Tennessee notched its first SEC victory of the 2005-06 season with a 66-51 win over South Carolina on the road. The start was sloppy, and the Lady Vols held only a 25-21 lead at halftime, but some torrid second-half shooting – led by senior center Tye'sha Fluker – sent Tennessee to a 1-0 start in conference play.
"We were very careless in the beginning," coach Pat Summitt said. "That's what kept us from getting off to a great start. I was very pleased overall, second half in particular, with how we executed offensively and defensively."
Fluker played 28 minutes off the bench and scored 18 points, which tied her career high set last season against Purdue on March 22, 2005. She also had six rebounds, three steals, an assist and a block. It was particularly encouraging, because in the Monday game against Old Dominion, Fluker had been, as her coach said, a "non-factor."
"I think Tye has really picked up her scoring and obviously her rebounding," Summitt said after practice Thursday. "She scored so well last night … . With her it's got to be consistent. The game before, a non factor rather than a go-to."
Fluker earned the player of the game nod from Mickey Dearstone, the Lady Vols radio announcer. Fluker gave an assist to Heather Mason, the Lady Vols strength and conditioning coach. Despite the high number of minutes, there was no drop-off in Fluker's play from beginning to end.
"After that game, Mickey told me how many minutes I played and I said, ‘Are you serious?' I didn't even breathe hard," Fluker said Thursday after practice. "I talked to Heather before practice, and she asked me if I was tired. I said, ‘No. I didn't know how many minutes I had played until after the game.' I am definitely happy for Heather. Without her it probably would have been a different story."
Fluker's offense – she was 8-11 from the field and made an assortment of moves around the basket, including a nifty drive to her left that included finishing the play with her left hand – was the key to sparking Tennessee offensively in the second half.
"Starting off the second half my teammates kept giving me the ball, and it helped me with my confidence to even finish more," Fluker said. "Definitely coming off of this game just gives me more confidence to finish and to post up hard for my teammates. So that is what I am going to do."
One reason Fluker had to play so many minutes was because sophomore center Nicky Anosike got into foul trouble again. After the game, Summitt instituted a new rule. When Anosike gets her first foul early in the game, she's coming out. Usually, a player has to get two fouls to come out in the first half. In this case, however, Summitt will put Anosike back in later in the first half.
"I told her today," Summitt said. "I said that way I know I can at least put you in later in the half. Because she has a history of if she fouls, how many times has she fouled twice within the first five minutes? If nothing else she can still be in the next 10 minutes. I can put her back in. I can live with her going to the locker room with two fouls. She's going to have to be more aware and not take herself out of position and reach and go for things that she shouldn't. She gambles."
Part of that gamble is Anosike's hustle at wanting to do something positive to erase the negative of the foul. But, for now, she will spend some minutes sitting with Summitt on the sidelines.
Several players spent most of the South Carolina game sitting on the bench.
"I was disappointed in our bench," Summitt said. "Tye was the exception. She came in and played really, really well, but you can pretty much stop there. That's what I told our team today. We've got to get better play off the bench."
Bench play will be key throughout the season, as the starters need to rest some. Point guard Alexis Hornbuckle played 35 minutes. Forwards Candace Parker and Sidney Spencer played 37 minutes and 31 minutes, respectively. Guard Shanna Zolman went 34 minutes.
"If we get better play off the bench then those numbers don't have to be what they are," Summitt said.
Hornbuckle has loaded up on minutes the past two games. She went 37 minutes against Old Dominion.
"She won't have to play those numbers every game, but when she needs to she can," Summitt said. "I really went into that game feeling like we had to play well to win there, and obviously the fact that we shot well in the second half was key for us. But I'm not fixed on minutes by any means. The pace of that game allowed us to play people longer."
Summitt said freshman forward Alex Fuller was healthy – she has been hobbled by a hip flexor strain – and should be ready to contribute more minutes soon.
"I think she will eventually work into that," Summitt said.
Sophomore center Sybil Dosty had been playing more because of her rebounding efforts, but Summitt said she didn't show a lot of effort against South Carolina. She does expect that to change.
Tennessee once again rebounded well and beat South Carolina on the boards, 42-28. Parker had nine rebounds, and Zolman had six for the second game in a row, a stat that caused Summitt to smile and say, "About time" about the shooting guard. Hornbuckle added five from the point guard position. Despite only playing 11 minutes, Anosike had five boards. Spencer had three rebounds.
"Sid's going to the boards," Summitt said. "Dosty's had a lot to do with our rebounding, because she, aside from last night, has been really into it. Just didn't come ready to play. When you come off the bench you may have been sitting there for awhile but like it or not, you've got to at least keep us where we are or help us get better. I was disappointed with our bench last night. I didn't think we played well off the bench at all with the exception of Ms. Tye."
Fluker has weathered well being a starter sometimes and a reserve at others this season.
"It's just preparing your mind for whichever I'm going to do," Fluker said. "Before the game she'll tell me whether I'm coming off the bench or whether I'm starting. If there's a change I just get my mind ready. If I'm coming off the bench I'm watching the game to see what needs to be done, see how they're playing the post players and see the things that I could come and do a little better. That's my mindset for coming off the bench.
"If I'm starting it's to do everything in my power possible to get us off to a good start. It's only a matter of changing a little mindset and just playing hard no matter what. Because when I get in there I need to do my best."
BOOK SIGNING: UConn coach Geno Auriemma will be at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in downtown Knoxville on Friday evening to sign copies of his book, "Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection." Auriemma will be inducted into the hall later this year.
The one-hour event will take place in the South Rotunda of the hall and will begin at 7 p.m. Copies of the book, which was written with Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated, will be on sale in the hall of fame's gift shop.
During his media teleconference Thursday, Auriemma remarked that the crowd could be sparse in Knoxville. That would be in stark contrast to when Pat Summitt signed her book in Connecticut several years ago to a packed crowd that she called "one of the largest book signings I had, maybe the largest."
"She's a lot more popular in Connecticut than I am in Tennessee because she's humble and nice. I've irritated a lot of people in Knoxville," said Auriemma, who joked that perhaps he could entice people by giving away game tickets for Saturday, autographed photos of Diana Taurasi, a car raffle and Super Bowl tickets. "If you gave people something to throw at me, there might be a lot of people there."
"They like me because they've beaten us more," Summitt said. "They like winning and they've been able to do so a number of times against us."
When a reporter asked Auriemma if he thought Summitt had read his book, Auriemma said, "I don't know. It's an interesting question."
He then brought up the famous World War II movie, "Patton." During a memorable tank warfare scene, Gen. Patton, played by George C. Scott, is looking through binoculars at the destruction his troops have wrought upon those of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who wrote a book on winning a tank war. Patton remarks: "Rommel, you magnificent bastard I read your book." Auriemma set up the scene and repeated the anecdote for reporters Thursday.
Auriemma said if Summitt wins Saturday's game, then perhaps he contributed in a way with his literary effort.
For her part, Summitt said she "looked at it a few month's back. Somebody sent me an early copy. I think it tells a lot about his life and his coach-player relationships."
One chapter discusses his relationship with Summitt, who declined to discuss the contents of the chapter.
"I really haven't gone there," she said. "The people who have read it made comments to me. I don't think it's necessary (to talk about the parts about her in the book). I don't want to start anything. It is what it is. It's obviously a great rivalry. I've always tried to keep it about the teams, different matchups. I don't care to get into anything beyond that."
BIGGEST GAME OR NOT?: During Auriemma's teleconference, he indicated the Tennessee-Connecticut matchup wasn't as important now as it had been in the past.
"I don't know that it is," Auriemma said. "Does it have the same significance? No, because there are too many other good teams and great matchups. At one time this used to be the game that everyone in the country wanted to see, and it's the only game that national television focused on. Now, and I think this is a positive, there are so many good matchups that this is just one of them. It is not the most important. I think it is one of the premier games in the country. It may still be the, but it's not the only one."
"I don't know why he would think that it wouldn't," Summitt said. "It is the game. I really believe that. And until someone else, until two other programs have the ratings that this game has had … and we'll see this year, we'll see if it's down. My guess is it won't be."
RECRUITING UPDATE: Tennessee signee Nicci Moats, a 6'2 forward for Lord Botetourt High School in Daleville, Va., was scheduled to have knee surgery this week. It was believed she had torn her ACL and MCL, but the extent of the total damage will be better known after the surgery. Moats is expected to be in town for the UConn game.
Both of Tennessee' fall signees had their senior seasons ended with knee injuries. Point guard Cait McMahan of Heritage High School in Maryville, Tenn., has already started rehab after having surgery to repair a torn ACL.
With the loss of sophomore point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, who decided in December to transfer, Tennessee will reopen the recruiting process and likely look to sign a third player this spring for the 2006-07 season.
"We'll look ahead," Summitt said. "We may have to dig under rocks, but we're looking around. There're some (high school) kids who haven't signed, and obviously there're some junior college kids, but we haven't made a decision yet. It's early."