Tennessee returns to action against Kentucky

The Lady Vols return to SEC play tonight against Kentucky in a game in which Tennessee should be looking for some redemption after getting trounced by Duke in their last outing. Tennessee's undefeated season screeched to a halt, and the success of the rest of the season depends on how the team responds.

The loss to Duke wasn't fatal; it could even turn out to be fortuitous if Tennessee heeds coach Pat Summitt's call to play defense and rebound.

"I think you won't know that for awhile," Summitt said. "I don't think you'll see instantly that that had a great impact. It looked like somebody had just broken the puzzle up and thrown the pieces out, because that's what we were. We were a bunch of individuals not playing well together on the defensive end. Do we have time? Sure."

The first chance to show some cohesiveness comes tonight when No. 1/3 Tennessee (18-1, 4-0) takes on Kentucky (14-4, 3-2) in Lexington at Rupp Arena at 7 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net, Lady Vol Radio Network).

The Kentucky women play most games at Memorial Coliseum, but the contest with Tennessee was moved to Rupp to accommodate what is expected to be a larger crowd and could be in excess of 10,000 at the 14,000-seat venue.

"I think it's going to be a great atmosphere, a tough challenge for us," Summitt said. "We don't have any time to really focus on the past. We've got to immediately get ready as a basketball team to play against Kentucky."

The Wildcats are coached by Mickie DeMoss, a friend of Summitt's and a former longtime assistant coach for the Lady Vols who had a hand in recruiting several of the current players.

"I think Mickie has done a great job," Summitt said. "They've played some really strong games. I know they'll get after us on the defensive end. They're very aggressive defensively. They'll get on the boards. I think it'll be a great crowd. I think it has the chance to be the largest crowd since she took the job."

"We have made some noise in the conference with the wins at Florida and at Ole Miss," DeMoss said. "With that, I don't think that we are going to slip up on anybody. Pat is a great coach, and she is never going to overlook anybody. They are going to come in here ready to play. We just have to go and battle. We are still the underdogs."

Tennessee leads the series against Kentucky, 40-5. The last time the Wildcats beat the Lady Vols was in 1986 when DeMoss was on Summitt's staff.

"It was my first year at Tennessee in 1986," DeMoss said. "We came up here, got beat and Pat did not feed us on the way home. I learned from that trip, at pre-game meal, to stick an apple or banana in my briefcase because, if we lose, I can't afford to miss many meals. That was the first time I experienced that. We got on the bus and went right back to Knoxville and didn't eat."

If Tennessee loses twice in a row Summitt would likely be just as upset. The team responded well physically on Tuesday – the players went through a defensive-oriented practice – but its mental state after the 75-53 dismantling by Duke is a tad trickier.

"We'll wait and see. I don't know," Summitt said. "It's not so much being (ranked) one and losing to two as the state that we're in right now with our team and the lack of commitment to defense and rebounding. That's my biggest concern."

Summitt is concerned enough to tinker with her starting lineup, though as of Wednesday she wasn't entirely sure how yet. That's partly because she's not certain if sophomore point guard Alexis Hornbuckle will be available to play. Hornbuckle suffered a severe contusion of the right kneecap in the second half of the Duke game – the injury was initially thought to be a hairline fracture – and her status is listed as questionable. Senior center Tye'sha Fluker has pain and swelling in her left knee, but Summitt was optimistic that she would be available.

"Just talking with (trainer) Jenny Moshak this morning, she feels that Tye'sha will be good to go," Summitt said. "She is going to do some rehab with her this morning after she gets out of class. She was optimistic. At practice, she did a bike workout and seemed to be feeling much better at the end of practice."

As far as Hornbuckle, Summitt said, "That's a little more in question. If Jenny Moshak was not our trainer, I'd probably be a little more concerned. Jenny worked a lot with Alexis in practice last night, and Alexis said she felt a lot better. There is a possibility she can play."

If Hornbuckle can't play, senior Shanna Zolman is likely to run the point. Summitt could opt to move Candace Parker to the wing with Sidney Spencer and add a center – perhaps Fluker or Sybil Dosty – inside with Nicky Anosike.

"To me, Sybil Dosty has earned the right to get some quality playing time," Summitt said. "She has done more in less time. The one thing that she does bring to the court is consistent rebounding. That might be a reason I give her an early look and might even put her in the lineup."

Dominique Redding also is available to play on the wing, and she can play some point. Lindsey Moss could handle a few reps at point, but she is better suited at a wing spot for now. Alex Fuller can provide help inside and outside. Summitt said Wednesday during her media teleconference that she had been cautious with Fuller because of some knee pain.

"Alex has had a little bit of a physical setback," Summitt said. "She is OK, and I thought that practice last night was one of her best. ... We made sure that everything was fine with her, and it is. She just has been having some soreness in her knees. It was probably just the pounding, but she is fine now. Last night was one of her better practices. I think Jenny feels a lot better having our medical people take a look at her. She is good to go."

Kentucky is expected to start: Jennifer Humphrey, No. 32, 6'3 senior forward (6.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg); Chante Bowman, No. 20, 5'11 sophomore forward (3.0 ppg, 3.2 ppg); Sarah Elliott, No. 4, 6'6 sophomore center (10.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Carly Ormerod, No. 00, 5'8 freshman guard (10.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg); and Samantha Mahoney, No. 11, 5'10 sophomore guard (11.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg).

Humphrey will draw the initial assignment of guarding Parker, Tennessee's leading scorer at 15.1 points per game.

"Jennifer Humphrey will start on her," DeMoss said. "(Parker) plays the three and the four, so we will see what position she is playing. We will rotate different people on her. Jennifer Humphrey and Eleia Roddy will guard her some. We will probably mix it up, throw some different looks at her."

Parker was one of the few Lady Vols to perform against Duke. She had 17 points and five rebounds. Spencer had 11 points and Hornbuckle added 10, but Zolman was held scoreless for the first time in more than a year.

"I thought Candace made some big shots for us," Summitt said. "Certainly she was a go-to for us, and I think she stepped up. I think Alexis did some good things but wasn't the typical leader that she has been. I think the crowd really got under her skin. Shanna was just having a really poor shooting night, and she has to learn to do other things to make other people better when that happens."

Tennessee's second chance to show it has learned some lessons comes tonight in Lexington. The first shot was at Tuesday's practice.

"They took ownership of what did or did not happen," Summitt said. "There was a glaring lack of leadership during the game, which I thought was a real factor in how we responded with our lack of being able to pull it together when facing adversity. Take nothing away from Duke. That is the best I've seen them play all year. We tend to do that – bring out the best of other teams."

Tennessee should expect another best effort from Kentucky.

"This game is what we have been focusing on since day one of conditioning," Wildcat guard Jenny Pfeiffer said.

To Tennessee's credit the team did quickly grasp what went wrong against Duke.

"(Our players) understand their shortcomings in how they could have been better, in particular our huddles and communication," Summitt said. "It caused us to play more as individuals than as a team. We'll learn a lot from it. We will learn volumes from this loss. We understand how much better we have to be to compete at that level."

Assistant coach Dean Lockwood said the Lady Vols riled the basketball gods with their prolonged disdain for defense.

"The basketball gods are always watching," Lockwood said. "You can fool people. You can even fool yourself, and you may think you're fooling the basketball gods for some time. But the basketball gods don't smile kindly when you take shortcuts or you don't commit to the principles of the game.

"The principles of the game are sacred to the basketball gods. And when you're not in a stance for a full possession, when you're not helping outside the paint and recovering with a sense of urgency, when you're not closing out long on three-point shooters, the countless things we could name defensively, the basketball gods sooner or later they're going to frown on you, and they're going to let you know they're displeased with you. It's our job to take what we've done and to repent and go back and set it right with the basketball gods."

Lockwood was smiling as he talked. But basketball gods or not, he knows what grounded the team.

"On a serious note we were getting it done with offense primarily and also we were better than a lot of the folks we played," Lockwood said. "We were really, really exposed when we got up against a team that was equal talent and was really playing hard and executed their stuff well. We got in a hostile environment so when our offensive game sputtered or wasn't there we had no bedrock to fall back on with our D and our rebounding, which has been the history of this program. That certainly should serve as a wakeup call to our team. We hope that it does."

Lockwood termed the loss to Duke – just as the loss to Rutgers last season – a defining moment.

"This is one of those moments," Lockwood said. "Each season is different in terms of the defining moments. We lose at Rutgers last year that was a defining moment. Even though we had lost prior to that I think that loss (hurt) because it happened – it was such a one-sided loss – so dramatically. TV game, same type of thing. We were out of that game. I think it's a defining moment for this basketball team. This is the first real bump in the road we've had. I'd be lying to you if I said I think we'll do this, or we'll do that. We don't know. Until you see the bullets flying you don't know how your troops are going to respond."

SCOUTING REPORT: After her team disregarded yet another scouting report, Summitt thought about pulling the plug.

"We've got to understand at some point in time that our scouting report really can give us an edge," Summitt said. "I was tempted after the Duke game not to even give them a scouting report because obviously it didn't appear that they were really serious about using it."

But she didn't, and assistant coach Dean Lockwood compiled one. Here is his assessment.

"They've had some very good wins, and they've also had some very tough losses," Lockwood said. "They're a team that we have to be very, very wary of, because they've got enough athleticism that they can certainly hurt you with slashing and getting to the basket. They've got shooters who can shoot the ball. They've got good size up front. They have Sarah Elliott up front coming off a very good freshman year and 6'6 is certainly a post presence. Jennifer Humphrey, real athletic frontline kid that had 19 rebounds against a good Florida team. They are an athletic team who can shoot the ball."

Lockwood said Tennessee must try to disrupt Kentucky's spot-up shooters.

"They've got two very, very potent perimeter players and shooters in (Samantha) Mahoney and (Jenny) Pfeiffer. Her and Ormerod both, their freshman point guard, have been among the leaders in the SEC in three-point shooting. Those players if allowed to get set and get good looks they will flat out make shots. There's no question they can shoot the ball. They have great range, and they're pure shooters. We can't let them get comfortable. What we have to do is kind of make them take uncomfortable shots, make them play a little faster than what they're accustomed to playing. Samantha Mahoney is emerging as one of the real multifaceted offensive players in the conference – she can score dribble drive, nice pull-up mid-range game, and she can also make threes. She's somebody we have to very much be careful of."

Lockwood said Tennessee must match up with forward/center Eleia Roddy and guard Jenny Pfeiffer, who had been coming off the bench. However, Roddy and guard Nastassia Alcius started against Ole Miss in place of Mahoney and Elliott in Kentucky's last game so the bench rotation could change.

"Roddy (has come) off the bench and gives them a real dimension of athleticism and an inside player. So they've got seven players that I think have been very, very productive for them, and we've got to do a good job on all of them."

When Tennessee has the ball the Lady Vols should expect to see a variety of defenses.

"Defensively they mix their defenses up," Lockwood said. "They play man; they play some zone. I think they do a good job keeping people off balance. So we're going to have to go in there and play well and execute well. We've got to be able to handle multiple defenses, and we've got to be able to get good shots against their defense. The biggest thing for us is to be able to go in and get good shots and shoot the ball well and to be able to still generate paint points. I think they're going to try to keep us off balance with different looks."

Tennessee would appear to have the edge as far as depth, but that was before the status of Hornbuckle and Fluker was listed as day-to-day.

"I think our depth has been a little better," Lockwood said. "Now I can't tell you because our numbers are kind of in question for Thursday. That could certainly balance the scales if we don't have that type of depth. A week ago I would have told you our depth was superior."

INTENSE LAUGHTER: When DeMoss was an assistant she would sometimes serve as a buffer between Summitt and the players. Now Summitt sees a coach that may exceed her in intensity.

"At Tennessee a lot of times, she had to be the go between for myself and the players," Summitt said. "She did a great job of being a listener and remaining calm in those situations. I see her intensity has risen up a whole different level. She is in a different role. … A lot of times, she would always tell me that I was too tough. I tease her now, saying 'I think you are tougher than I am.' "

DeMoss agrees to a point.

"When I was an assistant coach for her, I guess it was my job to keep things loose at times and keep things in perspective," DeMoss said. "I think the players relied on me to do that. Then, when you become the head coach, you take on a different role. I can't take on the same role as a head coach as I did as an assistant coach. I guess that has turned up a notch. My competitiveness is the same, but it is just the way I express it."

But in terms of intensity DeMoss could only laugh.

"Give me a break," DeMoss said. "She is always looking for somebody that is more intense than she is so it will take the monkey off her back a little bit. Everyone is always talking about how intense she is."

ON TAP: All 12 SEC schools are in action Thursday. Besides Tennessee-Kentucky, these games are on the slate: Alabama at Auburn; Florida at Arkansas; Georgia at South Carolina; Vanderbilt at LSU; and Ole Miss at Mississippi State.

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