"When you lose to an unranked opponent and get your tails kicked at Duke … " Pat Summitt said.
The polls may not mean a lot in January in terms of actually crowning a champion, but they can affect how a team is seeded in the postseason. The Lady Vols dug a considerable hole with a loss to Kentucky – they still must contend with Ole Miss and superstar Armintie Price this week; No. 3 LSU, which destroyed defending champion Baylor; the always dangerous Vanderbilt on Feb. 12; and No. 14 Georgia in Athens on Feb. 16 – but Summitt remains confident about Tennessee's chances of securing a No. 1 seed in March.
"It's all about how we finish out," Summitt said. "I think it's doable, but we have to finish strong."
The LSU game on Feb. 9 in Knoxville looms as particularly important in light of what happened at Duke and at Kentucky.
"We'd have to beat them to win the league anyway," Summitt said. "There's a whole lot at stake when we take the floor. We've got to go to Georgia; we've got to go to Ole Miss. It's not like it's going to be easy."
The Wildcats are coached by Mickie DeMoss, formerly a longtime assistant at Tennessee. Thus the entry into the polls of Kentucky was bittersweet for Summitt, but she was still pleased for her close friend.
"It's great. I told her she's done a great job with her team," Summitt said.
After Tennessee wiped out Alabama on Sunday, 89-54, to restore the Lady Vols to the win column, Summitt watched the Duke-North Carolina game on television, as did her players. The Tar Heels were down 13 on the road at halftime, 40-27, but came back to beat the Blue Devils, 74-70, and catapult themselves into the No. 1 poll position.
"I was impressed with both teams," Summitt said. "I think the thing about North Carolina they're so physically imposing that they can be down and come back. They're never out of a game. They're the two best teams in the country, and they're two different styles of teams."
Tennessee sophomore center Sybil Dosty also took in the game. She was already familiar with Duke after the Lady Vols' 75-53 meltdown in Durham a week ago, so she concentrated on North Carolina's post players. She also thinks the fact that her coach watched the game touched off a reaction in Monday's practice, and she was likely correct.
"I think watching Duke and North Carolina last night kind of got her - got me into it more - to focus on what we need to be doing to compete with those teams," Dosty said after Monday's defensive-oriented practice.
"I think North Carolina fought back hard. Duke had them at the half, but North Carolina is a good team. I think their quickness is what really gets them going. Watching those teams play, wanting to be able to compete with those teams, looking at yourself: What can I do for my team to make sure we can compete with them? I know I watched the inside players, especially for North Carolina since we hadn't seen them. I think that's a good way to learn."
Summitt was considerably more vocal at Monday's practice than she has been in past sessions. Her patience threshold for spotty defensive play appears to have been tapped out.
"I told them today: We're not one of the best teams in the country right now," Summitt said. "I look at Duke, and I look at North Carolina and say, ‘They are, in my opinion, right now the two best teams in the country.' When you're not the best team you always aspire to be better so that you can improve your position. We're getting better. There is a great upside to this team."
Summitt acknowledged that she was fired up Monday. That's partly because March is only a month away and also because she sees a lot of room for improvement for her team.
"What I saw bothered me, concerned me – that we're at this stage in the game, and we've got players not playing inspired basketball," Summitt said. "So we're going to find out who's going to play and go with them."
Dosty may only be a sophomore, but she's got Summitt's system figured out. The coach spared nobody Monday in her critical assessments or withering stares.
"She was on me a little bit today," Dosty said. "I think she wants me to be more vocal. It seems like every time I pick something up there's something else she wants me to do. I guess that's just part of becoming a better player."
Dosty, along with her teammates, got an earful from Summitt on Monday about intensity and being vocal on the court.
"It can kind of wear on you throughout practice," Dosty said with a smile. "I felt like the minute I got on the court until the end she was on me the whole time. That's just the way it is some days. I feel like maybe she is trying to get me ready for the games to come. If that's what it takes, then that's fine. She hasn't been on me as much as she was today. She came in today knowing what she wanted to tell me. I think in a way she probably was focused on what I was doing, but hopefully that's a positive thing."
It was. Summitt was pleased with what she saw out of Dosty on Sunday – nine points, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal – and she expects it to continue.
"The fact she's an instinctive rebounder works in her favor," Summitt said.
To her credit Dosty's assessment of her game Sunday was that she should have tallied more picks off the glass.
"I think I played pretty good defense," Dosty said. "I wish I could have gotten some more boards, but even if I didn't grab as many as I could have or I wanted to I still went to the boards hard and was boxing out so I probably created a chance for other people to get rebounds."
Dosty is a very efficient offensive player – Summitt has noted her ability to score quickly – buy Dosty knows what will keep her on the floor this season.
"If I know all I have to do to stay on the floor and get coach's attention is play solid defense and crash the boards hard I don't think that's complicated at all," Dosty said. "Basically that's just working hard the whole time you're on the floor. That's becoming the easiest part for me now. (Last year) I went in thinking more about offense, which is also important, but on this team defense and rebounds are where you're going to get (playing time)."
SURGERY FOR MOSS: For freshman guard Lindsey Moss, the second time meant nasal surgery. Moss, who suffered a non-displaced fracture of her nose Jan. 15 in a ball scramble with a Mississippi State player, sustained a displaced break Sunday when she collided with an Alabama player.
Moss will have surgery this Friday, according to Jenny Moshak, assistant athletics director for sports medicine.
"The nasal fracture is displaced," Moshak said. "Lindsey will be in a non-contact mode and will miss Thursday's game at Mississippi and Sunday's game against Arkansas. Following surgery, she will wear a nose splint."
Moss did participate in practice Monday during shooting and other such drills where she was not in danger of getting struck again. Otherwise, she rode a stationary bicycle on the sideline.
Prior to the injury Sunday, Moss was having a career game – she had nine points in just six minutes of playing time. She was upbeat and smiling at practice, and Summitt hopes to have her back for the LSU game.
"I was hoping to get Lindsey some quality minutes (against Alabama)," Summitt said. "She'll go with us (to Ole Miss), but she can't play. A lot depends on how the surgery goes as to how quickly she can return."
Sophomore center Nicky Anosike said Moss had already accepted what had happened yet again.
"Her spirits are already up," Anosike said. "Things happen, and I think she understands that. She's already cheered up."