The game started off like it was going to be a pretty win when the Lady Vols jumped out to a 26-8 lead. In the first five minutes of the game, Tennessee held an 11-3 advantage on the boards with seven rebounds coming on the offensive end, and George Washington was 0-6 from the field. Seven of UT's first 12 points came off second chance opportunities because the Colonials couldn't keep the taller Lady Vols off the boards.
Tennessee opened up in a man-to-man defense, and post player Nicky Anosike picked up George Washington point guard Kimberly Beck. The Colonials first offensive play set the tone for how Tennessee started.
Beck drove past Anosike on the wing, but forward Candace Parker stepped out to help. Beck pulled up to take a shot, and Anosike came from behind to knock the ball well out of bounds.
"Starting out I thought we did a really good job," forward Sidney Spencer said. "I thought we owned both ends of the floor. I think we might have stunned them a little bit. And then we kind of let up. Coach said we got casual, and I definitely agree with what she said about that."
After the game Summitt and the players sounded the same theme: Take the win and go back home to prepare for the Sweet 16, an event that Tennessee has never missed in the 25-year history of the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm excited for this team to keep our tradition alive," Summitt said. "It just hit me today … I'm not good about keeping up with stats but I am proud of this program that we're going now to our twenty-fifth. It just speaks volumes to the players we've had over the years. This team is no different in representing us in great fashion in post-season. I'm proud of them."
After the game Parker still had blood on her face that came from a first-half scrum under the basket during a battle for a defensive board, which she came down with.
"It was physical, but we came out on top," said Parker, who said she was fine. "We know teams are going to fight because it's do or die. You win or you go home."
In the second half, a George Washington defender made a swipe at the ball but missed and hit sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle flush in the face. She went facedown to the floor, where she stayed for several minutes until she was helped to the bench with blood still coming out of her nose.
"I think she was going for the deflection, and she hit me in my nose," said Hornbuckle, who is back in uniform five weeks after breaking her right wrist. "I'm good. You cannot keep me down. I'll be all right."
Tennessee, 30-4, will next face Rutgers, 27-4, which advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after waxing TCU, 82-48. The two teams, which met last year in a regional final, will play Sunday in Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena, in a regional semifinal. Purdue and North Carolina will play in the other semifinal. The winners will play next Tuesday for the right to go to Boston for the Final Four.
The Lady Vols at first looked like they were well on their way to blowing out their second round opponent as they took a 40-23 lead into the locker room at halftime. But as the first half wound down, George Washington had started to rebound a little better, and Tennessee had started to lose its momentum.
Tennessee began the second half with five missed shots and four turnovers. Meanwhile, George Washington scored seven points and cut Tennessee's lead to 40-30.
"I thought George Washington played really, really tough, and went after every loose ball," Summitt said. "They played physical with us. There were times in the latter part of the first half and late in the second half that we didn't match their intensity, but for the most part I thought we did what we had to do in answering their runs."
Tennessee's second half struggles were a combination of cold shooting – 34.8 percent in the second half and 35.6 percent for the game – turnovers and several no-calls in which shooters were clearly hacked on the way up.
While Hornbuckle remained on the floor getting medical attention in front of Tennessee's bench, Summitt walked up to the closest official and said, "It's a little bit rougher than it should be."
The official nodded and the answer to clean up play was to call three consecutive fouls on Tennessee. Halfway through the second half, George Washington was shooting two free throws on every foul – Tennessee finished with 17 after only five were whistled in the first half – and the pace of the game slowed to a crawl.
"I can definitely say after playing in the game I think we got a little bit tougher from it," Spencer said. "We could only keep that 12-point lead the rest of the game. We'd get up and then they'd come back. Our defense we broke down a lot. They got a lot of offensive boards. Our one-on-one D wasn't that great. It was physical at first and then after the half it seemed like the refs wanted to take back control of the game. In the first half they were letting us play. We got into foul trouble, but we pulled it out. Survive and advance. That's all postseason is. It doesn't have to be a pretty win, just a win."
Tennessee got out of sync in the second half when the officials switched from allowing physical play to calling touch fouls.
"That's what the official says so those are fouls," said Parker, whose third infraction came on what appeared to be a clean block. "You just have to learn to play through it."
"That's when you have to regroup as a team and adjust to how the calls are being made," center Tye'sha Fluker said.
Tennessee made enough adjustments to get the win, but George Washington had a lot to do with the pace and style of play in the second half.
"I think Dean (Lockwood) made a good point," Summitt said after the game as she ate some pizza and watched the Rutgers game on television. "I think this is the way George Washington wanted to play, kind of helter skelter. And that's the way we played. We played just like them. I thought Lex was really bothered by it. There's always one (ugly win) along the way. Let's hope this is the last one."
Besides the win, Tennessee did have several bright spots. Among them:
Shanna Zolman, who led all scorers with 19 points, became Tennessee's all-time leader for three-pointers when she hit her third one in the first half at the 3:51 mark on an assist from Parker. She made one more in the second half and now has 258 for her career and 95 this season, which is also a single-season record.
"It's something that definitely is not a goal of mine when I set out to come to UT; it's just something that happened," Zolman said. "I give all the credit to my teammates, great screeners, great passers and just working my tail off every single off-season to get myself in position to do so. I've had unbelievable point guards and unbelievable posts that have kicked out, that have found me in transition. It's definitely not an individual award; it's a team award as well."
Nicky Anosike finished with 12 rebounds, nine points, four assists and two blocks. Tennessee dominated on the boards overall, 53-37. The 53 rebounds were the second-highest total for the season, one short of 54 pulled down against Florida.
"It was huge that Nicky had 12 rebounds. That's ridiculous," said Parker by way of complimenting her. "That's huge for us. And Tye with nine."
Parker didn't dunk, but she displayed two nifty moves off pretty passes in the first half. Zolman delivered an alley-oop pass for the catch-and-layup in one motion, and Anosike dribbled to the middle of the lane and found a cutting Parker, who went underneath for the reverse layup.
Parker had 13 points in the first half but then was held to two free throws in the second half. George Washington packed the paint and made Tennessee win from the outside in the second half.
"I think they did a nice job of trying to limit her touches," Summitt said. "They were very physical inside. This is a team, unlike a lot of teams, that wanted to get into the paint and really mess us up. I thought they really played well."
Anosike complimented the Colonials for their game plan.
"Offensively they were pretty smart," Anosike said. "They knew to double down on the post, so it was tough to get out of that but we broke the pressure and we got to our shooters, especially late in the game. Yeah, it was tough but it wasn't something that we haven't worked on so we knew how to address it."
Two of the biggest shots came in the second half when George Washington had cut the lead to nine, 43-34, with a little more than 14 minutes left. Zolman and Spencer, who finished with 12 points, hit back-to-back three-pointers, and Tennessee was up 49-34 with 13 minutes left in the game. George Washington never got the lead to single digits again.
"They triple-teamed our posts at times," Zolman said. "It was time to do something. I was trying to do something to get us going offensively. They did a great job defending (inside). They doubled down very well. They put up a great test for our coaching staff. That's why we're a team. We always try to go inside. When the inside is closed, that's when the outside is able to step up. That's what we did tonight."
Colonials coach Joe McKeown had said before the game that the Lady Vols should have been a No. 1 seed, and he wished this matchup was in regional play, not the sub-regional.
"First of all, I want to congratulate Tennessee and wish them the best for the rest of the tournament," McKeown said in his opening statement. "They were a pretty good two seed, I'll say that much. They got off to such a hot start, so by the time I think we really got our arms around this game, we just ran out of gas. We played really hard that stretch to get the lead down, and then after working so hard to get it down, we let them come back."
George Washington was led by senior forward Jessica Simmonds, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. Freshman forward Jessica Adair had a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards. Beck had 11 points. As a team the Colonials struggled from the field and shot 30.6 percent for the game. They got to the second round by jumping out quickly on Old Dominion and then withstanding the Lady Monarchs' comeback. Against Tennessee the tables were turned, and George Washington couldn't recover from Tennessee's fast start.
"In the opening minutes I didn't think it was our very best, but it was very intense," Summitt said. "As we got comfortable, we let up. We can never let up. I tell my kids you can never let up in the postseason. You can never let someone get the chance to make a run at you in the postseason, and that's what we did. We talked about it at halftime. I think this is good for us to have a team fight us."
Tennessee can expect a bruising battle in the next game against Rutgers, a team whose fifth-year senior leader, Cappie Pondexter, came back because she wanted a national title.
As the Tennessee players ate some post-game pizza and prepared for the trip home to Knoxville, they repeated what Summitt had said: take the win and get back to work.
"A win's a win," Zolman said. "In the tournament you just survive and advance. No matter how you win, you're just winning, you forget about it, you move on. It's a totally different game next game."
"We've just got to practice hard this next week," Parker said. "We've got some things we need to work on, and we're going to do that. We're going to come into the regionals with fire. I'm happy. I'm not content on how we're playing. There's definitely things that we can do better; however we came out with a win. We're going to the Sweet 16. We're definitely not satisfied."
"In the postseason you've got wins that are going to come up ugly," Hornbuckle said. "But as long as you're surviving and advancing you can't really complain. Because now you've got another day to work on it. You've got another day to say, ‘This is what we need to get better at before we do go home.' I'm happy we won. It was a close game. We fought hard. We found a way to just pull it out, and that's all that matters in postseason."
Summitt will reassemble her team on the practice floor Wednesday afternoon in Knoxville. At that point they'll begin to correct the problems that cropped up in Tuesday's game. But for the moment she was happy to be leaving Norfolk with her 30th win of the season – the sixteenth 30-win season of her career – and Tennessee's perfect record in the NCAA tourney's first two rounds intact with 38 victories to zero losses.
Three weeks ago, before the postseason started with the SEC Tournament, Summitt was bemoaning the fact that she never knew what she was going to get from her team when it took the floor. On Tuesday she was calming chewing some pizza, watching the Rutgers game and smiling about her team.
"I feel good about them," Summitt said. "I feel real good about this team."
ODDS AND ENDS
BEST SIGNS: "Thanks For The Memories Ty And Shanna" … "JUST DUNK IT" (The sign had Nike swooshes all over it. Tennessee is, of course, an adidas school, but the sign was pretty.) … "Defense! Boards!" (This was actually two signs – two fans held one each – and was likely Pat Summitt's favorite.) … "DUNK IT" (The sign was written with crayons on orange paper and included a newspaper photo of Candace Parker. A young girl held it up during every stoppage in play.)
WORST SIGN: That held up by a member of George Washington's band. "Very Overrated Ladies Slam"
OOPS: When Tennessee's male cheerleaders take the floor for a routine they often do back flips onto the floor. One of UT's unintentionally flipped into an official, who had walked onto the floor, and bumped him. The crowd, which was annoyed with the foul calls, cheered.
BEST SHOUT: By a fan during the next timeout when the George Washington cheerleaders took the court. "Watch out! Here comes the cheerleaders!"
WORST CALL: Two involving Parker. At the 8:45 mark, Parker made a clean block on Jessica Simmonds, but was whistled. Later at the 3:09 mark Parker was going up for a shot when she was hacked. The ball rolled out of bounds, and Parker was assessed a turnover. "She had both arms," Summitt said to an official, describing the defender. Summitt was upset most of the second half with the officiating and once walked well past the coach's box to complain.
SUMS THE GAME UP CALL: Shanna Zolman was dribbling out the clock at the end of the game with four-tenths of a second difference between the game clock and shot clock. The horn sounded, the band struck up "Rocky Top," and Summitt and McKeown were a few feet away from their post-game handshake.
But an official blew the whistle and called a shot clock violation on Tennessee, which became the Lady Vols 18th turnover. The coaching staffs returned to their benches. George Washington had to in-bound the ball for the game to officially be over.