A 16-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking don't make a compelling case for improvement.
Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt isn't armed with irrefutable evidence. The last two games, which featured 165 points of opposition scoring damage, could be dismissed as circumstantial without something more than a couple of close calls.
"Living on the edge", as she describes UT's play, still looks like living large.
Summitt's mandates, no matter how forceful, amount to an appeal. She is imploring her players to not be blinded by their self-assurance.
"They're a very confident team,'' Summitt said of the Lady Vols. "I think they have to be a realistic team.''
Tennessee, 2-0 in SEC play, faces conference rival Mississippi State (6-10, 1-2) at 3 today at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
In replotting UT's course, Summitt is trying to tap into a sense of maturity that even she's unsure about. The Lady Vols start two sophomores -- Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike. Their second-leading scorer, Candace Parker, is a redshirt freshman.
Given their talents and UT's history, these players aren't likely to be viewed as callow. At the same time, that doesn't make them any more experienced.
When asked whether the Lady Vols grasp the seriousness of their recent defensive struggles, Summitt said: "Maybe not everyone across the board.''
Senior guard Shanna Zolman would agree with the assessment, based on what she heard during Monday's practice.
After trading baskets with Connecticut last Saturday and surviving 89-80, Summitt harshened her tone and raised expectations.
Zolman watched the UConn game film and understood why. Some of her younger teammates didn't. She overheard them saying during the grueling workout, "Dang, what's going on? What's her deal?"
Zolman answered their questions with a question: "Did you watch the same game film as I did?''
"I do think,'' Zolman said, "it takes us upperclassmen to remind them.''
One of those upperclassmen, however, still needs her reminders. Junior Dominique Redding is a larger figure in UT's attempted upgrade. She's been moved to guard to help alleviate Hornbuckle's workload. More playing time is available, provided she fills the job description.
"I saw some good things,'' Summitt said of Redding's play in Thursday's 94-85 victory over Georgia. "In the end she quit competing. They scored on her twice. Once was enough.
"I love her offensive aggressiveness. She makes shots. But when she makes a couple of shots, she stops guarding.''
Summitt is not inclined to cut Redding any slack, not with two-plus seasons on her resume. She's not a freshman anymore, no matter how much she might look and sound like one at times.
"God please help me; God please help me,'' said Redding after a rough day on Monday, "to be focused on the message and not the tone of (Summitt's) voice."
Anosike, on the other hand, sounded like a voice of reason during a recent team meeting when Summitt asked why last season's team was better defensively than this season's squad.
"I put my two cents in,'' Anosike said. "We weren't as good offensively (last season). We couldn't go in relying on our offense. We weren't as pretty.
"I think, in the back of our minds, we know we can rely on our offense (this season). In the back of our minds, we relax on defense. It's going to catch up with us.''
Anosike crunched some numbers on one of those pretty offensive plays and still came up with no better than a 50 percent likelihood of success. She thinks there are better odds on the other side of the basketball.
"It's something you can hold yourself accountable for 100 percent of the time,'' she said. "Defense depends on you and what you're willing to give. ... That is so totally in your control."
Anosike offered those observations on Friday, after the OK Corral-like quality of Thursday night's victory reinforced the prevailing shortcomings. After practice, another film session took place. More warnings were issued.
Upon further review, Summitt characterized the team's defensive effort Thursday as "uninspired" and "lazy."
"You can ask yourself, 'why does she keep harping on it every day? We've beaten quality teams,' '' Anosike said, "She's been here for 32 years. She knows what's ahead for us.''
Summitt can foresee some compelling possibilities.
"Sometimes, the only way kids believe is when they get beat,'' she said. "You have to learn while you're winning.''