Alexis Hornbuckle thought before the game started that the Lady Vols were ready to romp, but could she sense the start that unfolded?
"I think so," she said. "I think our warmup has a lot to do with it. If we come out and we're dead and walking around, and we're messing up our warmups, then we pretty much know in the back of our heads we're not going come out to a great start. Today we came out executing in warmups, knocking down shots, hitting layups, going full speed. I think everybody just felt good today. When you have that feeling across the board, nine times out of 10 you're going to get off to a great start."
"That was the standard," Conradt said. "That was the standard that we need to play to. Tennessee was just terrific. There's no question about it. … I've seen that a lot here. That's what a really good team does when they're on their home floor, and they have a big supportive crowd. So that doesn't surprise me at all. Again, I thought we weathered that reasonably well. At halftime I felt like we could get back in it. But in the second half they got us on the mat, and we never got up. That's a disappointing thing. I wanted us to keep fighting, I wanted us to keep competing, but for whatever reason we didn't. Don't overlook the fact that Tennessee is really good."
Conradt mentioned how good Tennessee was several times during her post-game press conference. She also mentioned several times how disappointed she was in her own team.
Tennessee jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Texas finally got on the board – a short jumper from forward Tiffany Jackson – after nearly five minutes had elapsed. Tennessee pushed the lead out to 22 behind the sizzling three-point shooting of Shanna Zolman and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, but Texas hung relatively tough and managed to close the gap to 16 points at halftime, 44-28.
But Tennessee, 6-0, never let off the throttle in the second half, and Texas, 3-2, wilted behind a barrage of three-pointers (11-19 for Tennessee) and the brutal play inside the paint. It was the worst beating in the series and the sixth-worst loss in Texas' 32 years of playing basketball. It was also only the fifth time in school history that the Longhorns gave up more than 100 points and the second time Tennessee had done it to them (1999, 106-76).
Even Summitt was pleased post-game, except with the last four minutes of play when she felt the team got a little sloppy. At that point, freshman Lindsey Moss was running the point, a position she's practiced perhaps twice this year.
"Well I thought the last four minutes, we turned the ball over too much," Summitt said. "Because we were being very efficient up until that point in time, got a little lax offensively. Aside from that I thought we shot the ball well. We took good shots; we worked for the good shots. I was very pleased to see our bench come in and contribute the way that they contributed. That's what can separate teams out. It's not just your starting five but more importantly I think it's having the depth and being able to rotate people and not lose anything. I didn't think we really lost much where in the Virgin Islands we lost a lot when we went to our bench at times. I think they just understand they have to be efficient and come in and at least keep us at a certain level of play. Certainly we don't want it to drop, and we're OK if they take it up a little bit."
Moss was an example of how balanced Tennessee's play was Thursday. Shanna Zolman led all scorers with 23 points, and Candace Parker had 17 points and 14 rebounds in a dominating performance on the boards. Three other players were in double figures – Sidney Spencer with 12 points and Alexis Hornbuckle and Wiley-Gatewood with 11 apiece. Ten played and ten scored. Tye'sha Fluker had eight, along with Dominique Redding. Nicky Anosike had two points and spent most of the night bottling up Jackson in the paint. Sybil Dosty was perfect – 2-2 from the field and 1-1 from the line – for five points, and Moss added five more to go with two assists and a steal. Tennessee shot 54.9 percent for the game and 57.9 percent from three-point range.
When Conradt was asked about the play of Tennessee guards, she felt the need to mention everyone.
"I think you can go right down the roster," Conradt said. "That's the thing that was impressive about what they did offensively. All of them commanded respect. All of them commanded attention. I think we respected them; we didn't give them the kind of attention we needed to defensively. They have a lot of weapons. They really played well."
Texas was led by Jackson, a junior forward who had 13 points and six rebounds, and Nina Norman, a senior guard who also had 13, but they were a combined 11-28 from the floor. Freshman guard Erika Arriaran scored nine but also had four turnovers in the face of Tennessee's pressure. Norman had six turnovers, and Jackson had five.
Both sides agreed that Tennessee controlled the game on both ends of the floor. Going into the game, Summitt wanted to see three specific corrections from her team's play in the Virgin Islands – inspired rebounding, scoring inside and getting back on defense in transition. She got it. Tennessee out-rebounded Texas, 45-25, held the Longhorns to six fast break points and got 44 points in the paint.
"Obviously I thought our basketball team brought great intensity tonight on the defensive end and really good tempo offensively," Summitt said. "For the first time this year we pounded the glass, and I think that's a result of the last three games we played in St. Thomas. In that tournament of the four teams, we were the third best rebounding team. I told them when I got on the plane coming home I didn't give this team much of a chance to be one of the top teams in the country unless they changed their mindset about rebounding."
Parker, who had nine rebounds in the first half, said UT's performance in the Paradise Jam bothered the post players.
"I think as post players we were disappointed in how we did on the boards," Parker said. "I think we let a lot of other teams out-rebound us, especially in the Maryland and the Michigan State games. We came together and decided that we were going to get every offensive board, and we were going to get every defensive board and box out."
They didn't get every board, but they left their mark on Texas.
"They're just so big and so physical and so aggressive on the boards I felt like we were going to have to ask permission to get a rebound, because they were so dominant inside," Conradt said. "Most of these players won't remember, but remember the ad where the bully kicks sand in the face of the 90-pound weakling? Well, that's what I felt like tonight. They took it to us everywhere they could on the boards."
Some of the rebounds came off of altered shots and missed layups. Zolman attributed that to the Parker effect. Parker had three blocks and altered several other shots. Texas missed a few layups when Parker was in the vicinity of the basket. Those Texas miscues triggered Tennessee to run.
"Candace was a huge presence inside being able to alter shots, being able to block shots," Zolman said. "When we get the rebounds off those missed layups, that allows us for a great transition opportunity. If I had somebody who's 6'4 with a 7-foot, 6 wingspan … (Parker interrupts Zolman to grab a microphone and announce that she's 6'3 to much laughter), that's hard to shoot over, that's definitely something that will alter my thinking when I go inside. Whether she gets a tip on the ball or not, just being able to try and go over that is very difficult."
Zolman's shot wasn't altered in the least. She hit 9-12 from the field, including 5-6 from behind the arc. She also had six assists to only one turnover in what was one of her most-complete games on the offensive end.
"I thought Shanna played very well," Summitt said. "I think she came away probably from the tournament feeling that she could have been a better player, a more efficient player. She was patient on offense and then I thought our team was persistent in finding her and getting her some good looks. She has to work because she's a target for every opponent, and she has to work. I thought she did a nice job without the ball to position herself to get a lot of good touches."
Zolman also was motivated by three years of futility against Texas. It was the one opponent she had never beaten in her Tennessee career. All week she noted that she was tired of losing to Texas. So was this a statement game for her?
"I think so," Zolman said. "I was sick and tired of losing to Texas. I've never won against them. The team hasn't won against them and coach was saying they're really the only team that's had a winning streak like they've had against us. That was definitely in the back of our minds this entire week during preparations for Texas. I think that was a little extra motivation as we came out tonight."
Now Tennessee has to put this game aside and get ready to play at Stanford on Sunday afternoon. Texas also has to let this one go and prepare to play Duke in Austin on Sunday.
"This is what's hard about coaching," Conradt said. "I would like this team to understand that they just weren't very competitive. I would like for them to understand that Tennessee is the standard that we need to play to and that's what we should achieve to be, but at the same time we've got to turn it around. So it's a balancing act between making them feel as bad as they should feel about how they let this one go and on the other hand not totally destroying their confidence so that we can get ourselves off the mat and get ready to play again on Sunday. I don't know who made this schedule, but it really wasn't very fair for this team to have to face that, but that's the breaks. I appreciate the fact ESPN made a commitment to this game, and I'm disappointed that we didn't play better for ESPN. I'm disappointed we didn't give Tennessee a better game, because you're supposed to be competitive when you take the floor."
Summitt can sympathize with her coaching friend. Last year she took a young team into Austin and got waylaid by Texas. This year, those youngsters, in particular Hornbuckle, helped lead Tennessee to victory.
"Last year, that was my first big game, and I definitely was a little bit, let's say, star-struck," Hornbuckle said. "The environment was definitely different, and I played into their hands, not making smart decisions. This year was a whole different story. Being put in so many different positions last year and having to mature so quickly just helped me out at the beginning of this season. We have a great team that stands behind you and pulls you along. That's what helped me out a lot this year."
As far as Texas' freshmen, Hornbuckle smiled and said, "I don't want to say I have pity for them, but I understand where they're coming from."
Conradt placed the blame for the game on her veterans in Norman and Jackson. Norman said Tennessee was disrupting Texas' game, and the Longhorns were also hurting themselves.
"I believe it was a little bit of both," Norman said. "We had a hard time hearing the plays, and I think that was the biggest part. Some people heard it; some people didn't. Everybody needs to talk on the court to let everybody know what we were running. They just played really good, and we were a little scatterbrained out there tonight."
"I like that term. Scatterbrained," said Conradt, who explained the players weren't relaying the plays to each other at times. "I think with a young team you need to have connection, and communication is huge. It doesn't just happen automatically. It's all pretty much on the shoulders of these two. These are the two players that have been there, done that. They have big responsibilities right now, and I told them they've got to raise the level of their play."
Tennessee needs to figure out how to keep its level of play right where it is. One thing is certain: Summitt may have found a starting lineup that she likes. Will she keep it against Stanford?
"Most likely," Summitt said. "I've watched some Stanford tape, but I watched for their sets; I didn't really think about matchups. This lineup has really gotten us out of the gates, and we've had some quick starts. I've been pleased overall with this starting five."