Tigers tame Tennessee, 72-69

After Tennessee dropped a crucial conference game to LSU on Thursday, coach Pat Summitt was left after the game to try to balance what went wrong - slow start in the first half, poor perimeter shooting and some defensive breakdowns - with what went right - a comeback to take the lead in the second half and a competitive spirit.

"Obviously very disappointed in the outcome of the game tonight," Pat Summitt said after No. 5 Tennessee (21-3, 7-2), lost 72-69 to No. 3 LSU, (21-1, 9-0). "I thought we got off to a slow start. LSU got off to a great start. They were very efficient. We get down 11-1 so now we've got to dig ourselves out of a hole, which we did. We did a lot of good things, but when you look statistically our starting perimeter was nine for 29.

"That's hard for us to win basketball games, and we're eight for 14 from the free throw line so we did a lot of things that really limited our situation to get back in the game. One thing in the second half I thought we really fought hard."

The Lady Vols spotted the Tigers a 13-point lead in the second half before climbing back to a six-point deficit at halftime, 37-31. Tennessee took the lead at 43-41 on a three-pointer by Shanna Zolman - the 1,500th points of her career - at the 14:18 mark and pushed the lead to five points, 46-41 with 13:10 to go, but then LSU's Seimone Augustus hit a layup, seven-footer and a three-pointer, and a nip-and-tuck game was on.

"I knew this ballgame would be like a 15-round heavyweight boxing match," LSU coach Pokey Chatman said. "We knew it would come down to our ability to battle on the boards, our ability to take care of the basketball, and also to run a good offense against an aggressive Tennessee defense. We thought if we could run some offense, reverse the ball we could create some opportunities, we could get some good looks and shoot a number of free throws. I thought we stayed true to script and were able to create some good opportunities for ourselves."

Augustus led all scorers with 32 points. Tiger guard Scholanda Hoston had 18 points, and sophomore center Sylvia Fowles had 10 points and 15 rebounds with 11 of her boards coming in the first half.

"Give Seimone credit," Summitt said. "She stepped up and made some huge plays when they needed it. We contested her, she's putting it on the floor (and) she's creating. I thought they really did a good job of running their motion and knocking down open shots."

One of the biggest shots of the night was made by Hoston, who hit a layup off an in-bounds play with two seconds on the shot clock, and LSU up by one point. Her basket pushed the lead to 70-67 with one minute left in the game.

"I slipped the screen," Hoston said. "I faked like I was going out to set a screen or to cut out, and I cut back to the basket. It was wide open. I looked down, and I saw that there was nobody who would be able to help if I beat her (Zolman) back there so I just tried to set her up and get back there."

Chatman said the play was designed to set up Augustus, but Hoston saw an opening and took it.

"They were switching screens," Chatman said of Tennessee's defenders. "I thought the possession before that we had the opportunity to split the screen, but we didn't and we turned it over. Scholanda, being a senior, understood that. Two seconds on the shot clock, we're playing a cut for Seimone, she switched it, gets inside the defender, and it's a huge basket."

Tennessee's Candace Parker, who led the Lady Vols with 23 points and nine rebounds, got open inside for a layup to cut the lead back to one, 70-69, but then Fowles shook free inside and hit a layup to push the lead back to three, 72-69.

"I thought our defense at times was really good but down the stretch when they went to Fowles, my message was don't let her get a shot off. Foul her," Summitt said. "We don't want her to even be able to take a shot, but obviously she managed to do (so)."

Tennessee called timeout to set up a play, and then LSU called timeout. Tennessee called another timeout and then the teams took the floor with 16.7 seconds to play. Junior guard Dominique Redding, who had hit two three-pointers in the game, was blocked on a three attempt by Augustus, who was then fouled. Augustus missed both free throw attempts, but in the scramble down the floor Tennessee was not able to get off a shot.

"There's no way she should have taken that shot," Summitt said of Redding's attempt. "If we don't have an open three then we go inside to try to get a three-point play. Obviously she had the courage to try to take it, but she was too desperate to take the three, because we said if we don't have the three then we get the ball inside. She should have put it on the floor at that point. It was designed to go to Zolman on the back side or (Sidney) Spencer. We didn't have the skip pass. We went back to Redding, and she took the shot. We had plenty of time. That's just a bad possession."

It was a game of runs and swings in momentum, and Tennessee appeared to have seized it back when guard Alexis Hornbuckle hit a layup and was fouled by LSU guard Erica White to put the Lady Vols up by one, 63-62. But official June Courteau called a technical on Hornbuckle for taunting - she nodded her head several times and said 'yeah, yeah' to White on the baseline - and Augustus hit two free throws to put LSU up by one, 64-63.

"She said that she turned around and said something to a LSU player but just in celebration," Summitt said. "From my viewpoint, I thought she was excited about the play. That's one I want to take a look at it because I didn't see it to be anything where she's taunting or putting it in anybody's face. I mean she was was just excited, but June jumped on it so I hope she had the right call. If she did, then I don't have anything to complain about. From my viewpoint I did not see that."

It was also the fourth foul on Hornbuckle in what was a very physical game with a lot of talking by the players on the floor.

"It was good and physical - two teams that have got size," Fowles said. "That's just the beauty of the game and the unglamorous part just to get in there and bang the boards as much as possible. I enjoyed it."

Fowles was injured in the first half when she got tangled up with Parker and was tossed to the floor when Parker tried to clear the ball. It was ruled a jump ball, but Fowles had to come out of the game. She later returned but picked up her second foul and had to sit out the last six minutes of the first half. LSU led by three at that point, but White, Hoston and forward Ashley Thomas were able to push LSU's lead out further.

"Playing off my teammates mostly," Hoston said when asked what led to her offensive output. "Everybody knows who Seimone is; everybody knows she's going to score, and she's going to do big things so that usually draws a lot of attention to her. Everybody, not just me, needs to be able to score and take some of that pressure off of her, especially when we had Sylvia go out with the injury and early foul trouble, I knew I had to step it up and put some points on the board for us to win."

It was Hoston's work on the defensive end that also hurt Tennessee. She guarded Zolman, who was 2-11 from the field and finished with six points. Junior forward Sidney Spencer wasn't having much success either - she was 2-6 from the field and had five points. Hornbuckle had 11 points, but was 5-12 from the field. Hornbuckle did have six rebounds, six assists and five steals.

"I thought the first half she was very indecisive, better in the second half," Summitt said of Zolman's play. "Obviously she's always a player who is going to draw the toughest defender, and she's going to be identified in the zone early. They're going extend as they did tonight to guard her. She's just priority for any team's defense. I thought in the first half she really was hesitant whether to shoot the three or put it on the floor."

"Sid is the type of player that when she's not making shots, she's not looking to take shots. When I put her back in in the second half I told her, 'You've got to take some shots and make some shots for us.' She went back in and hit a couple then. She wasn't as aggressive as she needs to be, but at the same time obviously we went inside. Parker had 17 shots; Fluker had 10 shots. We put the ball inside tonight, which was probably out most effective offense."

Senior center Tye'sha Fluker had 14 points on 7-10 shooting and five rebounds. She came off the bench so that Parker could start the game inside and responded with a solid offensive effort.

"I thought Tye came in and gave us a lot of energy, did a great job," Summitt said. "With her coming off the bench, she gave us a real spark. She is our most physical post-up player inside - she wants the ball inside - where Candace is more finesse. They both did a great job. But Tye comes in and she's going to create with her body some great looks. I thought she played real physical tonight."

Zolman said her game was affected by the reach of Hoston and her own hesitation, and she noted the perimeter players were getting some open looks because of the effective play in the paint.

"She is a very, very good defender," Zolman said. "She has long arms, good athlete. I knew that coming in. But also we had a lot of open looks, a lot of good looks out of their zone. We were looking to go inside and that did open up some shots outside. I just wasn't able to knock them down. Sometimes just indecisive because Hoston's length can de deceptive at times but then other times just hesitating, and you can't be doing that. I just need to be very sure of how I'm reading the defense quickly and early so that there's no indecisiveness."

Parker led the charge inside and also bodied up Fowles in the paint.

"It was physical, but we were in the weight room all summer so we were ready for it," Parker said. "Talk about Sylvia Fowles. She's a great rebounder. We need to do a better job of pursing the ball and getting more offensive and defensive looks. Our posts in the first half we weren't shooting well in the first five minutes of the game, but we should have had more offensive rebounds. We went inside. We did a good job of moving the ball. Our inside presence was all right. We needed to play better defense."

Chatman had a courtside view of Parker's performance and when asked about her impressions of the redshirt freshman, Chatman initially had a one-word answer: "Wow."

"She's a mismatch if she's at the four because she can utilize her quick step and get to the basket," Chatman said. "If she's at the three she can shoot over you. She rebounds well from either spot. She makes her teammates better. She's a quality player, period. I don't think you guys needed me to say that. I had to sit and watch it up close and personally. She is definitely one of the best players in the country."

Summitt wished Tennessee had done a better job of getting the ball inside when Fowles was forced to the bench in the first half and again in the second half when Fowles got her third foul at the 14:31 mark.

"I didn't think we did a good job of getting the ball to the paint and taking advantage of when Sylvia was out of the game," Summitt said. "There were a lot of possessions when she was out of the game that we were shooting from the perimeter. But I think how we started the game really hurt us. We just had to come back and dig ourselves out. Not going inside was another factor, not taking advantage of that."

Tennessee expended a lot of energy to catch up in the first half and then try to hold on in the second.

"It definitely was a setback," Hornbuckle said of the early deficit. "They had us on our heels. Instead of us being aggressive we allowed them to come to us. I think the game was pretty much lost in the first half. We didn't play Tennessee basketball. We fought really hard in the second half, but we came up short. The little things pretty much got us."

One of those things was occasionally getting switched up on defense and leaving Augustus unattended. Hornbuckle lauded the All-American's play but said the team had practiced against male players precisely to stop such open looks.

"She played very well," Hornbuckle said. "She got a lot of easy looks, though. Our practice guys didn't get those looks, and we basically had defensive breakdowns. You can't break down against a great player like Seimone Augustus. She's knows how to score; she's going to take advantage of that, and that's exactly what she did."

Summitt saw the same thing from the bench in terms of lapses. Not only did Augustus get loose, but Hoston scored big with her 18 points.

"Shanna's player drove the length of the floor, beat her one on one," Summitt said. "They broke us down individually, in transition they got the ball too deep. I think there were a lot of good things tonight, but we had too many poor possessions, both offensively and defensively. I saw a lot of good things, but I didn't see the consistency of the level you have to be against a team like LSU. They make you pay for every breakdown.

"(Hoston) played well and made big shots, had great composure. She and Augustus, to me, they were the leaders. You've got to give White credit. We didn't want her to get as deep as she was getting. As I said to my staff in the course of the game, 'She's having her way in transition.' I did not think our defense really affected her at all. In her last three games she's been able to penetrate 94 feet at times, and I'm concerned that we didn't affect her more as well."

The loss meant Tennessee's 22-game overall and 64-game SEC home win streak were snipped. LSU claimed its first ever win in Knoxville in program history after losing the first 16. It was the Tigers ninth win in the series, which Tennessee leads 33-9.

"It feels really good because this is the last time I will play in this arena so it was nice to have my last one be a win," Hoston said.

"We really weren't looking at history," Augustus said. "We were just looking at a victory and how hard we had played. Now, we're happy."

"That's a great way to send the seniors out," Fowles said of Hoston, Augustus and Florence Williams.

"When you're so engrossed in preparing for your next opponent, I just have to stop thinking about that," Chatman said. "If you get caught up in that it can really engulf you. It's huge from the standpoint of, obviously, it hadn't been done. To be honest, we hadn't come close. Those are the things that I remember. And that's a credit to Tennessee and what they've done here in tradition."

Chatman said she won't have time to savor the win. LSU hosts Georgia on Sunday, but she knows the win sets up LSU well in the SEC standings.

"I think it's huge," Chatman said. "This conference doesn't allow you to enjoy it a whole lot, because there's a talented Georgia basketball team that got to sit home and rest and watch us play tonight. It has to be huge for the players to come in here and play against a quality opponent like Tennessee. Under the adverse conditions, not just the crowd but the foul trouble, the fact that we let a 13-point lead get away, some turnovers, but there are so many positive things to pull from this unrelated to standings, but related to filling the gaps in areas that need to be polished by the time you get to March."

Similarly Summitt and her team can learn from the loss, but they can't let it linger. In that vein Summitt said she wasn't concerned about the snapped streaks but about the next game.

"Right now my thoughts are not so much about ending the home court streak as just getting ready for Vanderbilt," Summitt said. "Our schedule is really tough with Vanderbilt, and we have to go to Georgia. This is not the time for us to be feeling sorry for ourselves. We did a lot of good things, particularly in the second half. We have to get back tomorrow and keeps things pointed in the right direction as a basketball team. Last time we lost to Duke we went to Kentucky and lost there. We've just got to be mindful of being able to handle this and step up and get a win on Sunday. We're going to have to be ready to play. This Vanderbilt team is very, very talented and very tough."

After the loss to Duke, Tennessee's players were visibly down the next day at practice. When asked about the effect of this loss, the players were not despondent. They were almost defiant.

"This loss is over," Parker said. "We going to have to learn from it, but we don't want this game to carry over. We have to come back with energy and ready to build off this loss."

Zolman was even more emphatic.

"We're not going to lose Sunday," she said.

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