Hornbuckle misses practice with concussion

Coach Pat Summitt was wearing Rutgers red Wednesday at practice. Sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle was sitting on the sidelines not practicing. Neither are reasons for Lady Vol fans to be concerned.

Alexis Hornbuckle sustained a concussion in Tuesday's win over George Washington in the second round of NCAA Tournament play and sat out practice for precautionary reasons. Her status is listed as day to day, according to Jenny Moshak, assistant athletics director for sports medicine.

"Basically her signs and symptoms have improved greatly from yesterday to today, but they weren't perfect," Moshak said after practice Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. "She doesn't get on the floor until she has no signs and symptoms, and we're taking it day by day. But if she improves as much as she did from yesterday to today, tomorrow (Thursday) looks hopeful."

In the second half of the George Washington game, Hornbuckle was smacked in the face by the arm of a Colonials defender. She dropped to the floor with blood coming out of her nose and had to be helped to the bench. She later returned to the floor and while attempting to draw a charge, she hit the floor hard and banged the back of her head. No fouls were called in either case.

The concussion resulted from "a combination of both," Moshak said. "She had a standing eight count on the first one."

In the first half Hornbuckle went up for a rebound and came down on the back of a defender who had slipped lower to try to gain position and then ducked. Hornbuckle nearly landed on her right wrist, which is just five weeks removed from surgery to implant a screw to help heal a broken bone.

"That's her style of play," said Moshak, who used the down time in practice to do some precautionary rehab on Hornbuckle's wrist, which has held up just fine so far.

The second blow to the head appeared to stagger Hornbuckle more than the first one. She brought the ball up the floor but was shaking her head as if trying to reorient herself.

"I kept an eye on her," Moshak said. "She didn't throw the ball to an official so we kept her in there. But then after we took a look at her … we're just following basic concussion protocol. We don't mess with the head or the heart. I'll exercise her a little bit before practice (Thursday). If nothing comes back, she's a go."

It would have been impossible not to notice Summitt at practice Wednesday. She was wearing bright red. Last week she did a live interview with ESPN during practice while wearing Carolina blue to show her support for coach Sylvia Hatchell and her Tar Heel team, whom Summitt feels was treated poorly by the Selection Committee as the No. 1 overall seed. North Carolina wasn't sent to its closest sub-regional in terms of geography and had to beat Vanderbilt on its home floor. Now, Rutgers, Tennessee, North Carolina and Purdue will convene in Cleveland to determine which team goes to the Final Four.

Should Tennessee get past Rutgers and play North Carolina in the regional final if the Tar Heels beat Purdue, Summitt's solidarity with Hatchell will remain off the floor. But on Wednesday all Summitt had on her mind was Rutgers, and she wore the school's color to remind herself of what was ahead.

"Just to remind me I've got to get this group ready," Summitt said.

Wednesday's practice was devoted to just that. The Lady Vols spent the session preparing for the athletic team they will face in Rutgers at noon Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena. North Carolina and Purdue meet in the other regional semifinal with the winners playing next Tuesday for the right to go to Boston.

Tennessee, 30-4, played Rutgers, 27-4, last year in a regional final. In 2000 they met in a Final Four semifinal. In 1998 they played in a regional semifinal. Tennessee won all three matchups.

The two good friends seem weary of being placed on the same side of the bracket so much.

"I think if you were a gambler and you had a million dollars, you should have gone to Las Vegas and bet a million dollars that Tennessee and Rutgers would meet in the NCAA tournament," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.

"It's unfair," Summitt said. "It's unfair when the same teams keep meeting in postseason. We're great friends. Do I want to play against Vivian Stringer again? I'd rather see her in another bracket. But so much of that happens. Space it out. Look at it. Separate."

Summitt was in good spirits post-practice – she offered a few opinions on the brackets and other basketball topics – and it was apparent that the 66-53 win over George Washington was an ugly postseason one as opposed to a regular season one. She didn't show the team any film of Tuesday's game; instead she used the time to teach on the floor.

"As I told them today we obviously didn't play great in the second half, but we won," Summitt said. "It was ugly. I believe in every postseason you're going to have at least one ugly game. That's why I always tell them this is about surviving. You just forget about that one. We went straight to preparing for Rutgers.

"It's in the record book. Move on. This is a feel-good time. We got away from playing together as a team a little bit. We just had some players take possessions off."

Summitt spoke in a matter-of-fact fashion about the game – a stark contrast to her demeanor when Tennessee doesn't play well in the regular season. Freshman forward Candace Parker had a productive first half in which she scored 13 points, but she added only two free throws in the second half to finish with 15 points. The pace of the game was plodding as the officials switched from a let-them-play style to blowing the whistle repeatedly. Parker appeared out of sync in the second half and frustrated with the way the game was unfolding.

"She had company. She wasn't the only one," Summitt said. "I think they got really physical with Candace. Tye (Fluker) got frustrated. She's not shooting the ball well. Alexis is trying to do too much. We just got out of sync. It's good we had that game. I think that was exactly playoff basketball. As Dean (Lockwood) called it, they wanted a playground environment, and they created one. Obviously, across the board, we didn't all handle being on the playground."

Parker had a nasty abrasion on her right cheek near her nose Wednesday but said she was OK.

"I think it was a physical game," Parker said. "That happens sometimes. I've been – in high school – beat up. I try not to let it affect me."

Tennessee is in the middle of spring break this week so the players don't have classes. After they practiced and lifted weights Wednesday they were free to do something besides study.

"It's nice. It's a nice little break," Parker said. "People ask me where I'm going for spring break. It's like, ‘Knoxville.' I wouldn't have it any other way, though. The alternative is not good."

The alternative would mean the Lady Vols were done for the season. Instead they are getting ready to face a team that reminds Summitt of two SEC foes.

"Rutgers, in terms of athleticism, is LSU, Georgia," she said. "Those teams come to my mind right off. You're always thinking about style of play and who you've played against."

Three of the No. 1 seeds – North Carolina, LSU and Duke – made it to the Sweet 16, but Ohio State fell in the second round to Boston College.

"I'm not surprised," said Summitt, who limited her remarks about Ohio State to those three words.

She's not thinking about any team right now except Rutgers and is letting her assistants track down game film of other teams still alive in the tournament. If Tennessee survives the Scarlet Knights and North Carolina beats Purdue, a tape of interest would be the UNC-Boston College matchup. The Eagles fell in Chapel Hill, 69-62, but managed to slow down North Carolina and came close to pulling off the upset.

"I haven't looked at that," Summit said. "I'm just focusing right now on Rutgers. My staff's all over the place watching."

Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter led the team in scoring with 24 points against TCU to get the Scarlet Knights into the Sweet 16. The fifth-year senior could have headed to the WNBA last year but she came back for another shot at a national title. Standing in the way is Tennessee, the same team that ended her quest last season.

"I guess that's how the basketball gods wanted it to be," Pondexter said in an Associated Press article. "When it comes around we're going to be ready."

Tennessee intends to be ready, too. Summitt said her team "survived what I call an ugly game. They made a run, and we answered the run. They cut it to nine, and we hit back-to-back threes. We've been in a lot of tough games where people made runs on us, and I think that experience, our schedule, helped us. … We're jacked up to play them. The feeling's mutual."

The George Washington game gave the Lady Vols a learning experience that not only kept them in the tournament but could also help them advance farther.

"I think that we definitely learned a lot in this last game," Parker said. "I think we've got to approach this game like every other game. It's do or die. Win or go home. We know that last year we beat them to go to the Final Four so we know they're going to want to come out and be playing hard. They're definitely a very athletic team. Cappie Pondexter's a great player."

Parker provided the most-electrifying moments of the tournament so far when she dunked twice against Army in the first round. The feats touched off a flurry of press coverage – most of it positive – but some male pundits dismissed it, particularly on talk radio and sports television talks shows as a non-event. Others have tried to argue the dunks weren't legitimate. Summitt's response to some of the flak?

"You know what? I'll tell you," Summitt said. "Here's what I'd say: Women's basketball now is getting all kinds of attention – some good, some bad. I think it's a good thing. At least people are paying attention. There're years when they didn't pay attention. Probably the people that are writing this are good old boys that just jumped on the bandwagon. I don't care. If I spent my career worrying about what people said or wrote about our program or women's basketball I could not possibly be focused on doing my job."

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