A 19-point victory over a usually competitive rival should speak for itself. But Tennessee's performance was enhanced by the postgame critique of Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer.
She didn't just praise the Lady Vols to the media. She said as much to her longtime friend, former UT coach Pat Summitt, who was on hand for the 66-47 victory over the Scarlet Knights on Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Stringer said these Lady Vols reminded her of Tennessee's championship teams. She wasn't talking so much about the talent as the effort.
"This team is playing closer to the extremely aggressive, intense Tennessee teams," Stringer said. "I haven't always thought that (about recent UT teams).
"A lot of this is not so much the skill. It's the mind-set."
Stringer's assessment contrasted sharply with the appraisal of Tennessee coach Holly Warlick just eight days earlier, after a 73-60 loss to Stanford in the same building.
The defeat ignited a week-long rant from Warlick on the evils of lackadaisical defense. Based on Sunday's demonstration, her fury wasn't wasted. Rutgers committed 24 turnovers and made only 34.6 percent of its shots.
Not all of the Scarlet Knights' failings could be attributed to rejuvenated defense. Defending Rutgers is not comparable to defending Stanford or Baylor, which overwhelmed UT two weeks ago.
In fact, by the end of Sunday's dogs-chasing-Frisbees halftime show, I was convinced one of the canines had a better chance of gripping a basketball in its teeth and dunking it than Rutgers did of making a 3-point shot.
The opponent's shortcomings aside, Tennessee's defense at least passed the Warlick test on this afternoon. She was smiling.
Smiling: Not a bad way to start SEC week.
The Lady Vols are 9-3 and ranked 13th nationally. But they have yet to make their mark this season in a conference they have dominated for decades.
They will get their chance Thursday night in Columbia against 19th-ranked South Carolina. And the aforementioned defense and effort will go a long way in determining how they fare.
It's as though the Gamecocks are practicing the very virtues that Summitt preached so loudly and long in her 38 seasons as UT's coach — defense and rebounding. They lead the conference in both. Against Tennessee, they should have something else going for them: a hostile home venue.
Talent was decisive in UT's losses to Baylor and Stanford. But its first SEC challenge could be different.
In Stringer's words, more about mind-set than skill.