UT-C game close to home for Brittany Jackson

The Lady Vols open their basketball season tonight on the road but for Tennessee native Brittany Jackson it will feel like a home game. <p> The senior forward from Cleveland, Tenn., will be playing in front of several dozen family members and friends when the University of Tennessee takes on UT-Chattanooga at 7 p.m. at McKenzie Arena. Jackson played high school at Bradley Central, which is about 20 minutes away from Chattanooga in neighboring Hamilton County.

"I just got through trying to get all my tickets," Jackson said earlier this week. "A lot of my family is coming and friends. It's exciting. I know people there. I know people from their team. It'll just be neat."

For Jackson, the season opener officially starts her final year at Tennessee. For freshman guard Alexis Hornbuckle, it's officially opens her collegiate career.

Jackson's pre-game remarks sound like a senior.

"I just hope we come and play our game," Jackson said. "If we do then we're not going to have a problem. I just hope we come out and play Tennessee basketball."

Hornbuckle's pre-game remarks don't sound like a freshman.

"I'm excited," Hornbuckle said. "I've anticipated that it's going to be tougher than our exhibition games, and it's going to be a lot more physical, and a lot more demanding. But I'm ready to play."

During coach Pat Summitt's weekly teleconference she was asked about the talent of incoming players who, unlike in years past, are ready to contribute immediately as freshman.

"I think they're better prepared," Summitt said. "Alexis Hornbuckle is not a player who you would say plays like a freshman. She has been able to blend in and has learned at a much quicker pace."

Hornbuckle attributes her preparedness to playing competitive AAU ball and to watching women's college games on television. She concentrated on the guard positions - how they played and what was expected of them on the court.

"That means a lot," Hornbuckle said when told of Summitt's remarks. "I do have a lot to learn, but I'm trying to step on the court and do exactly what coach tells me to."

Hornbuckle's goals for her first game are lofty, and for her, quite attainable.

"I just want to play pretty much a great game in all aspects," she said. "I want to average a double-double, whether that means rebounds and points or points and steals, just anything. Hopefully it'll be a triple, like rebounds, assists and points. I love that stat sheet. Really, I just want to help my team out, do my game."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee expects to start the same five who opened the exhibition games: Loree Moore, Shanna Zolman, Shyra Ely, Sidney Spencer and Tye'sha Fluker. For UT-C: Nicole Mattison, 5'9 junior guard; Laura Hall, 5'5 freshman guard; Katasha Brown, 5'11 junior forward; Tiffani Roberson, 6-foot junior forward; and Tiffany Patton, 6'2 senior center. All are returning starters, except for the freshman.

Brown, who is from Tazewell in East Tennessee, is the reigning player of the year in the Southern Conference and averaged 14.1 points and four rebounds last season. She also hit 42.6 percent from behind the 3-point line. Brown is a preseason All-America candidate.

Roberson, who is from Memphis, was a preseason All-Conference selection and was named to the all-league and all-tournament teams last season. She averaged 11.7 points and six rebounds.

UT-C was knocking on the door of the major polls in the preseason, checking in at No. 29 in the AP poll and No. 33 in the USA Today/ESPN poll.

McKenzie Arena, or the "Roundhouse" as it is more popularly known, has a capacity of 11,218. The game is expected to be a sellout.

It is a venue that Tennessee is very familiar with since the women's SEC Tournament was played there for years.

"I love it," Summitt said. "When we were having our tournament in Chattanooga we loved to go to the Roundhouse. I think it's great, not only for Chattanooga, but obviously there are a lot of Tennessee fans who will make this trip. It's got a great atmosphere. … I think it's a great environment for women's basketball."

HOW THE BALL BOUNCES: Hornbuckle led the team in rebounds in the last exhibition game with eight. Combined, she had 15 over the two games. Hornbuckle brings a dimension to the Lady Vols that they hadn't enjoyed before – a prolific rebounder at the guard position.

"She's an instinctive rebounder," Summitt said. "I'll take her efforts going to the board."

A lot of players work on their game individually, whether it's hitting jumpers, dribbling drills or shooting free-throws. Hornbuckle practiced rebounding alone to study how the ball came off the basket.

"If a shot's coming from the right side, nine times out of 10 it's going to go left or it's coming off far left," she said. "It's just a basic knowledge. I work on rebounding. I use to throw the ball up to myself and just kind of watch where it goes and just stay on your toes."

WEST VIRGINIA CONNECTION: Hornbuckle, who is from Dunbar, W.Va., and played for South Charleston High School in Charleston, W.Va., wears jersey no. 14. Interestedly that same number was worn by Mary Ostrowski, a forward from Parkersburg, W.Va. Ostrowski was a Kodak All-American and the first Lady Vol to tally more than 1,000 points (1,729) and 1,000 rebounds (1,001). She played from 1980 through 1984. Hornbuckle, whose high school numbers, 22 and 23, have been retired at Tennessee, picked 14 because her older brother Cedric wore it.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee's record in opening games during Summitt's coaching tenure is 27-3. The losses came in 1974 (Mercer); 1981 (Stephen F. Austin); and 1999 (Louisiana Tech). … Tennessee's three seniors – Brittany Jackson, Loree Moore and Shyra Ely - debuted as Lady Vols against UT-C on Nov. 16, 2001. Ely started as a rookie and had 16 points and six rebounds. Tennessee won, 97-57. … Tennessee won the last meeting between the two schools, 83-52, played Nov. 23, 2003, in Knoxville. Ely led all scorers with 20 points. … UT holds an 18-6 advantage all-time in games against Chattanooga. The series dates to 1924 (a 19-4 win for Tennessee), and the last time UT-C won was in 1973. Summitt hasn't lost to Chattanooga in her coaching career.

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