Anosike ready on both ends

Nicky Anosike came into her junior year seeking a bigger role on the team. Last season she handled the job of defensive specialist – the 6'4 center can defend in the paint or on the perimeter – and pretty much left the scoring to others. This season she wants to make an impact on both ends of the court.

She made her goals known in the Lady Vols locker room shortly after Tennessee's season ended with a loss in an NCAA regional final in Cleveland, Ohio. The players were talking to the media about the loss and were also looking ahead to this fall. Nicky Anosike's offensive game was raw and under development and her first two years at Tennessee had been spent as a stopper on defense. But she knew 6'5 center Tye'sha Fluker would be graduating – the Charlotte Sting drafted Fluker in the WNBA's first round – and the Lady Vols would need some additional interior scoring.

"Obviously last year I had a big role on defense just as far as guarding whoever needed to be stopped on the other team," Anosike said. "This season, especially since Tye left, I need to pick up some of the slack as far as scoring in the paint. That's what I meant."

Last year Anosike averaged 23.4 minutes a game but only attempted 153 shots. She made 78 for a field goal percentage of 51 percent. By contrast Dominique Redding averaged 11.4 minutes a game and attempted 141 shots, just 12 fewer than Anosike. That wasn't because Redding shot a lot; it was because Anosike shot so little. The leading shot takers last season were Shanna Zolman with 423 attempts and Candace Parker with 417.

Through the first three games this season Anosike is averaging 7.7 points per game. That's not much more than the 7.1 she averaged last season over 36 games, but there is one eye-popping difference: She has hit 10-11 shots and has a field goal percentage of 90.9 percent. She has made baskets by using up-and-under and reverse moves and by using her strength to go hard to the hole. Her offensive repertoire, to say the least, has expanded.

"Freshman year I didn't really know how to score in the paint," Anosike said. "It was something that was new to me, something that I wasn't used to doing before I came here. I didn't really know what I was doing, but now with two years of experience under my belt I've gotten to know the ropes a little bit better.

"As the season goes on I think I'll get better and better at it. I was really excited and really anxious my first couple of years. I just wanted to get out there and score because that's how it was in high school. I just wanted to get the ball and score and didn't really take the time to focus on what I was doing. You can't get away with that now. You have to take your time and focus."

Coach Pat Summitt is so used to Anosike's all-out play that she had to do several double takes as she watched her on offense. She realized that Anosike was much more under control.

"I had to really watch Nicky because a lot of times I haven't felt like she was aggressive offensively," Summitt said. "But I like her composure, and that's the difference. It was like what's so different about Nicky Anosike? And I think the difference is her composure. Sometimes people would judge her play as not as aggressive, and I think I have to be mindful that it is more efficient."

One indicator of that efficiency is Anosike's assist totals. Despite the presence of two true point guards in Shannon Bobbitt and Cait McMahan, Anosike leads the team in assists this season with 14 and hasn't hesitated to draw in the defense and feed the ball to an open teammate. Anosike put a lot of time this summer into her offensive drills. She also has a steady and ever-present voice during the season in Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood. He keeps up a steady chatter during practice as he works with the post players.

Anosike said the benefit is "having him back there every time I do something and critiquing every single thing I do whether it's a huge thing or a small thing. Having someone back there to reiterate what I am doing wrong. After awhile after you keep hearing that continuously it kind of sticks with you in the game."

Lockwood's faith in Anosike's overall game has been rewarded. He doesn't just encourage Anosike in practice but will also review film with her off the court and work with her in pre- or post-practice sessions if she asks for additional work.

"I believe in her so strongly," Lockwood said. "What she asked for in Cleveland, she's now got. We need her. Not only is she asking for it and hoping to get it we need that from her."

In Sunday's game, Anosike scored eight points on 3-4 shooting and hit both of her free throws. She also led the team with eight assists.

Summitt sees the benefits of a player taking the time in the off-season to work on her game.

"She's just really worked on her game skill-wise but her composure is what has, I think, been even more impressive," Summitt said. "She's gone from being too quick for her good to really settling down and making good reads. I think that's her confidence. When you work on your game it seems to instill more confidence, and I think that's happened with her."

The emphasis on offensive work doesn't mean that Anosike has forsaken her defensive reputation. She leads the team in blocks with four, and her attitude on the defensive end remains unchanged. She has already spoken about how this year's team is much more committed to stopping an opponent than last year's squad was.

"Teams knew that when they came in to play us that they could score on us," said Anosike, who recalled last year's loss in Lexington to coach Mickie DeMoss and the Wildcats. "I remember distinctly that coach DeMoss said that from Kentucky that when ‘we went into the game there was one thing that I was 100 percent sure of and that was that we could score on this team.' That kind of affected me personally because I felt like that was more so my role last year. This year I don't think that many teams are going to be able to say that. I don't think anyone is going to be able to say that because we do make it more of a priority."

Defense was the priority at practice Monday afternoon, one day after Tennessee defeated Arizona State, 83-74, to improve to 3-0 on the season. Summitt will give her team off Tuesday and then practice Wednesday – "have a good workday" – and Thursday – "go real light" – to get ready for this week's home games against Stanford on Friday evening and Middle Tennessee State University on Sunday afternoon.

Parker, who sprained her left ankle against the Sun Devils, was able to participate in Monday's practice. Junior Alberta Auguste, who took an elbow Sunday to the forehead above her left eye that required stitches, also took part in the session at Stokely Athletics Center.

"From a defensive standpoint this team is giving up entirely too many threes in the last three games," Summitt said. "That concerns me because we haven't adjusted well in the course of the game. They have to be mindful that threes can add up on you. We take away the three-point line, and it'll be hard to beat this team."

Against Arizona State, the Lady Vols lost shooters in transition – five defenders collapsed inside and left the perimeter unguarded on two occasions – and also in the half court.

"It's just staying in the moment and talking their action and being more disciplined," Summitt said after practice Monday. "Obviously it was a great win for us but every opportunity you've got to take advantage of teaching and learning. We learned a lot from that game and that's why today we wanted to just get out here and work on our transition defense.

"I'd like to see five people really commit to transition defense and transition offense. A lot of times we'd have three or four back and be late in our fifth pickup, and it would cost us. Or when we're running sometimes we're not all sprinting and involved in the transition offensive attack. So we'll get better."

Overall Summitt was pleased with her team's performance in its first road test of the season. She noted that the young point guards, Bobbitt and McMahan, struggled, but the veterans, such as Parker (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Alexis Hornbuckle (13 points, five assists) stepped up to shepherd Tennessee to its third win and second in a row over a Pac-10 opponent.

"Her experience, she took over," Summitt said of Hornbuckle. "She did; she really did. She just made a lot of good things happen for our team."

"She just dominated first half," Summitt said of Parker and added that the forward's offensive performance in the first 20 minutes made the coach's job easier. "I didn't have to call a lot of things in the first half."

Tennessee showed how explosive it could be – the Lady Vols went from a four-point lead, 48-44, at the 17:51 mark of the second half to a 20-point lead, 73-53, at the 9:29 mark.

"When they decide … . I challenged them in the timeout: ‘We've got to go on a run; we've got to start this run right now' – they did it," Summitt said. "That's where they separate themselves. But if they can do it then why can't they do it more consistently? And I think we just have to get into that mindset."

The downside was that after Parker went out with her sprained ankle, the Lady Vols surrendered a chunk of that lead after turning over the ball, quick shooting and missing the front end of one and ones at the free throw line. Summitt remembered the Michigan State game at the Final Four in 2005, but in this case the outcome against the Sun Devils was never really in doubt.

"I was disappointed that we didn't close out that game strong," Summitt said. "I guess you have flashbacks of Michigan State. We didn't close that out. We had about the same margin.

"Candace was out of the game at that time and it was a great time for them to step up and take care of business without her. But I'm not overly concerned about that. They (the Sun Devils) come after you and they're just relentless with their defense. They have an attack mentality in the transition game and obviously spacing on offense for them is very good. They played really well together."

Summitt had some foul issues to address Monday. She is instituting a new rule with Anosike and although she understood Bobbitt's frustration with the hand-checking rule, the behind-the-back defensive stance – radio broadcaster Mickey Dearstone said that Bobbitt looked like an ice skater – isn't going to become standard form.

"I think she just was frustrated with the hand checking so she put her hands behind her back," Summitt said. "But I told her in the film session today that she needed to keep her hands in the passing lanes and off people. Both our point guards were a little overanxious and playing on the road for the first time, great crowd, a lot of noise. It was really good for them."

Anosike needs to stay out of foul trouble and Summitt has noticed that if the center picks up an early foul, the second one is likely to come quickly. So if Anosike gets the first infraction within the first five minutes, she will come out. Usually, Summitt won't pull a player in the first half for foul reasons until she accumulates two.

"If she gets it in the first five minutes, absolutely," Summitt said.

The foul trouble in the Arizona State game opened up significant playing time for Auguste and sophomore Alex Fuller. Fuller finished with six points and four rebounds.

"She's been very efficient," Summitt said. "Yesterday the only thing that disappointed me with her was missing the front end of two one and ones."

Fuller usually is accurate from the stripe – in fact she was 8-8 until missing those two Sunday – and she is second on the team in rebounding with 5.0 per game despite coming off the bench.

Auguste scored nine points and had five boards, including four on the offensive end. She also had two blocks and two steals. The three turnovers were the one bad mark in the box score.

"She's got a great nose for the ball as a rebounder," Summitt said. "She's just instinctively right-place, right-time kind of player. To me, that's been a great addition to our defense and one of the reasons that we're better. She's elevated our defense. When she was in there she made good things happen. She went in and walked a tightrope on the two baseline penetration moves but after that she settled down."

Tennessee will take on its third Pac-10 team in the Stanford Cardinal. At least the Lady Vols should be used to the West Coast style of play.

"I think they get after you defensively," Summitt said. "They play up-tempo basketball. That's what I would say just playing the Pac-10. UCLA likes to get up and down. They shoot a lot of threes. Arizona State did and Stanford will."


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