Rebounding by Lady Vol guards fuels running game

Tennessee's players returned to the practice court Monday after keeping their SEC record perfect against Kentucky and surviving an emotional homecoming game for former Lady Vol Mickie DeMoss. <p> It was a game that stood out in the stat sheet for two categories: defensive rebounding for the guards and the number of minutes logged by the freshmen.

Tennessee (14-3, 4-0), which moved up in the Associated Press rankings to No. 5, next turns it attention to a road game against South Carolina on Thursday. Kentucky (13-7, 2-3), in turn, will host Vanderbilt in Lexington on the same day.

Coach Pat Summitt defeated her longtime assistant DeMoss, who is now the Wildcats' head coach, 67-49, on Sunday in Knoxville. Kentucky scored the game's first basket and then went more than 11 minutes before hitting another shot.

"I think her team will respond," Summitt said. "I think Mickie is smart enough to go right back to the next game. Let this one go. Our defense was pretty good those first 10 minutes."

Kentucky's leading scorer Sara Potts missed a wide-open layup after a steal in the early minutes of the game, and that seemed to set the tone for the first half. Summitt could sympathize after watching Shanna Zolman and Brittany Jackson struggle earlier this season.

"Everybody tightens up when your best scorer does that," Summitt said Monday. "When Shanna and Brittany were struggling, everybody tightened up. We went on a little run (against Kentucky), and they started missing. I've watched enough tape on them to know those kids have played at a whole different level offensively."

It was Tennessee's defensive performance that held up under Summitt's scrutiny after she watched film of the game, especially the guards' determination to get to the boards.

When Loree Moore was lost for the season last year after a knee injury in January, Summitt mostly worried about the loss of rebounds.

"Loree averaged almost six boards a game last year," Summitt said. "When she went out we were worried about a point guard; I was worried about her rebounding."

Moore had seven rebounds, including five on defense, where Summitt has told her guards to crash the boards. Tennessee had 33 defensive rebounds against Kentucky, and guards Moore, Zolman, Jackson, Alexis Hornbuckle and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood snared 11 of them.

"That's the one thing we talked about in our pre-game," Summitt said. "When the guards start rebounding on the defensive end we immediately will become a better rebounding team. You eliminate the outlet pass. You start the pass with a rebound."

With Hornbuckle now starting at point guard – Summitt moved her back into that role against Kentucky and intends to keep her there against South Carolina – Tennessee must make on-court adjustments to not lose the best aspects of the freshman's game. When playing at the wing, or 2, position Hornbuckle was a force on the boards.

"She and I both talked about the fact I like her at the 2 for that reason – transition, taking the ball to the hole, getting on the glass," Summitt said. "She's one of our best rebounders."

"When she's in with Zolman or Brittany, she's going to the boards. If Sa'de's on the floor, she's always the one going back," and Hornbuckle will hit the glass.

If Moore and Hornbuckle are both on the floor, the game situation will determine who goes to the board and who gets back, but Summitt indicated Hornbuckle was the primary rebounder in those cases, too.

"That's one of my favorite things to do besides playing defense and passing," Hornbuckle said of rebounding.

Summitt has tinkered with her starting lineup on and off this season – and has always maintained that the subject receives too much emphasis – and for now plans to keep it the same.

"Just take it one game at a time," she said. "I love the way we started the game. I complimented Lex right after the game. That was big. Her play was obviously one of the reasons I feel like we got off to a good job. She had the ball in her hands or was picking up the ball. I like what was happening on both sides."

Although Summitt likes for her guards to rebound and transition immediately to the running game, there is another scenario.

Freshman post player Nicky Anosike can rebound the ball on the defensive end and opt to not only lead the break, but also finish it. Against Kentucky, nobody picked up Anosike until she got to the paint on Tennessee's end so she cut left and drove in for a layup.

"I'm just hollering (ducking her head as if to not watch), ‘Oh …… Good job,' " Summitt said. "I tried to tell her today she could dribble hand-off to a guard if she didn't have a layup."

Anosike's stint at the point pleased a fellow freshman.

"It opens up a lot, because they don't know whether to stop the ball or play the pass," Hornbuckle said. "It's a nice aspect to have when your post can dribble it coast to coast. That was lovely."

Tennessee's four healthy freshmen – Anosike and Hornbuckle who both started, Wiley-Gatewood and Sybil Dosty – accounted for a lot of minutes Sunday. Summitt has been seeking an opportunity to get all the freshmen some quality minutes as she called them. The 22-2 first half lead against the Wildcats afforded the chance.

The play was sometimes uneven – at times all four were on the court – but Summitt sort of expected it.

"I think that I knew going into it how much this freshman class could help us and that I couldn't get impatient with them and get the results," Summitt said. "I made my mind up in the spring and summer that I had to have more patience as a teacher. That's not to say that the top doesn't blow off every now and then."

An unexpected inflammation in her eyes caused by contacts has allowed Summitt to adopt a more professorial look. She has been wearing glasses at practice for the past several days.

Two of the freshmen said the looks makes her more approachable and mutes the intensity of her blue-eyed glare to some extent.

"They make her look more comfortable, ‘OK I can go talk to her,' " Wiley-Gatewood said. "I like it, very professional."

"You can't see the true blue, the stern look behind the glasses," Hornbuckle said. "But it's still Pat."

PARKER UPDATE: Freshman forward Candace Parker continues her quest to play this season, and Summitt hasn't given up on the possibility. Parker didn't practice Monday because of lingering swelling but still could make it onto the court soon.

"We just don't want to push it," Summitt said. "I wouldn't say highly doubtful. I'm not ready to say doubtful at all. We've still got time."

The post-season is six weeks away, and Summitt said she hasn't thought about when Parker would debut with the Lady Vols, or when a cutoff date would be set.

"I haven't even let myself go there," Summitt said. "I'm not putting any timetables. Obviously she wants to play, got to make sure she's where she needs to be. The risk, I don't even like the word ‘risk' associated with her playing. We don't want to take any chances."

Jenny Moshak, the associate athletics director for sports medicine, has the final say in when Parker can practice. She saw some encouraging signs Monday.

"The swelling is down, but it's not gone, which means now we can continue to push her in rehab, which is good," Moshak said. "It hasn't gotten any larger with the rehab that we've been doing. The key is pushing the rehab, pushing the weight training, pushing the strength so that the knee doesn't have to take the bulk of the force, the muscles do."

The team will take off today from the practice court, but Parker will plow ahead.

"She rehabs seven days a week," Moshak said.

As a precaution, Loree Moore saw Dr. Bill Youmans because she has experienced stiffness in her left knee, which was surgically repaired a year ago. Moore missed a month this season for a tonsillectomy, and has been working her way back into game condition.

"The surgeon looked at it," Moshak said. "It's nothing to be concerned about, (just) continuing to rehab because she was laid off for so long."

FAMILY MATTERS: Last week Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood tried to focus on school and basketball while her mother, Denise Gatewood, underwent surgery in California after cancer was found in her chest. Since then Wiley-Gatewood has learned that the cancerous tumor was confined to her chest and has not spread into her lymph nodes or bones, as the family feared.

"They took it all out," Wiley-Gatewood said.

Denise Gatewood will continue chemotherapy, but the long-term prognosis is excellent, her daughter said.

Wiley-Gatewood said she "most definitely" felt support from the Lady Vols extended family of teammates, coaches, staff and fans.

"I have a lot of support here," Wiley-Gatewood said. "People have told me you've got family here. I'm happy to know that."

Another Lady Vol is hoping for good news out of California.

Junior center Tye'sha Fluker of Pasadena, has written: "Get well granny. I (heart symbol) you" on her shoes.

Her grandmother, Charlotte Creamer, has been hospitalized with kidney failure and is on dialysis, Fluker said.

"We're really close. It's just a way to keep her close," Fluker said of the words on her basketball shoes.

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