"First of all I thought our defensive intensity was much better," Pat Summitt said. "That was our focus going into this game was our defense and our boards. Without question I thought our starters brought it. We got a lot of good quality minutes off the bench. I want to see who's going to be able to help us and how deep we can go in our bench. I learned a great deal today about the play from a number of individuals."
Summitt specifically cited the performance of center Sybil Dosty and forward Alex Fuller, who each played 24 minutes. Dosty had nine points, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal, and Fuller put up sevens in points and rebounds. She had six defensive boards and hit a three-pointer. Sidney Spencer came off the bench - Tye'sha Fluker started Sunday and had nine points – and played 30 minutes with four points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal.
"I thought Sybil came in and fought really hard. That was good. Alex (too). Our inside depth was promising," Summitt said. "Sid came off the bench and did a nice job as well."
The one downside for Tennessee was the loss of guard Lindsey Moss in the first half when she collided with Alabama forward Navonda Moore in a defensive tussle. Moore's shoulder slammed into Moss' nose – she had suffered a non-displaced fracture Jan. 15 in a similar collision with a Mississippi State player – and she had to be helped from the court. Moore reached out to Moss as she left the floor with trainer Jenny Moshak. Moss later returned to the bench but not the game. She will have her nose X-rayed on Monday to determine the extent of the damage.
Moss hit three three-pointers and scored nine points in six minutes of play. She also teamed with Dosty to force a shot-clock violation on a trap.
"Lindsey Moss I wanted to play her 20, 25 minutes today," Summitt said. "She had really stepped up and started to play well and obviously right now I don't know when she'll get back on the court. That was good to see her playing the way she was playing."
Three of Moss' teammates attended the post-game press conference – high scorers Candace Parker (15), Alexis Hornbuckle (14) and Shanna Zolman (11) – and all three winced and expressed dismay at the second blow to Moss.
"That was heart-breaking," Hornbuckle said. "She was doing so well. She was determined to play; she was three for three. She had nine points in the first half. Imagine what she could have done if she didn't get hurt. Definitely not a pretty sight sitting right there watching it. She'll be able to bounce back and recover. Hopefully it didn't break her spirit, and she'll come back strong."
The player Moss collided with was pretty much leading Alabama on her own. Moore had 26 points and scored from the outside and with drives to the basket. Moore had dislocated her right kneecap in Thursday's game against Auburn, but she played Sunday with her knee taped. Alabama was without its starting point guard in Kate Mastin (ankle sprain), whose No. 21 jersey was worn by Marverly Nettles.
"I thought she was very aggressive, especially on the offensive end of the floor," Alabama coach Stephany Smith said of Moore. "That's something that we need more of out of her on a day-in, day-out basis as far as practice and games are concerned. I think she really found her rhythm, and it's something we need her to do. It's very unfortunate that we lost her when we did in the Auburn game, but I think we should count our blessings that she could lace it up tonight and have the performance that she did."
Tennessee got an excellent performance out of Hornbuckle – she was coming off an 0-6 outing against Kentucky – who snared seven rebounds to go with her scoring output, plus six assists and four steals.
"Alexis had the kind of game we need her to have not only in a game like this but obviously in big games," Summitt said.
Hornbuckle took care of her shooting issues by heading straight to the arena upon returning from Lexington and taking jump shots at 2 a.m. until she made 150. She also sat down with Summitt for a film session Sunday before the game.
"We tell every player if you don't feel good about your offense, if you're not in a rhythm with your shooting, you've got to get in extra shots," said Summitt, who hadn't heard yet that Hornbuckle took it upon herself to fix the problem in the wee hours of Friday. "We watched all of her possessions today offensively, and she was just off balance. I said, ‘You shouldn't expect those shots to go in.' Maybe 10 percent of the time. If you're going to shoot the basketball, you've got to shoot the ball with great form and efficiency in your form."
Hornbuckle said the shooting session restored her form and hitting the first shot Sunday restored her confidence.
"I think shooting has a lot to do with confidence, and I think I kind of lost my confidence offensively," Hornbuckle said. "So today I just concentrated on being on balance, under control, instead of shooting off-balance shots and just basically throwing up prayers. Follow through and try to stay with it, and my confidence was definitely there. When I hit that first one I started smiling."
Summitt was pleased no doubt to see her point guard back in form. She has made it clear that as Hornbuckle goes, Tennessee goes this season.
"I thought today her shot selection was outstanding, and she's back with her rhythm," Summitt said. "You can avoid it, or you can go work on it. It's just like our defense. Rather than ignore how poorly we've played, we have made it a priority, and we will continue to work on it."
Dosty was under orders to work on her free throw shooting – and she has been taking extra shots – but after she banked one in Sunday against Alabama to go 3-4 from the line, Summitt couldn't help but bring it up after the game.
"When we told Sybil Dosty she had to work on her free throws I didn't know she was practicing bank shots," Summitt said. "She'd been working on it I guess."
The glassed free throw brought a smile to Dosty's face during the game – but she swished the next one – and Parker raised her arms to implore the 12,218 fans in attendance to cheer the shot.
The Tennessee players were loose before the game – some were spelling out the V-O-L-S cheer in warmups – and seem to clearly put the two losses of last week behind them. Two former players on the 1987 national title team, Shelley (Sexton) Collier and Melissa (McCray) Dukes, were at practice Friday to address the team, and a number of other players called.
"I think the impact the former players had was significant – you're hearing it from your peers as opposed to your coaches," Summitt said. "I think they understand that there's a lot of tradition here. There're a lot of (former) players that are upset. I had more phone calls. It speaks volumes to what they invested in their program. Still they're like family. When we lose, they lose."
Tennessee went back to basics defensively and deployed its man-to-man look for much of the game.
"Our man to man that's been our bread and butter defense," Summitt said. "We played a lot of zone this year, and I want to be able to play zone defense and some multiple defenses, but I don't think we need to do that right now. I think our man to man we need to commit to it, just so that we always know that's our priority in terms of our defense and how we're going to generate points and create problems for the opposition.
"I think they understand better the importance, but we have to get a lot better. You can't turn it on in one game and obviously we saw that late in the game with our reserves. We got really out of position, played lazy in transition. Again I wanted to see who would play to the end and who would let up because you've got to be competitive if you're going to play man to man for 40 minutes."
Alabama's coach seemed to appreciate the fact that Summitt used this game to get a gauge on her bench. Before the game, Summitt was presented by UT President John Petersen and his wife, Carol, with flowers and a framed copy of the local newspaper commemorating her 900th career win that came Jan. 19 at Vanderbilt.
"First of all, congratulations again to Coach Summitt and all 901 of her successes," Smith said to open her post-game remarks. "What a great inspiration she is to us all, and what a fun atmosphere to play in. I have an idea she will probably not be as kind the next time I stroll into Thompson-Boling Arena."
Moore said the Crimson Tide players initially were somewhat awed by the large crowd, which was loud at the onset and ready to cheer the Lady Vols out of their losing streak.
"Like coach said, the first half, I think we were still soaking up the atmosphere and everything – a little nervous, a little jittery," Moore said. "She sat us down and just told us to calm down, and I think that's what we did. We calmed down, started executing our plays and tried to be a little more patient and let stuff develop. And it worked out for us."
Alabama (8-12, 2-5) looked better in the second half while Tennessee was slipping a little bit.
"I was pleased with how well we came out in the second half," Smith said. "I thought we got past the awe of it all and did a little bit better job of attacking the basket. Tennessee's pressure defensively was very bothersome, and in the first half we didn't do a very good job of attacking the basket or looking for backdoor opportunities. In the second half, I think we got numerous layups, at least opportunities, at the rim because we did a better job of seeking out our alternative options."
"We did get sloppy down the stretch, but I learned a lot about some of our players," Summitt said. "Right now we're not 10 deep. That could sound like bad news, but the good news is I think we can go at least eight deep and get quality play. Depending on how Lindsey does we may even be able to lengthen that. It was clear late in that game. I think Sybil helped herself today just by her presence and her toughness. She did some good things. I thought Alex did some good things. Those two in particular off the bench."
The starters, who had been playing in excess of 35 minutes a game, welcomed the assistance.
"I think we had tremendous help off the bench," Parker said. "They really stepped up their game. That's what coach was preaching in the locker room before the game was how our bench needs to come ready to play and ready to keep the game at the same level or elevate it when they come in. I think they elevated it. They brought defensive intensity; they hit some big shots. I think Alex and Sybil did a great job rebounding the ball."
Overall Tennessee left the arena knowing it had responded to Summitt's demand to play better defense. It also helps to get back to winning ball games.
"Obviously it's always good to win," Summitt said. "You want to get it out of your system. From a coaching standpoint I'm just taking it one game at a time to learn and try to get this team to understand we've got to get a lot better. They have to be able to control and dictate more with their defense and their board play. You don't fix it in one game. Winning makes it better, but I think as a coaching staff we have to continue to emphasize what we need to get better at and why we're winning."
Another good sign is that the team was bothered by the setbacks in the second half.
"It bothered us because we worked so hard on defense," Hornbuckle said. "I think we're going to have lapses until we get the picture that you do not take a possession off for 40 minutes, defense or offense. You've got to play mentally tough. I think that's going to come the more we practice, the harder we practice, the more coach teaches us. We'll buy into the system, and we won't have too many lapses hopefully."
GAME NOTES: Forward Dominique Redding had a career high five assists. She also added six points on two three-pointers. … The home winning streak is now at 21 games and dates back to the Dec. 12, 2004, win over DePaul. Tennessee also has a 63-game home win streak in SEC competition. Summitt's record at home in her coaching career now stands at 415-38. Only 14 of those losses came in Thompson-Boling Arena, where Tennessee has played since 1987. Her overall record is 901-174. … Senior center Tye'sha Fluker entered the game with 693 career points. Her nine points put her over 700 for her career. Fluker also had four rebounds, two blocks and two steals. … Alex Fuller's seven rebounds were a career high. … Paid attendance was 16,799, the second highest of the season. The UT-UConn game was sold out and set a new attendance record with 24,653.