"I've never had a group play better defense than tonight," Summitt said in a downtown hotel ballroom packed with Tennessee fans as the clock turned to the wee hours of Wednesday and the team was officially presented with the 2008 NCAA/WBCA Coaches' Trophy that will join the seven others in the basketball offices in Knoxville.
Tennessee, 36-2, completed a Final Four in which it held both opponents to under 50 points. The Lady Vols defeated LSU, 47-46, on Sunday to make it to the title game Tuesday against Stanford, 35-5.
"Pressure them, and we loved the fact that nobody picked up to win," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "That was what motivated us truly. We were reading an article where it said Tennessee is not going to be able to hold Stanford to under 50 points because they're basically offensive machines. We held them to 48."
"We came out here with that mindset," Nicky Anosike said. "The scoring is going to come, but we'd better stop them, and it worked for us."
Stanford had a season-high 25 turnovers and Tennessee scored 26 points off of those miscues. The Lady Vols led 37-29 at halftime and limited Stanford to just 19 second-half points. The Cardinal shot 38.8 percent overall and 27.3 percent (3-11) from behind the arc. Tennessee was only slightly better shooting-wise at 39.3 percent, but added 13 steals and two blocks.
"We were so motivated and so focused going into that game," Hornbuckle said. "The press is what motivated us. All the negativity that was circling around Tennessee is what drove us."
The Lady Vols had watched Stanford's semifinal win over Connecticut and saw how vulnerable the Cardinal was to pressure when the Huskies brought some heat late in the game to try to come back.
"I think that in a way what really hurt us was how we finished the Connecticut game," Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. "And it was like Tennessee just picked up where Connecticut left off. The clock ran out in the Connecticut game, but Tennessee is actually bigger and more athletic and could get hands on balls."
Tennessee was led by Candace Parker, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, with 17 points. She was joined in double figures by Shannon Bobbitt with 13 points and Anosike with 12. Both players made the All-Tournament Team, which was rounded out by LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Stanford's Candice Wiggins.
Jayne Appel led the Cardinal with 16 points and Wiggins added 14. The two also combined for 10 turnovers because of the withering pressure applied by Tennessee. Anosike took the top of the full-court and three-quarter court press and had six steals in the first half, including one in which she stripped Wiggins in the open floor.
"They really rely a lot on their defense to get them going," Wiggins said. "And they're big. They're in passing lanes. So you can't have any sloppy passes. And I think that's what happened in the beginning of the game."
Wiggins was in double digits but she shot 6-16 as Alberta Auguste and Hornbuckle took turns sticking to her.
"The key was to slow Candice Wiggins up, deny her and see what the other offensive players could do," Auguste said. "We did a good job on her."
Tennessee had Stanford discombobulated from start to finish and forced turnovers via steals and passes that sailed out of bounds. The Cardinal had run efficient offensive sets in the half-court throughout the NCAA Tournament, and Summitt said the game plan was to disrupt that flow.
"Our defensive intensity was tremendous and that's because they believe in our system," Summitt said. "I love offense, but there's a lot of nights I don't like what I see. And if we're not scoring and not making shots, how are you going to win? You've just got to impose your will on the defensive end and on the boards.
"I think when we were getting turnovers and getting out in transition and getting a lot of good open looks that just inspired them even more. I told them we have to turn them over. We've got to get in the open floor against this team because if we sit in an half-court situation they're going to run their sets and they're going to score at will. I thought extending our defense, taking time off, getting Stanford a little bit late in the clock was favorable for us."
The Stanford players said the pressure by Tennessee was the difference in the game.
"I feel like we went over in practice how aggressive they were going to be and how to break the press," JJ Hones said. "But you can't practice that kind of aggressiveness. They're an extremely talented team and they have a lot of big, long bodies. We would push the ball up the court, but there would look like there was nowhere to go."
The top of the press was handled by Anosike with backup from Parker and Vicki Baugh. Anosike, a 6'4 center, has the speed to go with her length and size to chase smaller players in the backcourt. When the Cardinal players would look up, Anosike was looming.
"That is definitely why I came here because I knew the Lady Vols are about that warrior mentality and that warrior spirit," Anosike said "Honestly, I was possessed."
There is a fierceness in Anosike that is similar to her coach, who sees enough of herself in the player to know when to back away.
"She's stubborn; I'm stubborn. She's competitive; I'm competitive. She's outspoken, and I'm outspoken," Summitt said. "So I guess you could say there's a lot of similarities in our personalities. Sometimes when I go to her I can tell she's just really tense. So there are times I just walk away."
Every player in Tennessee's locker room after the game mentioned the doubters and naysayers who had picked against them in the Final Four.
"We won another championship back to back was going through my mind," Bobbitt said of her thoughts as she left the floor for the final time at the St. Pete Forum before 21,655 fans, the majority of which were wearing orange. "I just wanted to tell all the haters, all the people who didn't believe in us, we won two championships so they can take that with them. Believe in that."
"We had a lot of doubters," Alex Fuller said. "That was our main theme and just to win it for us and our program. I don't think it's hit everybody yet."
"I think we've accomplished everything that no one out there thought we could," Anosike said. "Last year no one expected us to win the championship and this year no one expected us to win the championship, and we won both times. Proving everyone wrong is really what we accomplished."
Summitt just smiled outside the locker room. She knew her team would walk onto the floor with a massive chip on its shoulder after listening to the pundits, especially Kara Lawson, a former Lady Vol who picked Stanford to win in her capacity as an ESPN commentator.
"I think everyone picking Stanford really inspired this team," Summitt said. "When that started happening I started smiling. I thought, ‘Yes! That's just going to fire them up.' Especially when Kara Lawson didn't pick them. That just about sent Candace over the edge. I said I'm going to send Kara flowers or something to thank her."
Former players also arrived in Tampa to talk to the team. The current players also decided postseason was a good time to deploy Summitt's system of board and defense. The result was holding two teams under 50 points on the way to the national title.
"I think it says they're smart enough to know the system has worked and it worked six times before they got there, and it's worked two times (for them)," Summitt said. "They really understood it and to have some of these other former players being around them and Daedra Charles talking about it, I think they all said, ‘They're right. They did it. Now we're going to do it.' "
Parker had nine rebounds, four steals and one block to go with her 17 points. Anosike had eight rebounds, and Auguste added seven, along with seven points.
"I guess defense does win games and rebounding wins championships so Pat's done something right in her 30-something odd years at coaching," Parker said. "I think that's why she has eight and she's the leading coach in the world in wins. I feel like she knows what she's talking about and we bought into her system finally and pulled it out."
Tennessee also found some offensive help for Parker, who played with an injured left shoulder, in Anosike and Bobbitt, who was responsible for the Lady Vols' three 3-pointers. She fired all three in first half – two came in a span of 49 seconds – after tucking herself in the corner.
"Postseason she's hunting for that shot," Hornbuckle said. "Coach tells her game in and game out, ‘Hunt for your shot. Look for your shot,' and she was ready to shoot that and it was going in."
In just two years, Bobbitt hit 28 three-pointers in NCAA Tournament games, tying her for fifth place in the tourney record books. What is it about Bobbitt and the Final Four when it comes to hitting behind the arc?
"We should ask Shannon," Parker said. "She always seems to hit the big threes. I remember in the Rutgers game she hit a couple of big ones. I think it's the Final Four in itself. We all realize that we came this far and always joke about Ricky Bobby in ‘Talladega Nights' if you ain't first you last.
"We just didn't want to come out here and have a national championship slip out of our hands. We watched the Memphis-Kansas game and we realized that it's not over until it says zero, zero, zero."
"These are the most crucial moments of the season and I just had to come in with a lot of confidence in my shots," Bobbitt said. "In the first and second rounds I wasn't knocking the shots down and I was a little frustrated.
"I was in a little slump, but my teammates kept on encouraging me telling me I can knock down a three ball. My coaches encouraged me and told me to hunt the shot. That's what I did tonight and they went in for me."
Tennessee also got a stellar performance from Baugh. The 6'4 freshman forward had eight points on 3-4 shooting and four rebounds. She drove to the basket in the second half, hit the layup and landed awkwardly on her left leg. She crumpled to the baseline in pain.
"I just landed on it funny, and they don't know what the case is right now," Baugh said. "I just remember a sharp pain shoot up my knee. It was just the way I landed after the layup. I'm starting to bend it a lot more. We're going to see what's up in Knoxville."
The team will return to Knoxville on Wednesday morning and Baugh will be evaluated back home. Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine, said the initial diagnosis was a knee sprain, but the extent of the injury won't be known until diagnostic tests are performed.
Baugh implored her teammates to win as she was carried from the court to the locker room. She returned on crutches with less than two minutes remaining in the game to an ovation from the fans and sat at the end of the bench so that she could extend her leg. Her left knee was wrapped and encased in ice as she sat on a training table in the locker room post-game.
Baugh had tears in her eyes, but it wasn't because of her knee. She was thinking about saying goodbye to the five seniors on the team.
"It's real hard," Baugh said. "I love these girls. I love these seniors. They're all like sisters out there. They know I have their back if they need anything. If they need anything I'm there."
One of those leaving is Parker, who picked up two other pieces of hardware in Tampa to go along with the national trophy and tourney MVP, when she was named AP player of the year and awarded the Naismith Trophy, making her a high school and collegiate winner of the prestigious award.
Baugh got quite an endorsement from Parker.
"Vicki Baugh is going to be an All-American," Parker said. "She will be. Mark my words. With her heart and her determination. She's raw, but she helped us tremendously this season. She is the reason why we won a national championship if you look at her production. She made the basket when she hurt her knee. I think that just puts an exclamation point on what's she done for this team.
"And when she's getting carried off the floor her motivating us and telling us she wants us to go: ‘Let's go. Let's win this.' I just love her to death. She's a great teammate."
The WNBA draft is next for Parker. She is the presumptive No. 1 pick of the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday. She also will need to have her left shoulder evaluated more now that postseason is over.
"My shoulder is … it's sore," Parker said. "I always said I was just going to get to Tuesday and then deal with it after that. It's really sore and I will have to get it looked at after this and go from there. A national championship heals it up."
Parker could have opted to sit out the Final Four – the move would have been understandable after she twice dislocated her left shoulder against Texas A&M – but she rehabbed for a week to the point of exhaustion and suited up for both games.
So, why play?
"My teammates and my coaches and just pride in itself," Parker said. "I was never taught to quit anything. We had to have conversations with my family and with the doctors that if it came out so many times you did have to tell me to quit. My teammates and coaches have always been there and I didn't want to be known as somebody who just quit."
Parker knew she had to rely on her teammates and they came through Tuesday on both ends of the court.
"We lean on each other and I feel like it's pick your poison," Parker said. "I'm just really excited that this team stepped up and showed the world that we are a team and we do believe in Coach Summitt's system of defense and rebounding."
Tennessee remembered its breakdown in the overtime loss to Stanford – not denying the middle of the floor to take away the high-low game, not protecting the ball, letting the Cardinal back in the game before halftime, getting out-rebounded, porous defense and surrendering the lead.
"The keys from the last game that we lost to Stanford was denying the high post and just pressure and not giving up leads," Parker said. "We were up by 12 points (Tuesday), and we looked at each other and we were like, ‘We have to go on a run, because they're going to go a run.' We just came out and countered everything that they came at us with."
Stanford scored the first points on a 3-pointer by Wiggins, and the game was tied, 7-7, after three minutes had elapsed. But Tennessee methodically went to work on offense and buckled down on defense and built a lead bit by bit.
Stanford cut an eight-point halftime lead, 37-29, in half in the first 30 seconds of the second half, but then Tennessee turned up its pressure and began pushing the lead to nine to 11 points. The Lady Vols never lost the lead or their momentum.
"That was great," said Hornbuckle, who will make a last-minute shopping trip Wednesday in Tampa to find an outfit for the draft. "And we needed that honestly. And I think our fans needed that because they've been with us through thick and thin and I think we've been ready to give some of them heart attacks. Just showing them how Tennessee basketball was meant to be played, and we held that for 40 minutes."
Summitt had been begging her team to play for 40 minutes all season. She got what she wanted in Tampa.
"They drove me crazy," Summitt said. "They drove me crazy a lot of days, but I love this group and I'm just so proud for them."
Summitt was able to bring three seniors out to a standing ovation, but with Baugh injured she had just three subs in Fuller, Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, so Bobbitt and Auguste played to the final horn. Parker came out with one minute remaining and embraced Bobbitt and Auguste at center court before running into Summitt's arms.
When the buzzer sounded the celebration commenced with hugs and leaps into the air. Parker popped her jersey to the Tennessee section, and confetti ribbons began to fall from the rafters in green, orange, white and blue. Commemorative newspapers were courtside within seconds.
The players donned T-shirts and ball caps and hugged each other and their coaches and pointed into the stands at family and friends.
A stage was erected at center court, and the loudest cheer was when Summitt left a courtside radio interview and climbed the steps. She was presented the national title trophy, which she promptly handed to her players.
"Some players don't get one and I'm fortunate enough to have two," Parker told the fans, thousands of whom stayed for the post-game ceremony.
The players took turns climbing the ladder and tucked strands of net onto the adjustable strap of their ball cap or around their wrist. Fuller snipped a piece for Baugh and handed it to Parker, who delivered it to the freshman.
"She said she was proud of me," Baugh said. "We're family here so we're all proud of each other and she just let me know how proud she is and everything is going to be all right."
Moshak got one of the biggest cheers from the crowd, which knew she was the primary reason why Parker was able to play. Moshak didn't hear the cheers because she was focused on the ladder steps.
"I was just trying not to fall," Moshak said. "It's always nice to be appreciated. I love my job. There's a lot of passion that I bring to the job, but it's easy to be motivated when you're working with a great group of young ladies like this."
Summitt went up last – a fan held up a sign that said "We have championships down Pat" – to raucous cheers from the crowd. She cut the last strand, waved the net above her head and blew a kiss to the crowd.
Players went to the stands to hug their parents and then scooted to the locker room for the last time this season.
"I was just fortunate to come in when I did just to be able to play with these five seniors," said Bjorklund, who misfired on her shots but played outstanding defense on the perimeter. "I feel like the luckiest freshman ever."
The team gathered four blocks away from the Forum in the Hyatt Regency ballroom to officially accept the crystal trophy.
Beth Bass, the CEO of the WBCA, counted the number of national titles with the crowd with an extra exclamation when they got to eight.
As the team took the stage, the band struck up "Rocky Top," and the fans got to erupt yet again.
Parker kissed the trophy and then handed the crystal ball to Summitt.
"It's a happy-sad time for me with all these seniors leaving," said Summitt, who joked "it's probably time" to hand the program over to her assistants.
Summitt then had her five seniors speak to the fans. Bobbitt went first and thanked Summitt for the scholarship and the fans for being "the best in the country."
Anosike followed but broke down and couldn't speak.
"We love you Nicky," a fan shouted as her teammates bowed down to her.
As the fans chanted "Nicky, Nicky," she backed away from the podium and wiped away tears.
"Nicky is speechless right now so I'll take over," Auguste said. "I had a hard time with Pat. I enjoyed every minute of it Pat, and I love you."
As Parker took the podium, the fans chanted, "Come back, Candace," over and over and the underclassmen on the team joined in with the plea.
Parker also broke down but managed to talk – "sorry if I get emotional," she said – and told the fans how much it meant for her to be at Tennessee.
"I've got to thank Jenny Moshak," said Parker, who was promptly hugged by Moshak. "Heather Mason for kicking our butt. … I think to win back-to-back championships is just remarkable."
Anosike tried again and said she didn't realize her importance to the team until Tuesday night's game.
"Coach, thank you for being hard on me," Anosike said. "I wouldn't be the person I am today if you weren't as hard on me as everybody else."
That remark brought laughter to an emotional moment, and Anosike reminded the crowd to "give all the praise and glory to God."
Hornbuckle, who had hid behind a banner on the stage when she realized the seniors had to speak was pulled out and then stole the show.
"How you doin'?" Hornbuckle asked. "I think Dean might need some dance lessons. But he's single, too, ladies."
Hornbuckle was referring to Lockwood's Soulja Boy dance routine with Nikki Caldwell and Holly Warlick when tourney play started.
"We have the greatest fan support in America and thank you for sticking with us," Hornbuckle said.
Summitt saluted the former players sprinkled throughout the ballroom, including Sidney Spencer and Charles, and told all of them, "We love you, and we appreciate your support."
To the fans Summitt said, "I can't say enough about how you inspired our basketball team. We consider you a part of our family. Go Lady Vols."
It is always difficult for a coaching staff to say goodbye to the seniors, but in this case the coaches have to let go of five players.
"It's unbelievable," Warlick said. "It will be tough. But I'm proud of them. This has been a very special group and that's what it's all about and we've got to start back over. It's a good feeling and I'm going to enjoy it right now. We had a game plan and they followed it to a T."
The 2007-08 team becomes the first at Tennessee to repeat a national title since the feat was accomplished by the 1997-98 team.
"It's not easy to do what they did and they did it in great fashion, and they'll go down in history as one of the most special teams at Tennessee," Summitt said.