The Lady Vols led by as much as 24 late in the game but the pileup of fouls, the loss of Candace Parker to the bench with a left ankle sprain that didn't initially appear to be serious, missed free throws, quick jumpers that didn't fall, the letting up of full-court pressure and No. 11 Arizona State's admirable determination to play a full 40 minutes resulted in a respectable score between two ranked teams.
Tennessee has secured wins in the first two games of the Pac-10 portion of the schedule – UCLA fell last Thursday, 83-60 – and will be looking for the sweep against Stanford next Friday in Knoxville.
"I don't want her job, but I want to beat her next week," Summitt said.
Tennessee fell behind early against Arizona State, 4-1, but then Parker took over. She hit jumpers and drove to the basket from the left and right. She went up and under defenders or drifted slightly out of the paint. In one play early in the first half, UT center Nicky Anosike rebounded a missed three-pointer by Arizona's Dymond Simon and fired an outlet pass to Parker. She hit a lay-in over three defenders to put Tennessee up, 13-9, shortly after Sidney Spencer had staked Tennessee to a 11-9 lead with a three-pointer.
"One on three, but the one is the best player in the nation," said the Fox Sports Net commentator.
"I thought in the first half, Candace just took over the game," Summitt said on the post-game radio show.
Summitt needed Parker's performance, because one by one UT players headed to the bench in foul trouble. Summitt had to make 19 player substitutions in the first 20 minutes alone as she shuttled players in and out to avoid further foul trouble.
At halftime Tennessee held a slight lead, 42-38, thanks to its uptick in defensive intensity, which forced turnovers. In one two-minute stretch midway through the first half, Arizona State accumulated four turnovers and three fouls. Fox Sports took its cameras into the locker rooms at halftime. Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne told her team "we take care of the basketball, game over."
Arizona State ended the game with 25 turnovers – against two Pac-10 opponents Tennessee has forced 51 turnovers – and the Lady Vols put the game away with a second half surge. They finished with 15 steals and also won the battle of the boards, 36-29.
Spencer was selected as the Player of the Game after scoring 18 points – Turner Thorne specifically mentioned to her players at halftime not to lose Spencer on the floor but they did – on 8-14 shooting.
After the UCLA win, when Spencer scored 15 points on 6-9 shooting, Summitt noted that she should have scored more.
"She turned down shots she probably should have taken in the first half in particular," Summitt said. "She's got to stay with an aggressive mindset regardless of what's happening in the other aspects of her game. She's six for nine; she could have been nine for 12."
On Sunday, Spencer hit from long range and used a step-back move on occasion to get open.
"I'm just trying to get better at reading my defense," she said on the Lady Vol Radio Network.
It was Tennessee's defense, led by juniors Alexis Hornbuckle, who had to play considerable minutes at the point position, and Alberta Auguste that made the difference in the second half. The guards also filled up the box score. Hornbuckle had 13 points – and hit a three-pointer – five assists, four rebounds and four steals.
"Alexis I thought was a difference maker," Summitt said to Dearstone.
Auguste, despite taking an elbow above her left eye that left her bloody and dazed as the first half ended, played 19 minutes – she had to spell Bobbitt and Cait McMahan who were in foul trouble – and had nine points on 4-4 shooting, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Sophomore Alex Fuller also saw considerable action and had six points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Emily Westerberg led Arizona State with 21 points; Reagan Pariseau had 15 and Briann January added 14. Westerberg, who fouled out with 31 seconds left, also had six boards. Two Tennessee players, Spencer and McMahan fouled out, and two more UT players, Anosike and Bobbitt, finished with four apiece. The Lady Vols were whistled for 26 infractions to 19 for the Sun Devils.
Anosike picked up her first foul at the 15:17 mark in the first half and got the second one less than a minute later at 14:34. Summitt indicated she may need to pull Anosike after the first foul – instead of the usual two-foul rule in the first half – because the second tends to quickly follow.
"She puts herself in a bad position because of her aggressive play," Summitt said on the radio show.
One glaring stat for the Lady Vols was the 12-21 performance at the free throw line for 57.1 percent.
"The free throw shooting, Dean's in charge," Summitt said of assistant coach Dean Lockwood. "I'm just teasing."
Summitt could afford to laugh. Her team will leave Tempe knowing it passed the first road test. Tennessee shot 54.8 percent and once again showed its unselfish play with 21 assists on 34 baskets.
After three games, Parker is averaging 20.7 points per game with Spencer at 14.3 ppg and Hornbuckle, 12.0. Fuller and Auguste are both averaging 8.3 ppg. Fuller is second on the team in rebounding at 5.0 per game, behind only the 6.3 boards per game of Parker.
As a team, Tennessee is averaging 89.3 points per game to 68.7 for opponents and hitting shots at a 55.2 percent clip. Anosike is 10-11 from the field (90.9 percent) and Spencer is hitting 60 percent of her threes (6-10). Parker has attempted the most shots at 41 and has hit 61 percent of them (25-41).
Hornbuckle has already described this season a "whole new team."
"When I say a whole new team I'm not meaning 10, 11 new players," Hornbuckle said. "It's like a whole new mindset. When you come back with a different work ethic and a different mindset, it's a whole new team, it's a whole new year, it's a whole new game, and I think that's how we stepped into this season, in particularly this summer, and it just kept carrying over. I think as long as we keep this attitude and not try to stay at one point but build on that I think we should be OK."
For the orange and white, so far, so good.