"We've been talking about it a long time and it's about time we did it," Angie Bjorklund said. "We've been so inconsistent throughout games throughout the season, and I think we did finally put one together. A big thing was just keeping our energy up no matter what the score is."
Bjorklund, a freshman wing, scored 14 points behind four 3-pointers. Tennessee hit nine 3-pointers in the game, and the open looks came out of double teams in the half-court set and in transition.
"The three ball definitely adds to our game," Candace Parker said. "I know it opens up things for me and Nick down low. I think it gives us a vote of confidence, especially when we're knocking down outside shots."
Parker was one of five Lady Vols who played for the final time on "The Summitt." The others were Nicky Anosike, whose family arrived just after halftime after flight delays and did get to see her play; Alexis Hornbuckle, whose mother sang the national anthem; Alberta Auguste, whose father, Albert Auguste, attended from Louisiana; and Shannon Bobbitt, whose family flew in from New York.
"I just played the game normal, but it is always a good feeling when you know you have your family supporting you, and they came a long way," Bobbitt said.
The players hurried through pre-game – the lengthy senior ceremony necessitated speeding up the process – and slipped out of the locker room to stand in the tunnel as Quan Hornbuckle brought down the house with her rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."
"She's special," Alexis Hornbuckle said.
The Lady Vols followed the ceremony with one of their best displays of basketball all season in terms of effort at all five spots on the floor. A 20-point halftime lead got bigger in the second half, even as Pat Summitt continued to shuffle players in and out, as she had done in the first half.
"I thought Shannon did a great job of pushing tempo and getting us into our primary offense right off the bat," Bjorklund said. "Nicky Anosike brought so much energy right from the start.
"I think that's key. When we get lackadaisical or just going through the motions, that's when the other team starts to catch up and we slip here and there and take possessions off. We've just got to stay excited."
The team had endured a grueling practice Monday that started in the upper deck at the behest of Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, who wanted the players to have a fan's perspective on the game.
"If somebody is going to sit up in those seats and stay and watch a game then they deserve some kind of effort on the floor," Warlick said. "I wouldn't have stayed on those top-level seats watching. I wanted to get up sitting on the front row. You get a different perspective up there.
"You love to watch women's basketball or any kind of basketball if you sit up there. We weren't living up to anybody's expectation in this gym."
So the coaches ratcheted up the practice pace – Monday also involved a lot of wind sprints – and demanded more from the players at high decibels sometimes. The players responded – both in that practice and the next game.
"We've worked on it since Mississippi State," Warlick said. We've been pretty tough on them."
Summitt left the arena Thursday night with a smile, but she had plenty to say at practice Friday as she implored the team to rebound and defend in a series of drills that demanded a lot of effort. Practice concluded with players getting in lots of shots.
"I went home feeling a lot better about them, but we've got to see it all the time," Summitt said. "I think they're starting to see, as I say, the light at the end and hopefully it's not a train coming.
"I think they've really started to focus, and I think Nicky Anosike has had a lot to do with where we are right now. Last night she was tough. She's really stepped up her game of late."
Anosike had 15 points and 12 rebounds against Florida in just 18 minutes of play. She had five rebounds within the first five minutes. And it wasn't just the number of boards but how she pulled them down – forcefully and without doubt as to whom the ball belonged to.
"When she gets those rebounds it just brings a ton of energy," Bjorklund said.
Right before practice started Hornbuckle smiled and noted that a good game performance meant a bearable session for the players.
"Coach is a lot happier allows for a little bit easier practice but honestly we need that because after this game it's tournament time," Hornbuckle said of Sunday's finale against Georgia (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2). "One and done. Survive and advance. If you can't put together a 40-minute game you probably won't advance."