"It is exciting to think about the future that these young players have here at Tennessee," Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said Sunday afternoon after the game. "I sleep a lot better at night. I'll have a good night's sleep tonight after watching Ms. Gatewood."
Shyra Ely – who was 5-5 from the free throw line and had seven rebounds – led Tennessee with 23 points on 9-12 shooting.
"Did you see my shooting percentage?" Ely asked in the post-game press conference before crediting her shooting to Wiley-Gatewood and fellow freshman guard Alexis Hornbuckle. "Even with Loree (Moore) out they did such a great job of seeing the floor.
"I know with Sa'de I don't know that I'm open, but she thinks I'm open so I just have to be ready for the ball at all times. The same with Alexis. They did a great job pushing the ball. I got a lot of easy buckets underneath which got me going and kept me in the flow of the game and gave me a little bit of confidence."
Tennessee had 19 steals against the Lady Frogs with the two freshmen guards accounting for nine of them.
"I can sum it up real quick: When you throw it to Tennessee, they're pretty good. When you don't shoot it very well, they get really good," TCU coach Jeff Mittie said. "Those two areas we didn't do very well."
TCU shot 30 percent for the game and only 2-17 from 3-point range. They got to the line 24 times, but 16 of those attempts were by forward/center Sandora Irvin, who finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds. It took all three of Tennessee's centers to guard her, though that wasn't the game plan.
"I got to the foul line a lot," Irvin said. "They were doing a pretty good job of keeping me from getting to the blocks. I missed a lot of shots that I felt like I should have hit. It's tough. That's a great team. They battled the whole night."
"I thought Tennessee did a great job of pressuring her on the perimeter," Mittie said. "We felt like we might be able to exploit bringing Fluker out of the lane. But I thought Fluker, I thought 55 – I can't say her last name - and Dosty, I thought all of them did a good job of at least getting up enough where she couldn't catch it comfortably."
Summitt was pleased that Irvin had to work for her points, but she wasn't as happy with the interior defense.
"We just fouled entirely too much," Summitt said. "Fluker started the game fouling. Dosty fouled her. Anosike fouled her. We have a lot of fouls to waste, but that was not our strategy. We wanted to defend better without fouling. She's a fine player, the best inside player I've seen on tape coming into the game."
Irvin had little offensive help from her teammates – the next-highest scorers were Niki Newton and Natasha Lacy with seven apiece – but Tennessee had a lot to do with that. Ashley Davis was averaging nearly 12 points a game this season but was held to four points on 2-7 shooting.
"We just kept getting further and further away the basket," Mittie said. "There were times when we had some coming over to the bench to get the ball."
Tennessee's up-tempo game was on display with both Hornbuckle and Wiley-Gatewood pushing the ball up the court when they ran the point.
"I'd have to say it starts with the point guard play," Summitt said. "A great point guard really simplifies what you have to do offensively because they distribute the ball so well."
Summitt also used the guards at the same time with Hornbuckle shifting to the wing, or two, position.
"I love the two," said Hornbuckle, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals. "It's easier to penetrate from the wing. It's easier to rebound from the wing. I was in heaven."
A crowd of 6,572 buzzed with excitement when both guards were in as their disruptive play on defense, passing ability and three-point shooting broke open the game in the last 10 minutes of the first half and gave UT a 48-31 halftime lead.
"You can feel it," Hornbuckle said of the crowd's reaction. "I know I got into it when Sa'de came on the floor and started throwing those passes. I was like, ‘You know what? This opens up my game.' I think Shyra saw it opens up her game, and we started running. We're a running team. We're so athletic if we can just run for 20 minutes the first half and 20 minutes the second half it opens up the doors. That's exactly what we did the last 10 minutes of the first half."
Hornbuckle brought the crowd to its feet with one series on the offensive end. Tennessee missed a layup, but Hornbuckle came down with the rebound and whipped a behind-the-back pass to a surprised Brittany Jackson, who missed the shot and told Hornbuckle she wasn't expecting it. The crowd cheered anyway.
"I just saw a white uniform out of the corner of my eye," Hornbuckle said.
Summitt was smiling in the post-game press conference because earlier this week she was thin at the guard spot. Moore is out until January after having a tonsillectomy. Wiley-Gatewood, who has only practiced for a week after rehabbing a knee injury, stayed in Knoxville when the team traveled to Louisiana Tech to work on conditioning.
When Summitt glanced at the bench in Ruston, La., she had one legitimate substitute at guard in Jackson, who is also a small forward, and even had to use forward Dominique Redding at the wing.
"It's the best problem I've had all year," Summitt said of balancing the minutes among her guards. "I'll figure it out. What's really difficult to figure out is not having enough players to be disruptive, particularly guard play. We have been very limited. Now just looking at having Alexis and Sa'de and Brittany and Shanna, that's not a problem to me. That's a great asset. And obviously it's going to help us be a much better team. And then we get Loree Moore back, and then we've got five guards."
Wiley-Gatewood's talent was never in question, and her ability was obvious in preseason workouts. But a severe case of patellar tendonitis sidelined her before the season even began. She has only had five practices – and the fifth was Saturday, which was limited to shooting free throws and one defensive drill – with her teammates.
Wiley-Gatewood said that was all she needed to get in rhythm. Her nerves were another matter.
"When I first got out there I was nervous. I was so nervous," Wiley-Gatewood said. "The first two minutes that I was in I got in rhythm with my teammates. Me passing it to them gave me a rhythm for my shooting. It was fun. I had fun on the court today. Playing in front of all these fans made me nervous."
A few of her passes would have been assists, but the surprised recipient couldn't always complete the play.
"We'll get more comfortable playing as a team, because they haven't had as many reps with Sa'de at the point," Summitt said. "A lot of our players need to understand anytime that she has the ball they should expect to be a receiver."
Having Wiley-Gatewood in the rotation gives Summitt more flexibility with player combinations to combat what the opposition is doing. TCU played a lot more zone defense than Summitt expected so when both Hornbuckle and Wiley-Gatewood were in, either Sidney Spencer or Brittany Jackson played on the perimeter. That allowed Ely to shift to the high post, the position she has played for three years at Tennessee. Jackson finished with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Shanna Zolman had 11 points, two assists and two steals.
"TCU played so much zone," Summitt said. "I just wanted to get 3-point shooters on the perimeter and having Sa'de allowed us to do that. That's why I left Spencer on the perimeter. I wanted to give Shyra a chance to get in the gaps. She does that very well. She's playing within the system now. I think she feels less pressure because of the guard play that she doesn't have to come down and take on the responsibility of being the scorer for us. … She's really settled down and just playing within the offense."
Wiley-Gatewood also gave Tennessee a dimension that TCU had not seen on tape.
"I thought they looked really in sync today offensively," Mittie said. "Much like us, they have a lot of newcomers that they're trying to fit together. Sometimes the player zigs when the passer thinks they're zagging, but today they looked like they were all on the same page. I thought they passed the ball very well. I thought they shared the ball well. On tape they were very individually talented, but yet they were a little out of sync offensively. Unfortunately we've got to answer some questions about ourselves. We've made some teams look really in sync lately. While giving credit to Tennessee, we have to wonder a little bit."
But the effect of Wiley-Gatewood wasn't in question.
"The Gatewood kid in her first game, she knocks down some threes and looked pretty good. From there they were off to the races," Mittie said. "I knew she was pretty talented. I don't know how much she has been practicing. We knew she was very talented. She obviously has great vision. She has the ability to score. I thought she made her team better today."
"By me practicing with them it helps me to get ready for the game," Wiley-Gatewood said. "I've been practicing for four days now. It felt good. The fans were loud. I was excited."
She's too young and apparently too talented to realize that four days of practice shouldn't be enough.
But the stellar debut of Wiley-Gatewood – the fourth freshman to see playing time this season – led to the inevitable question about the possible return of Candace Parker, the most-heralded member of the class. (The sixth freshman, Alex Fuller, is taking a redshirt year after reconstructive knee surgery.)
Parker will see UT's team orthopedist on Tuesday and if cleared, Summitt has said she could return to the practice court in January.
"I certainly don't want to rush anything with any injury," Summitt said. "We didn't with Sa'de's injury, and we will not do that with Candace's injury."
TARA AT THE HALL: No. 2-ranked Stanford will be in town Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game at Thompson-Boling Arena. The evening before, Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer will be at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in downtown Knoxville on Monday at 7 p.m. for a "meet and greet" reception. VanDerveer, the 1996 Olympic coach, was inducted into the hall in 2002.