Lady Vols officially tip off season Sunday

Pat Summitt's first starting lineup of the 2005-06 season gives a nod to offensive efficiency and defensive intensity, but she made it clear on the eve of Sunday's opener that all five players on the floor need to finish their shots.

Summitt opted for her big lineup with redshirt freshman Candace Parker on the perimeter at the small forward position. Senior Tye'sha Fluker will play low post, and sophomore Nicky Anosike will play high post. Sophomore Alexis Hornbuckle will run the point, and senior Shanna Zolman will be at shooting guard. That leaves Summitt's two other "starters," Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood and Alex Fuller to come off the bench against Stetson University. Game time is Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols coaching staff will be watching closely on the offensive end, particularly the post players, because scoring in the paint is top priority. It took on a sense of urgency about the time Summitt's feet left the floor of the RCA Dome in Indianapolis at the Final Four. She can't guarantee this same group will start the next night against UT-Chattanooga.

"I just want to watch it," Summitt said. "Anosike has got to make shots. She's our best defender. She's high energy, but efficiency in that post game is something that's just been a point of emphasis for our team since we walked off the court in Indianapolis. That's going to be a place that we're going to watch and watch every game closely."

Anosike has earned a starting spot because of her defense. She can patrol the paint and go out on the perimeter to pick up a quicker player. But her shortcoming last season was finishing in the paint so to stay in the lineup she has to hit shots. To help her in that effort, she is shooting over a pole with a large orange pad taped to it. A manager holds the pole in front of the basket and to the side. Anosike has to extend her arm to hit the shot; she can't short-arm the ball. Assistant coach Dean Lockwood has worked with her on her form.

"She hates it. So that's a good thing," Summitt said of the Anosike stick. "I told Dean the other day we need to go back to the Stu Aberdeen days where he got a broom. I want her playing at the rim. Her reach is 10 feet, 4 inches. And sometimes she doesn't get her hand above the rim. We're probably going to take that thing to the Virgin Islands."

That "reach" is Anosike's vertical leap from a standstill position under the basket. With the basket 10 feet from the floor that means Anosike can get four inches above the rim. The late Aberdeen is a legendary coach who was an assistant at Tennessee from 1966 to 1977 and was known for using a broom to force players to shoot the ball high.

Fluker earned the start based on her offensive performance in practice and in the exhibition games. She is not only going strong to the basket, she has uncorked a short turnaround jumper from the baseline and consistently hit from the corner area, or elbow, of the free throw line.

Zolman is the team's best pure shooter and long-range threat. Despite a dislocated finger on her non-shooting hand, she has been steady in practice. Hornbuckle, whose overall game is often too valuable to leave on the bench to open a game, has the most experience at the point position, but Summitt said Wiley-Gatewood would get plenty of minutes.

"Lex has the advantage in terms of leadership and more experience all the way through the Final Four last year," Summitt said. "Sa'de is getting better. She's had two really good practices in the last two days. Obviously it reflects being a stronger leader and being more comfortable. If you look at just pure shooters on our team, she's maybe right there behind Zolman. She moves the ball down the floor, and she creates for other people. She really does a great job of that."

Two players that Summitt really wants a good look at are Fuller, a redshirt freshman forward who has dazzled offensively in practice and also rebounds well, and Sybil Dosty, a sophomore center with a soft touch around the basket.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "If they're ready to play, they could get some quality minutes."

She also intends to use all 11 players – especially with another game 24 hours later and three in a row next week at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands – but she indicated "there are a few people who haven't had the kind of practices, that we haven't been overly excited about, some of our executions and turnovers," and their minutes will be adjusted accordingly.

Freshman Lindsey Moss will likely see limited action because she missed several practices – three full ones and part of another – after hyperextending her knee.

"I'd like to get her some minutes, but conditioning-wise … I still want to give her a look," Summitt said.

Stetson will be getting its second look at Knoxville in eight months. The Hatters played in Thompson-Boling Arena last March in first round NCAA tourney action against LSU, a 70-36 loss. This month, Stetson will continue its tour of the SEC after leaving Knoxville with upcoming games against Kentucky on Nov. 22 and Florida on Nov. 27.

The Hatters play in the Atlantic Sun Conference and have the league's preseason player of the year in senior Nefertiti Walker, No. 23, a 5'7 guard who last season averaged 18 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game.

She is expected to be joined in the starting lineup by: Kim Manning, No. 3, a 5'5 junior guard; 6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.5 apg; Sharnesha Smith, No. 12, a 5'6 freshman guard, 4.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.5 apg; Janene Maclin, No. 13, a 5'10 junior forward, 7.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.5 apg; and Jaclyn Piloto, No. 51, a 6'2 senior forward, 10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.0 steals per game.

Stetson will bring its own Lady Vol connection in assistant coach Bridgette Gordon, the second-leading scorer (2,460 points) in program history. She led Tennessee to a pair of titles in 1987 and 1989. When Summitt talks about the best players in Lady Vol history, Gordon is on a short list that includes Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings.

In an interview this week Summitt said Parker could play her way onto that list.

"I certainly think she could be with the best," Summitt said. "People ask me all the time to compare. Holdsclaw's one of the best pressure players I ever coached. Bridgette Gordon was probably right behind her. Tamika Catchings had probably as strong an influence on a game with her defense, her rebounding and her aggressiveness, one of the hardest workers I've ever coached. Those are the players when you think about where is Candace headed. I think Holdsclaw is probably the one from an offensive standpoint that Candace could have that same type of impact."

Parker, who has already been the target of a flurry of national media, is quick to point out she hasn't scored a point in a college game that counts. (She was 16-19 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line in the two exhibition games and averaged 19.5 points per game.)

"I haven't played a game yet," Parker said quietly during one of her numerous interviews leading up to Sunday's game. "I haven't done anything in college yet. It's a new level and a new step."

Summitt intends to play Parker mostly at the small forward position Sunday "if our inside people do what I'm expecting them to do," the coach said. "I just like our depth in there. We obviously could benefit from having four or five post people. We'll get her inside some. There are a lot of things we can run. Post her up, bring her to the high post. She's really very effective in the high post."

Summitt may have settled on a lineup for Sunday, but that doesn't mean she won't shake it up later. She has five games over the next seven days in which to try various combinations and see who will answer the call.

"I think with this team they have done a great job of trying to get ready to play," said Summitt, who noted the defensive play also had looked "inspired" at times this week. "You have to give players time enough to define their roles. It's too early for that. After seven days, I'll know. With five games in seven games, I think we'll have a much clearer picture of who we feel like will get us off to the best start and who plays well coming off of the bench. We need some firepower coming off the bench, a spark.

"Who's going to get us off to the kind of start we want? There are also matchups. There're going to times we really want to go big. If we do, Parker's at the three. If we want to go small and quicker then we go three-guard lineup. Just like Fluker, she came off the bench the other night and played super. She handled it like a senior and like a very unselfish teammate. And that's exactly what we need from this team. If we have selfish players then we've got problems. That's just part of being in this program. When you have the depth and the talent that you have, you just have to handle whatever role they put themselves in or the coaches place them."

REHAB ROW: Last year Rehab Row was piling up players. This year, it's the coaches who are doing time. When practice started this season, Summitt was wearing a walking boot because of complications from a broken foot suffered over the summer. This week, assistant coach Holly Warlick is wearing a walking boot on her left foot.

"She wants to be like Pat is all I can figure," Summitt said with a smile, while Debby Jennings, the head of media relations, quipped that Warlick was "probable" for this week.

The three assistants, Warlick, Lockwood and Nikki Caldwell, have been attending an early morning "boot camp" three times a week to get in tip-top shape. Apparently, Warlick has inflammation of the plantar fascia in the foot. Summitt also remains in rehab and said this week was particularly difficult, but she was doing much better. When told it was better to ask about the coaches' rehab than the players' Summitt said: "I would much rather you ask about us."

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