If it looked like the same ol' Tennessee on Sunday, the one that beat Oklahoma 74-59 at Chesapeake Arena, that's because it was.
In the X's and O's, it still rebounded and defended like Vols teams that are historically known for doing. Just the way legendary coach Pat Summitt built them.
There were some ways in which they were new, however. The most obvious is new coach Holly Warlick, who took over after Summitt became head coach emeritus because of early onset dementia. And then there are new goals, such as a positive attitude surrounding the team. After all, Summitt's last year was more difficult than one might think.
In the end though, even Summitt-less, Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament and the Sweet 16 is the same story: Dominant.
New team. New staff. New goals. Same heart. Same pride. Same fight.
Those are the words inscribed in powder blue on a white, metal baton not longer than 12-inches that the Baylor team gave to members of, in Warlick's words, “everyone who has touched the program” — from academic advisers to associate athletic directors.
“This is kind of what we're living by right now,” Tennessee sophomore forward Cierra Burdick said Sunday. “Not many people believed in us. Not many people thought we would be here. We believe in ourselves.”
During the preseason, the Vols were ranked No. 4 in the SEC (out of 14 teams). Now, they're one game away from a trip to the Final Four.
“We've worked hard,” Burdick said. “We have faith and confidence in each other. and I think we've worked just so hard to get here, so hard. Against all people's doubts.”
But here — the Elite Eight — is a place that Warlick and the Vols have been. During her years as Summitt's assistant, Warlick was part of 949 of Summitt's 1,098 wins. She was there for the 14 SEC regular season titles, 14 SEC Tournament championships and eight national championships.
“Here is what Holly has done,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. “Honestly, what a tough job. Seriously do you want to follow Pat Summitt?
“Holly has put her personality on that team. She jumps around the sidelines, has a lot of energy, passion, yet she's fun, has some humors wound up in all that. I think her team is feeding off that.”
But here's what Warlick hasn't done: changed the winning foundation laid by those who came before her. Warlick said she knew she could never be Pat Summitt, but she needed a way to carry on the tradition in her own way — of attacking the paint and forcing the opponent to make a tough shot like the Vols did in the first and second halves against Oklahoma.
That's the significance of the baton and the significance of this so-far Elite Eight run.
“We want to make sure we carry on that tradition,” Warlick said. “There is a new group, a new staff, but we still have the same belief that we're Tennessee and we're going to represent Tennessee and Pat Summitt to the best of our ability.”