South Carolina's Dawn Staley and her coaching staff laid out the plan, and the players supplied the conviction.
The result of their collaboration was a 64-60 victory over Tennessee last February. The victory was the Gamecocks' first in Knoxville and their first anywhere over the Lady Vols since 1980. It was achieved with a poised rally that wiped out a seven-point deficit inside the final five minutes.
"It was huge," Staley said. "It was huge in that our players really believed they could win. When you have incredible belief like that and it comes to fruition, it helps build the coach/player relationship."
The ripple effect helped carry the Gamecocks to 25 victories and a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament last season. It was evident in November, Staley indicated, when they signed 6-foot-4 center Alaina Coates, a recruit ranked No. 28 in the Class of 2013 by ESPN HoopGurlz.
The Gamecocks still are riding the wave into the rematch with No. 12 Tennessee (9-3) tonight at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. (TV: SportSouth, 9 p.m.). Despite replacing four starters, they're 12-1 and ranked No. 18 nationally. In their lone loss, they pushed then-No. 1 Stanford into a frantic final minute before losing 53-49.
"I think it's a sign of Dawn and her ability to teach and get her young players to follow," UT coach Holly Warlick said of her South Carolina counterpart. "... They have the mind-set of their coach. They play hard."
In her first season as the Lady Vols' head coach, Warlick has a better appreciation for building relationships in a Staley-like manner. She used several grueling practices last week and a one-game overhaul of the starting lineup to make a point about playing harder.
Now she's rallying the troops after losing starter Cierra Burdick. The sophomore forward is out indefinitely after suffering a fractured right hand on Monday. Senior Taber Spani will start in her place.
Warlick regards all coaching exercises in terms of the same general purpose.
"I think it's how are you going to get them to play at their best level," she said. "I think Dawn understands it for her team and the more I'm involved with this team, the more I understand it."
When she returned to Knoxville last June to be inducted into Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Staley conceded that developing a rapport with her players at South Carolina was more difficult than her first coaching job, at Temple.
"I really felt lost that first year," the three-time Olympic gold medalist said. "They weren't getting it at all and I didn't see them getting it until the following year."
Last season's breakthrough didn't occur without what Staley described as "a knockdown, drag-out" team meeting following a three-game losing streak in mid-January.
In her fifth season at South Carolina, the foundation of Staley's program sits squarely on defense. The Gamecocks led the SEC, allowing opponents 45.5 points per game on average.
Rebounding has improved dramatically this season. The Gamecocks have the conference's top margin at plus-13.3. Aleighsa Welch, a 6-0 sophomore forward, is third individually, averaging 9.2 per game. Two of her teammates — Ashley Bruner and Tiffany Mitchell — are ranked in the top 20.
"Sometimes, we don't get as many talented players as other programs," Staley said. "We have to find ways to level the playing field. We try to do it in old-fashioned ways."
There's no way around the need for more scoring punch, however. Departed senior Markeshia Grant's career-high 27 points were vital to last season's win over UT.
"We have to instill in them that confidence they have defensively on the offensive end," Staley said.
Regardless of the challenge involved, that's her plan. Recent history suggests that the players will be receptive.