No. 5/13 Tennessee, 2-1, will tip off against Louisiana Tech, 1-1, at 3 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena. There is no television for this game so the Lady Vols are able to offer a free video webcast at their website: Lady Vols All Access.
The series between the Lady Vols and Lady Techsters began in 1978 and was dominated by LaTech – Tennessee had one win in 12 tries – until 1987 when UT got its second win in the series and also won its first national title.
The two schools had recently agreed to a two-and-one series – LaTech came to Knoxville twice for one Tennessee trip to Ruston, La., because Pat Summitt needed to add more home games – but with the expansion of SEC league play next season even that arrangement won't work anymore.
Sunday's game will mark the conclusion of one of the most storied rivalries in women's college basketball, especially when Summitt and former LaTech Coach Leon Barmore – both are inductees into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame – squared off on the sideline.
"This ends the series," Summitt said. "I like where we are (with a mixture of out-of-conference opponents), but obviously I would never think about the history of our program without thinking about Louisiana Tech and what a difference they made. I learned a lot every time we played them."
The SEC plans to increase league games from 14 to 16 next season so the Lady Vols will have to adjust the OOC schedule to pick up the two extra SEC contests.
"I think it is what it is because we're adding games to our conference and keeping in mind, too, we've picked up some new opponents," Summitt said. "Obviously our series with Rutgers was important for us and keeping Texas and adding Virginia. I think just being able to travel and play different league opponents than the SEC is good.
"It gets you better prepared for postseason and what you might see there."
Right now every opponent that Tennessee faces is new for the majority of the team as six true freshmen try to adjust to collegiate basketball. Summitt and her staff were exasperated after Friday's 66-63 win at Chattanooga because of the overall lack of defense.
The Lady Vols held a relatively short practice Saturday – the film session was nearly as long as the floor work – and every drill was half-court to save their legs with two games over the next three days. In some ways practice time would be more beneficial, but a game showing up so soon on the schedule also allows the team to immediately have a chance to apply new lessons.
Which would Summitt rather have right now – practice or a game?
"Ask me after the game," Summitt said. "My gut level is we need practice and repetition. (But) we had a really good film session."
Summitt wasn't much in the mood Saturday to allow youth to be an excuse for the breakdowns on defense.
"Trust me at halftime I was in disbelief that they could come in this gym and work with this coaching staff and not understand defense," Summitt said. "It's not that they don't understand it. It's that they would run hard on offense, but they wouldn't run hard on defense, they (being) the freshmen in general.
"It was like there was a pot of gold in the paint because everyone was running back there. No one was fanning out, picking up."
This is the youngest team Summitt has ever assembled and three players she was counting on to help anchor the team while the freshmen matured have been in and out of the training room and have barely played this season. One of them, sophomore Angie Bjorklund, hasn't played at all and won't be cleared for Sunday's game because of treatment for a back injury.
"It's been a long time since I had a team like this, as far as youth, but that's no excuse when you've been in practice with us as many days as you have, 27 days of practice, and you don't understand the system," Summitt said.
Summitt reconsidered that statement because it's been apparent at times this season that five on the floor at a given time can run the defensive system.
"No, the system's not important to you," Summitt concluded upon second thought. "That has to change. We can find seven or eight people who will enjoy playing defense. We just haven't found them yet."
"You've got Amber and Lyssi, they run hard on offense but they don't run hard on defense," Summitt said. "They're not passionate about defending, and it's just about to send me over the edge. So what do you do?"
It was clear Summitt wasn't sure yet, but bench time is a surefire method of sending messages to players. However, she also doesn't want to hinder their defensive development with a quick hook.
"They have a long ways to go, but they have so much potential that I'm just staying on them," Summitt said. "But I've got to figure out the best way to get their attention, to really get their attention so that they are invested in our system."
The coaching staff also must balance recognizing that a young team secured a win in its first road game with clearly delineating what has to improve. That was done before practice with the lengthy chalk talk.
"I think our biggest thing is we show film, we try to break it down, points of emphasis and make sure they understand what they're not doing – keeping our kids in the fold but showing them the things they're not doing right and encouraging them and showing them the things that they are doing right," Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow said.
"The things that they did do well we show that. It's not always good to hammer, hammer, hammer away, but they need to understand the sense of urgency."
Tennessee scored 82 points against Virginia but faltered against Chattanooga with horrid outside shooting and an inconsistent performance at the free throw line that permeated the entire team. But the team has had plenty of reps on offense, starting with team workouts in September.
"I still feel good about our offense," Summitt said Saturday. "We were just so bad defensively last night."
Summitt's theory after the UTC game was that the effort committed to defense – even though it isn't synchronized as a team – ends up sapping first-year players on offense because they are not used to playing both ends of the floor.
Summitt cited Shekinna Stricklen, a guard/forward with deep three-ball range and an excellent jump shot, who has started the season 11-39 from the field. Stricklen, like the other freshmen, is learning to play a defensive system that goes well beyond the basics of high school. It takes freshmen much longer to get up to speed on defense.
"It does when you recruit pretty much all offensive players and that's pretty much what we did and then you try to teach them how to play defense," Summitt said. "I guess it's my fault. Like Shekinna Stricklen she was such a great offensive player coming out of high school and she's been really struggling. I think a lot of it is because she's having to expend so much energy on the defensive end.
"They're accustomed to playing one end of the floor really hard, but it's not the defensive end, it's the offensive end. And they're working to get their shots, not working to make stops on the other end. That's probably been the one thing that I've had to somehow deal with without just going crazy."
Tennessee hung eight banners in the rafters with defense and rebounding. The Lady Vol system is well documented. Two assistant coaches who played for Summitt are on the staff if the current players need additional reminders or someone to talk to about the Tennessee Way.
"Tennessee has always had good defensive teams, and we don't want to be a team that's not going to come out and play defense," said Charles-Furlow, a Wade Trophy winner who helped hang two of those banners in 1989 and 1991. "We can light up on offense, but we don't take the same aggression or the same type of attitude on the defensive end.
"It's an attitude when you play defense. You've got to want to do it. Sometimes it's not the most fun thing to do for some people, but guess what? Here at Tennessee you're going to have to play defense."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt waited until game day to finalize her lineup for the Chattanooga game, and she could do the same thing Sunday.
Redshirt freshman center Kelley Cain, expected to be an anchor on the inside for Tennessee, and sophomore sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund, expected to be an anchor on the outside, are both out for Sunday's game. Cain continues to be treated cautiously for a concussion sustained Nov. 10, and Bjorklund has a bulging disc in her lower back, though she did shoot and dribble in a few non-contact drills at practice Saturday.
Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh made her season debut Friday against UTC after being held out of practice for nearly two weeks to focus solely on rehab of her surgically reconstructed left knee. She had practiced sparingly before that and is working her way into condition.
"I think the best thing we did was just take her off the court and say, ‘Strengthen the quad,' " Summitt said.
Despite playing 22 minutes against Chattanooga on Friday night, Baugh was on the practice court Saturday and cleared to play today in the first in-season sign that she's turned a corner in her recovery.
With that in mind Summitt will likely start across the frontline: Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward, No. 44 (3.7 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game), leads the team in defensive boards at 14 and committed to defensive end of floor; Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (16.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg), leads team with eight steals, also committed to defensive end; and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 sophomore forward/center, No. 21 (4.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), athletic defender whose back-to-back blocks sealed the win over UTC.
Baugh also understands playing time is predicated on defense and board play, which can often feed into the offense.
"Defense and rebounds are key for our team," Baugh said. "Scoring, not so much. I think we can handle it offensively but defense and rebounding are where we need to turn it up.
"At the end of the game I knew we had to get a few stops to come out with the win and that's what I did. I played hard defense. I wasn't playing good defense in the beginning and let my team down with getting four fouls. I had to play smart and Coach let me know to come in and play smart and that the team needs me."
The backcourt lineup wasn't determined yet Saturday – Summitt wanted more time to meet with her staff – but she was leaning to starting: Cait McMahan, 5'2 sophomore guard, No. 2 (7.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 assists per game) at the point position. The two-guard spot will be filled by either Sydney Smallbone, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 20 (6.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg) or Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman forward/guard, No. 40 (11.0 ppg, 6.7 ppg).
If Summitt goes with Stricklen it's because she wants more size on the floor, but, in this case, she also wants the experience of McMahan at the start so Stricklen would stay on the wing. If she opts for Smallbone, it's a move for even more experience at the start.
Smallbone is also an excellent free throw shooter so she would be an immediate help at the line. Tennessee's performance as a team Friday was abysmal with a 23-43 stat line; however, the stripe was a strength in the game against Virginia with a 22-27 slate.
"We've been in situations where we weren't making free throws before," Baugh said. "That's definitely something we're going to have to turn up. But we have to pull together with other things. Sometimes that is going to happen.
"We've got to work at it and we've got to have a backup, whether it's a rebound or defense. We're just going to have to get in the gym more and shoot free throws because like coach said there's no excuse for that."
LaTech Coach Chris Long is expected to start: Jasmine Bendolph, 5'7 freshman guard, No. 32 (5.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg), point guard from Mobile, Ala., twice led Davidson High School to state Class 6A title game, state player of year in senior season; Whitney Jones, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 23 (13.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg), transfer from Baylor, was eligible to play last season but suffered season-ending injury Dec. 8, 2007; Tiawana Pringle, 5'8 junior guard, No. 22 (7.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), only player to start all 31 games for LaTech last season, had a team-high 88 assists for the season, hit six 3-pointers, all in the second half, against Stephen F. Austin; Adrienne Johnson, 6'0 sophomore forward, No. 33 (14.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg), scored a career-high 22 points against Central Arkansas in season opener; and Shanavia Dowdell, 6'2 junior forward, No. 42 (17.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg), started 29 games for the Lady Techsters last season, had a career-high 17 boards against Northwestern State, had 11 points and 11 boards in win over Alabama.
"Tennessee has some great young talent," Long said. "They signed arguably the top recruiting class in the country last year. I think this team may end up being one of the most athletic, big groups at Tennessee and that's saying something.
"They are aggressive and long. We must take care of the basketball and get good shots, and when we get good shots, we must knock them down. They present matchup problems for us. They can go very big and still be very athletic."
If McMahan, Fuller and Johnson do indeed all start Sunday for the Lady Vols it would mean three players from the state of Tennessee were on the floor at tipoff.
"I never really thought about it," said Fuller, who agreed being from the state is a source of pride for a player in orange. "For us, yes, but I think it says a lot to our fans when they see the three Tennessee players."
Fuller looks at the roster and doesn't see youth. She sees a team loaded with talent that needs to learn how to use it on both ends of the court.
"There's no doubt we have a lot of talent," Fuller said. "We've just got to put that talent to more use on the defensive use and put our athleticism to a bigger use."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Louisiana Tech game. Here is her assessment.
When Louisiana Tech has the ball: "I expect to see a lot of dribble penetration from them. They have some really good interior players. I know they'll look to go inside early and some high-low action. And getting on the boards. That ball goes up, they're going to go to the glass. Their board play is going to be huge."
Tennessee's defensive tactic is to bring some pressure, which is especially vital to disrupt a team's high-low looks. Stopping that action starts with perimeter pressure.
"We're definitely going to have to pressure the ball," Charles-Furlow said. "We're definitely going to have to get back in transition defense because they like to run. Will we mix it up? I'm not sure, but we need to definitely make a statement with our man defense and play hard. Just play hard and believe in the system."
When Tennessee has the ball: The opponent's strategy against the Lady Vols now is to pack the paint and dare someone to make outside shots. Tennessee needs to get its inside-outside attack – in which the posts and guards play catch to get an open look – on track early in the game.
"Utilizing our posts and just making sure that we're not in a rush to take outside shots," Charles-Furlow said. "Look inside-outside and feel confident that if the ball goes in it will come back out and for our post players to not feel like they've got to make something happen the first time they touch it.
"I think patience is very, very key in this game for us. Board play and transition defense are going to be key."
At such an early juncture in the season there is not a lot of film available, so scout coaches have to reach conclusions based on one or two games. Charles-Furlow expects the Lady Techsters to apply pressure.
"I know we'll definitely see man to man and we'll probably see some zone," she said. "We practice for all occasions so I hope we're ready for the pressure that they're going to come in here with."
ON TAP: Six other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: Northwestern at Arkansas; Ohio State at Auburn; Florida at Florida State; George Washington at Kentucky; Northwestern State at Mississippi State; and Vanderbilt at Michigan.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Louisiana Tech, 23-17 with a 10-5 record at home, 9-6 on the road and 4-6 at neutral sites. The Lady Vols have won the last eight games. LaTech last won in 1999. … Tennessee is 8-0 in games played on November 23. The last win on this date came against George Washington, 71-41, in 2004. … Louisiana Tech legend Teresa Weatherspoon, known as T-Spoon, is on the bench for the Lady Techsters this season as the associate head coach. Weatherspoon was on the 1988 team that defeated Tennessee in the Final Four. She played the entire game and tallied 13 points and 11 assists in the 68-59 win. … In last year's matchup against Louisiana Tech in Knoxville, the Lady Vols hit nine of their first 10 shots en route to an 81-60 win. The lead was 30 at halftime behind the 59 percent three-point shooting of Shannon Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle, Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone. Three of those players won't be in uniform this afternoon – Bobbitt and Hornbuckle departed for the WNBA and Bjorklund has an ailing back.