"I really liked what I saw out of Kelley," Coach Pat Summitt said after Saturday's practice and right before the team departed for Gainesville.
The key for Cain – and the rest of the Lady Vols – is to build on the success against Georgia, in which Summitt was as thrilled about the 40-minute effort as she was to get her 1,000th career win.
Summitt was clearly in a wait-and-see mode about how her young team would respond to a tough challenge from the Gators, who are led by seniors Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson, two players who get little national attention but are the key to Florida's resurgence this season.
"They have in my opinion the best guard-post combination in the conference," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Those two kids are the best inside-outside punch as far as what they're producing and what they're doing – helping their team win. Their productivity, their talent, I think they're the best inside-outside combo in the league."
The Lady Vols will counter with a freshmen-laden team – first-year players make up 70 percent of the roster – that has struggled on the road this season. Tennessee also is coming off one of the greatest wins in program history when Summitt rolled her victory total to four digits.
The historic win was followed by a post-game ceremony that left Summitt emotional as the memories of past teams flooded over her – and how her young team has just played.
"It was a combination," said Summitt, who also was sad that her mother, who had recently been treated for a medical matter, couldn't make the trip to Knoxville from her home in Middle Tennessee. "Obviously I was proud of how we played. I just am so appreciative of all the fan support that we've had. It was a combination of everything. We wouldn't be where we are, we wouldn't be celebrating a 1,000 … I thought about all the other players that have worn the orange. You go back to my first team.
"Obviously I just spoke off the cuff because I hadn't really thought about what I was going to say because you never know if you're going to win or not, and I was more concerned about what I was going to say to the players during the game."
So how does the team avoid a letdown?
"I don't know," Summitt said. "I have no idea how they'll play. It's been this way all season long. We'll just have to wait and see. But Florida's in first place. If we want to change that then we have to go down there and play 40 minutes of good basketball. I hope we're going to be ready to play, but it remains to be seen."
With sophomore forward Vicki Baugh out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the Oklahoma game on Monday, the Lady Vols lost a competitive leader who was relentless on the boards, an aggressive defender and a reliable low-post scorer.
Three freshmen, Cain, Alyssia Brewer and Glory Johnson, must help fill that void and pair with redshirt senior Alex Fuller, who Lockwood noted is emptying her arsenal for the team right now. Fuller started the Georgia game 5-5 from the field and settled the team down early in what turned out to be a memorable night.
"She's stable and being a leader," Lockwood said. "Her leadership and her stability are huge for us. But in terms of her productivity she's giving everything right now that she can give. When you get a kid that has 13 points and 10 rebounds in a game like that the other night she's giving you everything she can give you."
With the SEC season slightly more than half over – eight of 14 games have been played – Fuller is averaging 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds a game in league play. She is tied with guard Shekinna Stricklen with 10 steals in conference games.
"We've been very, very proud of her," Lockwood said. "We've been very, very pleased with what she's done. We know that, fair or unfair, we're counting on her to be that ‘it,' because she's the one player that has been through the wars and being through it as a role player and been through it last year as a more prominent player. She understands, she gets it, and we're counting on her."
Johnson and Fuller are similar in body type – both listed at 6'3 and lean – with Fuller the polished offensive player and Johnson the uber-athletic player with offensive energy that must be harnessed and refined. But Cain at 6'6 and Brewer at 6'3, and perhaps inching closer to 6'4, have the body types to bang with other bigs in the post.
"It's huge that people step up and her (Cain) and Lyssi size-wise are the two that should do it and if they've got a commitment to the team – and obviously they care about Vicki and what happened to her – no better way than to show it on the floor," Summitt said.
For Brewer it has meant playing a true post position for the first time in her career. For Cain it has meant overcoming the physical and psychological obstacles of returning from major knee surgery.
Cain missed last season to realign and re-track her right knee. She is experiencing pain now as that knee adjusts to basketball and Jenny Moshak, the program's chief of sports medicine, said rest is not needed. In this case, Moshak said, repetitions will cure what ails Cain.
"She's extremely strong," Moshak said. "Now, it's just the knee getting used to the wear and tear of basketball again. Most people who have had any type of knee surgery, outside of a little quickie scope, it takes a season of getting used to this new knee operating in this intensity of a situation. It was the same with Candace (Parker). It was the same with Alex. She needs time, and she needs repetition. It's time in this environment so the knee gets used to it, the rigors of (basketball)."
For Cain that means relying on Moshak, Dr. Greg Mathien and prayer to see her through the comeback.
"Pray about it," said Cain, when asked how she deals with the pain. "That is what Dr. Mathien said so I believe him. He has plenty of experience in what he does. She (Moshak) told me, ‘You're going to have pain.' I trust her and just go with the flow."
But watching Baugh go down for the season did make the process harder, Cain said.
"Of course, because I worry about my knee all the time," Cain said. "When she went down that makes it even worse."
But at least Cain is able to forget about her knee once she takes the court. She also believes her level of conditioning has returned, though sometimes the knee needs a little time to get ready between stints on the floor.
"I definitely feel conditioned, but sometimes I have to get my knee re-warmed up so that kind of slows me down sometimes," Cain said. "I try not to think about it and just go out there and play my game. I try not to let it (any pain) show because if it does show then I feel like it becomes a bigger target for people to go after it. They see a weakness, and they go after it. So I try not to let it show."
That mindset has been noted by Summitt, who has firsthand experience at retaking the court after a major knee injury.
"It looks like when she's on the court she's not thinking about it," Summitt said. "If you're thinking about that you're not going to be able to play through it. But if you're thinking about living in the moment and possession-by-possession basketball you've got a chance to get through it and play well."
Cain played very well against Georgia and logged extended minutes, especially in the second half when she accumulated 17 of her total 25 minutes.
"With Vicki down her role – as well as Lyssi's role, as well as Glory's role, as well as Alex's role – has become that much more prominent," Lockwood said. "You take one of anything away and obviously the ones left in the bin they're pretty important. We need her; there's no question."
Cain had one word to describe her mindset for Sunday's matchup against the Gators.
"Defense," she said.
Cain's blocks against Georgia were very Baugh-esque. She made penetrators think twice about coming into the paint and that enforcer attitude has often been missing when Baugh is not on the floor. Cain combined with Fuller on one block in which Cain made contact with the ball as it left the shooter's hand and then Fuller swatted it like a volleyball spike.
"I blocked it first and then she finished. I was like, ‘OK!' " Cain said. "I remember that one. It worked. A lot of them stopping coming in trying to get layups."
Cain might be one of the nicest people in Division I basketball – a true gentle giant – but she has shown a few signs of developing some swagger, something a young Lady Vol team desperately needs, especially with postseason a month away.
"Just for games," Cain said with a smile about swagger in her style. "I don't know where it comes from. It comes out whenever I play."
Cain added the team needed "swagger from everybody. Against Georgia I think that really did a lot for our team morale."
A young team does need an edge – or at least it should exude confidence – and especially this season when opponents are coming at the Lady Vols with a vengeance because they don't seem so invincible with the Big Three of Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle having departed for the WNBA.
"We're young so everybody is like, ‘We'll definitely beat them this year,' " Cain said.
The Lady Vols have the double challenge Sunday of facing a Florida team at home – the Gators have a 13-game winning streak at the McConnell Center – and trying to avoid a letdown after Thursday's game for the record books.
"It was a big adrenaline rush," Cain said. "Everyone was like, ‘Wow.' "
Cain was actually talking about the team playing for 40 minutes – something Summitt has sought all season – and not the 1,000 milestone.
"We always knew we could do it, it was just that we never did it and we finally brought it," Cain said. "It felt really good. We just need to apply it to every game."
Cain doesn't anticipate any additional pressure from the outside for Sunday's game, but some internal motivation could be in place.
"No more pressure than every game that we have, but we'll probably put a little more pressure on ourselves because we want to do well, and we want to show them (Florida) that they do have competition in the SEC," Cain said.
The specter of 1,000 wins had been hovering over the program since the beginning of the season when it was raised at Media Day last October and the intensity picked up this month as the countdown shortened.
Was Summitt glad it was over?
"Absolutely," she said.
She had always been focused on the daily preparation of the season, but the crush of media had been building all month.
"It's back to normal for us, which is good," Lockwood said. "Pat wants that. It is nice to come in and see only a handful of media people as opposed to cameras everywhere."
Summitt handled interviews and rarely brought up the topic in the locker room, except to let her players know she wanted the win to come at home, if the opportunity arose.
"Going into the 1000, we didn't talk about it very much at all," Summitt said. "It was more about we needed to beat Georgia to stay alive in this race for the SEC and the same is true for Florida."
Now, the players want to prove that Thursday's 40-minute effort wasn't a fluke. Their first chance comes Sunday at Florida
"Just go out there and play our game – the game that we know we can play," Cain said. "I know when we put our minds to something we can definitely do it."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman forward, No. 40 (14.2 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 5 (11.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 15 (3.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg); and Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward, No. 2 (7.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
Manning was kneed in the thigh in the first 20 seconds of the game against Georgia and suffered a quad contusion. She did not return to the game but was able to practice Saturday – it was a light session of free throws and scouting – and has been receiving treatment.
"We're still working pretty aggressively on it," said Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.
Freshman forward Amber Gray, who saw the team physician because of illness, was able to practice Saturday but will be a game day decision in terms of playing depending on how she feels Sunday.
Freshman guard Shekinna Stricklen sustained a groin pull Thursday but was able to return to the game and also practiced Saturday.
"She's obviously fine," Moshak said.
Florida Coach Amanda Butler is expected to start: Sha Brooks, 5'7 senior guard, No. 3 (15.9 ppg, 5.0 assists per game), hails from Jackson, Tenn., has started all but one game in her Gator career, had 29 points in Florida's last outing against Alabama with 6-9 shooting from behind the arc, is most like "Sleepy" of the seven dwarfs, says she lived in a haunted house; Steffi Sorensen, 5'10 junior guard, No. 10 (9.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg), hails from Jacksonville, Fla., hit 4-5 from long range against Alabama, also grabbed nine boards, shooting 45.1 percent behind the arc in league games, has hit at least one three-pointer in 18 consecutive games, played at Santa Fe College in Gainesville last season, most like the dwarf, "Bashful," and the superhero Superwoman; Susan Yenser, 5'10 junior guard, No. 20 (2.7 ppg, 1.1 rpg), hails from Marietta, Ga., first season with the Gators after transferring from Clemson, mother played softball for Kentucky, father played baseball for Northern Kentucky and the Montreal Expos, favorite Coach Butler saying is, "God bless, y'all, that's awful"; Sharielle Smith, 5'10 junior forward, No. 24 (8.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), hails from Bradenton, Fla., played in 31 games last season and started 10, father played basketball at UCF, most like the dwarf "Happy," loves horses and country music; and Marshae Dotson, 5'11 senior forward, No. 44 (13.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg), hails from Columbus, Ohio, hits 61.1 percent of her shots, leads the team with 73 offensive rebounds, most like the dwarf "Doc," and "The Hulk" superhero.
Freshman Trumae Lucas, a 5'8 guard, comes off the bench and has averaged 11.5 points in the last four games with a career-high 14 against Kentucky.
As a team the Gators average 77.2 points in conference games, tops in the SEC, and are shooting 45.3 percent in SEC play, second behind Auburn at 47.6 percent. The Gators also lead the league with 7.8 made threes per game in SEC play.
"Offensively, I think we've proven to be one of the best teams in the country," Butler said. "We've shown that we also can be one of the best shooting teams in the country. But what the most important thing that we have to continue is our versatility and the way that we score. We need to put the defense in a position where it's hard to guard us. Balance is the key so that teams can't focus on any one or two players."
In addition to Brooks, Kim Critton (Memphis) and Ndidi Madu (Antioch) are from the state of Tennessee, as are Butler and Assistant Coach Susie Gardner, who are both natives of Mt. Juliet.
"I'm sure there might be a little extra talk in the locker room from our players who are from Tennessee, but like I told them after our Georgia win, we don't get any bonus points for beating any specific team," Butler said. "The most important things to remember are that this is an SEC ballgame, we need an SEC win and we have to defend our home court."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report. Here is in assessment.
When Florida has the ball: Point guard Sha Brooks and post player Marshae Dotson are the engines that pull the Gators.
"We can't let them both have great nights," Lockwood said. "Both of those kids are heavily involved. Dotson is a high post and in player. She's dynamite in the paint. Got a great right-hand jump hook. She's real good at the mid-post area. She's a strong kid. Brooks is very explosive, has a great first step. I wouldn't call her pure from three but I would call her somebody that can peel off three in a row if you let her get in that rhythm. She's a very good offensive player. She's very good. She's a very good one-on-one player. Her ball skills are terrific.
"You can't forget about (Steffi) Sorensen, who's one of the best pure shooters in the conference. She is as pure as they come. Those three players are really, really key – Dotson in the middle, not letting her have it easy; Brooks, making her touches tough and not letting her get great looks and great comfort shots; and Sorensen can not get open threes. We've had that experience."
Lockwood said Tennessee can't lose track of the other players – Florida has considerable depth – by locking in on those three.
"Sharielle Smith is one of those role players she can hurt you and you not know it," Lockwood said. "All of a sudden she's got eight or 10 points with a couple of midrange jumpers, a stick-back, a drive. You've got to do a solid guard on her. (Susan) Yenser starts and then they come in with a real good backcourt (off the bench) and then they have the big-bodied kid, (Aneika) Henry, who is good on the frontline."
A glance at Florida's size – they are considerably undersized – and contributory players don't do the team justice, Lockwood said.
"What I think makes Florida so special is they've got a lot of different parts who just happen to fit extremely well together like any good team," Lockwood said. "It's a lot of different parts, but the parts fit great together. We just have to stop that. We can't let them have the open floor with their guards. We can't let Sorensen have spot-up shots. We can't let Dotson have the middle."
Lockwood expects a mix on defense of man and zone, and he said the Gators' matchup zone is dangerous for its get-after-the-opposition approach.
"Their two-three has got a little kamikaze element to it," Lockwood said. "They come out and they'll trap. They'll trap on the wing. They'll trap on the baseline. Their guards might pick you up full court and then they'll jump back and they're still in the two-three. They might come as high (as nearly to center court). They are really playing an aggressive mindset defensively."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to play inside-out with paint touches being established from the get-go.
"Go back to the stone and chisel that in," Lockwood said. "When you're on the road your perimeter shooting is a little bit like the weather's been – it was 19 degrees, and now it's 50 degrees. We just don't know. I think with inside play you at least get a little bit more stability. You have a greater chance of getting fouled. You're making the defense converge and collapse on you. I think that's pretty important."
Defensively, the Lady Vols plan to mix up their looks.
"You've got to deal with Brooks. You've got to deal with Dotson," Lockwood said. "And then once you figure out how you're going to deal with that, then you've got to figure out everybody else. Sorensen can just kill you. If you're helping over on drives all she needs is a (little) space to get the shot off.
"We're going to have a plan A and a plan B and even a C. And then you see on game day what happens. You can anticipate but until you see it unfold on the floor and how your team is performing and how the opponent is reacting I don't know how much of each (man or zone) we'll play, but we are definitely going to have a couple of things ready."
The players watched film Saturday and then went over the scouting report on the court. It will be reinforced Sunday before the game. Summitt wants a repeat of Thursday in which the team paid attention to the report.
"My expectations would be that we use our scouting report defense, and we play hard and we play together on offense and that we're committed to rebounding at both ends," Summitt said. "We've got to take care of the ball against Florida or we'll have a hard time being successful."
The players prepared their own report for the Georgia game, but NCAA rules restrict the number of hours a team has mandatory activities, so Friday was a much-needed day off for the team, especially with Sunday being the third game this week. Lockwood's instructions Saturday were thorough and earned a nod of approval from Summitt after practice concluded.
"From the coaching staff they can expect us to prepare them for what we believe they will see from Florida and then they have to commit to defending them," Summitt said. "The pressure should be on Florida. And I think our team just has to handle the pressure that Florida will bring to them."
ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action Sunday. The other matchups are: Auburn at Alabama; Arkansas at Georgia; Vanderbilt at Kentucky; LSU at Mississippi State; and Ole Miss at South Carolina.
SUMMITT INKED: After Pat Summitt won her 1,000th game a press release was distributed to the media announcing that the coach had a new contract.
Summitt said Saturday that she was "very pleased," with the terms of the contract – which she signed earlier this week – and that it was "absolutely" fair.
Her contract was extended through 2013-14 and included $1.4 million for this season plus a $200,000 bonus for winning No. 1,000; and two lifetime achievement bonuses – $500,000 in 2009-10 and a $1 million longevity payment in 2013-14 to reward her for 40 years at Tennessee. That means she will make $1.6 million this season and $1.9 million next season with the bonuses.
Summitt also had read the post-game remarks by Georgia Coach Andy Landers and agreed they were very gracious.
"We've both mellowed with age," Summitt said with a smile.
Summitt wasn't surprised by the confetti/glitter stunt pulled off by Alicia Manning and Alex Fuller, although she wasn't sure exactly what would happen.
"I knew something would happen but better that than water," Summitt said.
When told that the players had expressed concern about ruining a suit or drenching her hair, Summitt said, "They made a good choice."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Florida, 37-2. The last win for Florida came in an overtime victory, 95-93, on Feb. 26, 2006, in Knoxville. The other win came in Gainesville, 71-62, on Jan. 21, 1997. … Tennessee is 13-3 in games played on February 8. The last win on this date came against Auburn, 72-62, in 2006. The three losses were to Western Carolina, 60-44, in 1969; Union, 80-67, in 1975; and Auburn, 66-60, in 1986. … Pat Summitt's record of 1,000-187 is staggering on its own but becomes even more so considering 46 percent of all games coached by Summitt have come against AP-ranked opponents with the Lady Vols producing a 400-154 record and a 72 percent winning percentage. Her overall winning percentage is 84.3 percent, and she is the first NCAA basketball coach, men's or women's, to ever reach 1,000 wins. If Summitt coaches through the end of her current contract in 2013-14 – when a $1 million longevity bonus comes due – and continues to win at the pace she has maintained for 35 years, Summitt would exceed 1,150 wins and could very well put the record out of reach forever. She has never had a losing season. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 72.2 points per game and allowing 63.0. The Lady Vols are shooting 41.1 overall, 33.8 percent from behind the arc and 67.8 percent from the free throw line. Tennessee averages 43.8 rebounds with a +7.7 margin. The Lady Vols average 13.0 assists and 17.1 turnovers per game. Tennessee averages 8.8 steals and 4.7 blocks.