Alexis Hornbuckle ready for first start today

Lady Vols guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who will be making her first career start today, has told herself to stay calm, be vocal and make good passes. It's a simple checklist but not a simple feat for a freshman guard playing in only her seventh college game. <p> As a youngster often does, she both pleased and aggravated her coach in the two practice sessions leading up to the 3 p.m. game against DePaul.

On Friday, coach Pat Summitt lauded the first-year player, who is being thrown into the fire at the point position. On Saturday, Summitt assailed the freshman for not focusing at practice.

"In spite of Alexis' lack of focus at practice today, she still will be in the starting lineup," Summitt said Saturday. "If that happens again she won't be. She just was not focused like a starter should be focused."

Alexis Hornbuckle will be joined in the lineup by guard Shanna Zolman, forwards Shyra Ely and Sidney Spencer and center Tye'sha Fluker. Zolman and senior Brittany Jackson, who both had an outstanding week of practice, also can play point guard. Senior Loree Moore is out for up to a month after having her tonsils removed Friday.

"You never know how players handle it," Summitt said of being picked as a starter. "When they learn the expectation of the coaches and everyone else, you hope they get it."

Summitt noted that she could have opted to start a veteran lineup with Zolman at the point and Jackson on the wing.

"I've been pleased with Alexis, but then she has to have the discipline and the leadership to come in here and have the type of practice that you want the day before a game," Summitt said. "She'd had a good week. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt today. Move on."

It has been a somewhat exasperating end of the week for Summitt, who had to deal with the absence of freshman guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, who went home to California on Tuesday evening for personal reasons without getting permission from Summitt or notifying anyone on the staff. Summitt learned of her departure when Wiley-Gatewood didn't show up for a workout Thursday morning. She returned Friday evening and was at practice Saturday.

When reminded that she had signed a group of six freshmen - comparable to a litter of kittens sometimes in terms of attention span, scampering off and youthful indiscretion - Summitt managed to laugh.

"No joke," she said with a sigh. "They're talented. The future's bright. But it's day to day."

On Friday, Summitt was extolling Hornbuckle's attitude – wants to be coached, asks a lot of questions – and her on-court demeanor in that she's very vocal and wants to take charge.

"When you have a player like that, it's not like they shy away from anything," Summitt said. "It's ‘What do you want coach? What do you want me to run? What do you want me to do?' It's constant receiving knowledge and giving out information."

In today's game Summitt is looking for Hornbuckle to get the team in its offense and "stay aggressive in transition. That's a place I really want us to push tempo. We have not pushed tempo this year."

Hornbuckle acknowledged that she "had kind of been thrown into the fire with Loree's surgery, but I feel like coach has prepared me for this moment."

"I'm excited," she said. "I'm pumped. My first collegiate start I've got to bring it. I've got to set the tempo. There're a lot of things I need to do to replace Loree and still contribute my role that I've been doing."

Hornbuckle has a checklist of goals for this game: be a leader, be focused, play under control, shoot well, be vocal, keep her teammates up. She also is reminding herself to not force the offense or throw bad passes.

She played point guard growing up and in AAU ball but said she was shifted to the off guard and small forward position in high school because her 5'11 height was tall for girl's hoops in West Virginia, where she starred for South Charleston, W.Va.

Hornbuckle, who has played at the off guard spot and backed up Moore in Tennessee's six previous games, blames her poor shooting performance so far this season on lack of focus.

"As a team we've been shooting poorly. Individually I need to focus on my shot and stop rushing," Hornbuckle said. "We can all shoot. We wouldn't be here if we couldn't shoot and play."

She has diagnosed her flaw – not looking at the target and leaning back in the act of shooting. At the free-throw line, Hornbuckle said she's not pausing long enough after she spins the ball before she shoots, and she's not releasing the ball properly during the shot. She intends to spend a lot more time in the gym now that classes and exams are over for three weeks.

"Just basketball and relaxation," Hornbuckle said.

She got a vote of confidence from Jackson, who can back up Hornbuckle at the point if necessary but is better suited to play off the ball because of her shooting ability.

"Being a freshman, it's hard to come in there like that," Jackson said. "But that's what you come here for. I think that's why she is here. I think she'll do a great job."

"There's a great deal on my shoulders, a lot expected of me to step up and fulfill this role and be successful at doing so, but I've been telling myself you've still got to play. You're a player," Hornbuckle said.

She welcomed the 10 days off and her first "Camp Summitt," but "boy was it hard," said Hornbuckle, citing the constant full-court drills and scrimmages. "We have a different name for it, but we're not going to share it. It's never as bad after you finish. While we're going through it, it's bad."

As a senior Jackson was well aware of how intense practice sessions are during an extended break and said the team needed it, especially on defense.

We've seen that in these last games that we've played; we've not had the intensity," Jackson said. "We watched some games from last year. It doesn't even compare. Everybody's got to step it up, and that's what I've been trying to do."

Jackson's and Zolman's week of work drew praise from Summitt.

"I've been really pleased with Brittany Jackson," Summitt said. "She's been one of our most-consistent players. I just feel really good with Shanna and Brittany."

"I think this week really helped us out," Jackson said. "We got a lot of confidence as a team. Individually everybody has been working so hard. Hopefully it will carry over in the game. That's what the plan is. We have to practice the game."

A team focus this week was improving the defense, which in turn should help the offense "if we defend, get on the boards" and generate transition, Summitt said.

"I feel better about our defense," Summitt said Saturday. "Offensively I think our transition game is better. We're pushing even after makes (by the other team). I think we're executing better in the half-court game. Post game is still coming. It's not there."

The players started a new routine in practice in week. In their pre-practice and post-practice huddles, everyone stands close together so that the sides of their shoes are touching the shoes of the person next to them, including the coaches. While one set of players is working on a drill, the group of five waiting to sub in stands on the sideline with their feet together and touching.

"We're trying to stick together, be positive," Jackson said. "We need each other. We've been trying to get tighter huddles, touching each other, getting energy from each other."

Summitt said, "This is a pretty tight group. They're in together, and they're in it for the long haul."

GUARD LOSS: DePaul lost its senior guard, Charlene Smith, who tore the ACL in her right knee in a game Monday against Loyola-Chicago. DePaul won that game and was 6-0 but lost its next game Thursday against Purdue. The Blue Demons managed only 61 points against Purdue after putting up 96, 99, 89, 118, 97 and 99 in its previous games.

DePaul is led by Smith's cousin, forward Khara Smith, who averages 19 points and 11 rebounds a game. She is joined in the starting lineup by forward Erin Carney and guards Jenni Dant and Jenna Rubino. Freshman guard Allie Quigley started in place of Charlene Smith on Thursday, giving the Blue Demons a starting lineup of two forwards and three guards as they have gone with all season. Quigley had been averaging 13.4 points a game off the bench and is an excellent 3-point shooter.

"Their strength is going inside," Summitt said of Smith's play while also noting that DePaul has sharpshooters from long range. "They will be attacking something that has not been a strength for us in defending. This is going to be a challenge to Tye'sha Fluker and our two freshmen inside."

The last time Tennessee and DePaul played was in the second round of last season's NCAA tournament, a 79-59 win for the Lady Vols. During the regular season last year Tennessee went to overtime but prevailed 96-89 in Chicago.

MORE ON MOORE: Senior point guard Loree Moore is recovering from having her tonsils removed Friday after suffering from chronic sinus and throat problems.

"She's been dealing with this since she's been in Tennessee," Summitt said.

Moore hyperventilated at practice Wednesday after running sprints, an event that underscored the need for the tonsillectomy.

Moore's mother, Paulette Marlowe, traveled to Knoxville from Lakewood, Calif., to be with her daughter for the surgery and post-operative care. Summitt called Moore, who is still very hoarse, on Saturday. Moore could miss up to a month, a maximum timeframe that allows for the surgical site to heal and for her to be able to resume eating solid food so that her strength is restored. It is possible that she could return in less time.

SHANNA'S STREAK: Junior guard Shanna Zolman is 10-10 from the line this season. Going back to Jan. 29, 2004, she has hit 44 straight from the charity stripe. The record of 45 is held by former Lady Vol Tiffany Woosley.

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