Baugh was a role player last season, but she stepped up in postseason, especially against the Cardinal after hitting a driving layup after she tore the ACL in her left knee and then imploring her team as she limped off the floor to seize the win.
It's a rematch of the title game with a completely retooled Tennessee team – all five starters have departed with four moving to the WNBA – facing a Stanford squad with players returning in key spots, although the Cardinal did lose superstar Candice Wiggins to the WNBA, and point guard J.J. Hones is out for the season after tearing her ACL last month.
Tennessee also has depth issues at point guard with the unavailability of redshirt sophomore Cait McMahan, who is out because of a chronically sore right knee. That thrusts true freshman Briana Bass into the starting lineup with two first-year players as her backups in Shekinna Stricklen and Alicia Manning.
"Just go out and play hard," Bass said of her mindset going into the game. "I block out the big hype and stuff like that, just block it out, play hard and lead my team to a victory. If you get overwhelmed you're liable to make a lot of mistakes so just go out and play your game."
Regardless of personnel changes on both sides it remains a big game early in the season in a rematch of the 2008 championship contest.
"I'm really excited," Baugh said. "Stanford is a great team, and it's a great chance for us to see what level we're on and for us to build our confidence and see that we can play with these other good teams."
The measuring stick has been reversed this year as a young Tennessee team – redshirt senior Alex Fuller and 11 underclassmen – tries to determine where it fits in the pantheon of women's basketball after two years of finishing at the top of the heap.
"They need us all," Baugh said. "They need our leadership on the court and off the court because the majority of them are freshmen. It's a young team and it's a difficult challenge, but we'll get past it and we'll be fine."
Baugh is trying to get past a devastating knee injury that she suffered in the second half against Stanford in Tampa on April 8. As she drove to the basket Baugh came to a slight jump-stop, tore the ACL and then went up and completed the basket before crumpling out of bounds. Baugh had surgery in mid-May and remained in Knoxville all summer – minus a short trip home to Sacramento – to rehab her knee so that she could play this season.
Baugh has crossed the physical barrier to get back on the court. She knew she was capable of playing when Max, her 2-year-old Miniature Pinscher/rat terrier mix got loose at an apartment complex one day in October. She had recently adopted the little shelter dog – "He's really fast, and he's cute," said Baugh – at the Adopt-A-Pet Center in Bearden on the recommendation of Candace Parker, who got her dog there when she was in college.
"I was trying to hook the leash, and I didn't hook it and he got loose," Baugh said. "I had to chase him and my knee was hurting at the time, but I had to chase him to save his life because there are some dangerous roads around there, and he was jumping on rocks and dodging, and I caught him and I had to run faster than I had ran in my whole life. So I told Jenny that my knee was fine after that because Max put me through a workout.
"I was having to cut, weave, pivot, dodge, all of the above to catch this dog and I finally caught him after about six minutes of straight running, full speed I might add. I caught him and that's when I knew that I could run on the court and my knee was fine."
"She called me right away," Jenny Moshak said. "She said, ‘Jenny, I've got to tell you this story. I'm ready because this is what happened.' "
Baugh is still getting past the psychological barrier of coming back from a knee injury.
"Definitely," Baugh said. "I just have to build my confidence again. I feel like a totally different player this year. I just need to build my confidence up and feel better and feel how I was last year. (Candace) gives me advice on how to handle it, take my time. The main thing is I listen to Jenny. I know Jenny knows best, so I don't ask any questions."
Baugh wants to be at the same level she was last April but she estimates her knee is about 75 percent and Moshak has advised patience with a turning point due in February.
"It's really different because I feel like I should be at that level already, and I'm not even thinking about I had to sit out for five months or six months compared to everyone else," Baugh said. "I'm kind of down on myself, but this team helps build my confidence, and I know I can trust in my teammates.
"I have no patience and that's why it gets to me. I still feel like I should be back to normal, if not better."
Moshak just smiles and shakes her head.
"She was that way with rehab as well," Moshak said. "She tried to get off the crutches a little early. We had to have a little talk about that. Vicki is kind of impatient. She wants to be able to do thing as opposed to letting things take the course. If things happen for a reason this may be one of the reasons, to show her patience."
In the meantime, Baugh is trying to remind herself to take the comeback one step at a time. Her frustration stems from the fact she wants to help this young team right now.
"I tell myself to keep my head up strong and everything is fine," Baugh said. "We have a great amount of talent. We just have to come together and understand our roles and put it together."
Baugh was frustrated with getting into foul trouble against Old Dominion on Thursday in a game in which two players were out in McMahan (knee) and Stricklen (stomach illness).
"It was kind of like having three players out because I got out with foul trouble and played a minimal amount of minutes," Baugh said. "It's really frustrating because I feel like I wasn't there for my team. I didn't do all that I can do. It's frustrating because I felt like I playing good defense, but obviously I wasn't. It's let me know I have more to work on. Angie stepped it up big time and hit really big shots for us, which helped us win the game."
Bjorklund tied her career high with 29 points. Baugh did have one stat that stood out besides the fouls – 12 rebounds in 14 minutes. She had seven boards at the first media timeout in the first half.
"I had no idea I had that many boards," Baugh said. "That lets me know I helped them in some way."
Pat Summitt said that is the approach Baugh needs to take – focus on what she can do.
"Having gone through an ACL you don't focus on your knee, you focus on the game," Summitt said.
Glory Johnson got in foul trouble in the road loss to Texas – she had two fouls within two minutes – and Baugh was the recipient of whistles in Norfolk. Summitt said the pair must be on the floor Sunday.
"We need them on the floor a lot and both find a way to foul enough to have to sit," Summitt said. "They just have got to be more disciplined. Glory, it's her first year. Vicki, she's been here. She wants to block every shot. She goes for every steal. She goes to smack it to the floor. She just needs to take it out of the air. Contest shots. That's where we've got to get to, not trying to block every shot that comes in the paint."
The freshmen will look to Baugh and the other returning players tonight for guidance. The Cardinal will arrive motivated to avenge the loss in Tampa – and because the rafters are full on one baseline with seven national title banners, the eighth one is along the sideline and faces the visitor's bench.
"That'll motivate them," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said with a shake of her head as she glanced sideways at the banner.
The Lady Vol freshmen weren't a part of that game, but they will be in the middle of the rematch.
"They are going to come in and try to make a statement to us because we're a young team and they're upset that they didn't win last year, so I think they're going to try and come in and prove a point," Bass said. "We've just got to be ready. They're going to make runs. We're going to make runs."
"It's definitely one of the biggest games we're going to play," freshman forward Alyssia Brewer said. "You have the national champion and the runner-up play during the season and Stanford's going to come at us with everything they have because they lost to us, but we're also a different team so all of us bring different things than what last year's team did.
"I probably have never played a team as tough as them, but I'm ready to take on that challenge."
The fact Brewer is available for the game was a godsend for Tennessee after a collision in the ODU game in which Johnson was pushed into her while players were getting into position for a rebound. Cain had already left the game after an ODU player stumbled backwards into her surgically repaired right knee.
When Brewer tumbled to the court she feared the worst for her knee.
"Oh my gosh. In my mind I was just freaking out," Brewer said. "I was like, ‘No, this cannot be happening.' When Jenny was like, ‘Let's take her to the locker room,' those words just completely hit me and I was like, ‘No. No! No!! No!!!'
"I watched the tape and I was lucky to get out of that. I truly was. I'm just glad nothing serious happened."
Brewer returned to the bench knowing the ligaments were OK. It turned out the knee was completely structurally intact, albeit very sore.
"I knew that it (ACL) was all right. I didn't know if I had torn my meniscus or anything like that (until later)," Brewer said. "I knew it wasn't serious. On the plane on the way back we watched the tape, and Jenny said that the reason that I didn't tear my knee up was because I had leaned to the left a little and when Glory hit me my foot raised up.
"If that wouldn't have happened, everything in my knee would have been gone. When Jenny told me that I was like, ‘Thank you for telling me that, Jenny.' "
Brewer, who has a well-developed sense of humor, said that with a smile. She saw the mishap on film while the game was replaying on the plane.
"We were just watching the game and it happened and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh,' " Brewer said. "We watched Kelley's as well. Kelley's was scary, too, because the girl was going full speed backwards right into her knee."
"We dodged a major bullet with Lyssi," Warlick said. "We watched it on tape. It was ugly. And Kelley is going to have that pain. She's going to have to deal with it unfortunately."
Brewer has improved her play of late – and she has been on the receiving end of praise from Summitt – but she's taking it with the same attitude that she does the criticism.
"It's good, but you take it, you don't linger on it, you take it for the moment, because you'll do good one day but you've got to keep doing it every single game," Brewer said. "It's good to hear that every time something good happens, but you can't take it so seriously to where you think, ‘All right I'm going to stay like this. I'm going to stay content with how I'm playing.' You've still got to get better every day."
Summitt is pleased with the progress Brewer has made in practice and in games. She scored 15 points against ODU in relief of Cain and Baugh and also had five boards, all offensive.
"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I thought a few weeks back I wasn't sure that she would commit to playing as hard as she needed to play, and that she would have to play a very minor role. That was the best that she's played at Old Dominion just in terms of her toughness, her intensity, her taking it to the rim, fighting for position.
"It's still early. There will be a group, hopefully of about eight, that'll separate themselves out by the time we start SEC play."
Conference play is just three games away – Stanford, followed by a break for Christmas and then road games at Gonzaga and at Rutgers. The Lady Vols open SEC play against Kentucky on Jan. 8 in Knoxville.
Bass is playing a large role for a freshman right now and at one of the most difficult positions.
"Outstanding," Warlick said of Bass' progress to date. "To be a freshmen and play in our system, Bree's done great. It's a complicated system, and she keeps getting better every day. I'm proud of her. She's going to be really good for us, not that she isn't good right now."
Bass has shown herself to be coachable, a mandatory attribute for a point guard. She leans on the staff and her teammates for support, especially Fuller.
"At times I kind of get confused, but Alex Fuller is really the mama of the team, and she's really taken us under her wing and showing us what we need to do and how we need to do it," Bass said. "Whenever we have questions all we have to do is go to her."
Bass also hears the fans who shout encouragement.
"I love the fan support," Bass said. "They make me feel warm inside because they're always cheering for us. Even when we make a mistake they're always cheering for us and say, ‘That's OK, we'll get it back.' I love the fan support."
Baugh has one additional source for support – Max.
"You dog always loves you no matter what," Baugh said. "Your dog is never mad at you. That's the benefit."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt said she would start: Briana Bass, 5'2 freshman guard, No. 1 (5.3 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 5 (13.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard/forward, No. 40 (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 sophomore forward, No. 21 (7.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg).
The post players off the bench, Kelley Cain – at 6'6 a big presence, but still recovering from two blows to her knee this month and a concussion last month – and Alyssia Brewer will need to be ready if Tennessee intends to press, as it did against Stanford, because the bench will be needed for depth.
Alex Fuller and Amber Gray, who both can play inside or out, also could be key. Fuller played 28 minutes against ODU and had 12 rebounds and a career-high five assists. Gray hurt her left shoulder in the ODU game but was cleared to practice Friday and Saturday so she is available Sunday.
Summitt is also seeking better play from sophomore Sydney Smallbone, but not on the offensive end. Smallbone has hit 11 three-pointers this season (37.9 percent) and is a perfect 5-5 from the free throw line. She also has taken care of the ball with 14 assists to seven turnovers and has tallied six steals and one block.
"I want to watch (film) with Syd because Syd can bring us so much offensively, but her defense is not where it should be for a sophomore in our program," Summitt said. "She's got a lot of room for improvement there and that can help us because she can knock down shots."
Summitt also scheduled a film session with freshman Alicia Manning, who has been getting reps on the wing and at point. That was a lot on the newcomer's plate, especially having the ball in her hand so much. Manning's natural instincts are to get to the basket or get open, not call the offenses from the top of the key.
"I don't think at this point she feels as confident there," said Summitt, who noted the fill-in duty has adversely affected Manning's shot. "We talked about it, and we watched film. I would prefer to go with Kinna because I think she's more confident there and her composure is better but there may be times we've got to have a third point and right now she would be it.
"I think it's important to have sit-down meetings with players. They need to watch film and refocus and just to talk to them and let them talk.
Coach Tara VanDerveer is expected to start: Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, 5'10 redshirt junior guard, No. 21 (3.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg), had five assists against Duke; Jeanette Pohlen, 6'0 sophomore, No. 23 (9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg), led Stanford with 14 points against Baylor, hit four 3-pointers against Duke; Kayla Pedersen, 6'4 sophomore forward (11.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), on preseason watch list for Wade Trophy, scored 21 points and had five assists against Fresno State; Nnemkadi Ogwumike, 6'2 freshman forward, No. 30 (10.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg), scored career-high 19 points against Fresno State; and Jayne Appel, 6'4 junior forward/center, No. 2 (13.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg), on preseason watch lists for the Wade Trophy and Wooden Award, had 26 points and 16 boards against Purdue this season.
Jillian Harmon, a 6'1 senior forward and usual starter, is questionable for Sunday's game after sitting out Friday in the win over South Carolina because of a sprained right ankle suffered in the loss to Duke on Tuesday in the first game of Stanford's East Coast swing before the holiday break.
Stanford is getting solid play off the bench from redshirt sophomore point guard Melanie Murphy, who missed last season because of a torn ACL. Over the last five games, Murphy has 23 assists (4.6 per game) and has averaged 5.6 points while shooting 50 percent (11-22) from the floor.
Saran Boothe, a 6'5 freshman forward/center, and Lindy La Rocque, a 5'8 freshman guard, have played in all 10 games this season for the Cardinal.
"We know Stanford is always going to bring in a team that is going to play well in the high-low, they space really well, and they can shoot the ball from the three, as well as focus on going inside," Summitt said.
"Certainly, coming off of our championship win over them last year, I can't imagine them not being motivated to the max and we obviously lost our starting five, so it could be a challenge for this young team from the standpoint of taking on a team like Stanford, who is so talented and well-coached, with I'm sure some revenge on their mind."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Stanford game. Here is her assessment.
When Stanford has the ball: "They're going to run," Warlick said. "They like to run. They run to the rim. They want to go high-low out of their transition. They're going to run off steals and long rebounds. Against Duke they ran off made baskets. They threw the ball in off made baskets and went down the floor. I think they're going to run against us.
"They'll look to go high-low. They've got two outstanding, exceptionally good post players that are highly skilled (in Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen). They play well together. Appel, she can go either hand, she does the hook, very, very difficult to guard. Pedersen is so tough because she can penetrate, she can shoot the three. She's not as quick as maybe a perimeter player, but she's being guarded by a four player, and she's outstanding."
Warlick also pointed out the stellar play of freshman Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a first-generation Nigerian-American.
"She's like a junior Nicky Anosike to me," Warlick said. "She plays like Nicky Anosike. She plays hard. She has the mannerisms like her."
Warlick expects the Cardinal to mix up the defense.
"They're going to go man to man, and they're going to double down on the post," she said. "I saw them in a little two-three (matchup zone). I think they're going to try to disrupt us. They're going to make us make plays."
When Tennessee has the ball "We want to get paint points. We can't get in a jump-shooting contest with them. Taking care of the ball this game for this team is huge. We peak and then we come down. Our valleys, they're not as deep. Our expectations for them are so high."
The Lady Vols have a specific game plan to defend the high-low – a major component of the Cardinal offense – and the coaches will be watching closely.
"If we don't do our game plan in the first eight to 10 minutes of the game we're not going to be happy coaches," Warlick said. "We thought we were pretty good last year when we went there, and they high-lowed us to death and our game plan was to deny and they didn't. It took us getting beat out there to realize how important the high-low game is to Stanford.
"I hope this team realizes the importance of it. You just don't know."
Pat Summitt has watched game tape on Stanford and came away impressed with how the Cardinal runs it offense.
"I think in this (game) we have to be able to defend their action," Summitt said. "They run triangle offense probably better than anybody in the country. We run some triangle but they're very committed to it. They're well drilled in it. They read the defense. They're a very smart team. They're going to take what you give them. We can't be late on our action defensively. We need to arrive early and keep them in front of us.
"I think we're going to play our typical defense both in the full court and half court. When we played them last year at Palo Alto, we didn't attempt to deny high-low, and we paid a dear price for that. I think our scouting report defense and having the discipline to commit to it is going to be very telling when the game starts. If we're not committed to guarding three-point shooters and denying high-low …. . They're a very skilled, efficient team."
Tennessee will want to apply pressure to try to disrupt that offensive flow.
"We're going to try to put a lot of pressure on the ball, make sure their guards have to handle the ball," Warlick said. "We're going to press. It depends on how the game's going. I think we'd like to press a little more than we have in the last couple of games. We've gotten into foul trouble early so that narrows your bench down real quick."
WHITHER THE PRESS?: Pressure has always been a big part of Tennessee's game plan, but it's been effective only sporadically this season.
"The last two teams that we pressed our press wasn't very effective," Holly Warlick said of the road games against Texas and Old Dominion.
That is due to a combination of foul trouble, players out, in-game injuries and an abundance of youth as the newcomers learn the assorted looks in the full, three quarter and half-court sets.
"We've got to get people in the right spots," Warlick said. "We worked on it (Friday), what we wanted to do on the press, where people should go. It's been a staple for us, and it's got to get better. We've just got to have the right people in there to press as well."
Pat Summitt and her staff are still seeking the right combination of players to press. The intent is to bring pressure early and then evaluate how effective it is and make adjustments.
"We're going to bring pressure and then you always can bring it and then throughout the course of the game you may change your pressure," Summitt said. "We may go from full court to three quarter or half court, depending on where we have success. A lot of times you go into a game and you've got this game plan but throughout the course of the game you may need to tweak that a little bit because you're not having success in an area that you thought you could be successful.
"At Old Dominion I felt like going into the game that we could press them, but I thought they did a great job of breaking pressure. We weren't closing traps. We gave them too many windows of opportunities to go by us or throw over us. We just weren't as good as I thought we should be. And I don't think it's that we can't get there, I just think we've got to get five people on the same page every possession when we're pressing."
Summitt knows the press is in development because of the youth and a tendency for some players to get in foul trouble.
"I think that's lack of discipline and young players," Summitt said. "They're taking a lot of risks. Part of that I'm in favor of, especially when we're in the full court. But taking yourself out of position in your half-court defense is pretty risky for us."
Summitt smiled and also noted that full court pressure requires tremendous commitment and desire.
"The energy that they have to bring and expend, they've got to be able to maintain the pressure and get in the passing lanes and talk and sprint out of traps and deny the middle and close the high post," Summitt said. "It's hard work. There's no other way to describe what we want to do in the full-court pressure other than to say, ‘We want to commit and we've got to work really hard to make this happen.'
"It only takes one person being out of position or not sprinting back to break it down. That's why it's such a team game. With our youth sometimes finding those five … we're still trying to learn."
Tennessee will have the 6'2 Shekinna Stricklen available for Sunday's game – she missed the ODU game because of illness – and she has teamed with the 6'3 Glory Johnson for some effective traps and pressure.
"She's got size and quickness," Summitt said. "I think she has a high basketball IQ. I think she had great coaching at both ends of the floor, got a good feel for the game. The more that she plays, the more confident that she's becoming. We missed her (against ODU). She's long and rangy. A long, rangy guard is hard to get by."
The freshmen, several of whom played in Tampa in the WBCA All-American game, watched the Final Four in Tampa either in person or on television.
"That you have to bring your defense no matter what," Alyssia Brewer said of her impressions of the Final Four. "Your mindset before you go in the game has to be about defense. It's not about how many points you're going to score or anything like that. If you get your defense straight then your offense will be just fine."
Tennessee won the program's eighth national title by defeating LSU, 47-46, and then Stanford, 64-48.
The newcomers knew learning the Lady Vols' defensive system would be on their freshman to-do list.
"Here at Tennessee it's a top priority," Brewer said. "Defense is definitely the number one thing on Coach Summitt's list and if you don't know that and you haven't figured out the system once you figure out that, defense is what's going to get your offense and get everything else in the game, then it's more comfortable for you to be able to play.
"It's definitely a learning process. It's just like you go to school, you get new material, you have to learn for a test. It's the same with basketball. You get your defenses and you find out where you have to play and you memorize that and your test is the game."
ON TAP: Seven other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: Missouri at Arkansas; Auburn at Coppin State; Pittsburgh at Florida; UC-Santa Barbara at Kentucky; Ole Miss vs. Wake Forest; Charlotte at South Carolina; and Tennessee-Martin at Vanderbilt.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Stanford, 20-5. The Lady Vols are 9-1 at home against the Cardinal with the lone loss in Knoxville coming on Dec. 15, 1996, by the score of 82-65. Tennessee lost at Stanford last season, 73-69, in overtime on Dec. 22, 2007, and then won in Tampa for the national title. … Tennessee is 6-1 in games played on December 21 and a perfect 3-0 at home. The last game on this date was against Stanford in 2004 and Shanna Zolman hit a 28-foot shot as the buzzer sounded for the 70-67 win. Zolman's shot came after Stanford's Kelley Suminski had hit a three to tie the game. The lone loss on this date was to Texas, 63-62, in 2002. … The Lady Vol program is seeking its 300th win in Thompson-Boling Arena since it opened for the 1987-88 season. The record in the arena is 299-19. The team hasn't played at home since beating Middle Tennessee on Dec. 11. … Seven Lady Vol basketball players made the Dean's List in the fall semester and will sport "Vol Scholar" patches on their jerseys for earning a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The academic honors went to Briana Bass, Vicki Baugh, Angie Bjorklund, Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson, Alicia Manning and Sydney Smallbone. … Tennessee has an overall record of 54-13 against the Pac 10 and has played nine teams. The victories were claimed by Southern Cal (seven); Stanford (five); and UCLA (one). … The two coaches on the sideline Sunday, Pat Summitt and Tara VanDerveer have a combined 1,723-374 record. Summitt, in her 35th year at Tennessee, has 991 wins in her pursuit of 1,000. VanDerveer, in her 23rd year at Stanford has 732 career wins with her next milestone being the 800 Club. She has won 580 games at Stanford; 110 at Ohio State in five seasons; and 42 at Idaho in two seasons. Both coaches are in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and both coached the USA to a gold medal in the Olympics – Summitt in 1984 and VanDerveer in 1996. … In 24 of the 25 meetings between Tennessee and Stanford, at least one of the teams has been ranked in the top five nationally. This year it's the Cardinal with the Lady Vols having fallen out of the top 10 for the first time in 211 weeks. On Dec. 30, 1990, both teams weren't in the top five when Tennessee was ranked No. 7 and Stanford was No. 8 in the Hilton Head Super Shootout on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Tennessee won that game, 84-77.