For the Tennessee players, a matchup such as Saturday's is one of the reasons they chose to play for the Lady Vols.
"This is why you come here. This is what we play for," sophomore forward Glory Johnson said. "You've got to make a statement."
"For any team right now, whether it's Duke, Tennessee or Uconn, a December game is a midterm, not a final exam," VanDerveer said. "It is, ‘Here is where you're at in December.'
"If you're playing well and doing well, that's great, and if you need things to work on you're going to find out what they are when you play this competition."
Tennessee was undefeated two years ago and lost at Stanford in overtime, 73-69, in a game also memorable for the free throw disparity - 32 attempts for the home team to just 10 for the visitors - despite the Lady Vols attacking from the inside with Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike. Parker had just six attempts from the stripe.
After the game, in a bit of understated gamesmanship, Summitt didn't bring Parker to the post-game interview room view and said she was getting treatment from the game and was unable to attend. A physical game is a non-issue for the Lady Vols - it's how they prefer to play - but a physical game that results in just one team getting to the free throw line didn't sit well with Summitt immediately afterwards.
But Summitt wasn't focused on that stat for very long. The players scattered for home after the game for the Christmas break, while Summitt stewed over the holidays about the way her team tepidly closed out the first half and didn't pressure the ball in the second half. She was especially peeved that Parker and Anosike went off script in the second half and didn't defend the Cardinal's high-low attack as planned.
Stanford's Jayne Appel, then a sophomore, ended up with 19 points and 14 rebounds and had her way on the low block as the ball arrived pretty much without resistance. The Cardinal out-rebounded the Lady Vols, 36-30, and had more steals, 12 to 8. Essentially, Stanford played Tennessee's brand of basketball better than the Lady Vols did.
On the second practice session after Christmas, Summitt sat courtside, took notes and never said a word. The next practice was preceded by a come-to-Jesus meeting about following scouting report defense. The Lady Vols lost just one more game that season, to LSU in the regular season, and ended up beating both teams, LSU and Stanford, in the Final Four on the way to the program's eighth national title in 2008.
Johnson was a senior in high school that season but smiled when asked about the defense against Stanford in the 2007-08 regular season game, because she had heard the story.
"It takes our coaches days and days and days to do the scouting report and the fact that they said, ‘Deny middle,' and Candace and Nicky didn't want to deny middle?" Johnson said with a knowing smile because the Tennessee team last year also learned the hard way and heard about its lapses with regard to scouting report defense. "Just listen to your coaches because they know. They have experience because they've played these teams over and over and over, and they know what they're talking about.
"If they're wrong they'll take the blame for it, but if you don't do something they tell you to do, you're getting beat and you'll know why."
The 6'3 Johnson and Kelley Cain, a 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, are likely to be key components to the outcome of this game. Stanford counters with the 6'4 Appel, 6'4 Kayla Pedersen and 6'3 Nnemkadi Ogwumike.
"I think the post game is going to be very defining to the outcome of the game, because I think both teams are committed to high-low action in the post game and to getting paint points," Summitt said. "I know they are going to also shoot the three-ball. It could be a shootout if we wanted to turn it into that on the perimeter, but for us it's inside-out, inside-out, and with what I've seen on tape for them it's inside-out, inside-out. So a lot of similarities in how both teams want to play.
"Who's going to dictate who gets to play the way they want to is probably going to win the game."
Tennessee wants Johnson and Cain both to be on the floor for extended minutes, so fouls are a concern. Cain got into early foul trouble against Louisville in the last game, and Johnson was whistled quickly in the one before that against Rutgers. Both players are vital in Saturday's matchup on both ends of the floor.
"We understand what we have to do to help our team and it's a lot and it includes running the floor, playing great post defense and getting inside-outside looks," Johnson said after practice ended Friday afternoon at Maples Pavilion. "Until they stop our posts we've got to keep hitting our posts, and when they do that we've got to know that we have to kick it out to the guards."
Johnson will likely be paired against Ogwumike - the two played at the McDonald's All-American game in 2008 and tried to join the dunk contest, along with Texas' Ashley Gayle, but organizers didn't approve the request for female participation - and the pairing produced a question Thursday during VanDerveer's media teleconference about the athleticism of both players.
"Nneka has improved so much, and when you get the chance to see her in person, she always had the athleticism, but now she has the confidence to go with it," VanDerveer said. "The women's game, we need that athleticism, that's what makes it exciting, that she is quick and that she can get up there."
Johnson anticipated Friday that she would need to be active on defense and aggressive on offense.
"Just keep my feet moving all the time and don't let her post me up," Johnson said. "That is what I plan on doing, just staying away from her body most of the time. She stays active, and I should do the same thing. I don't mind being active. I don't mind moving around and trying to get inside position."
Summitt said it was imperative that Johnson keep herself in the game.
"We've got to keep her out of foul trouble," Summitt said. "Sometimes she gets in trouble not because she intentionally fouls but because she plays so hard. Having composure, that's my word for Glory Johnson."
Johnson is working on striking a balance between attack mode and composure. Her athleticism on the boards and on defense are vital parts of Tennessee's attack.
"I am going to try to be more aggressive on the offensive side rather than on defense, and, of course, I'm going to play my game no matter what," Johnson said. "If the refs start calling them early I'll be a little less aggressive. But from the get go, from the start, I am going to be just as aggressive as any other game."
With athletic and skilled players on the court the issue for the coaches becomes how the game will be officiated. VanDerveer made a reference to it in her teleconference when talking about Ogwumike.
"She is very athletic and that's why I feel that it is really important that our officiating doesn't let it become a wrestling match and take away the athleticism that we want to showcase for our fans," VanDerveer said.
Foul calls were also on the mind of Summitt.
"We tell them to be smart," Summitt said. "Want to play hard but you really want to play smart. Don't take yourself out of the game early because it hurts our team. Glory is prone to that. Kelley is prone to that. We can't do that. We've just got to have the discipline and be under control and we know how we want to play."
Tennessee also wants to get to the glass - VanDerveer rated her team an "F" after its effort against Duke - and limit the Cardinal post players to one attempt on goal.
"I would have to say communication on defense and definitely boxing out and rebounding," Johnson said when asked for her keys to the game. "If they own the offensive and defensive boards then we're going to have trouble. Of course they have a lot of people in their starting lineup shooting threes, more than we do, so if we can't stop their threes then we're going to be in trouble. So, no open threes. We would rather them drive than get threes. We'd rather have a two than a three."
Tennessee won last year's matchup in Knoxville, 79-69 in overtime, but Vicki Baugh played in that game and got on the boards. She didn't shoot well, but she commanded a lot of attention from the Stanford defense, and guards Shekinna Stricklen and Angie Bjorklund combined for 41 points. Baugh hasn't played yet this season because she is still recovering from ACL surgery last March, the second such operation on the same knee within one calendar year.
"We were able to pull it off in overtime last year so we've got to show them that we're a better team than overtime," Johnson said. "We can play better."
For Bjorklund, last year's offensive output were her first points against Stanford. In the two previous games - the Dec. 22, 2007, one at Maples and the national title one on April 8, 2008 - she was a combined 0-10. Bjorklund would like to change that road record on Saturday.
"That would be great," she said with a smile.
Bjorklund is averaging 14.4 points a game this season and shooting 43.8 percent from behind the arc. The team is coming off a 30-point win over Louisville in which she was 5-10 from long range.
"Going into a game confidently, coming off a big win that's going to help us a lot going into Stanford, especially playing on their home court before a very hostile crowd," Bjorklund said. "I think creating our own energy is going to be huge when we step onto the court on Saturday.
"I think the coaches are going to prepare a great scouting report for them, and it's going to be sticking to the game plan and buying into what the coaches are telling us to do. I think my freshman year we lost at Stanford because we didn't buy into the game plan. I think it comes to the point where you have to outwork the other team."
After the 2007 game in which the Lady Vols freelanced some on defense in the second half, they got to get on various late-night flights and head home for the holidays. This time, they will remain in the Bay Area for Tuesday's game against San Francisco, which means they have three days with Summitt. Playing hard would be a good game plan.
"It would be very beneficial for them and for us, the coaching staff," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said with a laugh. "We want to win obviously and that's our goal, but we want to make sure that we play hard. If we play hard and the outcome is not in our favor, OK. This is where we want to be right now, this is how we're playing, we're excited about how we're playing, and it's a tough matchup. If we play hard and we make things happen, we'll be OK."
Johnson said the players were aware of the timeframe on the West Coast and realized the stakes.
"It's definitely key," Johnson said. "I know we have strength and conditioning (later this weekend) with Heather (Mason), and I know if we don't play to our ability and don't listen to the coaches and don't pay attention to the scouting report we'll definitely be in for something. Take what the coaches give you. They're helping you out by giving you a scouting report. It's better than trying to learn stuff on your own."
Summitt is aware that her team remains young and one of its best players, Baugh, is sidelined. But she also knows that effort knows neither age nor experience.
"Leave it all on the court," Summitt said. "It's all about who's going to be the best team in the end, but, win or lose, this is a great learning experience for our team and our coaching staff. We're going to learn volumes, win or lose. I am not going in, ‘Oh, we've got to win.' We've got to have a game plan and stick to our game plan.
"I think for us boxing out is going to be really key and sticking to our scouting report and having composure in an arena that is going to be full of the Cardinal, but that's OK. That is what makes us better come post-season."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard, No. 40 (16.0 points per game, 7.4 rebound per game, 4.2 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg); Taber Spani, 6‘1 freshman forward/guard, (8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (13.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.8 spg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.2 blocks per game).
Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer is expected to start: Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, 5'10 redshirt senior guard, No. 21 (4.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg), hails from Queens, N.Y., missed the 2006-07 season to recover from ACL surgery, had a season-high 12 points against DePaul; Jeanette Pohlen, 6'0 junior guard, No. 23 (12.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), hails from Brea, Calif., won a gold medal in July with the USA Basketball World University Games Team, had a season-high 10 assists against Old Dominion, one uncle played football at Notre Dame, a great-uncle is in the Texas A&M Basketball Hall of Fame; Kayla Pedersen, 6'4 junior forward, No. 14 (19.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), hails from Fountain Hills, Ariz., also won a gold medal in July with the USA Basketball World University Games Team, had a season-high 30 points against Gonzaga, father played basketball at St. Mary's College; Nneka Ogwumike, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 30 (19.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg), hails from Cypress, Texas, was on the USA Women's U18 National Team that won gold in 2008, had a career-high 29 points against Gonzaga, can do a back flip in gymnastics, sister Chiney has signed to play basketball at Stanford next fall; and Jayne Appel, 6'4 senior center, No. 2 (13.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg), hails from Pleasant Hill, Calif., was selected to final team camp for the 2009 USA basketball World University Games Team but had to withdraw due to injury, had a season-high 12 rebounds against Rutgers, was a water polo player in high school.
"I'd say this may be the most size we've seen on two teams at this level other than our Olympic team I played on (in 1976) with Lusia Harris and that crew," Summitt said. "I think when you talk about the college game this definitely could be among the top three, and I don't even know who the other two would be."
Both teams have had their share of injury issues. For Tennessee, 6'4 forward Vicki Baugh has not played as she is still rehabbing from ACL surgery - "They are really different without her out there," VanDerveer said. Also, 6'3 forward Faith Dupree is out for the season with back issues, and 6'1 forward Amber Gray is out for the season to recover from shoulder surgery and a stroke.
For Stanford, 5'9 guard Melanie Murphy and 5'11 guard Hannan Donaghe remain out with knee injuries; and 6'5 forward/center Sarah Boothe could possibly redshirt. Michelle Harrison, a 6'3 forward, missed the Duke game as she recovered from a concussion, but she is expected to be cleared for the Tennessee game. Joslyn Tinkle, a 6'3 forward, missed time earlier this season but is now back.
A key player off the bench for Tennessee is Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 forward who will be needed to provide post depth. Alicia Manning, a 6'1 forward, also has been thrust into the four spot at times this season because of lack of post players - there are just three on the roster for Tennessee - as has Spani. Stricklen also posted up at the four position against Louisville.
"For Pat, she's probably missing (the presence) of some of her post players, a lot of times they are a very post-oriented game," VanDerveer said.
A key player off the bench for Stanford is JJ Hones, a 5'10 redshirt junior guard, who averages 9.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Hones plays starter minutes at 25.4 per game and is second on the team with 31 assists.
Pohlen leads Stanford with 35 assists to just 18 turnovers, and with her size and skill, she is a matchup problem for opponents.
"Jeanette, as a freshman, played the four, the three and the two, and in the middle of the year last year we decided that she needed to be our one," VanDerveer said. "She's really athletic, she is fast, she is a motor. When people talk about what players bring, she is tough, she goes hard, she pushes the ball in transition, and I think she is really learning the position.
"She is not necessarily a born point guard, like when I think of coaching someone like Dawn Staley (on the 1996 Olympic team), or other guards out there, but she really makes our team go. She'll play the one or the two, but her speed, her motor, it goes and goes and goes."
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: The Cardinal can score from every spot on the floor, "and they're all big," Warlick said. "It's a great challenge for us. They do high-low. They have two great inside post players, and (Kayla) Pedersen can go inside and out. They shoot threes. They can do a lot of things. They're not one-dimensional players, which makes it difficult to guard.
"They're pretty set on what they do. They're pretty deliberate in what they do. They read the defense, and they have a counter for things. They're methodical but (in a good way). They've been very well coached and drilled on what they should be doing."
Defensively, the Cardinal are likely to play mostly man.
"They'll play maybe a little zone, but I haven't seen a whole lot of zone," Warlick said. "They're a man-to-man team primarily, so we want to be physical with them."
When Tennessee has the ball: As usual, the Lady Vols want to establish paint scoring and paint touches with Kelley Cain inside. The high-low attack with Cain and Glory Johnson is also a staple of the Tennessee attack. The Lady Vols also want to hasten the pace.
"We want to establish our running game, and we need inside touches with our posts and with our guards getting into the paint," Warlick said. "We're going to get inside. We want to establish our running game. We've really worked on it this week. I thought we did a good job against Louisville with it."
Although a focal point of a Tennessee-Stanford clash is post play, guard play will also be critical, and Shekinna Stricklen, a 6'2 point guard, has been a matchup problems for opponents this season.
"The person that really rebounds from her position outrageously well is Stricklen," Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said. "For a, ‘quote,' point guard to be tied with Glory Johnson in offensive rebounds (25), and she's second on the team in overall rebounds, she is 6'2, but she is their point guard, so that changes your mindset a little bit.
"Sometimes your point guards, when you're going over boxing out, they may be thinking about what they're going to have for dinner that night, they're just not in the conversation a lot of times. But this time they better be, because obviously she changes the rebounding picture a lot."
Warlick said Stricklen is difficult to guard because of her versatility "because she can shoot the three and she can penetrate. When you're a multidimensional player like Kinna and that athletic, she's a hard guard.
"We have a couple of matchup problems, and so do they."
Stricklen is not a traditional point guard at her size, but she has adapted to the role after struggling last season and leads the team in assists at 38 to just 19 turnovers. As her comfort level increases, so do Pat Summitt's expectations at the position, especially in her court decisions before she gets the team in its offenses.
"I've been watching tape with her," Summitt said. "A lot of times she walks a tightrope on the sideline. She's really got to be in the middle of the floor a lot or at least slicing and half slicing, and that way we can make Stanford have to adjust from going to hard denial to having to sprint across the floor."
Defensively, Tennessee is prepared to show varied looks with its man and zone schemes and will bring pressure.
"We're going to definitely get after them," Warlick said. "We're going to mix it up. We're going to play zone on them, too. It's not going to be just man to man. We're going to attempt to do that anyway. We're going to be physical, like we always have been, and hopefully not let them shoot open threes."
HOME REST: Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow didn't make the West Coast trip because she is dealing with medical issues right now and needed to stay home to rest.
"That is most important," Pat Summitt said.
Tennessee had announced earlier this season that Charles-Furlow would not always travel because the focus needed to be on her health. Stephanie Glance, special assistant to Summitt, has picked up Charles-Furlow's recruiting duties until she can return to full-time travel.
With the Lady Vols traveling on commercial flights instead of charter for this trip, Summitt didn't want Charles-Furlow exposed to packed airplanes and the accompanying airborne illnesses. Anyone who is battling health issues doesn't need any additional stress on the immune system.
"With what she's dealing with I didn't want her flying cross-country with all the stuff in the airplanes," Summitt said.
Both Glance and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood were out recruiting Thursday and Friday and were scheduled to join the team later Friday evening.
ON TAP: Only one other SEC team is in action Saturday with Arkansas vs. DePaul in the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas.
On Sunday, 10 other SEC teams are in action in the following matchups: Arkansas vs. either Florida State or Texas-San Antonio in the Duel event; Auburn at South Alabama; Florida vs. Southern; Virginia at Georgia; Louisville at Kentucky; LSU at Nebraska; Winston Salem State at Ole Miss; Mississippi State at Xavier; South Carolina vs. North Carolina; and Tennessee State at Vanderbilt.
SHOPPING TIME: Pat Summitt's dash for Nordstrom after practice was slightly delayed Friday by a TV spot with Fox Sports Net - Jim Watson, Mary Murphy and former WNBA star Lisa Leslie have the broadcast duties - and then interviews with Tennessee media.
"That's my big one," Summitt said of her West Coast stores of choice.
What could she possibly need?
"Clothes," Summitt said with a smile. "And I've got to buy some Christmas presents."
Among those on the list were Tyler Summitt's former nanny and her two children. Tyler is now a college freshman at Tennessee and is with the team for this trip. Tyler's presents are already under the tree.
"I've pretty much got him taken care of, but I may find something," Summitt said.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Stanford, 21-5. The Lady Vols are 10-1 in Knoxville and 6-0 at neutral sites. Four of Stanford's five wins have come at home at Maples Pavilion. Three of the past eight games were decided in overtime. The Lady Vols' record over that span was 7-1. This is the 20th anniversary of Tennessee trips to Northern California, as the first game at Maples was Dec. 15, 1989, an 85-71 loss for the Lady Vols. For the first time at Maples, Stanford is the higher-ranked team. Tennessee held a higher ranking in the previous nine matchups in Palo Alto. … Tennessee is 10-1 in games played on December 19. The last time the Lady Vols played on this date was in 2007, an 82-70 win over UCLA. The first win on December 19 was against UNLV, 84-64, in 1979. The lone loss on this date was to Long Beach State, 62-58, in 1989. … Tennessee has played nine of the 10 Pac-10 teams in its program's history with the exception of Cal. Tennessee's overall record against the Pac-10 is 55-13, with Stanford (five), UCLA (one) and Southern Cal (seven) claiming wins. … Four SEC teams are undefeated deep into December with identical 9-0 records. Joining Tennessee are SEC sisters Georgia, Kentucky and LSU. The RPI for those teams is Tennessee (1); Georgia (11); Kentucky (28); and LSU (34). … Lady Vol freshmen Taber Spani and Faith Dupree earned a Vol Scholar torch patch for their jerseys. Spani received a perfect 4.0, and Dupree, who is out for the season with back issues, received all As and Bs. Of the 10 players on the active roster for today's game, seven have torch patches for academic excellence: Briana Bass, Angie Bjorklund, Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson, Alicia Manning, Sydney Smallbone and Taber Spani. … Pat Summitt and Tara VanDerveer have combined for 1,779 wins - 1,014 for Summitt and 765 for VanDerveer. Both coaches are in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and both coached the USA to Olympic gold, Summitt in 1984 and VanDerveer in 1996. The two programs have made a combined 26 trips to the Final Four - 18 for Tennessee and eight for Stanford. … Stanford has a 34-game home winning streak heading into Saturday's game. Tennessee ended the Cardinal's 34-game streak on Dec. 3, 1993, with an 81-75 win. From 1981 to 2008, Tennessee has halted 20 winning streaks for 17 different schools - Old Dominion three times - ranging from 17 to 64 games. The first time Tennessee did it was against Old Dominion on Feb. 16, 1981, halting a streak of 64 wins. The last time was against George Washington on Dec. 2, 2008, ending a streak of 17. ... Stanford has twice started a season 8-0 and both times Tennessee tagged the Cardinal with its first loss. On Dec. 21, 2004, the Stanford lost, 70-67, in Knoxville. On Dec. 16, 2001, the Lady Vols won, 68-62, at Maples Pavilion. Tennessee's 9-0 start is the ninth-best in program history. A win Saturday would tie the team with the 10-0 start of the 2007-08 squad. That team was denied an 11-0 start when it lost to Stanford, 73-69, on Dec. 22, 2007.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 77.4 points a game while allowing opponents to score 55.7. Stanford averages 84.6 points a game while allowing 56.6. The Lady Vols are shooting 45.1 percent overall, 34.0 percent behind the arc and 69.5 percent from the free throw line. The Cardinal are shooting 48.7 percent overall, 36.4 percent from long range and 74.0 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 5.9 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.1. Stanford makes 7.9 threes a game while allowing 4.3.
Tennessee averages 45.2 rebounds a game for a +9.4 margin. Stanford averages 46.4 boards with a +13.9 margin. The Lady Vols average 15.3 assists and 15.0 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 17.7 times a game. The Cardinal average 19.1 assists and 15.8 turnovers with foes losing the ball 15.4 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.9 steals and 5.3 blocks a game. Stanford averages 6.8 steals and 4.5 blocks.