Shyra Ely to return to power forward against Vandy

Although Tennessee Lady Vol senior Shyra Ely will be in the unfamiliar role of coming off the bench in Sunday's game against Vanderbilt, she will play at a familiar position once she takes the court.

Shyra Ely played at the power forward position for three years before moving to the perimeter this season. Although she is Tennessee's leading scorer (13.0) and rebounder (6.3), she has struggled with turnovers. For that reason coach Pat Summitt intends to play Ely more inside at the power forward, or four position, rather than the small forward, or three position on offense. She will still play at the three position if necessary on defense, because she has the quickness to guard perimeter players.

"The big reason is turnovers," Summitt said. "We'll still leave her at the three from a defensive standpoint. It's not like this is the only thing she's going to do is play four. They'll be games that she can play the three. It depends on what we're running. If we're in a motion offense, she's very comfortable. It's kind of a wait and see."

Summitt has shuffled her starting lineup for the game and will use Loree Moore, Shanna Zolman and Alexis Hornbuckle on the perimeter. Tye'sha Fluker and Nicky Anosike will start inside. The changes were necessitated by a poor offensive and defensive showing Thursday against LSU in which the Lady Vols lost 68-58 to end their 42-game regular season conference streak. The Lady Vols are still protecting a 58-game home streak in regular season SEC play.

Tipoff for Sunday's game between No. 5 Tennessee (18-4, 8-1) and No. 20 Vanderbilt (17-5, 6-3) has been set for 3:15 p.m. to accommodate espn2's telecast. The Lady Vol Radio Network also will broadcast the game.

Vanderbilt is expected to start: Ashley Earley, 5'10 senior forward, 18.6 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game; Carla Thomas, 6'3 sophomore forward, 16.2 ppg, 6.2 rbg; Dee Davis, 5'7 sophomore guard, 13.8 ppg, 3.8 rbg; Abi Ramsey, 5'10 senior guard, 11.5 ppg, 2.6 rbg; and Caroline Williams, 5'10 sophomore guard, 4.6 ppg, 1.4 rbg.

Vanderbilt lost to Tennessee, 79-65, in Nashville on Jan. 16 and then lost two more games to Ole Miss and LSU. After that the Commodores went on a four-game winning streak and beat Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State and Auburn. Sunday marks the 50th meeting between the two programs, making Vandy the first team to face Tennessee that many times. That's fitting because the SEC schools are bitter rivals.

After Saturday's practice to prepare for Vanderbilt, Ely was circumspect about the lineup change.

"You really just kind of have to take one for the team and respect that coach is doing what she's trying to do and trust her decisions," Ely said Saturday. "It's not about me; it's about helping the team. Whatever she feels like she needs to do I support it, so tomorrow that's what I'll do. I'll support my teammates, the starters and come in and whatever they're doing just keep it going."

Ely sounded almost wistful about not playing as much with the guards – she practiced Saturday with the posts – but is nonetheless happy to be inside.

"It's kind of weird because I've been working with the guards for so long," Ely said. "It was kind of weird to go down and practice with the posts. It comes naturally to me so I don't have a problem with that at all."

The lineup change and Ely shuffle are two pieces in a larger puzzle that Summitt is trying to construct to get ready for the post-season.

"This is a good learning experience for her, and I'm glad it's not post-season. It's a game," Summitt said. "We can't depend on her in March unless she shows us now that: ‘You can depend on me every game.' Doesn't matter what the hype is about a game, we've got to be able to depend on her. Hopefully there're six games in (the NCAA Tournament), and six of them we know she's going to play defense, and she's going to board, and she's going to bring energy to our team. We can't always know the ball is going in the hole for anybody, but there are certain things that should be a constant in your game."

Besides seeing how Ely performs inside at the four spot Sunday, Summitt will be watching her sophomores, Dominique Redding and Sidney Spencer.

"We've got a lot of things to look at," Summitt said. "Put her inside and see what Spencer and Redding will do on the outside, because those are two players that can shoot the basketball. Both can shoot the three, good mid-range. They can defend inside. Ely can defend outside if they're on the floor together. I still want to use our depth. They're two players that I have a lot of confidence in to knock down open shots."

Summitt stressed that removing Ely from the starting lineup wasn't intended to be punitive.

"I'm not trying to punish her for not playing the way she did," Summitt said. "I'm trying to get her to understand we can't be as good a basketball team if she doesn't come and play every night and particularly in the big games. She's got to rebound and defend and obviously get up and down the floor. She didn't even run the floor (against LSU). So you know she put the brakes on early and just didn't play as aggressive."

Summitt realizes that when a player struggles on offense as Ely did against the Lady Tigers – she was 2-11 from the field – there can be a spillover on the defensive side of the ball.

"That's not uncommon for a player, but it's something that as a senior, if you have a bad offensive night it doesn't mean you have to have a bad night," Summitt said. "You can be imposing with your defense, you can be relentless on the boards, get the hustle plays."

Ely has averaged 30 minutes a game this season, and Summitt doesn't intend to decrease her playing time, especially if Ely proves to be an effective scorer inside, as she has in the past. Ely also brings defensive versatility since she can guard players in the post and on the perimeter.

Summitt also acknowledged that a post player adjusting to the perimeter is not an easy transition.

"I think it's decision making. You have more reads," Summitt said. "Things happen a lot quicker inside. You usually catch-and-shoot, kick out, pass to your buddy. There's not as many decisions or as many reads as the perimeter."

Another player will be at a familiar position by playing off the ball, and that's Hornbuckle. The freshman guard has played at the point position this season in place of Moore, but is happy to be on the perimeter with Moore for this game. Hornbuckle is one of the team's best rebounders and has 107 for the season. The only players with more boards are Ely, Fluker and Anosike. She leads the teams in steals with 43. By playing on the perimeter but not having to take responsibility to run the offense, Hornbuckle figures to be more effective in both statistical categories.

"I like playing off the ball. I like defending off the ball. I never guarded the point guard that much in high school," Hornbuckle said. "So to me it's a lot easier to guard off the ball. I like making it hard for the other person to get the ball and when they do get the ball, just making it hard. My defense is starting to come to me. I think if I just bring the heat and try to have zero to one mishaps a game on defense then I'll be pretty happy.

"It's a lot easier to rebound from the wing than it is from the point position. A lot of teams, the way they box out is they try to build a wall in the paint so that you can't get around. As a point guard it's hard to get in. As a three or the post players, they have an advantage because they're already down there. It's just a matter of fighting for position."

Hornbuckle, who has started 10 of 22 games this season and already played Vanderbilt once, is starting to feel like a veteran.

"I don't feel like a freshman," Hornbuckle said. "At times you have breakdowns and game slippage, but I don't call it freshman mistakes. Hey, we're almost at the end of the season. You don't have time to be a freshman."

LOOKING BACK: Pat Summitt will watch a videotape that has the first five minutes of every Tennessee game this season. She essentially wants to have her suspicions confirmed about why the team hasn't started faster.

"I want to know why we haven't," Summitt said. "I have a feel for why we haven't, but I want to know definitely why we haven't. That's the responsibility of the starters. I think we've had too many early turnovers, not enough continuity in our offense and not enough aggressiveness on the defensive end. You're looking at three things that greatly impact the game. We're struggling on offense, and we're not playing the kind of defense, and we give up some early points and then we get in a hole. I'm tired of starting out spotting people 10."

For Summitt to he happy Sunday, Tennessee must get off to a fast start offensively and quit ignoring the scouting report defensively.

"Defend according to our scouting report," Summitt said. "We never denied Seimone Augustus the ball. The only person that denied her was Hornbuckle. That was key for their offensive rhythm. Ely didn't deny her at all. Played off of her. It opened up a lot of offense for them. I thought our guards did a good job on (Temeka) Johnson. We did a really good job on her. We did a very poor job on Augustus, and she's a great player. She gets the ball in her hands, and she's as dangerous as anyone in the country. Limit her touches, and you've got a chance."

Shanna Zolman, who came off the bench at LSU to score 21 points, said the team's failure to talk was fatal.

"It was just a lack of communication defensively," Zolman said. "We let them have a lot of great looks. They knocked down the shots. Offensively we were not able to convert because of our lack of chemistry and not playing together at all. Those two combinations don't make for a very good run for ourselves."

In the last four SEC games Zolman has averaged 20.3 ppg as a substitute and has hit 58 percent from the field, 55 percent of three-pointers and 89 percent from the line. She said her mindset won't change now that she's back in the starting lineup.

"Not at all," Zolman said. "The only difference is that when you're on the bench it takes you a little bit longer to warm up, because you've been sitting for a while. As a starter it brings more responsibility on the table for myself. The starting five, you've got to start the team off. You've got to get out of the gates and run. You can't be on your heels and letting them force the action and letting them be the aggressors. That's the importance of being a starter is that you have the responsibility to do that for the team."

LOOKING AHEAD: Playing LSU immediately before Vanderbilt may have been beneficial for Tennessee because the Lady Tigers and Commodores play a similar style of basketball.

Against LSU, a lack of discipline hurt the Lady Vols on defense – with shooters and scorers left wide open – and a lack of patience on offense sunk their chances of winning with too many quick shots.

The focus of the practices after the LSU game was discipline.

"Everybody individually has to be disciplined on what we're doing as far as keeping the ball out of the middle, denying the middle passes and keeping people off the boards," Loree Moore said. "Another thing is penetration and keeping our feet in line and keeping people from going to the paint. Those are the three things we need to work on from here on out and making sure that we take the rest of these games and work on that. So when post-season comes we're disciplined and we're ready to key into those things that can carry us over and make a difference in the game."

Vanderbilt offers the first test to apply those principles.

"It's very important, because Vandy's the same type of team," Moore said. "They're not the same style as far as getting up and down the court, but those are the two things they do very well. They do get out in transition from Dee (Davis), the point guard, pushing tempo as well as offensive boards. Ashley Earley is all over the boards. Those are the same things that we need to look at and those are the same things that we need to focus on for that game.

"When we went down there, they jumped right on us, and they had the lead. We had to come back because of those things, because we weren't stopping transition and because we weren't getting on the boards. They could do basically whatever they wanted to do. We know we have to come in focused and stop that and control the game instead of playing on our heels like we normally do sometimes."

Hornbuckle likes the fact she's seen Vandy before.

"It does help. We played them once. We know what to expect," Hornbuckle said. "They like to run. They're pretty much the same team as LSU. The fact we have already went up against them, it's an advantage."

Moore is excited about her playing partners on the perimeter, because of their past performances in practice.

"I think the three that she has can be key for us as far as just looking at practices and in the beginning of the season when sometimes we'd mix those three in together and finding out who could play well together," Moore said. "We play very together. We played great aggressive defense, and we got after it on the defensive end as well as pushing transition and getting out wide and setting up the offense and moving and running. I think it's going to give us another look, a whole different type of style of play and intensity and commitment to competing like coach wants – the fight, the energy that she's looking for from across the board. I think it's going to be a whole lot different, because we are staying positive."

Hornbuckle is still steamed over the dissolution of Tennessee's overall regular season conference streak. But she knows the 58-game SEC home streak is intact. She intends to keep it that way. She knows a loss in February isn't fatal like a loss in March, but it felt that way to her.

"Last night was fatal, too – it's the first time they lost an SEC regular season game in 42 games," Hornbuckle said. "The home streak, we will not … I don't see this team, if they really took everything all in (at LSU), I don't see us losing. But that's the thing. We all have to take it in. We all have to grow and build and have that fire. We need every five people that get on the floor, we need that fire the whole time down the court."

The seniors only have three more games at home, and don't want another streak stopped on their watch.

"That does mean a lot, and that is important," Moore said. "You do want to keep that streak, and you do want to make sure that it carries over for the next group that comes in."

When she's on the floor, though, the home court record is the furthest thing from her mind.

"It is important, but you can't focus on that too much because you get locked in to everything that's going on," Moore said. "I think we're just going to keep that in the back of our mind and know that we have to come into this game and the rest of our games at another intensity, at another mindset. We're going to play that style of basketball all the way through – no individuals. Team. It's all about the team and getting people open, using screens, boxing people out, getting on the boards and applying the pressure and defense that Tennessee has. The defense and the rebounding is something we need to put together right about now."

STILL LOOKING AHEAD: Knoxville is one of the host sites for the NCAA Tournament's first and second round games March 19-22. In the past, the early round sites hosted four teams with two games on the first day and one on the second. This year, the early round sites will host eight teams. Four games will be played on the first day and two games on the second. The winners of the second-day games advance to a regional site.

Reserved tickets are on sale now for the Knoxville games for $35, and lower level is still available. The $35 package allows the ticket holder to attend all three sessions – two on the first day, March 20, and one on the second day, March 22, for a total of six games at Thompson-Boling Arena. Individual sessions cost $25 apiece so the $35 package is the most cost-efficient.

The box office at the arena will be open today before, during and after the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game to accommodate ticket seekers.

LOOKING WAY AHEAD: The NCAA Women's Final Four is in Indianapolis this season, the hometown of Shyra Ely and the home state of Shanna Zolman. For Ely and the other seniors, Moore and Brittany Jackson, it's the last shot to win a national title after coming up short three times.

Moore likes her team's chances.

"The chances are big, because we have in spurts and in different game settings, we have played that Tennessee way," Moore said. "We have done everything that made us look like a great basketball team. And then there're days we look like a real ugly basketball team. We know we can do it, it's just we have to do it consistently. Individually we have to take that ownership to make that happen. We can't depend on one or two people. It's everybody collectively. We have to be right behind each other and help each other throughout the rest of the way. It's the only way we can do it. We don't have one individual that can stand out and carry this team. Everybody has to put in their part every single day."

The Tennessee way of basketball means hard-nosed defense and relentless rebounding. If the Lady Vols summon those, Zolman – who can also fill up the scoreboard – has no doubt what will happen.

"Championship. There's no question in my mind," Zolman said. "If we play together on both ends of the floor the Tennessee way there's nobody that can stop us. But you've got to do that. It's easier said than done. You've got to bring it every single day in practice. You've got to bring it every single game. It's not something that you can just turn off and on. It's something every single day you've got to bring it to prepare, you've got to bring it to improve, and as a leader you've got bring it as an example to the others. You're not letting another team dictate how you play, because of the pressure, because of the crowd, because of the refs. You can't let anything deter you from playing together as a team on both the offensive and defensive end of the ball. That's what you've got to focus on. Whether or not you do it is going to determine whether we get to the Final Four or not."

Zolman is from Syracuse, Indiana, and played at Wawasee High School. She wants nothing more than to play in a Final Four in Indiana.

"It's huge for me. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Zolman said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to the Final Four, but we've done it ever since I've been here. For me I don't know anything other than getting to the Final Four. That's something that you just do. You don't come to Tennessee and not get to the Final Four. You don't come to Tennessee and not win a national championship. I haven't gotten there yet. With the chance of having it my home state, being the Final Four and knowing that my entire town is going to be there probably, it's just that much more important to myself to try and help this team get there."

SEC ON TAP: There are six other games involving SEC schools today. All times are Eastern: Arkansas vs. Georgia Tech, 1 p.m. (Fox Regional Sports Network); LSU at South Carolina, 1 p.m.; Georgia vs. Clemson, 3 p.m. (Fox Regional Sports Network); Kentucky at Auburn, 3 p.m.; Mississippi State at Florida, 3 p.m.; and Alabama at Ole Miss, 3 p.m.

PARKER PRACTICE: Freshman forward Candace Parker practiced Saturday and didn't appear to experience any problems. She soared to the rim several times and played at both the small and power forward positions.

Shyra Ely also showed Parker some power moves to the basket.

"I was trying to teach her some power moves, because she's so finesse," Ely said.

If Parker can't make it back this season, Ely, a senior, won't get the chance to play in a game with her.

"Of course I'd love to play with her, but at the same time she doesn't need to do anything that would further injure herself," Ely said. "I think Jenny (Moshak) and the doctors, they know what they're doing. If that means hurting herself, no. On a healthy day, of course. I think she's making progress, and hopefully she'll be back."

Parker has now completed one week of practice, and all of the drills have been half-court. On Monday, coach Pat Summitt will get at look at some full-court work, assuming Parker has no swelling issues over the weekend.

"I'm glad she's gotten some reps. Monday will a good workout, a good up-and-down workout," Summitt said.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories