There were a couple of things Summitt could zero in on for improvement – a somewhat slow start and an off night at the free-throw line - but otherwise it was a dominating performance by a Lady Vols squad rated tops in the nation.
"I thought the first half we did some good things but not a lot of great things," Summitt said. "I think our ball pressure was good. We had adequate (defensive) help, didn't handle penetration, but we did a nice job boxing out.
"Second half I thought overall we did a lot of great things. Offensively we shared the basketball, we had more composure and did a better job of reading defenses. We had a lot more patience offensively and just seemed to really settle in and play well in the half-court. Certainly in the second half we ran the basketball better. Rebounding and our defense got us going."
The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Lady Eagles 55-30, but the margin was closer in the first half with Carson-Newman briefly holding the edge early. The difference-maker was freshman Alexis Hornbuckle, the first player off the bench, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, five steals, three blocks and only two turnovers, all in 21 minutes of play.
"I liked the energy off the bench. Alexis Hornbuckle obviously pushes tempo, much like a Loree Moore," Summitt said. "If you have both of them on the floor you've got great transition opportunities."
Despite the lopsided final result, Carson-Newman maintained its composure, especially in the first half, and wasn't cowed by the surroundings.
"I thought we competed extremely well tonight," said Lady Eagles coach Dean Walsh, who added that Summitt told him: " ‘Your kids didn't show much fear. They weren't intimidated by the setting.' Our kids have nothing to hang their heads about. … Our kids didn't back down one bit."
Tennesseans Brooke Johnson, a freshman forward from Seymour, and Kala Greene, a sophomore forward from Talbott, joined Walsh at the post-game press conference. Carson-Newman had a significant fan base – Johnson's family and friends were there en masse – but a boisterous crowd cheered on the Lady Vols.
"The butterflies were more because we were playing UT than playing in front of so many people," Greene said. "UT is such a great team. Their fans are very supportive of them. I really respected their fans."
The Tennessee fans were eager to get a look at the freshmen, and it didn't take long. The first substitute was freshman Hornbuckle for Moore at the 14:14 mark in the fist half. She was soon followed by freshman Nicky Anosike for Tye'sha Fluker. Senior Brittany Jackson relieved junior Shanna Zolman at the same time.
Hornbuckle electrified the game when she entered and quickly engaged the crowd with her intensity on defense, passing on offense and overall speed on the floor.
"When I watched her in high school I thought she was going to be a great guard at the next level, not your typical freshman," Summitt said. "But you don't know when they arrive on campus how they'll perform in the weight room, how they'll perform in practice. She's very serious about her game, very focused and has been like an upperclassman in sprint drills, in the weight room, certainly on the practice floor, very coachable. She listens and wants to learn. She has a lot going for her, and she's certainly going to be a player and play quality basketball as a freshman in this program. I think she thrives on being a great defensive player. Her style of play in high school – you're talking about someone who won four state championships, and the common denominator, because she went to two different schools, was Alexis Hornbuckle."
With the play of Hornbuckle and the shifting of senior forward Shyra Ely from the post to the perimeter, Tennessee hopes to exploit some mismatches this season.
"I think at the 3, she can be a tough guard for a lot of teams," Summitt said of Ely. "So I'd like to keep her there and just keep her aggressive play off the dribble and continue to work on her outside shooting."
Ely welcomed the position change and said the adjustment was minimal. And depending on whom else is on the floor, the preseason All-American can also slide back to the post.
"It's been pretty much an easy transition," said Ely, who led all scorers with 20 points and snared seven rebounds. "I have to slow down so much as passes to the post and reading defenses. My biggest weakness is reading defenses. I like playing 3. I like being able to play either or and being versatile for my team."
Hornbuckle played at the point and wing positions, allowing her to both create for her teammates and look to shoot.
"When she does that she puts herself in position to be a real tough player to guard because obviously she starts with defense, and she can end it with offense whether it's to make the great play or to finish the play," Summitt said.
BEST MOMENTS: Best song: Quandora "Quan" Hornbuckle sang the national anthem before the game. The mother of Alexis Hornbuckle delivered a rousing rendition and was given a huge hug by her daughter and the team.
"Quan has a God-sent voice," assistant coach Nikki Caldwell said. "We were so ecstatic she got the opportunity. We would like to hear her sing more often."
Best wow: Freshman center Nicky Anosike stole the ball, then led the fast break. She made a perfect half-court bounce pass to Dominique Redding, who hit a layup.
"Nicky also has guard skills," Caldwell said. "We've seen her in action way back in high school and being able to take the ball off the glass and start a break. This is not anything new to us but obviously to our fans (it is) to see a 6'3 kid with her size to be able to do what she can do with the basketball. And then her poise with the basketball – her ability to pass, her ability to dribble. Nicky is a very skilled kid."
Added Summitt, "I knew her pass was going to be a bounce pass on the money. I watched her in high school. She was one of the best big post people that I'd seen who could handle and pass the ball. She had a great feed to Sidney (Spencer) in the first half on a backdoor cut. … When I saw her play I loved her ability in the open floor to make everybody better. She has a guard mentality. When she rebounds she likes to dribble-bust. She has good vision. She has a lot of poise with the basketball in the half-court offense, but she's extremely aggressive and sees very well in the open court."
Best dodge: The official after a deflection by Hornbuckle. The official ducked as the ball was going over her head. Hornbuckle snared it and headed down court.
Best dance: Tye'sha Fluker knocked a ball loose on defense and then toed the end line to save it and knock it back in-bounds in the second half. Her hustle set up a fast break, which ended in Hornbuckle knocking down two free throws after a foul.
Best smile: That of Loree Moore, post-game, after playing her first game since Jan. 24, 2004, when she injured her knee and was lost for the season.
"My knee feels great," Moore said. "I was excited to play again. Overall I'm pleased with my game."
LONG WALK ENDED: Senior walk-on Aubrey Guastalli of Westwood, Mass., was dressed out for her first Lady Vol game after a peripatetic career that included stops at the College of Southern Idaho, West Virginia and Connecticut. Her parents, Dennis and Donna Guastalli and little sister, Holly, 16, were in attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena. Before the game a very excited and anxious Dennis Guastalli was snapping photographs of his daughter as she took the court for warmups. She practiced with the team last season but had to sit out a year as a transfer from UConn.
"She's excited to be a part of Tennessee, proud to be part of this program," her father said. "She's settled in. She's doing very well."
Aubrey Guastalli and fellow walk-on Abby Canon take on daily roles with the male practice players to push the team every week. Any minutes they get – they both played in the last four minutes against Carson-Newman – are welcome.
"It was exhilarating. I couldn't catch my breath I was so excited," Guastalli said. "It was really exciting to be on the court after a year just practicing. It was incredible today, just awesome. My dad is so proud of me, and my mom is so proud of me."
YOU TAKE IT: Tennessee tallied 26 assists in the game, and there were no weak links in the passing sequences. "I think we passed the ball better today than we passed it at anytime since we started practice," Summitt said.
Added Caldwell, "It's been a central focus for us. It's a lost art of the game. We harp on them everyday in practice about making good passes, whether it's an entry pass in the post or whether it's just passing to a shooter."
Summitt also cited a pass between Hornbuckle and Moore. "They were in traffic, but they're very unselfish," Summitt said. "They're constantly looking for the open player."
NEW UNIS: Tennessee has new uniforms this season. The Lady Vols logo is on the neckline. A U.S. flag adorns the upper left side of the jersey, which has a large Columbia blue stripe down each side. The shorts have orange and blue trim down the sides. There also are Lady Vol logos on each side of the shorts. Of course the biggest change is the removal of the players' names from the back.
REHAB ROW: Three of the freshmen are sidelined with injuries. Alex Fuller is out for the season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery. Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood was pulled during preseason practice with patellar tendonitis and will be reevaluated in about a month. Tennessee will "make a decision at that point in time about whether to put her on the floor or not," Summitt said. Candace Parker is "ahead of schedule," Summitt said, which further boosts hopes that Parker will return this season. "Let's just hope ‘Rehab Row' gets thinner in numbers," she said.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee's media staff, led by associate athletic director Debby Jennings, puts together what must be the best game notes in the country. A selection: The last time Tennessee played Carson-Newman was Feb. 28, 1975, Summitt's first year as coach. UT escaped with a 74-73 win. …. The initial WBCA/Summerville Overall Strength of Schedule rating has Tennessee No. 1. All of UT's non-conference opponents this season were in the NCAA Tournament last season. …. The USA Today/ESPN preseason poll has Tennessee No. 1 in the nation. It is the 24th time in 29 years that UT begins the season in the top 5. The Associated Press poll comes out today. … The Lady Vols' average height is 6 feet, 1.5 inches, making this the tallest team ever. … Pat Summitt enters her 31st season with a record of 852 wins to 167 losses. Summitt is 27 wins away from tying former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for the honor of all-time winningest coach in college basketball history. Close on her heels is close friend and Texas coach Jody Conradt, who has 847 wins. The two legends play each other Nov. 21 in Austin, Texas. Exhibition games don't count in the tally. … Abby Canon, a freshman walk-on from Shelbyville, Tennessee, is the sister of former walk-on Amanda Canon (2001-02). They are the first sisters to play for Summitt.
"It was the opportunity of a lifetime. We played hard." -Carson-Newman freshman Brooke Johnson of Seymour, Tennessee.
"Who doesn't?" -Johnson, when asked if she thought about playing for Tennessee.
"I hope so." -Carson-Newman coach Dean Walsh when asked at the post-game press conference if the baby he was holding was a future Lady Eagle. The baby is his 7-month-old daughter Courtland.
"In the first half, we play like that, we're going to do really well this year. We won't face this type of pressure. We won't face this type of athleticism." -Walsh on the team's play and chances in the South Atlantic Conference.
"Worse thing I'm looking at is free throws. I'm not going to dwell on that. But certainly we'll shoot a lot of free throws because I think this team will get to the line a lot with their aggressiveness and their style of play." -Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. UT was 11-23 (47.8 percent) for the game from the line.
"She really doesn't look to score as much as I want her to. Today, she pretty much did it all." -Summitt on the play of freshman Alexis Hornbuckle.
"She's a great combo guard. She can play 1 and 2. I do think it will be important as she really starts her career and unveils her game to the rest of the country that they see someone committed to playing both ends and stepping up and being a scorer." -Summitt, continuing to talk about Hornbuckle.
"The tempo was a lot faster than I expected. I just wanted to come out and play my game. My first priority is to stop whoever I'm guarding. I'm a defensive player. I don't want my player to score." -Hornbuckle, on her first college game.
"I think she's gaining more and more confidence in her outside shooting and certainly understanding the offense. She's really settled down and has made some real good decisions for us." -Summitt on the play of Shyra Ely, who started at the 3 position on the perimeter, instead of her usual 4 spot in the high post
"I think it can definitely help us. It's something I devoted a lot of time to this summer. I feel like it paid off. I feel really good about my 15-footer, and I'm confident enough to shoot the 3-pointer if I'm open. It was good to finally be able to be confident and take that shot. I think it will just make it harder for defenses to guard me." -Ely on her outside shooting. Ely earned Player of the Game honors.
"I think she should have been player of the game." -Ely, on teammate Alexis Hornbuckle.