The last game was played in Norfolk, Virginia, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March. The Lady Vols prevailed, 66-53, in a game that resembled at times a recreation league scrum more than an NCAA basketball postseason matchup. Candace Parker had her face bloodied in a scramble for a rebound – the blow left an open abrasion – and Alexis Hornbuckle had an arm hit her flush in the face when a player tried to swipe a pass. Later in the game Hornbuckle tried to take a charge and was knocked down with such force that she banged her head against the floor. She finished the game but missed the next day of practice with a concussion.
The eighth meeting between the schools will be played at 7 p.m. (Lady Vol Radio Network, video streaming at utladyvols.com) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
George Washington, 7-1, enters this game ranked No. 21/19 (AP/Coaches' poll). The Colonials' one loss was to Maryland. Coach Joe McKeown, whose team plays in the Atlantic 10, isn't ducking competition, especially in the SEC. George Washington will play Auburn and Georgia later this month.
"They're good," UT assistant coach Dean Lockwood said. "They're a very physical team. By and large they have tough kids who play very hard. They're extremely well coached. They're a team made up of parts and when you take the parts separately, especially like say an SEC team, you're not going to look at them and say, ‘Oh, wow.' But when you put those parts together they just work."
No. 6/5 Tennessee, 7-1, enters this game having dispatched Tennessee-Martin in convincing fashion, 85-29, and wanting to have a good showing against a ranked team before turning their attention to finals and then to Texas. The next game won't be until Dec. 17 in Austin. After exams, the team has the rest of December and early January to play and practice without the weight of academic commitments.
They will practice Friday and then coach Pat Summitt will give them off Saturday and Sunday to study.
"I think before the game we'll have our usual talk and then come into finals having 10 days off (before playing a game) and having this whole month off is going to be an adjustment because we've been in class all the time," Spencer said. "We'll probably talk about making sure we're focused for practice."
Summitt welcomed a ranked opponent to give her a better idea if some new practice concepts she began to install Wednesday about rebounding and defense are sticking.
"I think for everyone it's good to have another game that should be a challenging game for us and then obviously we want to give them time for more preparation time for their finals," Summitt said.
The Colonials will be the fifth ranked team that Tennessee has faced in its first eight games.
"I think we get more than just the benefit of playing teams that are well-coached and that challenge us throughout the regular season," Summitt said. "It allows our basketball team to understand that they have to be ready to play every night. Our schedule is tough enough that on any given night if we aren't ready to play, it could be really costly for us. It's all about the postseason for me, understanding that you can have a near-perfect regular season, but if you're not ready for postseason, then anything is possible in that situation."
Summitt will stay with her starters: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (5.7 points per game, 1.1 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (9.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.9 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (12.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (19.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (8.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
McKeown is expected to start: Kimberly Beck, 5'8 junior guard, No. 5 (12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.9 apg), leading conference in assists, 46.3 percent shooter from behind the arc, All-Atlantic 10 First Team and A-10 Defensive Team last season, played for the Georgia Dream Team AAU squad for three years before college; Kenan Cole, 5'10 senior guard, No. 20 (10.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), started 26 games last season, averaged 30.6 minutes per game, named to A-10 Academic All-Conference Team; Sarah-Jo Lawrence, 5'11 junior guard, No. 32 (15.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), selected for Sixth Player of the Year in A-10 last season and honorable mention All Conference, standout volleyball player in high school; Whitney Allen, 5'11 senior forward, No. 3 (6.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg), had a career high 14 rebounds against Stony Brook on Saturday, was a sprinter in high school and also played softball; and Jessica Adair, 6'4 sophomore center, No. 1 (14.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg), earned A-10 Player of Week Award after double-double versus James Madison. She and her twin sister, Jazmine, who is 6'3, are tied with the Paris twins, Courtney and Ashley, at Oklahoma for second-tallest sister duo in the nation. The tallest pair is Beatrice and Suzy Bofia of Arizona, who are 6'7 and 6'6 respectively.
Wednesday's two-hour practice was used to prepare for the Colonials and to go over specific defensive and rebounding concepts. It wasn't an up-and-down-the-floor-type practice because it was the day before the game, but the pace picked up and the coaches demanded results.
"I think every year you have an opportunity to learn, particularly with our schedule," Summitt said after practice. "You play a team like North Carolina in the environment we played in, we learned a lot about our team but in particular some individuals. We need to get a lot better."
Summitt also could move some pieces around and get Spencer more minutes at the power forward spot (four) to enable her rebounding. Parker would move to small forward (three) in that case or to the center position (five). Senior forward Dominique Redding also could play the four.
"I think Sid can play the four. Dom can play the four. Candace can play three, four and five," Summitt said. "We have some options just because of the versatility of our team. I think it might make us a little bit more difficult to scout but most of all, more importantly, is it might give us some better offensive options."
Spencer is comfortable inside and said she would readily accept minutes at the four spot. When the team met Monday, each player spoke up about what she could do to help the team. For Spencer it was rebounding.
"We all came up with something that we need to do," Spencer said. "My whole thing was if we're going to win any kind of championship I have to rebound. Because everyone is giving their effort and putting their heart and soul into rebounding, and I'm not coming up with any boards, and I'm 6'2, 6'3.
"I told my teammates if we're going to win I'm going to have to rebound. It's clear because everyone else is rebounding, and I can't loaf in that area. I'm going to try to make that a focal point, and if I get to play the post then I have to get boards if I'm going to be banging inside."
Both Summitt and Spencer said matchups and game flow would determine when Spencer might help the team more by moving inside. Spencer, however, is the team's best three-point shooter, so she will need to play on the perimeter, too.
"That's exciting I think," Spencer said. "I do like the four; that's all that I played before coming to college. I have gotten very comfortable with the three spot, and I really like it, but if I have to move inside then that's fine."
Spencer bounced back from a miserable shooting night Sunday at North Carolina to hit 3-4 from long range on Tuesday against Martin. Spencer also was on the floor of "The Summitt" on Monday before the team meeting getting in some extra shooting. When she watched film of the game she saw what went wrong.
"I think I was playing too fast," Spencer said. "At first I was overly hyped for the game instead of calm, chillin' I guess you could say. I rushed a lot of shots. I should have taken my time. I went back and watched the film and saw that I could have taken my time on a lot of shots."
The players had to wait all day for the game – it tipped at 8 p.m. – but Spencer said that didn't affect her.
"I don't mind having a late tip or an early tip," she said. "I actually prefer to play later games."
Spencer, who is now in her fourth year in the program, was asked about Summitt's decision to forego practice for extended and one-on-one film sessions instead. In years past the solution might have been to hit the practice floor for an extended and grueling session.
"Coach said that she thought we played really hard," Spencer said. "She didn't have to coach effort; we just didn't play very smart. We had a lot of crucial turnovers, but as far as effort we put it out there. She didn't have to coach effort and that was something that she did admire about us because she knew that if we wouldn't have made some crucial turnovers and mistakes that we would have come out and won. She wanted to make sure we knew that.
"And then we all sat there and discussed the game. I just think that with three games in six days nothing would have come of making us go out here and run because last night (against Martin) we wouldn't have been able to move. She's a very smart coach, and she knows what she's doing. I think when we have those 10 days after George Washington before Texas that we will really go back to the drawing board and start working on and start getting better at things that she saw in that game that we need to."
A good performance Thursday will make the break easier to bear for the players and coaching staff.
"It's very big for that," Lockwood said. "George Washington has crept into the national scene. We need to play well and also we do have that long break coming up. We have Texas on the 17th. This is very important going into that. We don't want to stub our toes here because that's a long time between then and the next game, which is on the road. We've got a week in between where we've got to live with ourselves."
SCOUTING REPORT: Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report on George Washington. Here is his assessment.
When George Washington has the ball: Their point guard I have tremendous respect for. Kimberly Beck is a real key to their team. She can shoot deep, she can take it to the basket; she's got a mid-range game. She's just a good college guard flat and simple. One wing is a little bit more driver than shooter, even though she's sneaky from the arc, Sarah-Jo Lawrence, she can really get the ball to the basket, pull-up. Then you have another wing, Kenan Cole, she can really shoot it. She's either a catch-and-shoot three or a pull-up type player.
"And then they have two big posts, sisters, twins, the Adairs (Jessica and Jazmine). They're probably not as fast up and down as our posts are but boy do they have some body size to them and they've got real good position, a sense of getting deep position on you. So we're going to have to do a great job from all positions. We cannot let their perimeter shooter drive, and we can't let the posts have deep position.
"I think that's one of things that strikes me about George Washington is that there's balance on that team. They're so well balanced offensively. They come at you from different ways. If one is shut down there're another couple people who can answer."
When Tennessee has the ball: "With us we're not going to be able make one or two passes on them. We're going to have to loosen their defense. First we always want to run, because that's us. We want to push, push, push and see what we can get in transition. But we know we're going to have to loosen their defense a little bit. They will mix it up.
"I've seen them play 2-3, 1-3-1, and I've seen them play man to man as their primary defense but they will go to the 2-3 in an instant and 1-3-1 maybe just every so often to change the look and show you something different. We're going to have to really move the ball and move their defense in order to attack and get what we want. One or two passes and try to score? (No) I think a key for us in offensive execution is moving the ball, ball and player movement and getting the defense to move east and west so that we can attack north and south."
Pat Summitt watched tape on the Colonials and saw a similar team to the one Tennessee played last March. In that game the Colonials missed their first six shots and the Lady Vols jumped out to a 28-6 lead. Then play got a little casual and then it got a lot physical. After the game the Tennessee team and staff were happy to survive and advance to the Sweet 16.
"I have watched tape and there are a lot of similarities to what we saw last year," Pat Summitt said. "I think their man-defense gave us some problems when we played them in the NCAA playoffs, so we have to be in tune with that. Their perimeter players are very aggressive, and they can break you down off the dribble. That definitely will challenge us. It depends on whether they want to run with us or not. Some people come in and like to run up and down. George Washington does a good job of keeping you off balance."
KEEP THE COLONIALS: Pat Summitt said Wednesday during her media teleconference that she wanted to keep the home-and-home series with George Washington, which plays in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
"I like playing teams in different conferences because you see teams with different styles," Summitt said. "The SEC gives us one style of play, so the opportunity to play other schools in other conferences, it has allowed us to prepare for a lot of different looks. George Washington does a good job of varying its action defensively to give you different looks. I think it has been good for us, and also I have a lot of respect for them. We have a lot of fans and alumni in that area which is good for them to have a chance to see us. We're going to extend the series."
Summitt and coach Joe McKeown also maintain a good relationship. She got to know him when she was a consultant for the WNBA's Mystics in Washington, D.C.
"When I was working with the Mystics I got to visit with him and we got to sit together and talk basketball," Summitt said. "He's a great father and family man and a very sincere but competitive individual."
McKeown has told a story about his daughter a few years ago wanting to go trick or treating in a Lady Vol costume as Nikki McCray, who played for the Mystics.
"I've enjoyed getting to know him," Summitt said. "He is someone in the profession that I feel like if I needed someone, I could call him. Come game time, however, we are extremely competitive."
BIRD'S BACK: Junior Alberta Auguste, who wasn't feeling well in Tuesday's game, didn't take the floor Wednesday at practice, but she did watch from the sideline and baselines as the team went through its drills and scouting.
"She had some dental work today, and he didn't want her practicing today," said Jenny Moshak, assistant athletic director for sports medicine. "She's good to go physically tomorrow (Thursday). Shouldn't be a problem. Everybody is fine. We've got a little tendonitis going on but we're taking care of all that. So far, so good."
Auguste's fellow junior newcomer, Shannon Bobbitt, turned 21 on Wednesday and was serenaded by Summitt at practice with an up-tempo - what else? - version of "Happy Birthday."
PUPPY LOVE: This tidbit comes from the Lady Vols' game notes compiled by Media Relations: "Please excuse Tennessee Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt if she seems a little preoccupied this week. Sure, she has been busy preparing for games against UT-Martin and #21/19 George Washington. Summitt, however, has been keeping an eye on the family dog, a yellow Lab named Sally Sue. Sally is expecting her first litter of puppies on Dec. 10 and Mom will be on delivery duty since 16-year old son Tyler will be out-of-town. An ultrasound taken on Dec. 1 revealed at least eight puppies. Shouldn't be a problem for Summitt, an old farm girl and 4-H'er."
ON TAP TONIGHT: Three other SEC teams are in action tonight: Middle Tennessee at Georgia; Oklahoma at South Carolina; and Vanderbilt at Duke.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series 7-0. The teams first played in 1992 in a holiday tournament and then started the series in 2001 with a homecoming game for Kara Lawson, who is from Alexandria, Virginia. … UT is 8-1 in games played on December 7. The one loss was 84-83 to Mercer in 1974. … Lady Vol junior Nicky Anosike has joined Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings as the only Lady Vols all-time to tally at least 500+ points, 400+ rebounds, 80+ blocked shots, 100+ assists and 100+ steals. "Big Nick's" numbers: 556 points, 447 rebounds, 92 blocked shots, 131 assists and 110 steals in 79 career games. … The George Washington players are wearing a red patch to memorialize Red Auerbach, a 1940 graduate of the school who died Oct. 28. Auerbach, who led the Boston Celtics to 16 NBA titles as both a coach and general manager, played varsity for three seasons (1938-40) and led the team in scoring during the 1939-40 campaign with 8.5 ppg. … The Colonials ended last season ranked 11th nationally in both scoring defense (55.2 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (35.5 percent).