugh.
"Of course come out with a victory," Baugh said of the goals for the last three regular season games. "(But) I feel like we give up our leads and that's something that's going to harm us. We should just brutally come out and take everything we have on every team every game."
That mindset, especially coming from the bench, could be exactly what Tennessee needs as it turns it attention in less than two weeks from the regular season to the postseason. A shiny reminder arrived last week in the form of the championship rings.
"It was nice," Hornbuckle said. "Obviously we wanted them a lot sooner, but it's timely considering we have three more games left and then tournament play. It was timely just to get that little extra boost for them, that drive to make them want to gain one as well."
"I think if anything it was definitely motivation to win it again," Parker said. "I was telling my teammates I got the guy's cut of the ring so that I could have it displayed somewhere. I don't want to wear it. It's a lot bigger. You put it in a case or something, which one day I want to eventually do because Shelden didn't get a ring. I'm just playing. Cheap shot. So I want to one day put it in a display case.
"But I really want a girl cut so we've got to win it this year so I can get a girl's cut, and I can wear it."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.7 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (10.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.6 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (20.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.4 spg, 2.2 blocks per game); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (9.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.8 spg).
Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning is expected to start: Marneshia Richard, 5'8 junior guard, No. 25 (9.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.8 rpg), had season highs of 20 points and six steals against South Carolina; Alexis Rack, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 2 (11.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg), hit her season average in the first half against the Gamecocks; Robin Porter, 5'11 junior guard, No. 24 (7.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg), had six boards against the Gamecocks, the team's first road win of the SEC season; Tysheka Grimes, 6'0 sophomore forward, No. 23 (11.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg), had a career-high five steals against Georgia; and Imesia Jackson, 6'1 senior forward, No. 45 (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), had 10 boards against Arkansas.
The two teams just played each other a little over two weeks ago so there should be no surprises Sunday.
The Lady Vols watched film before Saturday's practice – they went over the scouting report, got in more shots, both from the field and from the line – and essentially used the time to concentrate on getting better.
"Our film session was more so our game," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "We broke down our game, and it was more of a teaching tape. What would you do in this situation different? This is what you did here and it was great. We broke down our game tape and showed them where we can get better."
SCOUTING REPORT: Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Mississippi State game. Here is her assessment.
When Mississippi State has the ball: "They do a lot of penetration and anytime you have athletes penetrate – we're an aggressive man-to-man defensive team – it can be difficult to defend. They get in the paint, and they try to get you to help and that's what they did last time we played. We had to rotate our defense a lot and when you start doing that, and you have to scramble, that's when your defense breaks down. We're going to make sure we keep them in front of us and not have to rotate our defense and get mismatches."
Alexis Rack got loose in the last game for Mississippi State and scored a career-high 32 points. She hit seven 3-pointers. Keeping track of Rack will be a priority Sunday.
Warlick expects Sharon Fanning to have her Lady Bulldogs play man-to-man defense again.
"They play mostly man," Warlick said. "That's her m.o. (method of operation). They're aggressive. They try to trap you. They try to make you rush. They're a scrappy team. Their record I don't think is any indication of what type of team they can be. They've had some really close losses. They play hard and as a coach – they may not have as much, say, supposed overall talent as we do – but they make it up in effort, but as a coach you've got to be pleased with how hard they play."
When Tennessee has ball: "We want to stay focused. That was our main thought for the day was to get focused. We've been focused in the Vanderbilt game and the Alabama game, and we've just got to build on what we've done the last two games. Our m.o. is to get transition points. We want to push the ball, and we want to get paint points. When we do that it opens up the outside."
The last game against Mississippi State left three Lady Vols in Jenny Moshak's training room. Angie Bjorklund broke her nose after taking a shot to the face – she now wears a splint for protection – Candace Parker tweaked her left knee, and Alberta Auguste hurt her left shoulder and now wears a protective brace.
"Every game we want to (get out healthy)," Warlick said. "It's a physical game, and they're a physical team. That's how they can stay with us. They shouldn't be able to just because we're taller, but they just find ways to get it done. It makes us nervous about people getting hurt. It always does this time of year."
Tennessee is expecting a capacity crowd Sunday – a wingspan poster of Candace Parker is being offered to fans who arrive early – and people in the seats to the top of the arena is something that matters to the players and staff.
"It's huge," Warlick said. "It's a tribute to our fans. They love to watch this team play. I think the men's success has helped our attendance because it's brought interest to basketball in general back to Tennessee. It's awesome. It's awesome to come out here. Wow. It's special.
"It's a tribute to what our teams have done in the past. This team plays hard. They get a little lax at times and they lose their focus, but they play hard. When they lose their focus and they don't play hard, that's when trouble starts."
ON TAP: Eight other SEC teams are in action today in the following matchups: Ole Miss at Alabama; Kentucky at Arkansas; Auburn at Georgia; and South Carolina at Florida. LSU steps out of conference to play Connecticut on Monday. Vanderbilt is idle Sunday.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series against Mississippi State, 27-0. The Lady Vols are 11-0 in Knoxville, 12-0 in Starkville and 4-0 at neutral sites. The Lady Bulldogs are the only team to have never beaten Tennessee. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on February 24. The two losses were to Maryville, 18-3, in 1906; and Sullins College (Bristol, Va.), 15-12, in 1923. The last win on this date came against Mississippi State, 78-56, in Knoxville in 2005. … Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning was a graduate assistant under Pat Head Summitt during the 1975-76 season. Fanning is one of more than five dozen former players, graduate assistants or assistant coaches who have landed collegiate head coaching jobs after their days at Tennessee. … Tennessee's smallest player, the 5'2 Shannon Bobbitt, has been all over the boards of late. Over the last two weeks, Bobbitt has averaged 5.0 rpg, including a career-high seven boards at Mississippi State. On the season she has collected more than four rebounds in 10 games. … Lady Vol freshman Angie Bjorklund is making a name for herself in the SEC. Bjorklund, Georgia's Angela Puleo and Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap are the only three SEC rookies who have started every game this season for their teams. The threesome is considered leading candidates for SEC Rookie of the Year honors. Bjorklund, a record-breaking three point scorer in 26 games, leads the trio by tossing in 10.2 ppg on 41.3 percent field goals (95-230), 40.8 percent three-pointers (58- 142) and 90.0 percent free throws (18-20). She also averages 26.3 minutes per contest and 3.5 rpg. In the post, Dunlap adds 7.5 ppg on 45.8 percent field goals (76-166) and 45.5 percent free throws (35-77). She also averages 27.2 minutes per contest and 6.2 rpg. Puleo operates out of the backcourt and has started all 26 games, where she chips in 8.6 ppg on 42.3 percent field goals (82-194), 35.2 percent three-pointers (44-125) and 64.0 percent free throws (16-25). She also averages 29.7 minutes per contest and 2.5 rpg. … Lady Vol Nicky Anosike joined the 1,000-point career club against Alabama, thus marking the seventh time that the Lady Vols have had three players in the lineup with more than 1,000 career points and the first time in seven seasons. The 1,000-point UT trios: 2000-01 – Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall, Michelle Snow; 1998-99 – Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall; 1994-95 – Dana Johnson, Nikki McCray, Tiffany Woosley; 1993-94 – Dana Johnson, Nikki McCray, Tiffany Woosley; 1983-84 – Tanya Haave, Mary Ostrowski, Paula Towns and 1982-83 – Tanya Haave, Mary Ostrowski, Lea Henry. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 79.2 points per game while allowing 60.9. Mississippi State averages 68.4 points while surrendering 61.9. The Lady Vols shoot 45.8 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from behind the arc and 72.6 percent from the free throw line. The Lady Bulldogs shoot 38.6 percent from the field, 29.5 percent from behind the arc and 67.5 percent from the line. Tennessee averages 40.5 rebounds per game while giving up 36.0 per game for a +4.5 margin. Mississippi State averages 39.3 rebounds while allowing 38.4 for a +0.9 margin. The Lady Vols average 16.6 assists per game and 17.3 turnovers while forcing opponents into 21.5 miscues. The Lady Bulldogs average 14.0 assists and 17.4 turnovers while causing 22.1 giveaways by foes. Tennessee averages 12.2 swipes and 6.1 swats a game. Mississippi State averages 10.4 steals and 3.1 blocks per game.