"Every day when you're a starter you should know you've got the responsibility to get out on the court and be invested in your game and everybody else's," Summitt said.
Summitt had a few issues she wanted to address at Wednesday's practice before the SEC opener, and she conducted some reps at full court and top speed, an unusual approach on the day before a game.
"I am just not happy after watching our tape with our transition defense," Summitt said. "That was a priority."
No. 4/4 Tennessee, (12-1, 0-0) faces off against South Carolina, (7-6, 0-1) on Thursday at 7 p.m. Eastern (FSN, Lady Vol Radio Network) in the league opener for the Lady Vols. The Gamecocks opened Sunday against LSU, a 70-58 loss.
"They have a perimeter that's quick, athletic and good off the dribble drive," Lockwood said. "Oklahoma got us early off the dribble drive, so we've got to do a good job (Thursday) matching up and staying in front of them."
In a video interview on the South Carolina website, Coach Dawn Staley said a good start was crucial because of the crowd support at Tennessee, and she wanted to set a quick pace to open the game, because the Gamecocks can't match up size-wise with the Lady Vols.
"I think it is an intimidating environment, because you're going against a powerhouse of women's basketball, and you do have a tendency to be in awe of the surroundings," Staley said. "But I think once we lock it up and once they get wind of my voice I think it will be put back in perspective. … We're not going to set up. We're going to try to run a little bit more than we've run in the past to see if we can jumpstart our offense and jumpstart our defense."
Staley complimented the fans in Knoxville for the atmosphere they create in the arena.
"Tennessee, it's always a good feeling whether you're the visiting team or the home team, because, believe it or not, I think they are fans of women's basketball," said Staley, who played in Knoxville in the 1990 Final Four. "Yes, they support Tennessee, but they're fans of women's basketball. If you go in there and you play well and you make a good play, I think they are the type of fans that really appreciate women's basketball as a whole."
There is a sense of anticipation among the Tennessee coaching staff and players for tonight's game because of the struggles a year ago, in which the Lady Vols went 9-5 in conference play – and a horrific 2-5 record on the road – and finished tied for fourth and the No. 5 seed in the SEC tourney. It was the first time since 1997 that Tennessee didn't tally double digits in regular season league wins.
"A year ago is a year ago, and we're different. Teams are different," Lockwood said. "It's like you go through the fight circuit one time and you've gotten your butt whaled on a couple times and you've also won a couple but you've had some people just whale on you. You spend six months training with great fighters and you do all this work and now we're going to go get into the ring with those same people again, and knowing that they're very capable of taking you out because they did, but knowing inside you're a whole lot better.
"I wouldn't say there's a nervousness, but there is a little anxious anticipation to see, ‘What have I learned? How much have I learned and how much better am I now, going through what I went through with those guys kicking my butt and then training like I have for the past six months?'
"That's kind of how I feel personally. I'm not nervous but there are probably seven teams out there on any given night, especially when we go to their place, capable of whacking us. We've got to be good, but we've got good talent. Now, that talent has to get out there and perform."
The players expect to perform a lot better this season.
"Definitely," Kelley Cain said. "We know how good we can be. Coach knows how good we can be. It's just a matter of us living up to it and putting in the work to get there. I definitely believe we should be up there competing with other teams in the SEC (for the title).
"The SEC is always a tough conference. If you can make it in the SEC you know you can make it against other conferences."
Lockwood pointed out that the team that wins the SEC often has an inside track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, not to mention a much-better position in the league tourney with a first round bye.
"In a league like the SEC, if you can go through your conference and win all your games or one loss, that puts you in a very prime position going into the SEC Tournament in terms of seed," Lockwood said. "What you do in a league like the SEC is pretty dang important.
"One of your goals as you go into your season is that you want to win your conference. You want to win your conference. Because if you win your conference, the SEC, you're in a position for a one seed (in the NCAA)."
The sports cliché one game at a time can be stretched – but Summitt won't watch film of an opponent until it's actually the next game on the schedule – and it's followed at Tennessee, but the big picture is always coming into focus, too. For the Lady Vols, that means winning the SEC, securing a high seed in the NCAA tourney and making it to the Final Four.
It was something that Summitt reminded her players of at Wednesday's practice – that each repetition, each drill and each free throw were a chance to get better and reach their goals.
Her displeasure with Johnson, a player Summitt expects a lot from this season, caused her to re-think her starters for the opener and put Alyssia Brewer inside with Cain.
Though both Brewer and Johnson are listed at 6'3 on the roster, Johnson is closer to 6'1, and Brewer is closer to 6'4. Johnson also is built like the state champion sprinter that she was in high school. Brewer is built like a low post player.
Pairing Cain and Brewer together in the post has been productive at times – especially in the Oklahoma game – as Brewer has steadily gotten better and improved enough in practice to not stay in Summitt's crosshairs, as she has for much of her time on campus.
The notion of pairing them together on the court at times – though not necessarily both as starters – had been discussed among the coaches earlier this season.
"We've thought about it," Lockwood said. "Here are the things that have prevented it in the past: Lyssi's conditioning, not being in the condition that we needed her to be in, and then being effective and productive and then also Glory's effectiveness. She's been a pretty productive player so it's hard to take minutes from her but in that case where she's gotten in foul trouble and now Lyssi has worked a little harder on her conditioning and her game is a little bit better, we like that idea."
Johnson, Cain and Brewer are the only three true post players on the roster because of injuries, so all three will be asked to be major contributors for the SEC portion of the schedule.
"Interchangeable parts," Lockwood said. "You've got Glory, Kelley. You've got Glory, Lyssi. You've got Lyssi, Kelley. You've got different parts and combinations. With Lyssi, Kelley it gives us the bigger, bulkier, take up space, size, power people type of game.
"We like it, but we would like nothing better if Lyssi can show us – and those two players together, the chemistry can be good – and say, ‘Look, that's another weapon in your bag that you can throw at people.' We'd love that."
Lockwood is the dean of explanation. Summitt can sometimes be more succinct.
"That size is big," Summitt said.
Cain is a big piece of Tennessee's post plans, especially in the SEC, where Summitt believes the 6'6 center has the talent to dominate.
"She can be the best post player in the league," Summitt said. "She can be. If Lyssi will learn to load her hips and play bigger, we can put the two of them together. It gives us the biggest and most imposing post game in the conference. I don't know of anybody else that's got two players that play at that position and have the size and the skill set. They're pretty efficient."
Cain is shooting 51.7 percent (45-87) from the field, and Brewer connects at a field goal percentage of 61.6 (45-73).
Brewer had a solid showing against Oklahoma – 6-9 shooting for 13 points, 1-1 from the free throw line, a place she had struggled, and five boards. The outing came after she spent a one-on-one session with Lockwood on the court the Friday before the game.
"I don't want to speak for Lyssi, but I would hope somewhere there's a thread of connection between the two thoughts," Lockwood said.
Cain, who works with Lockwood when her knee allows it, and Brewer spent some time in Pratt Pavilion on Wednesday after practice to drill specifics on defense. Shekinna Stricklen also stayed behind to help with post entry passes and screen setting, so the trio could simulate a game situation.
Both Cain and Brewer have good hands and a soft touch from the elbows to draw the defense to them and open up the low block for the other post.
"We have a tall lineup, and both of us can catch the ball, and both of us can shoot it outside close to the free throw line," Cain said. "She has definitely grown a lot as a player. She is taking everything Pat says to heart, and she is going in the gym and working on that, which is definitely showing in her game.
"You can tell she's definitely taking what Coach says and what we say to heart and going in and working on it."
A year ago, Tennessee had achieved considerable success – more than was expected of a young team with three starters, Cain, Vicki Baugh and Cait McMahan, dealing with injuries – but there were signs of impending trouble, especially on defense.
Tennessee was ranked No. 8 in the AP poll in early January of 2009 and had an 11-2 record. But then the team got into conference play, where foes are much more familiar with each other, and the Lady Vols struggled at times and especially on the road.
"Here is what I've noticed," Lockwood said. "We've seen each other on tape so often, so the familiarity from team to team is amazing. You know teams, you know characteristics, you know tendencies of players. Once you get five, six, seven games into it, you're not going to change a whole lot. Teams are much more zeroed in on us and knowing our sets and some of the things we were doing after about six, seven games last year than they were early.
"Even in scouting, let's say I'm scouting Florida (Tennessee's opponent next week), who I am, I am going to watch Arkansas, I am going to watch Auburn, so I'll see other teams when I'm watching (the game tapes to scout Florida), so by the time we get to them (Florida's foes), even the coach who isn't scouting them might have seen them three times. There is a real familiarity."
Angie Bjorklund will be undergoing her third season of SEC play. The junior has now played in every venue in the conference, and is familiar with the veterans on the other teams' rosters.
"You're more familiar with the teams," Bjorklund said. "You play them every year. That's a huge factor in itself, just that familiarity. Also, it's competitive because we're all going for the same thing – SEC championship. We know their stuff. They know our stuff. It comes down to who's going to execute the best and work the hardest.
"I think you've got the three different seasons almost (out of conference, league play and postseason), and we're about to head into that middle one."
The players have also indicated that they realize that every game counts in league play and has postseason implications.
"We have to have more of a sense of urgency that every game counts for the end," Bjorklund said. "I realized it even more last year than I ever have, because those few losses, oh they're in the past, no they really catch up to you in the tournament. We have the highest expectations (for the conference). We're going to come out looking to be on top."
The grind of the conference a year ago, especially the road games, taught the players that SEC teams were gunning for them. That won't change this season, but Tennessee is in the position of wanting to settle some old scores.
"We've got to go into it thinking that we've all got to bring our ‘A' game," Johnson said. "We have to play just as hard as we would play against any other team, just as hard as we would play in the Final Four. Every game counts, and we've got to know that by now. We've been working on what we've been struggling with and what our weaknesses were since the Stanford game. We've been in the gym twice as much, and we've been practicing twice as hard.
"Obviously we've had something to prove since last year and not only that (SEC finish) but the Ball State situation. We've grown from that. We did have a lot to learn as freshmen, and I feel like now that we have a year under our belt we know what we can correct this year. We are not going to hit that same wall that we hit last year.
"We dealt with it. We fixed the problems that we had last year, and now we've moved on. The Ball State situation is old to me. It's a new year."
Summitt's lineup change indicated her patience threshold was much lower than a year ago. With a freshman-laden team the coaches spent a lot of time teaching. This season, they use practice to reinforce concepts and fine-tune various looks. Summitt has raised her expectations of how each player approaches practice. Youth and fatigue are no longer excuses.
"I think they're motivated," Summitt said. "Last year I'm sure it still flashes in their minds at time, and they don't want to go there again. That's why I think our off-season has been so beneficial and their commitment to getting in the gym and getting more shots after the Stanford game, which still, that blows my mind (that they had not been in the gym enough after the season started).
"Now, they're taking ownership. When a team takes ownership, things can happen pretty quickly, and it's a lot better than coming from the coaches all the time."
Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (13.5 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, 4.2 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (16.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.8 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 13 (7.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.5 apg); Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 33 (8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.8 blocks per game.
"I think we're ready," Summitt said. "It's not like we chose to play an easy schedule going into this. Our defense and board play have to get better. Offensively, we've played pretty well, obviously (helped by) having someone like Angie shooting the way she's shooting the ball. Shekinna has done a good job at the point.
"We've had some good inside play. The fact that we've got the size that we have with Kelley Cain and Lyssi Brewer and obviously the athleticism of Glory Johnson, we've got some good parts. I am excited about it."
South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley is expected to start: Samone Kennedy, 5'4 junior guard, No. 4 (6.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 spg), hails from Birmingham, Ala., has started all 13 games this season, won four Alabama state titles at Ramsay High School; La'Keisha Sutton, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 11 (10.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg), hails from Trenton, N.J., has started 10 games this season, unanimous selection to the SEC All-Freshman team last season, hit three 3-pointers against Tennessee last season, was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of New Jersey in 2008 and won two state titles for Trenton Catholic; Valerie Nainima, 5'5 junior guard, No. 31 (18.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.9 apg), hails from Suvi, Fiji, juco transfer from Long Island University and player of the year in the Northeastern Conference as a freshman, scored 26 points this season against North Carolina, reached double digits at 13 points, despite foul trouble, against LSU, played volleyball and netball at St. Joseph's Secondary in Fiji; Jewel May, 6'1 junior forward, No. 52 (1.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg), hails from Conyers, Ga., has started all 13 games this season, blocked two shots against Tennessee last season, made the SEC Academic Honor Roll, won the state high jump at Heritage High School and also competed in the shot put, triple jump, 100m and 4x100m; and Kelsey Bone, 6'5 freshman center, No. 5 (14.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.2 spg), hails from Houston, Texas, had nine points and 12 rebounds in her SEC debut against LSU, scored 27 points in the 93-85 loss to North Carolina, if Bone maintains her points/rebounding production she would be the first Gamecock to average a double-double since Marsha Williams in 1992-93, who tallied 13.6 points and 10.7 boards a game, was a consensus All-American in high school and the 2009 Wooden national high school player of the year.
A key player off the bench for South Carolina is Ieasia Walker, a 5'8 freshman guard who has started two games this season. She averages 4.7 points a game and has tallied 10 steals and five blocks.
Nainima has taken 102 of the Gamecocks' 160 attempts from long range, with Walker accounting for the third-most attempts at 14. Nainima is 35-102 from long range (34.3 percent), while Walker is 5-14 (35.7).
"How much better are they?" Dean Lockwood said. "They're significantly better than a year ago. You've got two real main additions, Nainima and then you've got Kelsey Bone, who's a beast. She's a body with skills and then you've got the kids who are like our kids. They're a little bit better from a year ago. You've got a pretty much improved team. I like their athleticism. I like that they've got a go-to inside player."
Staley is in her second year at South Carolina after eight years at the helm for Temple. Two of her assistants are former Lady Vol players, Nikki McCray and Carla McGhee. Staley said she would have the pair address the team, especially the newcomers, about what it is like to play in Knoxville.
Staley was an All-American at Virginia and an Olympian. The move to South Carolina for the Philly native wasn't as unusual as it might seem. Staley's mother is from the Palmetto State and lives close to Columbia.
"Dawn Staley as a player had a mental toughness," Summitt said. "She was very vocal. She was a leader as a player, and I think she's carried all that into the South Carolina program. She will challenge her players. She will have them ready to play. That's who she is.
"I'm sure their practices are very similar to our practices. I know they get after it and prepare. They are going to be prepared. That's who they are. I'm excited about it. I'm excited to open up the conference and take it one game at a time, because our league is tough. We'll have to see if we're ready, and I think we are."
SEC EMPHASIS: The league has expanded to 16 games this season, so teams don't have the option of scheduling out-of-conference matchups during conference play, as Tennessee has done for years.
The Lady Vols have sprinkled in matchups with Connecticut, Rutgers, Oklahoma and Duke in recent years, but they will play the next two months against only league foes.
"I went along with the group," Pat Summitt said. "I wasn't really in favor but listening to them a lot of people felt like they could get their attendance up, which we'll wait and see. The majority of the people wanted it and I said, ‘Fine.' "
That attendance bump would be based on an extra visit to an SEC venue from Tennessee.
"The strange thing is we're getting ready to go into conference play and it's going to be different because we're not playing anybody outside the conference at all," Summitt said. "I think the one thing we can do is focus more on our scouting. I think the scouting report defense is important to this team and just for them to buy into it and also to get the DVDs and watch on their own. They've been good about doing that."
In years past, two open dates were built into the SEC calendar. Tennessee didn't use them and instead scheduled the non-conference opponents.
This year, one open date was built into the calendar. Tennessee chose to fill that with Oklahoma and then start SEC play. Every other league team, except Kentucky, opted to take the open date. The Wildcats used the slot to play Mississippi Valley State and, like Tennessee, will play its first SEC game on Thursday. The other 10 SEC teams had their openers last Sunday.
The Lady Vol players also found the arrangement to be a little odd, based on past years.
"It's definitely different because we used to still play out-of-conference games," Kelley Cain said. "Now we go straight through the SEC."
Dean Lockwood also cited the scouting continuity as a positive factor.
"In one sense your focus is more clear now," Lockwood said. "You don't have to jump out of that. Normally the games we did play (out of conference late) it had big NCAA implications (in terms of seeding). For this group it's good in a sense. It's all SEC.
"We can pay attention to our next game and pay attention to what's going on in and around the league and know that it's all pertinent now to league play. We've got a clear mission in front of us right now. It's SEC, getting through our SEC schedule. We don't have to think about anything else until March."
Last October, Tennessee was picked by the media to take second place in the league. The coaches selected Tennessee to finish first.
Lockwood said it was too soon for him to handicap the league.
"It's hard to say until you start seeing more matchups, but I'll tell you this, I think you've got some very good teams that are starting to jell," Lockwood said. "I think LSU is a very good basketball team. I've seen them on tape one time so far, and they are a very good team. I think Vanderbilt, because of how they play, is still formidable. You go to Vandy, especially. They're going to give a lot of people fits in that gym. Kentucky is a team, even though Middle beat them recently, they've got enough athleticism now they you've got to reckon with them. Georgia is an improved team and despite what happened the other night (struggling in the opener against Alabama), I think Georgia has got a chance to be a really good basketball team.
"I think there are going to be three or four teams that are going to challenge a Tennessee, who's picked right now. I think you've got three or four teams who are right in that boat with us right now (to win the conference) and once we start playing it's going to all sort out."
Tennessee's goal is simple, but achieving it in the SEC will be difficult.
"You're going to have one winner in the end," Summitt said. "That's what we're going to focus on is one game at a time and one possession at a time. We want to win the league. I think the intensity is much greater (in SEC play).
"The physicality depends on the team. Some teams are more finesse, and some teams are more physical. You take LSU, and they're very, very physical. I haven't had an opportunity to see everybody play, so I am waiting, and we'll take it one game at a time and scout our next opponent after we leave the court from the last game."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-South Carolina game. Here is his assessment.
When South Carolina has the ball: "They can take you off the dribble drive," Lockwood said. "A couple of their kids can really flat-out score points. We've to stay in front of them. We can't give them the paint. If they get lane points or paint points, we're in trouble. They're getting points in the paint off the dribble drive, off post feeds and off rebounding."
Center Kelsey Bone will be a major focal point for Tennessee.
"A load. A handful," Lockwood said.
"They do a good job in the high-low game," Pat Summitt said. "They are running some of the same sets. Their post game is much better. We recruited (Bone) obviously for a while, and I think there's a great upside to her game. She's got a good skill set. That's going to be a big challenge for our post game.
"When you've got inside play and guards that can shoot the pull-up and get to the paint, that is where our defense has got to be really good, and we may have to vary what we do."
Defensively, the Gamecocks are being molded more in the image of their head coach, Dawn Staley, who was a tenacious on-ball defender.
"They're doing a little bit more of that," Lockwood said. "There's a little bit more of Dawn's stamp. They're doing a little bit more with pressure. They're doing a little bit more of just getting after you. They're mixing some things up, but by and large it's starting to become her stamp a little bit more now. Doing some trapping, doing some doubling."
The Gamecocks are expected to play man defense.
"That's their primary stuff, but they'll show some zone, but man is what they want to do," Lockwood said. "If they can guard you man that's what they want to do."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols always want to get the ball inside and with the size of Kelley Cain and Alyssia Brewer that will be an early focus.
"Absolutely," Lockwood said. "They've shown that they can be productive for us, so we'd be crazy to start the game and not say, ‘Let's get touches for those guys.' But, again, the key for us with this team has been balance. You want to get them in the scoring option, but also you want the defense to have to play like an accordion – inside-out.
"If they can just spread out and guard you – and sometimes we've settled for threes – it's much easier to guard, but if we can make them have to converge or decide what they're going to do and then play off of it, that's better."
Defensively, the Lady Vols will, as usual now, see how the game unfolds to determine if man or zone is more effective. With Glory Johnson, one of the best perimeter defenders on the bench to open the game, a zone might be the best option against South Carolina's athletic guards.
"It's something to look at because of matchups," Lockwood said. "You've got Lyssi and Taber (Spani), who both have guarded fours (power forwards) and bigs, so if we're in man, one of those two have to guard a perimeter, and it's probably going to be not Lyssi. You have to look at your matchups. We have to be aware of matchups on the floor and pay attention to who's hurting us."
The Gamecocks' style of play also will figure into defensive decisions.
"They've had some trouble shooting from the perimeter so that's something for us to consider, whether we mix up defenses or play more zone," Lockwood said. "That will be a game-time decision."
Summitt echoed the approach on defense.
"A lot depends on our lineup," Summitt said. "When we've got a big lineup, I like it (the zone) in the paint. We might not be quite as good in the open floor. We can go a little more athletic than big. I like the fact that we do have options and that we can look at that throughout the game."
ON TAP: Eight other SEC teams are in action tonight in the following matchups: LSU at Arkansas; Auburn at Florida; Kentucky at Georgia; and Vanderbilt at Mississippi State.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with South Carolina, 40-2. The Lady Vols record in Knoxville is 18-0. The Gamecocks last win in the series was a 56-52 win in Columbia on Jan. 23, 1980. Last year's game was close with the Lady Vols taking the win in Knoxville, 68-56, on Jan. 18, 2009. Tennessee will play in Columbia this season on Jan. 31. The win streak over the Gamecocks is at 36 games. … Tennessee is 12-1 in games played on January 7. The last win on this date was against Connecticut, 89-80, in 2006. The first win on January 7 was against Kentucky, 82-57, in 1977. The loss on this date was to Old Dominion, 83-72, in 1997. … Tennessee's record in SEC openers is 25-5, dating back to the beginning of league play in the 1979-80 season. The Lady Vols are 13-2 in home openers and 12-3 on the road. The five losses were inflicted twice by Georgia (1984, 1996); twice by Auburn (1988, 1989) and once by Vanderbilt (1990). … The Lady Vols are stout at home in SEC play with an overall record of 170-12. Only six SEC teams have managed to win in Knoxville – and none did last season, despite that team's struggles – with Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Ole Miss claiming victories. LSU and Florida are the only SEC teams to seize victories at Thompson-Boling Arena in the 21st century. Overall, the Lady Vols are 409-65 against SEC teams and have a winning record over every program. Mississippi State has never beaten Tennessee. … South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley upgraded the Gamecocks' out-of-conference schedule with games against Clemson, Penn State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, North Carolina State and North Carolina. It is the second-strongest schedule in the SEC, behind No. 1 Tennessee, and seven of the non-conference teams participated in postseason play in 2009.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 79.7 points a game while allowing opponents to score 56.8. South Carolina averages 68.8 points a game while allowing 67.4. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.1 percent overall, 37.9 percent behind the arc and 70.2 percent from the free throw line. The Gamecocks are shooting 41.3 percent overall, 33.8 percent from long range and 64.2 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 6.2 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.5. South Carolina makes 4.2 threes a game while allowing 4.1.
Tennessee averages 44.6 rebounds a game for a +9.4 margin. South Carolina averages 41.4 boards with a +3.2 margin. The Lady Vols average 16.2 assists and 14.5 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.9 times a game. The Gamecocks average 10.2 assists and 20.4 turnovers with foes losing the ball 18.1 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.9 steals and 5.9 blocks a game. South Carolina averages 8.5 steals and 2.7 blocks.