Lady Vols pound Princeton, 107-39

The Lady Vols played like a team with something to prove Tuesday – prove to their coach that they really could defend and rebound the Tennessee way and prove to themselves that they wouldn't flinch one day after the sudden departure of a teammate. Princeton bore the brunt - and the blow - of the proof.

Tennessee, 10-0, had the lead in double digits less than six minutes into the game and ran away with a 107-39 victory before a festive crowd of 10,650 at Thompson-Boling Arena. In the past few games, coach Pat Summitt would look at the stat sheet and brood. After Tuesday's game, she listed all the reasons she was happy.

"From a rebounding standpoint the 20 offensive boards. That's key," Summitt said. "When you look at our shooting percentage of almost 60 percent. I think only having eight turnovers, to me that speaks volumes as the tempo we played and with the type of half-court execution we had without obviously making a lot of mistakes. Twelve steals. We ought to be in the double digits all the time."

Tennessee shot 59.7 percent for the game and even better from three-point range at 73.3 percent (11-15). They had 25 assists – six for Alexis Hornbuckle and five each for Candace Parker and Lindsey Moss – to only eight turnovers. The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Tigers, 52-22.

"Basically we were pursuing the ball," said center Tye'sha Fluker, who had eight boards. "We made sure that we boxed out and we actually went after the ball. We were doing what we've been working on in practice and trying to get more rebounds. And it worked out for us tonight."

Shanna Zolman led all scorers with 23 points and four others were in double figures: Fluker (15), Hornbuckle (12), Dominique Redding (12) and Sidney Spencer (11). Candace Parker was one bucket shy of a double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds. Redding's and Spencer's contributions came from the bench.

"Obviously I was really very pleased with the intensity, the enthusiasm from our bench and everyone that got on the court," Summitt said. "It was great to see in particular people come off the bench and play with a great amount of intensity and efficiency. I thought the first half we executed well. Our inside players didn't make shots. In the second half we had better ball movement, played well together. That's what you want. Aside from the Texas game this is probably as much energy as we've had one through ten (players) tonight."

The name of Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood was never once mentioned by anyone, but the specter of her leaving was laced into some of the post-game remarks. The sophomore guard told Summitt on Sunday night that she was transferring, and most of the team learned of it Monday before practice.

"I also thought they came with a real sense of purpose tonight, and it's a trademark of a Pat Summitt team," said Princeton coach Richard Barron. "The worse thing that could happen to a team like us is for them to have a reason to play hard, and they had something to rally around with stuff happening this week and a player leaving the team. That's all that she needs to get them motivated. Talk about getting a team focused. They were incredibly focused tonight. I know she's been harping on rebounding. I hope she wasn't unhappy with their rebounding effort tonight because they were awfully good on the boards."

"I don't know who the rebounding coach, but they deserve a pat on the back," Summitt joked post-game. "I think it's a matter of our team just going to the boards. I told Sybil Dosty that she had earned the right to play a lot more minutes, and I think she tried to make the most of them. It's good to see Alex Fuller come in and get some quality playing time, because she hadn't had that (due to a hip injury). Again, I'm just really pleased with how we pounded the glass, pushed tempo and shared the basketball. Very unselfish effort."

Summitt also was pleased with the defensive effort. Even better by her standards, she was delighted with how the second five – Fuller, Dosty, Spencer, Redding and Moss – played defense in the second half.

"In the second half, we ran our matchup (zone) defense," Summitt said. "This might have been the best it's looked. I'm not talking about just this year, but it's probably the best it's looked since we really committed to running a matchup. I (liked) their coverage of wing to corner and their short slides (side to side movement within the zone), they covered the elbows (the top corner of the paint at the free throw line). There was great communication, good spacing for the most part. We ran it the whole second half, all but a couple of minutes. I thought that Alex, Sybil, Dom, Sidney and Lindsey make it work very, very well."

Hornbuckle had to do the bulk of the work at point guard now that Wiley-Gatewood has left the team. Besides her point production on 6-8 shooting and assists, Hornbuckle had eight rebounds, six steals and one block. In 26 minutes of play she committed a single turnover.

"I thought Alexis was very, very efficient, really pushed tempo," Summitt said. "The thing about her knowledge of the game you can allow her to really make a lot of decisions so she made a lot of decisions as to when to push, when we needed to set up. I told her to call whatever she wanted to call. She and Zolman both did that. We just wanted to give them the freedom to run whatever sets they wanted to run if we didn't score in early offense."

Hornbuckle was essentially doing a hard-court job of impersonating Indianapolis Colts quarterback and former UT star Peyton Manning in that she was reading the defense and calling the play from an assortment of options that Summitt had given her.

"It would be a lot like a quarterback seeing something and saying, ‘Here would be a good option.' I just wanted to allow her that freedom," Summitt said. "I gave her three or four options. And the same thing with Shanna. She's a senior and while she hasn't had a tremendous amount of experience at the point, she certainly is very comfortable if she is moved there. We didn't extend that privilege to Lindsey tonight, but hopefully we'll be able to in the future."

Summitt's faith in Hornbuckle meant the sophomore guard had to focus more on the flow of the game.

"She just put a lot more confidence in me as far as running plays," Hornbuckle said. "She really didn't tell me too often which play to run. She just told me mix up the sets and run what I think would work. So actually she was making my job a little harder. I had to think a little bit out there. I was trying to play a little smarter than I had been in the past three games. I've always had the freedom. I just hadn't really known how to use it. I had to get a little smarter tonight. That's what I did basically, just up my game and the knowledge of where to go, when to penetrate, when to kick. I think if we can carry this out consistently our team is going to do great things."

Zolman will back up Hornbuckle at the point position and against Princeton, Moss also took the reins of the offense. Zolman, perhaps the best pure shooter in women's college basketball this year – she was 9-14 against the Tigers, including 5-6 from behind the arc – is one of Tennessee's primary offensive threats. Two of Hornbuckle's assists came on feeds to Zolman.

"Point's not my favorite position, but it's something that I'm obviously willing to do and going to have to do when Lex needs a breather or she ever gets in foul trouble, which I hope she never does," Zolman said. "It's something that needs to be done. All I need to do is just try to set the offense up and then get it out of my hands. So it's not going to be that big of a deal."

Tennessee had struggled somewhat in the past three games, especially on the boards. Summitt said the players talked among themselves after the Louisiana Tech game last week – when Summitt might have been the most displeased she's been all season – about adjustments they had to make.

When asked what the team talked about, Zolman flashed a small smile.

"There was a lot to talk about this week," Zolman said. "That was basically us talking about how much work we put in practice and how much fun really that we do have in practice and then going out in the games where it's supposed to be fun and it's not supposed to be as hard as practice, but yet we're not having as much energy, we're not having as much fun, we're not playing to our potential. Tonight that was our main focus. Getting back to playing Tennessee basketball with defense, with rebounding and a lot of energy. And that's what we did."

Hornbuckle said Monday that this team makes practice fun and inexplicably makes the games hard. So on Tuesday they finally flipped the script.

"I definitely think we did that," Hornbuckle said. "We came out here, and we just stressed a lot of energy, a lot of emotion on the court. I think that's what we did, which made the game fun for all 40 minutes."

There's no better example of that fun and energy than when Dosty, whose buckets are usually all scored within a few feet of the basket, hit a 16-footer in the second half with the shot clock down to two seconds.

The bench exploded when the ball fell through the net. It wasn't a key basket at a critical time – it put Tennessee up 83-31 – but it showed that the team was playing with some true joie de vivre. A media timeout followed the basket, and the players on the bench ran out to center court to congratulate Dosty.

"We were definitely happy when Sybil hit that," Hornbuckle said. "Did a spin move, hit the one-hander and floated it over the girl. I know Tye and I were on the court. We jumped up (off the bench), and we were on the court. If we carry that excitement on the bench as well as on the court, it's going to help our team. It's going to bring up the energy."

So will Summitt give Dosty the green light now?

"Only when the clock is running down," Summitt said with a smile.

Dosty had eight points in what was an overall effective game for the frontline players. Nicky Anosike also had eight points, and Fuller added six.

Princeton's 6'3 center, Becky Brown, put up a fight inside – she had 12 points on 6-7 shooting – but the waves of Tennessee post players wore her down.

"It was definitely a battle, and it's hard to simulate something like that in practice because of their size and their strength," Brown said. "It's just not something that we see a lot, especially in the Ivy League. I think that was definitely a factor in the way we played. … They're pretty deep in the post, and their size speaks for itself I think. That's definitely a challenge when I'm the tallest person on the team."

Brown, who played at Harpeth Hall in Nashville, estimated she had at least 30 friends and family members at the game, including her grandfather who she said "brought half their small town" from Erwin, Tennessee, with the rest of the town listening on the radio.

"It's really neat when your family can come see you play," Brown said. "I'm a little far from home up there in New Jersey so I think what's most special to me is to have my friends come out, my family. It's probably one of the last games a lot of my friends and my grandparents will see me play ever. So it's really special to me in that. Also, it's an opportunity for everyone in Tennessee to see what Princeton basketball is about. I hope they take away from that that we're a hardworking team and that we didn't quit. We're proud."

Brown became the fifth-highest scorer in Princeton history and now has 1,293 for her career. Her coach was proud of the effort she gave against Tennessee.

"Becky really is a terrific player," said Barron, who also had family and friends in the crowd since he went to Webb School in Knoxville and his parents still live here. "With better players around her I think she could play against these kind of kids and get those kind of stats a lot. She's going to see a lot of double teams; she's going to see a lot of traps. She's six of seven from the field. We just didn't get her the ball enough. That's a testament not to just a game plan but Tennessee's ball pressure. We were looking for her, and she was open, but we just couldn't get it around their big long guards. She's been a great player. She's really stepped up her game this year. We're counting on a lot from her as we get into our league play. I think she came to play. She's a big game player, and she's just going to get better and better as the season goes on."

Barron was an engaging personality in the post-game press conference.

"Well Tennessee is pretty good," he deadpanned in his opening remark.

He also joked to Joan Cronan, the women's athletics director, that "you've got a pretty good coach there. You might want to sign her to a multiyear contract."

On a serious note Barron noted: "I don't think until you're on the court, until you're playing that game against those athletes, I don't think you can appreciate how big, how fast, how strong they are. We're a much better basketball team than the scoreboard indicated tonight, but that's how good they are. They're just that good, and you've got to give them a lot of credit."

Then he got funny again.

"We don't play anyone else that shoots off fireworks during the starting lineup," he said. "It was hard for us to shoot with those spots in our eyes. It was like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.' Don't look. Don't look."

Then he got serious again.

"We ran into a buzz saw tonight," Barron said. "If we use this as a rallying point for our team, just like they used a negative situation and turned it into a positive for their team tonight, that's what we pick up from a championship team. If we can do that going into our next game, we've learned something from this experience."

Summitt was hoping her team had learned something, too, about the importance of defense and board play and setting tempo and working together.

"I think this team has really good chemistry," Summitt said. "There's something here. It's got a different feel (than last year). I think they talked about some things since our Louisiana Tech game. I know I was extremely disappointed in how we played in that game, but I'm very proud tonight. They're having fun. Anytime you work this hard at anything then obviously you should enjoy it and enjoy the process."

NEXT MOVE: Tennessee played one day after the announcement that Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood was leaving the team. On Tuesday afternoon, she said she intended to go to the arena, sit in the stands and watch her former teammates.

Wiley-Gatewood's announcement stunned her coach for the most part because of the suddenness with which it came. At the beginning of the season, Wiley-Gatewood agreed Tuesday, team chemistry was great. However, in the last three games – beginning with the Stanford game, she said Tuesday – her discontent began. She became dissatisfied and felt her style of play – in the open floor and not in set offenses – wasn't going to mesh with Tennessee's. She felt like she was adapting her game to fit into a system she was growing increasingly uncomfortable with.

"I wasn't happy," she said. "It wasn't fun anymore. I was afraid of making mistakes."

Wiley-Gatewood didn't want to be specific, but she made it clear that there were off the court issues bothering her that didn't involve Tennessee or the team. The events – combined with her frustration on the court – led her to believe that a new start was the best thing for her.

"I want to start all over," said Wiley-Gatewood, who added she thanked Summitt "over and over" for her guidance during her time at Tennessee.

She said she has about five schools that she is considering transferring to – Oklahoma, North Carolina and Purdue are on the list – and she will make visits next week and try to narrow the choices to two. She will enroll at a new school in January, sit for a year, and then play for a half season in 2007 and a full season in 2007-08.

"I would like to graduate and make it to the WNBA, said Wiley-Gatewood, who added she also would like to play overseas. "I just want to graduate."

Tennessee could have opted not to release Wiley-Gatewood from her scholarship – it is well within the school's right – but Summitt will give her a full release so that she can enroll at a new school on scholarship and continue her academic career. If Tennessee withheld the release, Wiley-Gatewood would have had to pay her own way during the one year that she sits out.

She was upset at a Tuesday newspaper article in which she was quoted as implying that other players were unhappy and could leave and in which she indicated promises had been made to her about changing Tennessee's style of play. (Tennessee runs a combo offense of set plays and up-tempo style. It had been hampered lately by a lack of rebounding to trigger the break and a lack of pressure defense to generate turnovers. The team uncorked quite an effort Tuesday against Princeton to change that.)

Wiley-Gatewood indicated Tuesday that some of her remarks didn't accurately convey what she meant. She had not seen the article and was taken aback when it was read to her during the phone interview. She added that the team is solid – she thought her departure actually helped clear the air since her dissatisfaction was becoming apparent – and her message to her former teammates is: "Get that degree and win it all this year. I still think they're going to win the national championship."

"It was hard to leave here," she added, but "I couldn't do it no more. I just want to get away and start over."

KENNY IN THE HOUSE:: When the team visited the Virgin Islands during a Thanksgiving holiday tournament, the players and staff spent a day at the island retreat of country superstar Kenny Chesney. On Tuesday, the Knoxville native sat behind the Lady Vols bench with the "guest coaches," a group of people from local companies and groups who watch the game from the floor and go inside the locker room before the game and at halftime. Chesney has long been a big Tennessee fan.


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