"I thought coming off our game at UTC, we had some really, really great teaching tape – the fact that we were running to the paint, not matching up," Pat Summitt said in her post-game press conference. "It was a lot of our freshman. But I think coming back, going right back to practice the next day after we watched every defensive possession – we did not watch any offense; we watched all defense – and I think it became very clear as to not denying the middle, not denying one pass away, not identifying threes, talking, rotating.
"We had so much poor information that finally after we went through the whole film I think it was a great teaching moment for our coaching staff and a great learning day for our basketball team. Today, we made a lot of progress, particularly in our transition and our defensive pickup."
Vicki Baugh moved into the starting lineup on Friday against Chattanooga in her first game since tearing the ACL in her left knee in Tennessee's national title win over Stanford in Tampa last April. She was able to participate in one pre-game practice and it showed as she played tentatively, but her back-to-back blocks in the closing minutes preserved the victory.
On Sunday Baugh showed the form that electrified the postseason as she got to the rim, got on the boards, fed Alex Fuller with a sweet pass on a cut to the basket and swatted away four balls that changed how Louisiana Tech attacked the paint.
"She's just a difficult matchup for most teams and particularly our team," Louisiana Tech Coach Chris Long said. ""She's big and she's been in the system longer than some of the other posts, the freshmen. She's just going to get better and better as she gets healthier. She's going to be a force."
"I think Lyssi really saw Vicki play, I think obviously gave a great example of how hard you can play and how much you can disrupt," Summitt said. "Vicki came up huge for us at UTC but again today just her presence it's been tremendous. And it's been a good example for all of our players.
"I think it's given both Amber and Lyssi a little more … it's made them a little more inspired."
When asked about the effect of watching Baugh, Gray gave an answer beyond her years as she deftly tied the notion of team with being motivated by an individual.
"It was huge for us because we're always talking about having each other's back and listening to each other on the floor," Gray said. "Listening isn't always what somebody is saying to you, but it's a lot of times what somebody is showing you.
"So when we're on the bench and we're seeing Vicki's energy from the jump of the game it showed us a lot and it picks us up and it makes us want to go in there and follow her up with that, so she knows she's not by herself."
Baugh received the loudest cheer from the crowd of 12,801 when she was introduced. It was the first career start at home for Baugh, and her inspiring performance in Tampa – in which she limped off the floor but implored her team to "Let's go y'all!" – resonated then and now.
"I didn't really notice, but we have a great supporting crowd," Baugh said. "That's not something I really notice, but tell the fans I said thank you. I was very excited. I tried not to be overanxious getting back on the court and just go crazy, but it's hard. I've just got to come out and take it out on Louisiana Tech."
That she did, as she took over on offense – Baugh had seven of Tennessee's first nine points and five rebounds at the 15:55 mark – and set the tone on defense with her deflections in full court pressure and her four blocks, one of which resembled a volleyball spike. Her presence made the Lady Techsters think twice about getting in the paint and then altering shots upon arrival.
"Vicki obviously has great, great quickness and just her being on the floor, I think she makes the offense at times second guess whether or not, ‘Do I shoot?' " Summitt said. "It's made our post defense so much better and so much quicker. I think the quickness factor is what allows her to be so disruptive and allows her to get a lot of touches.
"And just the fact that she's relentless. It's over and over and over. With our freshmen they can deny once, but they can't deny like four and five consecutive times. Well, she can deny all day. That's her mindset."
Brewer and Gray joined Baugh in double figures with 16 points apiece. Brewer completed the double-double with 12 rebounds, and Gray came down with seven. Four of Gray's 16 points came on offensive board play by covering the weak-side of the basket and cleaning up a teammate's miss.
Louisiana Tech was led by sophomore guard Whitney Jones with 23 points on 10-19 shooting. She also had nine rebounds and three steals. Jasmine Bendolph added nine points and four assists – half the Lady Techsters total for the game – and Adrienne Johnson and Tiawana Pringle had eight points apiece.
"Whitney had 16 points last year up here in the second half," Long said. "I think at that point she realized how good a player she could be, and then she broke her leg about two games later and didn't play the rest of the season. She's been in college three years, went to Baylor and then transferred to Louisiana Tech and had to sit out.
"She's been in college for awhile but has only played about 14 collegiate basketball games. So she's going to do nothing but get better and better. I thought our players competed. If we don't get in foul trouble I think we out-rebound them. We competed, and we're going to get better but I thought Whitney did a great job of keeping us in the game early."
"I just came out and played hard," Jones said. "Coach told us in the locker room to come out and play tough because Tennessee, they're going to be aggressive. I just came out hard and played hard and gave it all I've got."
A total of 54 fouls were called in the game – 32 on the Lady Techsters and 22 on the Lady Vols. Tennessee ended with two players, Brewer and Shekinna Stricklen, with four fouls. LaTech lost Shanavia Dowdell, Johnson and Pringle at the 9:24, 8:54 and 7:32 marks, respectively, in the second half.
LaTech also was missing Tarkeisha Wysinger, a 5'8 sophomore guard that Long had planned to play at the small and power forward spots, but she had arthroscopic knee surgery Nov. 13. She could return in time for the WAC games but will miss the non-conference portion of the schedule.
"That just made our post rotation even shallower," Long said. "Tennessee had went on a run (in the second half), and I'm sitting there trying to decide, ‘Can we go to the bench? If we do they may extend it out more and the game may be over. Or do we roll the dice and play them?'
"We played them, and they eventually fouled out. It was a physical game. It always is here. I thought in the paint, particularly, there were some quick fouls both ways. … Give Tennessee credit. They made plays in the second half and extended it out. Once we had three players foul out it was pretty tough to keep it close. But they played hard. We knew that was going to happen. I thought our kids played hard – maybe they played too hard."
Tennessee had the edge on the boards, 55-50, against a LaTech team that was averaging 52.5 rebounds a game entering Sunday's contest.
The Lady Vols had 16 turnovers to 28 for the Lady Techsters and disrupted LaTech in the open court and showed stout defense in the half court. Tennessee had eight steals, a low number by Lady Vol standards, but the players were more active defensively as a team on more possessions than in the first three games of the season.
"We knew they would press," Long said. "I was very disappointed; we haven't been hurt with a press in two or three years, and I didn't really expect it to hurt us tonight. Our turnovers against the press were really often unforced. It wasn't so many steals as much as us being careless with the basketball. And that was disappointing, because we've taken care of the basketball well this year."
The game marked the end of a longstanding series that began in 1978 when LaTech dominated the matchups and ended with Tennessee winning the last nine. Sunday's 35-point margin of victory was the largest for Tennessee, surpassing the 25-point win, 60-35, on Dec. 4, 2002, in Ruston. The Lady Techsters won nine straight from Dec. 15, 1980, to Feb. 9, 1987.
"I've been at Louisiana Tech for 10 years," said Long, who is in his fourth year as head coach. "I was an assistant for six. It doesn't get any better and I wish it could continue. I think there are some negotiations so it might be, I don't really know at this point, but I'd love to see it continue."
Summitt continued her pattern of shuttling players in and out throughout the first half and although the Lady Vols hit a few lulls, they got the lead from the opening seconds – Glory Johnson won the tip and then hit a 16-footer on an assist from Cait McMahan – and never trailed.
A 40-33 lead at halftime was in double digits with a Baugh layup and Johnson putback and the Lady Vols continued to extend the margin until the 94-59 final.
The crowd signaled its appreciation of the effort with an extended ovation as the game clock wound down.
The Lady Vols looked closer to what Summitt and her staff expects every game, but they are not there yet by any means.
"That's what I said in the locker room. That's exactly what I said, that's kind of scary eavesdropping on me," Summitt joked to the media at her post-game press conference. "It was progress. It was really good progress today.
"We haven't arrived. You never arrive in this game, but at the same time we took a step forward, and hopefully we'll be a better team because of it."
The third game in five days tips off Tuesday at 7 p.m. when former Lady Vol point guard Kellie Jolly brings her Western Carolina team to town. The Lady Vols will have to refocus immediately, just as they did after the UTC game.
Monday's practice session will begin, just as Saturday's did, with game film, a breakdown process that Brewer said helped her in Sunday's game
"It definitely helped a lot," Brewer said. "Whenever you're out there you really don't think about those things, but when coach puts them on tape it makes you realize what you're actually doing wrong. By going through all those different sets of defense it definitely changed my mind about the defense that I needed to play (Sunday)."
Gray said the biggest improvement defensively from Friday to Sunday was team execution, as the players knew better where to be, or where not to be.
"Just having each other's back," Gray said. "That's the main thing that we're harping is being in help side and the right places at the right time because there are certain things that you need to do on help side. My biggest thing is I always help up instead of helping in, but today all of us individually we made an improvement, and I think it showed as a team."
Summitt went to her bench in both halves and all 10 players scored. Johnson had 12 points and seven boards, Stricklen had nine points and Alicia Manning added seven points. As a team Tennessee shot 42.9 percent overall and would have been at 50 percent if not for the misfires from long range.
The free throw shooting improved, too, at 26-37 (70.3 percent). Stricklen was a perfect 5-5 from the stripe, and McMahan and Fuller were 2-2. Baugh made her sole free throw attempt in the first half after she stripped the ball at center court, drove to the basket, converted the shot and was fouled.
Manning also had seven rebounds and five assists in another solid showing by the freshman forward. In one first-half possession, Manning drove baseline, got cut off and found Baugh on the opposite side under the basket for a layup.
Summitt's starting lineup included three of her most experienced players in McMahan, Fuller and Baugh and it showed in particular on defense – all three players talk on the floor – and on an offensive series in which the ball went from McMahan, at the top of the floor, to Baugh, who was posting up on the high block, to Fuller, who cut to the basket from the wing, received the pass and finished the shot.
"We worked as a team," Baugh said. "We pushed the ball. We came in strong on defense, which was a main point that we had to get straight. We picked up our defense and basically it made us come together offensively and opened up more in the transition."
"This is definitely helping me define my roles on the team and also it helps my teammates to know how to play with me. We just have to build that chemistry together. We've never really had our whole team in a game, so it just makes me look forward to having Kelley and Angie."
"Hopefully, we can get her back in the near future," Summitt said of Bjorklund. "I have to leave that up to the medical staff – Dr. (Rebecca) Morgan and Jenny (Moshak). Jenny just told me today – because I'm asking every day – she said she is a lot better so we're closer now. That's not a whole lot of info for a coach, but I don't want to rush her back. I don't want her to have a setback."
Baugh had surgery last May and every game – she debuted against UTC – is a test for her reconstructed knee.
"I think it did well," Baugh said. "I continue to work out and do weights with Heather Mason, and Jenny Moshak is rehabbing every day. My knee is feeling better every day so I am just going to continue to work hard and try to keep the pressure off my right knee."
The coaches are eager to see the Lady Vols at full strength, but in the meantime the freshmen are getting extended looks, perhaps too extended Sunday as minutes piled up.
"A lot of the freshmen wanted to come out," Summitt said incredulously. "I just looked down the bench and said to my players, ‘Never in my career did I ever ask a coach to remove me from a game.' So we certainly haven't arrived. We had some that gave in to fatigue, but we made them play through it today, so that was a good thing."
Tennessee's defense was sharper in the second half – Fuller and Gray took back-to-back charges – as LaTech shot 27.3 percent after the break and 31.3 percent for the game.
"I think we got out in the passing lanes a lot better with denying and forcing them to have to work a lot harder to get the ball, forcing them to back cut," Summitt said. "Also, they had to play off the dribble more. When you don't have open passing lanes you tend to have to create and that's exactly what we wanted them to do. I thought we gave good support for the most part when we did break down."
The improvements also included players rotating better to help and not just ball watching.
"A lot better," Summitt said. "We tend to at times – and not so much today – to just be really glued to our player. It's like we're either a player magnet or a ball magnet. I think going through what we went through in our practice yesterday was very, very beneficial to understanding and what it means to make people back cut instead of catch all the time and if they're going to catch to make them catch out beyond the three-point line.
"That was evident from the beginning and much better in the second half, however, to just really overplay and disrupt."
Summitt has made it clear that her rotation as the season rolls along will be set by who is willing to play defense. She knows this team can score, as the freshmen class came in offensively skilled overall. A team with Cain and Bjorklund available means additional offense in the inside-outside attack.
Two players making their case to keep earning minutes were Gray and Brewer. They also are the two that Summitt has hounded about defense since practice began.
"I think both of them can help us," Summitt said. "Lyssi, her size around the basket is obviously very effective for us. Amber, of all the freshmen she may be the most skilled player. She's not the most athletic, but she has a great skill set. I think the combination of those two with Amber being able to face up a little more and Lyssi getting much better on the low post and they both can work inside and out (could be effective).
"They've made a lot of progress and I am encouraged by it, but I also know we've got to come back here (Monday) and have a preparation day for Western Carolina. They have to be mentally tough enough to turn around and watch tape (Monday) and then go on the floor and do our preparation for Western Carolina."
The players sound as if the Summitt system is sinking into their approach to games and practice. They acknowledged Sunday's win is beneficial to the psyche, but another test comes Monday when the team reassembles for film and a scouting session.
"It boosts our confidence in a way, but we still have a lot more work that we need to do defensively and offensively, but we came out here today knowing what we can do and for some reason we had been hiding that, but it came out today," Brewer said.
"It was a test for us," Gray said. "The past two games we had our first loss of the season and then a close win at UTC. This was a huge test for us. I think this was a game where our character showed having to battle back after our tough two past games, and we pulled it out.
"Like Lyssi just said, though, we do have a lot more work to do, and we're going to be in the gym and Coach is going to stay on us, but we're going to get it done."