Monday night after the 80-70 loss to Oklahoma, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had some sarcastic humor when asked about stopping Courtney Paris’ double-double streak.
“That’s the only thing that we did well, huh?” Summitt said.
The player who had the best defensive performance against Paris was sophomore Vicki Baugh. But she tore her left ACL – the same one that she injured in the national championship game in April – near the end of Monday’s game. Baugh had looked very good at times this season but had strained her knee at the beginning of January.
Tennessee has had experience playing without her. But now that she’s done for sure this season, there has to be stronger, more consistent post defense from the remaining players. Starting Thursday night against Georgia.
“Obviously, we need for a number of people to step up,” Summitt said in a teleconference Wednesday. “One that comes to my mind is Kelley Cain. She hasn’t been 100 percent, but she’s back, and I think her size could make a huge difference for us in the paint. She’s one that we’re going to have to depend on.
“I think with Alex (Fuller) and Glory (Johnson), you know what you’re going to get pretty much. I think Glory sometimes gets in a rush and needs to have more composure. Then, Alyssia Brewer, she’s definitely going to have to contribute, and that means both ends of the floor. She has scored for us, but she’s got to be a better presence on the defensive end. She has got to be more committed and consistent on the boards.”
Summitt already was unhappy with her team’s perimeter defense, against which the Sooners’ duo of Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand combined to score 37 points. Robinson also directed the Sooners’ transition to perfection more than once. If there was a textbook example of how much Tennessee misses Alexis Hornbuckle, it was displayed with many of OU’s fast-break opportunities.
“Some of our young players give in in the transition,” Summitt said after the game. “They backpedal – where Hornbuckle, she’s on her toes, she’s getting ball turned at least once or twice and allowing us to set our defense. I like our personnel, but it’s got to be much more committed to what we can do to slow down the transition game.”
Strange as this probably was for Tennessee fans, there’s a feeling that it wasn’t the worst thing to lose to Oklahoma. The Sooners have more senior leadership, and it kind of felt like it was their turn to win against a marquee non-conference opponent.
But also, it gives Summitt a chance to get her 1,000th victory at Thompson-Boling Arena, where you can bet fans are going to be extremely loud and supportive Thursday night. Not just for Summitt’s sake – although they desperately want to see her get this mark at home – but also to encourage players that Summitt says are not fighting through their fatigue in games.
Summitt is not just going to yell and scream the players through that. Tough and demanding a coach as she is, she understands that there is a mental wall that players – especially rookies – can hit at this point in the season.
“The one thing that’s important is that you have got to give them some breaks,” she said. “That’s the reason why we decided to do films and not get on the court (Tuesday). We are sensitive to days off. It doesn’t meant that we wouldn’t also give them two days off in a week.”
It’s interesting that Tennessee may get 1,000 against Georgia, which will be to coach Andy Landers’ chagrin. Summitt was amused before Monday’s game when she got a text message from Landers.
It said, ‘If you don’t win tomorrow, I’m gonna be P.O.’d,’ ” Summitt said, chuckling. ” So he’s coming in here mad.”
Summitt has had many a battle with Georgia, and so she knows this game likely will be another one. And, let’s be frank, this is not a standard Tennessee team. This is a youth group that almost lost to Mississippi at Thompson-Boling. And before that, nearly fell to Mississippi State for the first time ever.
Summitt has tried to downplay 1,000 _ not because she doesn’t understand the significance to the program and the fans, but because it’s taking all her effort and energy just to prepare this team for every game. She doesn’t want these players even considering 1,000.
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m not appreciative of this number,” she said. “But right now, I just want this young basketball team to learn how to play the way we want to play and to commit to it for 40- or 40-plus minutes.”