"It puts Parker in a better position to be a go-to early, and it gives us another three-point weapon on the perimeter," Summitt said. "It's two-fold."
There is also a third reason for No. 5 Tennessee (21-2, 7-1): 6'4 sophomore center Nicky Anosike is needed for defensive purposes because of the size and skill of No. 3 LSU (20-1, 8-0). Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2, Lady Vol Radio Network), and the game is part of the cable sports channel's "February Frenzy" promotion.
Candace Parker has played both inside and outside - and initially seemed to personally favor the perimeter - but it didn't take long to see how much more effective she could be on the high block. Now, Parker, the 6'4 redshirt freshman from Naperville, Ill., seems to prefer to be in the lane.
Parker, a witty and engaging interview, was asked about playing small forward, the three, vs. power forward, the four.
"I love it," Parker said of small forward with a purposely fake smile. "No, I like it. I'm really just out there, whatever is good for the team honestly. If I have to play three, four, two, one, whatever's going to get us to win."
Though at this point Parker smiled and remembered a preseason session with the Lady Vols Boost-Her Club in which Summitt told those assembled that Parker could play at the one spot.
"Candace can run point, but I know we'll be in trouble if we have to put her at the point," Parker repeated her coach saying.
As it turned out - with the December transfer of Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood - Parker has on occasion run the point. She has ball-handling skills in the open court and can run the floor. In Parker's basketball world, it's all good.
"With the type of style that we play, I really don't think we're three, four, five (center) positions because of the type of offense that we run," Parker said. "The three can pop out. There's just different things like that. Honestly, I'm not a shooter. I'm not going to light somebody up from the three-point line so I think I'm better closer to the basket. However, in our offensive scheme the three player can get closer to the basket so it doesn't matter. We rotate so much in the course of a game that I'm at the three for very little time and four for very little time (in a given stretch of time) so it doesn't really matter."
Parker and fellow redshirt freshman Alex Fuller, a 6'3 forward from Shelbyville, Tenn., both had to sit on the bench last season and watch the two LSU games - a 68-58 defeat in Baton Rouge in February that cost UT the regular season title and a 67-65 win in Greenville, S.C., for the SEC Tournament title in March.
"I'm extremely excited to play in this game," Fuller said. "Any big game is going to be a fun game to play in and a memorable one at that."
Fuller, an inside player in high school, has been playing at the small forward position for Tennessee. The challenge has been learning to guard quick perimeter players, and Fuller will sometimes have to guard LSU All-American Seimone Augustus. Fuller does bring shooting range - she has a reliable three-point shot - and the ability to get to the boards.
"My main focus is defense basically," Fuller said when asked what she hoped to accomplish against LSU. Small wonder then why Summitt has been so high on Fuller since she started playing.
"I'm really excited about this," Parker said. "I remember sitting on the sideline last year when we played them and like coach said this is for us to control our own destiny and not have to pray someone else loses. I'm excited about it. It's on our home floor. We need to protect our home winning streak. It's kind of a measuring stick to see where we are."
Parker (15.3 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game), will be joined in the starting lineup by Anosike (7.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg); Spencer (8.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Shanna Zolman, a 5'10 senior guard (14.9 ppg, 2.7 ppg, 2.5 assists per game); and Alexis Hornbuckle, a 5'11 sophomore guard (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.7 apg).
LSU is expected to start: Ashley Thomas, No. 54, 6'0 sophomore forward (4.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg), has started the last 20 games, scored a career high 17 against Arkansas this season; Sylvia Fowles, No. 34, 6'6 sophomore center (17.0 ppg, 11.5 rpg), has started all 21 games this season, has at least 10 rebounds in 15 games, needs 37 career blocks to be the school leader; Seimone Augustus, No. 33, 6'1 senior guard/forward (20.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg), has started all 126 games of her career and ranks fourth in career points at LSU with 2,344; Erica White, No. 5, 5'3 sophomore guard (5.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 5.1 apg), has started the last six games and averaged 7.7 points and 9.1 assists in those starts, had a career high 14 assists against Vanderbilt; and Scholanda Hoston, No. 32, 5'10 senior guard (8.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.8 apg), has started 70 career games and ranks 19th in career points with 1,109.
Parker looks at the LSU lineup and sees a tough game but also one she has been looking forward to playing. With Parker lining up inside, she will draw defensive duties on Fowles, a force in the interior who thinks every rebound belongs to her.
"It's going to be tough," Parker said. "We're going to have to put a body on her and keep an eye out for her, but I'm confident that we're going to be able to control her off the boards. That's what we're really concerned about is her rebounding. We're just going to block her out and pursue the ball. It's nothing that we don't know, and it's nothing that we're not accustomed to."
Anyone assigned to guard Fowles should expect a physical joust in the paint.
"The main thing you have to do is try to keep her off the boards and limit touches on the block," Summitt said. "Her offensive package is a little more extensive. You can tell she's added to it in the off-season. She's playing with great confidence but a lot more composure offensively."
Summitt said senior center Tye'sha Fluker, who has started this season, would "definitely" be the first post player off of the bench. Fluker also knows what she has to do to keep herself on the floor.
"We as post players have to do a good job of boxing out," Fluker said. "Our guards need to make sure we don't let their guards go off and rebound, too. It's just a matter of boxing out and pursuing the basketball, which we've shown that we can do in games. We just have to bring it from practice and do it in a game."
Sophomore center Sybil Dosty has made a case for herself for getting more floor time. Against Arkansas, Dosty had seven points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes of play. The most-impressive stat to Summitt was the charge she took in the second half.
"She has helped herself," Summitt said. "Trying to get her to stay on balance. Drives me crazy to see that body on the floor, except when she took that charge, and I told her that was fine. She came over, and I gave her a high five. She's working hard."
Tennessee will need its starters and its bench to take on LSU. The Tigers are a formidable foe and despite their success last season - LSU was a Final Four team - they are better this year.
"The motion offense is very good; with Seimone it's outstanding," Summitt said. "She reads really well, clearly a good screener. They play her to her strengths. They run a different motion. We ran more a five out, started our post out and brought them in. They keep her (Fowles) closer to the basket. She'll play at the elbows (the area at the corners of the foul line), play on the blocks. She's going to play to her strengths.
"I think they're running it like they've always executed out of it, (but) I think Seimone had a good off-season. Her catch-and-shoot game is better than it's ever been. She's getting the ball off a lot quicker. She can come off those screens, catch and shoot. That's where she's really dangerous."
LSU coach Pokey Chatman foresees a collossal matchup.
"It's going to be a battle," Chatman said. "Tennessee's playing well, and we've been playing well as of late. This game is going to boil down to 40 minutes of execution."
Summitt has always preached possession basketball and the importance of a single possession that can turn the game for or away from a team.
"They are patient so you can't get impatient on defense or then, they win," Summitt said. "They take great pride in their screens and cuts and reads. I know in games in the past we have gotten impatient. I thought in the SEC Tournament was the best job we had done in not getting impatient. They've got balance; they've got quickness. They've got good team speed. I don't really see any weaknesses."
LSU did have to adjust to the loss of guard Temeka Johnson, a dynamo that pushed tempo and disrupted the other team's offense. Johnson is now playing in the WNBA. White has seized the reins at point guard - the position was still in flux when the season opened - and understands what LSU wants to do with the ball.
Summitt said she expected White to fill in admirably in the motion offense, but setting such a fast tempo would take time.
"I think with motion you can put people in," Summitt said. "I think what Temeka Johnson was so outstanding at doing was running the ball up your back and getting the transition points. Still they're pushing hard this year. I don't see them running as hard as they did with Johnson. She's so quick one end to the other."
As far as White's performance, Summitt said, "I think she's doing a really nice job. They are really looking to push. What allows them to push is Fowles cleans the glass. She starts the break. She's the point guard; the two guard brings it up.
"I just think they're more experienced; they've got senior leadership. I think Hoston's putting the ball on the floor better. Seimone's playing better. Her game has improved. Fowles she's just a better player all around. To me that's the big three. And obviously the supporting case they seem to understand their roles. You don't see them force plays. They're very mindful of who's taking shots - Seimone, 324; Fowles, 210; Hoston, 141; (Quianna) Chaney, 157. That's the high ones. You look at White, she's only taken 75 shots. She knows her role."
Summitt saw the loss at Connecticut - LSU's sole loss this season - as the turning point for the Tigers. UConn focused on Augustus, Fowles and Hoston and exposed weaknesses in LSU's offensive attack. Since then Summitt has seen a change.
"Just their sharpness, their precision on offense," Summitt said. "They're just really playing well together. After their loss at Connecticut I think that helped them go back to work."
Tennessee also got inspired by losing, but it took back-to-back defeats - at Duke and at Kentucky - to really shake the Lady Vols from their doldrums. It's now been nearly two weeks since the loss to the Wildcats, and it took until the second half of the Ole Miss game on Feb. 2 for Tennessee to really put it in the past.
"I think we have now," Summitt said. "I feel the second half of the Ole Miss it just seemed the alarm went off at halftime. They had a wake-up call. I think they're a lot better; I think they're more focused. Now I'm not talking one through ten. I think we have seen some people step up. Nicky's play, Tye's play, her leadership. Alex Fuller's getting better with each practice and each game. She's just got the kind of word ethic that's going to allow her to improve."
Tennessee continued its upward swing with a 77-37 demolition of Arkansas on Sunday and a margin of victory that was particularly inpressive because most of the damage was done in the final 10 minutes of the game.
"I watched the game again; I watched offense and defense separately," Summitt said. "I really thought we kept our intensity on the defensive end. They helped us obviously have more control on the boards. We executed in the second half. First half we just couldn't knock down shots. That's hopefully what we learned from the Kentucky game when we went 2-13 in the closing minutes of that game. It's hard to win if your defense and your board play is not overwhelming. It has to stand out; it has to impact.
"I think even in the first half (against Arkansas) I told them in the timeout - the score was like 9 to 17 - your defense is outstanding. We've just got to make shots, get on the boards. At least I did not see them let up because they weren't making shots. To me that's so important for a team. Because it's easy to do when you recruit all these high school All-Americans and all they like to do in high school is shoot, and that's pretty much all they did. Now they get here and somebody tells them they've got to guard the ball. It's quite a transition for them. It takes some of them a long time to buy into it. Some of them never get it."
LSU has a lot of offensive firepower, especially from Augustus and Fowles, who put up eye-popping numbers against Vanderbilt on Jan. 26 - 26 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks - which earned the sophomore the SEC Player of the Week honors. Fowles' performance was the first 20-20 game by a Tiger since Cornelia Gayden did it (24, 21) against Mississippi State in 1994.
Summitt couldn't help but sneak a peek at LSU on film last Friday - something she never does since Arkansas was the next game - when she came across assistant coach Nikki Caldwell watching a game tape.
"I watched a little bit of them (Friday); I normally don't watch ahead, but Nikki had the tape on," Summitt said. "Since the loss to Connecticut, you can tell that they've had an attitude adjustment, a commitment adjustment."
Summitt has a pattern when she seriously watches fim - whether it's Tennessee or the opponent - in that she views the game tape and then consecutive offensive and defensive possessions.
"If you go offense to defense, you get a better feel for their speed up and down and how they convert from one to the other, so you can see that transition from defense to offense and offense to defense," Summitt said. "That is why I like to watch the game tape first. If you watch nothing but offensive possessions, you can get a pattern for what they like to run, so if they run plays back-to-back or run them right or run them left, how many times they run them to specific players, that just gives you a better feel. Defensive tendencies, are they going to switch defenses, are they going to go three to four possessions in one, are they going change it up, makes and misses we are just trying to pick up things here and there.
"I watch ours the same way. After every game I get a tape and I get a breakdown - break down our defense, break down our offense."
After watching the Kentucky tape, Summitt saw a lot of things to fix, and she can certainly understand why opponents might perceive UT as vulnerable.
"We certainly looked more human and real beatable," Summitt said. "But we're Tennessee, and that is one thing that it takes time for players to understand, particularly when you have a young team. People don't always look at this team and equate this team with youth. They see talent and name players and do not necessarily think that this team is young. From that standpoint, I do think that people bring their best game against us regardless. It does not matter what the classification may be of our team, top to bottom. People feel they have to play their best game against us. With how poorly we played at Duke and then losing to Kentucky, obviously an unranked team, certainly people can think, they are just not as good as they used to be."
However, her mind was set at ease after the latter halves of the Ole Miss and Arkansas games.
"If we were coming off the Kentucky loss I'd probably be very concerned for our team, not enough time to fix all the stuff that was broken," Summitt said. "But I think we've had time to really commit to it, watch film, see what we've got to do, just change our mindset, take more pride in our defense and board play. Tye and Nicky they've really been a lot more focused on what they have to do. It took a little while (to respond), but they came around."
Parker also sees a difference in the team. After the Arkansas win she mentioned that Tennessee had its swagger back. It was clear talking to her this week that the proverbial corner has been turned.
"I think we're a lot more positive," Parker said. "We realize we can't come out in the first half and be a second half team. We can't think that there's always going to be the next minute or the next minute to make a run, because your minutes run out like they did against Kentucky. Honestly none of us were worried about that game even when we were down. We have time, we have time, but you don't. I think we just have to establish a sense of urgency, which we are establishing now, and bringing it together and knowing that each possession matters. I don't think that we realized that a week or two ago.
"I think that we're playing with a lot more confidence. We have confidence in our D, confidence in our offense, everything. We're doing things together and as as a team, and I think we're holding people accountable. We know they're (LSU) a great team. They're going to make plays; they're going to make runs. But it's just controlling that and taking away the things that they want to do and playing our game."
Parker has been hindered of late by a hip strain - she was probable for the Arkansas game but played in some pain - and she is still bothered by a finger injury suffered against Stanford in early December. The ring finger on her left hand - technically non-shooting, but she shoots with either hand - remains swollen and bent.
"It's been bothering me the last two games," Parker said of her sore hip on the left side. "I'm getting healthy hopefully. January and February are when your body gets really, really tired. The hip is probably a result of my (surgical) knee being tired. My finger, not straight yet. We're working on it. It keeps getting hit."
If there was one player in particular who would be hurt on the floor by the transfer of Wiley-Gatewood, it would have been Parker. Wiley-Gatewood had a knack for finding Parker, especially on the break. However, in the Arkansas game Parker and Hornbuckle showed flashes of what could become a symbiotic relationship when they combined for two consecutive "and-ones" for Parker in a nifty display of passing and court awareness.
"I turned to my staff and said it's about time these two are connecting," Summitt said. "I can see a little bit of it in practice. It's good to see it carry over to the game."
Parker said the duo are too athletic to not connect on the court.
"We were just having fun," Parker said. "We were sitting on the bench after coach took us out because we weren't playing defense, and she and I were like, ‘Let's just have fun.' So we did, and that translates to offense on the defensive end in transition. I think it's just that we're both very athletic, and we move well without the basketball. We don't dribble with our heads down. We're able to find one another. It's playing two and two, easy give-and-go basketball. It's simple."
A crowd of some 20,000 hopes to have fun tonight when the two teams tangle at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee is protecting a relatively modest overall home winning streak of 22 games but an eye-popping 64-game SEC home streak. Tennessee leads the overall series with LSU, 33-8, and is 16-0 against the Tigers in Knoxville.
"It's a great environment for women's basketball," Chatman said. "It's exciting, and I think it's what some of these players sign up for in terms of the level of competition and the excitement surrounding women's basketball. It has to be a plus for the home team, but in terms of your execution, it will go a long way in how much the crowd is on their feet or sitting down. But it's going to be a great environment for women's basketball."
Parker, a freshman, and Zolman, a senior, are both looking forward to it.
"If you're not ready to play in that stage ... that's what college basketball is about," Parker said. "That's what you dream of, playing in games like that. I honestly think we're the type of team that we're going to be ready to play. We have to realize that even if our shots are not falling that we continue to rebound and play defense. That's the key. We just have to contain runs. I think we were in the Duke game and then it's just runs and runs and runs, and we just could not stop. I think our crowd will serve as kind of getting us going, getting us pumped up, whereas we didn't have a crowd to lean back on at the Duke game. That was a hostile crowd against us."
Zolman, whose home games are now down to four, said wall-to-wall orange gives Tennessee a tangible advantage.
"It's so much more of an advantage - having the sixth man in the crowd, not just being here and playing in front of it but having them on your side and not being against you and being loud at the wrong time, it's very helpful," Zolman said. "We've been on the road quite a bit; we know what it's like to not have them for you."
Zolman and Spencer are key players in this game because of their ability to stroke three-pointers.
"It's crucial. If we want to have a chance to win we have to knock down shots from the outside," Zolman said. "We're going to get points in the paint, but they have a very, very good presence inside with Sylvia, and so it's going to be very, very important for us to be able to knock down outside shots, to be able to expand their defense and keep them guessing so they can't just pack it in on us. We can stretch them out if we can knock down shots outside."
Zolman will be guarded by Hoston, who has a reputation as a lockdown defender.
"Hoston is, in my opinion, the best defender in the nation," Zolman said. "I thought that two years ago when she started guarding me. She's so athletic, so quick and so long. She reminds me of (former Lady Vol) LaToya Davis in that. She can close out so much quicker than normal defenders. You've got to be really, really smart when she's guarding you."
Zolman scored 21 points in the last regular season matchup with LSU, but the Tigers went on an unanswered run in the second half and claimed the victory in Louisana. Tennessee got revenge in the tournament with a two-point win. This is the stuff rivalries are made of. Both teams want to take the regular season title, and Thursday's game will give an overwhelmingly decided advantage to the winner. LSU takes on Florida and Alabama on the road and hosts Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Tennessee still must go to Georgia and Alabama and will host Vanderbilt, Auburn and Florida.
"Just going to be really important for us to take one game at a time, but the next game is in front of us; they're a great team," Zolman said. "We need to take care of them if we still want to be able to win it."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant coach Nikki Caldwell handled the scouting report on LSU. Here is her assessment.
When LSU has the ball, Tennessee must remain alert for the entire shot clock possession.
"LSU runs a motion offense," Caldwell said. "There are a lot of concepts and reads involved. We've got to be ready to communicate and be aware that Seimone Augustus is a tremendous offensive player. She's smart at reading and seeing how defenders are playing her. She takes priority, as well as Slyvia. Slyvia is anchoring them inside. Between the two of those kids they are giving them almost 40 points a game. Not only are they a great motion team offensively, but they're a great transition team. I think their transition team when they get it going it's really hard to guard because they generate a lot of steals, turnovers and things like that. With Sylvia boarding the way she is they're looking to push tempo immediately off the defensive boards. We're definitely going to have to be aware of that."
When Tennessee has the ball, the players must stick to the system, she said.
"For us, we've got to take the same approach of being a patient offensive team, running our sets, thinking execute, making sure we're not getting the ball stuck in just one person's hands and sharing the basketball, doing a lot of movement, cutting, screening," Caldwell said. "Offensively we, too, want to push tempo and run the basketball and generate as many easy baskets as we can, as well."
If practice is any indicator, the Lady Vols are ready. They had two solid and upbeat days of practice - focused on Monday, off on Tuesday and loose on Wednesday.
"I think our kids have taken on a lot of responsibility in practice and generating their own energy within practice, which hopefully will filter over to generating their own energy in the games," Caldwell said. "We have had some good practices; they've been very focused. We told them we're going to go short and sweet (Wednesday) and get after it and make everything game tempo and be competitive in all our drills, and they've done a good job of that."
Summitt pointed the praise in one direction for the performance in practice this week.
"Nikki's scout," she said. "I think she deserves a lot of credit for how things went the last two days. Great job simplying it. Sometimes you have teams that run a lot of different things you can overwhelm your players. You don't want to have them overwhelmed mentally. I thought our preparation was good."
POKEY & PAT: LSU coach Pokey Chatman is in her second full year at the helm of the Tigers after playing for LSU and serving as an assistant coach. She took over at the top in the 2003-04 season when then Head Coach Sue Gunter was ailing. Chatman helped lead LSU to the Final Four in New Orleans in 2004.
Gunter, who passed away last summer at the age of 66, and Summitt were close friends.
"I was calling Sue when they were making their run to the Final Four," Summitt said. "I was on the phone with Sue the night they won it (the regional final). I called her beforehand because she was a nervous wreck - tried to calm her down - and then called her afterwards."
Shortly before Gunter died last August in Baton Rouge, Summitt flew in to see her and Chatman arranged for a driver to meet Summitt at the airport and take her to Gunter's home. During Gunter's illness - she suffered from emphysema - Summitt and Chatman would talk about what was "a difficult time," Summitt said.
"Pokey and I would talk about coach Gunter," Summitt said. "She spoke at Sue's funeral and did a great job. I got to spend time with her there."
As a player Summitt remembers Chatman as "tough," she said.
As a senior in 1991, Dana "Pokey" Chatman - she has had her first name legally changed to Pokey since then - was 0-4 against Tennessee. But in the 1991 SEC tourney title game, LSU won 80-75, and Chatman scored 30 points. Caldwell, now an assistant coach for the Lady Vols, was a freshman for UT and went 0-6 in that game behind the arc in 20 minutes of action. Tennessee didn't lose to LSU again during Caldwell's playing career.
ON TAP: Eight other SEC schools are in action tonight in the following games: Ole Miss at Alabama; Arkansas at Vanderbilt; Florida at Mississippi State; and Kentucky at South Carolina. Georgia and Auburn are off.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee senior Shanna Zolman earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District 4 honors after being selected to the First Team, and she now moves on to the national ballot. A record three players - fellow senior Tye'sha Fluker, junior Sidney Spencer and sophomore Nicky Anosike - earned All-District 4 Third Team honors to round out the academic accolades. ... With some 20,000 expected for tonight's game, Tennessee's home attendance will surpass 150,000 this season. It will be the Lady Vols 10th consecutive season of setting such an attendance standard at home. ... Tennessee is rebounding better of late, but its per game average is at 39.0. That puts UT on pace to be the worst-rebounding team in Lady Vol history. The 1977-78 squad averaged 39.7 rebounds over 31 games. ... Put this in the category of don't dare try this now. On Jan. 24, 1979, the Tennessee men's and women's teams were in Baton Rouge for a double-header with LSU. The women played first and the game ended in a 74-74 tie. Dale Brown, then the coach of the LSU men's team, suggested that the women's teams finish their overtime in the auxiliary gym so the men could get their game started on time. After much discussion with Jinks Coleman, then the coach of the LSU women's team, and UT's Pat Head (not yet Summitt), Brown allowed the women's teams to finish the overtime with a shortened running clock. The Lady Vols scored six points in the three-minute overtime while LSU scored 11 to win, 85-80. Five days later in Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville, the Lady Vols exacted their revenge against LSU, 92-48. Holly Warlick, now the associate head coach for Tennessee, was the Lady Vols point guard that season.