"Moore is playing such great defense right now," Summitt said. "The only reason I'd made a change is for the defensive pressure."
Loree Moore had quite a week. She took three shots to the face against Georgia on Monday evening with the third blow knocking her out. She had surgery Wednesday morning to fix her broken nose and then flew to Florida. Against the Gators on Thursday evening she played 27 minutes and had five rebounds, four points and five assists.
During the Georgia game Moore said she snared a rebound and as she turned she ran into the elbow of a Lady Bulldog. She still made it down court and set up in the offense with guard Alexis Hornbuckle.
"I was kind of knocked out," Moore said. "Coach was trying to run a play with me and I was like, ‘No, go the other way.' "
The next time down the court she was trying to tip the ball to keep a rebound alive, but she missed and the ball crashed into her nose. Moore told Shanna Zolman she was worried about getting hit again. The next time on defense she was battling a Georgia player for a rebound and took an arm across the face.
"I told Shanna if I get hit one more time … . We came back down, next possession, I got hit," Moore said. "That was the third hit … right over the bridge. When Alexis caught me I came back up, and that's all I remember."
It was Moore's pressure defense in the 91-82 overtime win over Florida that has Summitt thinking about starting her today against the Lady Rebels. She's also looking for better defense from senior Brittany Jackson.
"I've really challenged Brittany to step up," Summitt said. "These last two games, she just hasn't been her typical self. We need her playing at a different level intensity-wise on defense. Loree played really well. The difference in Loree's pressure and Alexis and Sa'de was extreme. Granted they're freshmen."
Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood was held out of practice Saturday because of slight swelling in her left knee. She is battling a severe case of patella tendonitis – her tendon had microscopic tears that nearly needed surgery – and must take occasional rests during the season. She should be OK to play today.
Wiley-Gatewood had a difficult fall semester. She was pulled at the start of practice in October because of knee pain. She also learned her mother had cancer – the surgery was successful – and has to undergo chemotherapy. But she got a fresh start this semester and has settled down and stepped up her play on the court.
"Absolutely pleased with her progress, obviously continue to put a little bit more on a plate, challenge her a little bit more," Summitt said. "I think it was big adjustment leaving home and her mom's illness. She had a lot going on. She's gotten into a routine of the college student-athlete."
Wiley-Gatewood is a California native, as are Moore and Tye'sha Fluker.
"I've told Loree. I've told Tye this. It's a little more laidback there as opposed to here," Summitt said. "They then come into a really structured environment. Every player goes through an adjustment period, but some are more challenged than others. She wants to get it right and do what she can to help this team. She has the struggle with her knee. She's had an awful lot thrown at her, but I'm really excited about her progress and her future here. We have a very special player. She's got the ability to make everybody on the floor better when she steps on the floor. She creates for people. Head's up, the ball's in the air. She just spots people."
Wiley-Gatewood, who played 27 minutes against Florida, should play significant minutes again against Ole Miss. After practice ended Saturday she went to a film session with Summitt.
Summitt is proud of the development of Wiley-Gatewood and Hornbuckle on the court, but so is Moore. Despite the fact the freshmen play her position – and Hornbuckle has started in Moore's place at times – and compete for minutes, Moore hasn't hesitated to mentor them.
"You have to be secure in yourself and your own game to do that," Summitt said.
"For me I've got to get them ready for the next season," Moore said. "I've got to stay positive and make sure our team is still together. It seems like we're all starting to really jell and come together a lot more and starting to become that team that we've been needing since the beginning of the season. We are tight with each other."
The team was together in a film session when they got the news that Fluker's grandmother had died Wednesday in Pasadena, Calif. Charlotte Creamer was 62 years old.
The three seniors said the team took the loss hard and were worried about Fluker, the junior center who was very close to her grandmother and had left Tuesday for home to see her.
"That is hard, and we had our moment in film," Moore said. "We got teary-eyed. We all called her and checked up on her. I think she appreciated that a lot. She's a big part of our team. Her grandmother has been a big part of her life. I'm glad she got home and got to see her before she passed away."
Jackson said the team was thinking about Fluker before the game.
"It was definitely hard. We were definitely thinking about her," Jackson said.
Tennessee will have to play another game without Fluker today. As of Saturday, funeral arrangements were not complete yet, but Summitt said burial would likely be Tuesday or Wednesday. That means Fluker could also miss Thursday's game against LSU in Baton Rouge, but Summitt said her only concern is for Fluker's emotional and psychological health.
"I didn't ask," Summitt said of when Fluker would return to the team. "It wasn't appropriate to ask. Right now the most important thing is the family and making plans and doing what's best for their family. I talked to her mother last night. It looks like the funeral will be tentatively Tuesday or Wednesday. Her grandmama was such a big part of her life. I'm glad she got to talk to her. She spent Wednesday with her. It's sad, but it makes me feel good that she was there. Got home Tuesday, saw her Tuesday night and was with her Wednesday."
Freshman post player Nicky Anosike knew she would have to step up her game in Fluker's absence. She had 12 points and 11 rebounds – the first double-double of her career – and also had a steal that she converted into a layup off the press.
"They pretty much dedicated that game to Tye," Summitt said. "Nicky just responded that way. She's that kind of player and that kind of teammate. As much as we missed Fluker this was good for us. Sidney (Spencer) stepped up. Dom (Redding) had quality minutes. Our guard play was solid. Zolman stepped up obviously. Look at what Anosike did. We got a lot of play from different people that in the end made a difference. Shyra was a non-factor. She doesn't shoot well but then she doesn't go to the boards hard, doesn't defend hard. It's a lesson for her, too. I told her there's other things you can do."
Shyra Ely fouled out of the game but spoke to her teammates before leaving the floor.
"I just told them to get the stop for me and win this game. Don't give up," Ely said. "I felt like I didn't help my team at all. At the same time I'm thankful that we won, and I'm thankful that we had different people step up and pull out the game."
Shanna Zolman had to hit two free throws with 21 seconds remaining to tie the game and get Tennessee into overtime.
"That's what I live for," Zolman said. "Call it pressure, whatever. I love that. I went over to (Summitt) before I got to the line and said, ‘So after I make these free throws what do you want.' I have the confidence that I'm going to make them. And if I don't, I don't. I'm going to live to see another day."
Once the team got to overtime, Summitt said she was confident they would prevail.
"I think they felt really good about themselves," Summitt said. "I told them, ‘Just play.' We ran one of our man offenses, but I told them I'm not calling anything, y'all just attack, just play. I thought they really played well together and got some really good looks. Of course pushing tempo was really good, too. We got that breakaway. We got some good action in transition. Defensive intensity picked up."
Besides hitting the clutch free throws, Zolman also scored a career-high 28 points. She was 8-9 from the field, including 3-4 from three-point range, and 9-10 from the free throw line.
"That's what I love - to have that confidence and know everything I put up is going in," Zolman said. "It was so exciting. My teammates did a great job of looking for me, great job of screening and getting me open a couple of times on the baseline.
"You can't dictate how you're going to score or what you're going to do. It just comes to you. You can't force scoring. If you do or take bad shots it's not going to look fluid or look natural. That's how I play. If I don't you can tell."
"I thought she really did a great job of getting herself open, and her teammates found her in transition," Summitt said. "She had some good reads off of screens, and she just got into the shot a lot quicker. I think this team is playing better off the dribble to set up shooters. Shanna changed her speed up and used screens. She got a piece of the screen and got herself open. That was a great team effort for us, but obviously Shanna had the hot hand, like Brittany had the hot hand in Nashville.
"When you may be struggling and not shooting the ball well as a team you get somebody that steps up, it gives everybody a lot of confidence. I think it gave Sid confidence. Sid played well in the overtime. I thought in that game she was a difference maker."
Tennessee will need more difference-makers today. Ole Miss, coached by former Lady Rebel player Carol Ross, is tied for third place in the conference with Georgia and Vanderbilt.
Ross, who played from 1979 until 1982, was previously the head coach at Florida. Last season was her first at Ole Miss, and she went 17-14 and got the Lady Rebels in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the first round to Villanova, 66-63. Ross has used different lineups this season, but her latest version has gone 8-2.
Ole Miss' probable starters are: Armintie Price, 5'9 sophomore guard, 15.1 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game (Blue Mountain, Miss.); Carletta Brown, 5'4 senior guard, 9.9 ppg, 4.7 assists per game (Roxie, Miss); Ashley Johnson, 5'9 junior guard, 6.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg (Shelbyville, Tenn.); Amber Watts, 6'3 senior center, 12.4 ppg, 7.2 rbg (Utica, Miss.); and Ellen Buchanan, 5'11 junior forward, 3.6 ppg, 4.2 rbg (New Albany, Miss.)
Summitt knows she will start Jackson and Ely on the perimeter and Anosike and Spencer inside. Ely will guard Armintie, the Lady Rebels' biggest scoring threat. Summitt will watch film with the assistant coaches and decide whether to open with Moore or Hornbuckle at the point.
"I never put a lot of stock in who starts," Summitt said. "It's how the five people get us out of the gate."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant coach Dean Lockwood prepared the scouting report for the Ole Miss game. Here is his assessment:
"Athletic team, very good driving, penetration team. They've got who I think is the best dribble-driver we've faced all year in Armintie Price. She is the best dribble-drive player I've seen in our conference or otherwise all year. She's a very competitive kid; she takes it hard to the basket. She's averaging just under 10 rebounds a game so she's a heck of a rebounder, offensively included. That's a big key.
"Watts is also a very good player. She can score with her left and right hand. She also has a very nice shooting touch so she's a post that can score at the rim, or she can pull you out. We have to contend with her in both ways.
"And then their point guard is small, but she's a little sparkplug. She can drive it, and if you give her the space she'll nail a three.
"Those three players are very, very key, and again they're an athletic team. I wouldn't call it a vicious tempo, but they want to get out and run a little bit. They want to spread you out, and they want to attack the paint. They want some paint points via driving, offensive rebounds or post touches.
"Defensively they mix it up between man and zone so we have to be ready for multiple defenses. Also, they'll show a 2-2-1 press or man full court. We've got to be ready to handle some different looks."
WHISPERING COACH: Friday's practice session was notable for who you couldn't hear. Summitt's voice was barely above a whisper, and at times she could hardly speak. It was apparent on her radio show after the win over Florida that she wasn't well.
"Don't watch my TV show, it's worse," Summitt said.
By Saturday, Summitt pretty much had her voice back, but she knows the players enjoyed the respite.
"They love it," she said. "I'm better. I think I got this from my son. I'm on antibiotics now."
A voiceless Summitt was only slightly less intense, her players said.
"It's all about the look, even though she doesn't have the voice, she can still look at you," Moore said.
"She doesn't have to have a voice. There's always that stare," Ely said.
"The look's still there," Zolman said. "It's pretty raspy. It's still intense, but it's a different feel."
SENIOR STREAKS: Tennessee's seniors are now 48-1 in regular season SEC play. They will put their home streak of 57 straight SEC wins on the line today against Ole Miss. Then it's on to LSU and a raucous environment in Baton Rouge on Thursday. Next Sunday, Vanderbilt will be in Knoxville.
"I was just looking at the schedule," Moore had said before the Georgia game and looking ahead to road trips. "We have a tough little streak coming up. We've got to buckle down right about now and fix the little things that have been bothering us throughout the whole season like transition and one-on-one defense. That's what we're trying to work on individually as well as collectively as a team."
FOUL BALL: In the last two games that Tennessee has played 112 total fouls were called – 50 in the Georgia game and 62 in the Florida game. After the last game, Summitt talked to her mentor, Billie Moore, the former UCLA coaching legend.
"I was talking to coach Moore," Summitt said. "She said it was the most-officiated game she'd seen. Which is a good way to put it."
Summitt said she doesn't know why the calls have spiked – she doesn't think Tennessee is suddenly fouling more – and doesn't have an answer for it.
Summitt has said she'd like to settle into an eight- or nine-player rotation, but if an average of three players fouls out per game, she cant.
"Isn't that the truth?" Summitt said.
Tennessee did set a record against Florida after hitting 40-46 free throws. The most free throws made previously was 38 against Long Beach State on March 25, 1989. The 46 free throws attempted, though, didn't even make the top 10 in the record books. The record remains 53 against Long Beach State on Dec. 3, 1988.
Four players also were perfect from the line – Sidney Spencer with nine, Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood with six, Brittany Jackson with four and Dominique Redding with two. In addition, two players only missed one. Shanna Zolman was 9-10, and Nicky Anosike, 10-11.
Anosike's 10 made free throws ties her in the record book for ninth place with Gwen Jackson, Tiffany Woosley and Michelle Marciniak. The record of 15 is held by Chamique Holdsclaw.
Anosike's feat is all the more amazing because at one point this season she was making about 25 percent of her free throws.
"I'm proud of Anosike," Summitt said. "If you go back and look at her early numbers, that was one of my reasons for hesitating to put her in the lineup because she was obviously a poor free throw shooter."
Anosike began putting in extra work to improve her accuracy from the line.
"That's because she's serious," Summitt said. "She's serious about her books. She's serious about her basketball. She takes a lot of pride in her performance, whatever it is. She's a person who has great pride."
SEC ON TAP: There are four other SEC games today. All times are Eastern: Kentucky at Georgia, 2:30 p.m.; Florida at Alabama, 3 p.m.; LSU at Mississippi State, 3 p.m.; and Auburn at South Carolina, 3 p.m.
WNBA EXPANSION: Chicago media were reporting last week that the WNBA would expand to Chicago for play in 2007. The official announcement by NBA Commissioner David Stern is expected to come Tuesday. Former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings (she starred locally at Stevenson High School before moving to Duncanville, Texas) is expected to be in attendance for the announcement.
Current Lady Vol Candace Parker starred at nearby Naperville High School in Naperville, Ill.
"As soon as I heard that I was so excited," Parker said of the WNBA's decision to start a franchise in Chicago. "Chicago is a great media market, great fan support, everything."
Parker, a freshman forward, has been unable to play this season due to a knee injury, but was able to practice Saturday for the first time since Jan. 3. She still might be able to play this season.