Tennessee has played its two exhibition games – a 124-34 blowout of Carson-Newman that was hard to evaluate because of the undersized and outmatched Lady Eagles and a 79-46 win over a Delta State team that lacked the size to match up with the Lady Vols inside but had some scrappy guards.
Summitt had polar opposite reactions after the two games – overall pleased after the first one last week and overall peeved after the second one Monday.
As is her custom, Summitt watched the game tape before going to sleep and what she saw made her even madder than when she watched it live. Her two houseguests – her mother, Hazel Head, and Coach Billie Moore, her longtime mentor and close friend – opted to leave the coach alone.
"Mom and Billie were there," Summitt said. "Billie went downstairs and went to sleep, and mother went in and went to sleep. I was just yelling. I just could not believe that we did not come out and bring the intensity. All our guards did was shoot the ball. It was like a shootout.
"I said, ‘Do we not understand that we play from the inside out? And if you don't get that then you don't get on the floor."
The more Summitt watched the game, the more upset she got.
"My dogs got up and left the living room," Summitt said. "Sadie stayed with me for awhile and then she went in Tyler's room. Sally went in and laid in there with mom."
Even the ever-loyal Sally left?
"I know," Summitt said with a shake of her head.
The team opened the game well – the first six points all came in the paint from a Glory Johnson layup on a nice pass from Angie Bjorklund, a Kelley Cain putback and a Briana Bass steal and layup. Bjorklund hit from 20 feet out, and Shekinna Stricklen scored on a layup for an 11-0 lead.
Delta State called a timeout to adjust its transition defense, and then Coach Sandra Rushing could be heard screaming, "Pick them up!" whenever Tennessee was on its fast break.
From there the offensive effort was unbalanced. Cain was 4-5 from the field in the first half – Summitt wanted the ball in her hands a lot more – and the perimeter players had hoisted 25 of Tennessee's 37 first-half attempts and misfired on a bunch of them.
After last season's 22-11 record and Summitt spending most of last season seeking competitors, an exhibition effort such as that on display Monday raised the question of a repeat.
"That's what I told them. It better not be," Summitt said.
There have been plenty of signs, however, that that is not the case. The players worked a lot over the summer. They reported to campus stronger and in shape. They played very well against Carson-Newman, even though the outcome was determined in the first five minutes. That game, however, may have caused more harm than good in hindsight.
"I think they must have thought that they were a whole lot better than they were," Summitt said.
Summitt was concerned with the uneven effort in practice sessions on Friday and Saturday following that game. It was a reminder that her team, without a senior on the roster, remains quite young and still has to rely on underclassmen. Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone are the only juniors. Vicki Baugh, a junior forward, is still rehabbing her knee after ACL surgery and is not available to play.
"I've just decided you can't cut them any slack," Summitt said. "I told them I've got the energy to do whatever I have to do and if that is stay on you for every possession and every thing, we'll do it. Our coaching staff will be right there."
The energy that was lacking Monday was in abundance Tuesday, so Summitt was inclined to take the position that hopefully the team learned an early lesson.
"Get it out now," she said. "It was a good preparation day today and (Wednesday) we're going to get up and down a lot and work on our full court pressure. I wanted it to be more (half-court) defense today."
The team also worked on passing into the post, and Baugh was on the floor for part of the session, but she is not cleared to play anytime soon and won't play against Baylor.
"Absolutely not," Summitt said. "I am comfortable if it's in the new year (when Baugh returns). We are not rushing anything."
Tennessee will need post support – Cain has played very well in the exhibition games but she is coming back from her own knee surgeries and will need both some help and relief inside.
Freshman forward Faith Dupree has shown a nice touch around the basket, and she will run the floor. Dupree missed more than a week of practice because of back spasms and was held out of the first exhibition game, but she logged 10 minutes Monday.
"I think that we've got to get Faith more minutes," Summitt said. "And I told her, ‘You didn't get enough minutes last night.' I just feel like she's pretty dependable. She can shoot from the free throw line. She's got a pretty good handle on the inside."
The focus of Tuesday's practice was getting the ball inside to the posts – Cain, Johnson, Dupree and Alyssia Brewer.
It was the start of Monday's game that still had Summitt seething.
"If they hadn't started out jump-shooting it would have been an entirely different game," Summitt said. "We start out, we're jump-shooting, we're not making shots, they're thinking the next one's going in, instead of, ‘Get the ball inside to Kelley Cain.' "
Even at the end of the game the guards who were on the floor had the same mindset – lots of jump shots and too few inside passes. Dupree had her defender sealed several times and the ball got to her just once.
"That will change," Summitt said. "We are playing inside-out basketball, and we will find the personnel who will say, ‘I can do this.' "
Summitt did get some film to evaluate of her three freshmen – Taber Spani, Kamiko Williams and Dupree. The team needs all three of them to contribute this season – Spani can play multiple positions, Dupree can bring post help, and Williams can get to the rim and is athletic enough to be disruptive in the full court press.
Williams, after entering the first exhibition game with just six minutes to play, because of some poor practice habits, logged 16 minutes Monday and played in both halves.
"A little better," Summitt said. "The thing about her is she can score. We need her, so let's get her ready. And I knew that. I was trying to teach her a lesson in that first exhibition game. She's maturing."
The team will have what Summitt described as a "full contact" practice on Wednesday and then will have the day off Thursday. They will return to practice Friday and Saturday. The game against Baylor is set for 5 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2) Sunday. It will be ESPN's first broadcast of a women's college basketball game this season and tips off the season's coverage across their networks.
"We can't take breaks here and there, because that's what it's going to take to win this Baylor game is to work on every possession, be consistent in scoring and defense and rebounds and taking care of the ball," Bjorklund said.
SIGNING DAY: Wednesday marks the beginning of the week-long early signing period, and two players are expected to sign with Tennessee some time within the next few days.
Lauren Avant, a 5'9 point guard out of Lausanne School in Memphis, and Meighan Simmons, a 5'8 combo guard out of Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas, will fill the two scholarships that Tennessee has available for the class of 2010.
Avant committed to Tennessee when she was 14 years old and has never wavered from that decision. Simmons wasn't recruited by the Lady Vol program until last summer – a scholarship opened when former guard Cait McMahan had to quit basketball because of balky knees – and she committed after calling Tennessee "her dream school."
By NCAA rules, Pat Summitt can't comment on either commitment until the LOIs are received and certified by Tennessee.