"First of all just really the whole intensity of our defense and our offense took a big dip," said Summitt, who had been getting good bench play for the most part this season. "That's where they spoiled us early. And now when Dominique doesn't coming in playing with a lot of energy it's real apparent. I did not think that she and Cait and Bird did a good job of coming in and keeping us where we needed to be. Did a much better job in the second half. We talked about it at halftime. I was not pleased with our bench play. Fuller did obviously a good job, but we've got to have more than one person come in and impact the level of play."
Sidney Spencer blamed the decline in play on not taking care of the ball and not talking enough.
"I think we starting turning the ball and feeding into their type of play," she said. "They were getting some transition baskets. I think turnovers and lack of communication sometimes. Coach was displeased at halftime so we wanted to get off to a good start to get us going, to get our runs going."
In the second half Spencer went to work. She hit threes from deep in the corner and at the top of the key. She hit them in the half-court offense and in transition. She finished with 21 points – tying the mark she set in the 2006 SEC tourney title game against LSU – and hit 5-8 from behind the arc. The five threes also ties the record she set against LSU.
"I thought Sidney's play was huge for us," Summitt said. "It did give us a great lift. It's unique to have a player at the three spot with her shooting range. She's got exceptional range, and when she gets in the zone she obviously is the player we want to have the basketball. We ran some things to her, but most of all her teammates got her the ball. They found her once they knew that she was shooting the ball exceptionally well for them."
Spencer was joined in double-digit scoring by Candace Parker (19 points) Nicky Anosike (double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds) and Alexis Hornbuckle (14 points, including two three-pointers, each time to start the scoring to begin both halves).
The Lady Vols also owned the boards, 40-20, with Parker grabbing nine and Spencer hauling in four, including three on the offensive glass. Tennessee had 23 second-chance points to eight for George Washington.
"We have done a better job in the last two games of just boxing out," Summitt said. "We were taking away second-chance points for the most part. … I thought Nicky did a great job. She's very active offensively and defensively, got on the boards for us. The one thing about her I just think she has a lot more composure now offensively and as far as her boards, she goes after it. We need players to pursue the ball and not wait for the ball to come to them. She was very active in that regard."
Anosike and Parker were active in the post, and that created tremendous matchup problems for the Colonials. Tennessee's post players are not traditional. On defense Anosike can pick up anyone on the floor and on offense Parker is as likely to drift out to the wing as she is to go to the basket. Parker's points came inside and on jumpers. Despite their height they are both fleet of foot and can run the floor with the perimeter players.
"In transition it's hard to match up with all five of us, especially with our two post players running like they do," Spencer said. "I think they were having to either pick to guard the inside or leave the outside open so Lex was just finding me in transition because they weren't matching up."
George Washington coach Joe McKeown cited the close score in the first six minutes of the second half – the Colonials kept UT's lead in single digits and were within four on a couple of occasions – and then Spencer hit three consecutive three-pointers on assists from Fuller (twice) and Hornbuckle starting at the 14:02 mark. Auguste made a free throw and then Spencer drained another three at the 10:37 mark. Of Tennessee's 13 points in less than four minutes, Spencer accounted for 12 of them.
"I really felt good about where we were, and then I think we just had no answer for Spencer to be honest with you," McKeown said. "She just unloaded on us."
He also cited the ability of Parker and Anosike to pass out of the paint and mentioned Tennessee's sharpshooter last season, Shanna Zolman.
"I think they did a great job of finding her today where before it seemed like even with Zolman, who we have a lot of respect for, we could get to Zolman," McKeown said. "It just seemed like they found her today. I thought their posts were much more active, Anosike and Parker were. We double-teamed; they'd kick it out. We just couldn't get to them on the weak side."
When Parker is on the floor, McKeown said, the Lady Vols become a difficult team to defend, whether in transition or in the half court.
"You've got to pick your poison in some respects because Parker commands that kind of defensive presence," McKeown said. "You're going to leave somebody open. You don't want to leave her open, but when you're scrambling in transition you're going to just get to whoever you can get to. And she seemed to play with a lot more confidence tonight than I'd seen her last year, but I guess that makes sense. They seemed to be more in sync to her this year."
He also paid homage to Hornbuckle, who had a season-high seven assists, zero turnovers, three rebounds and one steal – she now has at least one in 45 straight games – to go with her points on 5-9 shooting. The last time the teams played in March, Hornbuckle was returning from a broken wrist suffered a month earlier and was wearing a cumbersome brace on her lower right arm and hand.
"Yeah, we made her play left-handed," McKeown said. "She hit two layups and two free throws left-handed. I was like ‘Dang, Hornbuckle.' We're making her dribble with her other hand and with her big cast she's dribbling by us. She's pretty gifted."
McKeown also has seen several different looks at guard in the last three games with Tennessee. When the teams played in Washington, D.C., last December, the guards were Hornbuckle, Zolman and the now-departed Sa'de Wiley Gatewood. In March in the NCAA tourney, Tennessee was down to Hornbuckle and Zolman. On Thursday, he saw Shannon Bobbitt, who had five points, four assists, two rebounds, one steal and no turnovers, and McMahan, who had two points, two boards, an assist and one turnover.
Bobbitt got hit in the thigh in the first half and was somewhat limited in the second half, and McMahan struggled with running the offense at times in both halves. So Hornbuckle had to take some minutes at the point spot again.
"It's hard to tell," McKeown said when asked about Tennessee's guard play this season. "Last year the game at GW, I thought we really had Gatewood and Hornbuckle a little flustered and Zolman to a certain extent. Zolman is a great player. I thought she made everybody better. I think they're still trying to find themselves with Bobbitt and McMahan."
Before saying McMahan's name he stopped and said, "I want to say her name right." When told of the pronunciation, he laughed and said, "Being an Irishman, I should know that," and then he continued on with his assessment.
"I think they're going to be good players," McKeown said. "What happened was we couldn't make them have to make a lot of decisions. They got the ball inside and out and that's what hurt us. It's going to be an interesting team."
The collision with a George Washington player forced Bobbitt to the bench in the first half. She started the second half, but was noticeably slowed down by the blow at times. Hornbuckle said she isn't worried about the young point guards – both are playing in their first year at Tennessee – and she remembers her own struggles over the first two years.
"I think it's a little bit nerves sometimes at the point guard," Hornbuckle said. "I know myself when I played point even after my freshman year you still have that nervousness because you're the floor coach and so much depends on you. You've got to run the plays, you and coach have to be on the exact same page and at times it can be overwhelming.
"But as the season goes on I think it will become easier for them. We don't lose any faith in any of our players. It's just a matter of time before they step up, and they come and play very efficient basketball."
Summitt saw enough from everyone's play to give her plenty of things to work on over the next week – Tennessee won't play again until Dec. 17 when the team travels to Texas – during practice.
"I thought our breakdowns tonight were not so much on the boards but just helping sometimes on shooters, hedging too much," Summitt said. "We gave up some dribble drives and went for some inside steals and gave up some points there. But overall I thought we did a pretty decent job in the half court."
Summitt also would like for the players to better adhere to the detailed scouting reports that they are provided about the opponent.
"I thought our defense actually we played it in spurts," Summitt said. "We had some great combinations on the floor. I thought our starters did a good job overall in the beginning of both halves. But I think we just have to be more disciplined defensively with out scouting report defense. We had some breakdowns in our scouting.
"That's where we can get 12 or 15 points better if we get more disciplined in our defense – helping on three-point shooters and not closing out long three-point shooters particularly in the first half."
The Colonials made 4-7 from behind the arc. They were led in scoring by Jessica Adair who had 23 points and seven boards. Kenan Cole had 14 points and hit both of her three-point attempts, and Sarah-Jo Lawrence had 13 points. Point guard Kimberly Beck came in averaging 12.9 points but played a passive game and only attempted one shot – a three-pointer – for her three points. She did have seven assists and three steals.
"Jessica Adair is a sophomore. She's been hurt. She missed a couple of games," McKeown said. "She's just learning still. She's really talented … but to play against a Parker and Anosike – that level of player – that's a great experience for her. She had a double-double in the NCAA Tournament last year, but she's missed so many practices with injuries. We tried to isolate her one-on-one on the block and reverse the ball, and we had some success. She's going to be a terrific player for us."
Hornbuckle said, "GW is a good team. They never quit, they never give up, and they have great scorers on their team. Adair did exactly what she needed to do in the post and ended up with 23. Their shooters were knocking down shots when we left them open. They took advantage of every opportunity or mishap that we gave them. We just have to have a better conscious effort of defending the post better or not helping off of shooters."
Both teams shot well – Tennessee at 48.2 percent and George Washington at 47.2 percent – and both had 17 turnovers each. But Tennessee had more scorers and was able to force the Colonials into a faster pace than they wanted to play.
"For us to beat Tennessee we had to keep the score in the 60s, high 50s," McKeown said. "I thought the pace was right for them. We weren't turning the ball over. One of our goals was not to let them get out and run and get layups and get into their presses. I thought we did a pretty good job of controlling that. Again, they just started making shots deep. They're eight for eighteen at the three-point line. That came at the right time. They just were daggers for us."
They were delivered mostly by Spencer, who got open and got the ball.
"I think as far as Spencer's game tonight she knocked down a lot of great looks for us and helped us break open the game in the second half," Summitt said. "The team just did a really excellent job of finding her, whether it was in transition or in the half-court game. I guess they wanted an assist."
Tennessee had 18 assists for the game, and six of those were on Spencer's shots.
"Well obviously we know Sid is a great shooter and once she gets on a roll just get her the ball," Hornbuckle said. "I made it a conscious effort just to get her the ball every chance that I could. They weren't really guarding her, and if they were she still had no problems shooting the ball and it was going in. So you just go to the strength at that point in time, and it was Sid."
This was the eighth meeting between the teams – Summitt said she likes to schedule the Colonials because of their assorted defenses – and "that's the best that they've played against our matchup zone," McKeown said. "I think a lot of that obviously was Spencer. They attacked it much better this year than they did last year. I felt defensively we did a lot of good things, just couldn't stop that run there in the middle of the second half."
Spencer's timing was excellent for the Lady Vols, because the Colonials were well within striking distance, and Tennessee's offense had bogged down a little.
"That wasn't the thought that was on my mind," Spencer said of the lulls in the offense. "I knew that the score was close, but it was just an opportunity that I took."
Another Lady Vol seized her opportunity also. Freshman post player Nicci Moats entered late in the second half and scored four points. She also had no fouls after picking up infractions within seconds in her other appearances.
"And made both free throws," Summitt said. "It's a good sign. That's good to see her not go in quite as anxious and rush. She was excited she hit her free throws as well."
Moats also snatched two rebounds in her three minutes of play to help Tennessee finally dominate an opponent on the boards.
"We haven't been rebounding too well – pretty known fact," Hornbuckle said. "We just take each game and each day to work on boxing out because we're not as big sometimes as the other opponent. If we make it a point to box out and have the heart and hustle then the boards should come. We made it a point to do that in today's game to try to please coach a little more. I think that's all we did – made a conscious effort five to the boards on defense and four to the boards on offense, and everybody did a great job of getting there and handling their job."
The team will practice Friday afternoon – Summitt generally likes to reassemble her team the day after a game – and then take off Saturday and Sunday for study time.
"I think the most important thing right now is exams are coming up," Summitt said. "We gave them the weekend off to prepare and rest up. That was our main concern. We obviously have Monday to come back and start working on Texas and getting read to finish out before the Christmas holidays. I like the fact that they can have the weekend off and really concentrate academically."
Knowing that break was coming was on the players' minds.
"Coming into this game, it's our third game in six days, so I think we were extremely focused on starting off well," Spencer said. "Actually just playing defense – I think that's something that is key is starting off with great defense and so we just tried to come out there extra focused because it is like a break."
The players also didn't want to spend so many days in Knoxville without a game scheduled and with an upset Summitt if they didn't play well Thursday.
"That is very, very crucial that we played well tonight and at least leave coach a little bit pleased before we hit this 10-day break," Hornbuckle said. "But the 10 days whether it's going to be tough or whether we didn't make it as bad for ourselves it's great preparation time and we're going to use that to our advantage. I think we kind of set the tone for how we're going to start off our break."