Tennessee's Holly Warlick previews the Notre Dame game
A detailed scouting report informs Tennessee's actions Monday night against Notre Dame.
A simple directive, meanwhile, serves as kindling.
One isn't more important than the other to Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick, who has made playing with heart and passion a common theme this season. She might pile on the combustibles for a visit from the second-ranked Fighting Irish (18-1) for a women's basketball showdown at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.).
"I think they understand the importance of playing hard," Warlick said, "and having a passion for the game and each play."
If so, the Lady Vols have learned the hard way against the best teams.
No. 9 Tennessee (16-3) is 6-2 against ranked opponents this season. But the two losses have come against then-No. 3 Baylor (76-53) and then-No. 1 Stanford (73-60) in the span of four days in December.
At Baylor, Warlick thought that the Lady Vols played "totally scared" in the first half against the defending national champions, falling behind 17-0 at the outset.
Their play at home against Stanford was even less acceptable to her, spawning a harangue that continued once the team reconvened after Christmas break.
"For some reason, we didn't compete at all," said Warlick on Sunday, revisiting her disappointment.
"That's how I feel."
Like Baylor and Stanford, Notre Dame was a Final Four team last season. The Irish were one of three top 5 teams to beat UT last season. The 72-44 loss in South Bend, Ind., on Jan. 23, was noteworthy for two ignominious reasons. Tennessee's point total was the lowest in program history and the margin of defeat was the second worst of all time, trailing only a 31-point margin against Texas in 1984.
Warlick was Tennessee's associate head coach last season. She began her post-game remarks after the Notre Dame loss by apologizing for the team's play.
"We got beat by an outstanding basketball team and we didn't do anything about it," she said on Sunday. "We didn't fight. We just gave up. That's not a sign of a Tennessee team, not since I've been here. ...
"If you're going down, you go down swinging. We got pushed and we just fell straight down flat on our face and didn't care."
The Lady Vols ought to get a lift from tonight's atmosphere. Head coach emeritus Pat Summitt will be honored beforehand with a banner raised to the rafters of Thompson-Boling in honor of the former head coach with 1,098 career victories and eight national championships.
"I think it's going to be emotional for all of us, especially Pat," Warlick said. "It's well-deserved. I'm excited they're taking the time to do it."
So is Notre Dame. Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that her team is happy to be here and has made "We Back Pat" shirts for the occasion. All-American point guard Skylar Diggins should be inspired by the occasion.
"She loves to be in the spotlight, to play on the big stage," McGraw said. "Not every kid wants that."
Dealing with Diggins and an opponent that's ranked in the top 10 nationally in seven different statistical categories is addressed in UT's scouting report. The importance of more consistent defense and rebounding, along with minimizing turnovers undoubtedly is emphasized, too.
But simply competing deserves equal mention. So says Warlick.
"Playing hard," she said, "takes care of a lot of things."