Parker dunks in win over WVU

Candace Parker dunked, Alexis Hornbuckle found her shooting touch, and Pat Summitt will now end her early season substitution experiments. The dunk wasn't without controversy, and the bench surrendered a huge chunk of scoring, but Tennessee got its 10th win of the season Wednesday, 66-51, over West Virginia.

Tennessee, 10-1, got off to a tremendous start with outside shooting and interior scoring. When Candace Parker intercepted an in-bounds pass, spun and took off down court, the crowd sensed a dunk was coming, and Parker delivered with a resounding one-handed slam. She popped her jersey – hooking her thumbs on the sides and presenting the Tennessee – as she headed back down court. That gave the Lady Vols a 20-4 lead over the Mountaineers at the 12:54 mark of the first half.

But while the crowd of 7,989 roared – it was the loudest yet for a Parker dunk – the trio of officials, Sally Bell, John Morningstar and Laura Morris, was convening near the scorer's table. Parker was whistled for a technical, and the cheering was replaced by thunderous boos.

West Virginia's LaQuita Owens made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 20-5. After the game coach Pat Summitt took the blame for the technical.

"I'll have to take total blame for that because actually John Morningstar said that's a new rule," Summitt said. "He wasn't necessarily fond of it, but it was a new rule. When we watched the video (of officiating points of emphasis for this season) somewhere along the way coach Summitt missed that and so did my entire staff. We obviously watched the officiating tape. I know Candace dunked the first time, and she pulled the Tennessee up. Nothing happened in that game so maybe they were just being a little lenient at that particular time. But now we understand."

A technical on a player usually means a trip to the bench to sit with Summitt, but Parker remained in the game, a clear indication that the coach wasn't upset with the player.

"If I didn't know the rule maybe she should have subbed for me or I should have subbed for her," Summitt said with self-deprecating humor. "I was the one at fault."

The technical didn't hurt Tennessee's momentum. Parker responded with an and-one layup and pushed the lead to 23-5. Another Parker layup at the 9:03 mark pushed Tennessee's lead to 27-7.

But then Summitt substituted liberally, and the offense lost its cohesiveness. West Virginia cut well into the lead – thanks to missed shots and missed free throws by the Lady Vols – and only trailed by nine at halftime, 32-23. Tennessee only mustered five points in nine minutes and Summitt put Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle back in, despite the fact they both had two fouls, to try to get the offense back on course.

"I don't think there's any question that we lost our momentum when we substituted," Summitt said. "At that particular point I think we scored just one point in about probably a nine- to 10-minute span. And they were on like a 16, 17-point run."

Summitt lauded the play of the starters but clearly indicated she would start making fewer substitutions, at least in terms of how many fresh faces would be put on the floor at the same time.

"I think for the most part we have to be pleased with our starters and how they got us out to a great start," Summitt said. "I was a little disappointed with our bench play, very sporadic. I thought when we substituted we lost some rhythm offensively and just were not in sync. That's something I think as a coaching staff you have to experiment with early. But as I told them when we went to our bench I thought we a lot of times had several lapses, and just not quite as efficient as we needed to be."

With 11 games now played how long does the substitution experiment last?

"I think the experiment is over," Summitt said. "This has been at least four games that I haven't been pleased. I probably could say five games out of our 11 that our bench has come in at times, and our play has really kind of hit the wall. It doesn't mean that it's all five players, but when you're pressing like we're pressing or running like we want to run, one person that is not inspired to do that or is not in position to do that can really break your momentum.

"And so I think rather than substitute two or three people we may have to substitute one at a time and really be a little more stingy with what we want to do offensively as far as our starting five."

No. 5 Tennessee was led by Parker with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Hornbuckle had 18 points and hit 4-6 from behind the arc, a career high from three-point range. Nicky Anosike pulled down nine boards for Tennessee, including six on the offensive glass. Hornbuckle added five boards, all on defense. West Virginia, 7-5, was led by Ranisha White with 16 points and Olayinka Sanni with 10 points.

The Lady Vols towered over the Mountaineers in the paint so coach Mike Carey opted to use a lot of zone looks to try to counter Tennessee's size.

"I thought at times against the zone we forced passes," Summitt said. "We had some great looks. When we started reversing the ball against the zone, I thought we got some really good looks. We started out the game passing and really getting a lot of good touches, a lot of open looks. I thought, again, went to the bench we were really not as sharp. I thought in the second half we did a much better job with our ball movement. Late in the game we had some sloppy, ill-advised passes and decision-making. But I think we're getting better in the half court with that."

Hornbuckle stepped up in the half-court two days after Summitt said the team needed more scoring from the two position. Hornbuckle was asked in the post-game press conference if she was looking to take more shots.

"I might have wanted to play one of the better games that I've played yet," Hornbuckle said. "I won't say that I was mindful of taking more shots. I just wanted to play a lot better than I have been. Coach talked to me at shoot-around and said, ‘I need you to step up. I need you to be more aggressive. I need you to be a little more offensive-minded.'

"So in a way, yes (but) not like I came down said, ‘Oh, I'm shooting the ball every time I touch the ball.' "

Parker, who scored off a nifty pass from Hornbuckle with a catch-and-shoot, said getting points from the wing spot, is essential for the team. And Parker and Hornbuckle in a post-game press conference is a show in itself with the each player riffing off the other.

"It's huge for us," Parker said of Hornbuckle's points. "Lex came in and brought it today. I was really proud of how she stepped out and showed her versatility."

"I appreciate it," Hornbuckle said. "No problem Lex," Parker said.

"She had an assist to me, which was nice," said Parker, which brought laughter from Hornbuckle. "She played really well. Hit every shot imaginable. I think that's what we need. She's capable of doing that every night."

Hornbuckle, who earlier had tried to downplay playing West Virginia, acknowledged that her stellar performance against a school in her home state was special.

"It does make it a little more special," Hornbuckle said. "I told the girls in one of our huddles before the game: ‘Ladies, let's just please play well. I want to go home for Christmas. I won't be able to show my face if we play bad or lose so can we please just make this a good Christmas for me.' "

The team has one more game before the Christmas break – Tennessee takes on Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va., on Friday at 5 p.m. (ESPNU) – and Summitt will give the players the day off Thursday from the practice court for travel.

Wednesday's outcome was never in doubt, but the team will likely want a better showing against the Lady Monarchs before heading into the holiday break. One place to start will be getting Sidney Spencer back on her game. She hit a 15-footer and a 19-footer in the first half for her four points and then was quiet the rest of the game with only three more shot attempts. Spencer has been a go-to player for Tennessee this season and leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage. She attempted one three against West Virginia and missed it.

"Sidney didn't work hard enough to get a lot of her shots," Summitt said. "It wasn't like they were keying on her. I thought she let her defense affect her offense. She's the kind of player you don't go from playing the way you played at Texas against an aggressive, tough man-to-man getting good looks throughout the game and then come in and play (like that) against a zone.

"I didn't think she was aggressive enough. I thought she stood a lot. Some of that in the first half could have been lack of quick ball movement, but she has to understand her role, and she's got to get herself open and work for good shots even if that means she has to be a little more creative off the dribble, which she's been really strong with her dribble drives and her step-back move. I just didn't think she was as aggressive tonight as she needed to be at either end of the floor. Once you establish yourself in the role that Sidney's in, there's no going back."

West Virginia's zone did disrupt Tennessee at times.

"It did in the beginning," Hornbuckle said. "As soon as they hit the zone instead of thinking get inside, attack the baseline, we were thinking, ‘OK, now we can shoot.' The wrong thought. They were giving us options, but we were overlooking them. We were over-thinking. As soon as we took a timeout, coach just calmed us down and said, ‘Look, get inside whether it's by penetration or post entry. Attack the baseline. It'll be as easy as playing against a man to man.' As soon as we started doing that it was like the game started becoming easier, and everything was flowing."

Carey said he had no choice but to resort to a zone defense.

"We usually play mostly man, but we couldn't match up with them, so we did play zone more than we had been," he said. "We had played very little zone this year. That probably did catch them I don't want to say by surprise, but they probably were looking for us to play a little bit more man-to-man.

"But their size, they kept kicking it inside. There were times we would be fronting the post, and they would just kick it straight from the top down in and she'd jump up and catch it – one of their post players – and score. I had 6'3 down there a lot of times against 5'8, 5'9 and to me, that was the difference, their inside game."

Sanni, who was the tallest Mountaineer at 6'2, said she tried to follow Carey's instructions but overcoming Tennessee's height was formidable.

"Definitely they had Candace Parker with Anosike it was a challenge because of the height advantage," Sanni said. "But I felt like we tried to do our best with fronting them and coming out and trying to have weak-side (help) with the posts knowing that they had a bigger size in the post. I think we tried to do what coach Carey wanted us … but the way the guards were passing down to them gave us some problems."

Tennessee had 17 assists on 22 baskets with Cait McMahan leading the way with four. The Lady Vols didn't shoot well overall – 43.1 percent for the game – but they got 24 points in the paint.

The Mountaineers were getting in foul trouble trying to guard Tennessee inside, and Sanni had three fouls by halftime. Sanni, whose nickname is Yinka, was 4-6 from the field and was effective when she was on the floor.

"I think everybody saw when Yinka was in the game she can compete inside," Carey said. "We've just got to get a little smarter with fouling. Move the ball a little bit better and free her up. I think a lot of people saw she can compete against that talent inside. She's just got to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble, moving her feet and staying in the game longer."

White picked up considerable slack off the bench – she was 7-11 from the field – and Owens didn't shoot well but did pull down nine boards. West Virginia won the battle of the boards, 38-36, but had trouble holding onto the ball with 24 turnovers. Tennessee got 34 of its 66 points off of turnovers.

In his opening remarks post-game Carey lamented the miscues, but he also gave a nod to Tennessee and its fans.

"First of all I would like to say the atmosphere here is great," he said. "I wish we had it in West Virginia. Tennessee has a great team, a great program. We had an opportunity to come down here and play them. If we could cut down on the turnovers – had way too many turnovers – and we shot 1-11 from the three ... .

"They are just so big. When Yinka and Chakhia Cole got in foul trouble it really hurt us with their size. They kept coming off the bench with 6'2, with 6'3. Because of that we had to sag in so much, and it left their perimeter players wide open for some threes, and they hit them. We didn't hit them on the other side."

Carey also noted the damage done by a player from West Virginia wearing orange and white.

"I knew we'd bring it out in her," said Carey of Hornbuckle. "Give her credit. She hit those shots. She's a great player. We would have loved to have her at West Virginia. I wish she would've hit those shots before our game and after our game, not during our game. A lot of those shots were wide open because of their inside presence. Give her credit. She stepped up and hit the shots."

Summitt didn't hesitate to also note the effect Hornbuckle scoring has overall for the team.

"I was very pleased with Alexis," Summitt said. "I just think that from the two guard position she has to be a player at her position just like we expect Sidney to be at the three or Candace to be inside. Bottom line is we've got to have good offensive balance.

"She's been really good at times and then she's had games that I didn't think she really took the kind of shots she needed to take to be able to make shots. I thought she had great shot selection, just to simplify the game a little bit more. She can do a lot on board play and off of her defense as well. If she can play and put up numbers for us and have the kind of efficiency that she had tonight then we're a much better basketball team."

Tennessee will also be much better if Summitt can find some substitutions patterns that don't take the team out of sync.

But Parker was at her diplomatic best post-game and handled with ease a question about the bench's deficiencies.

"I think that's a tough question because honestly sometimes you're going to have off days," Parker said. "As starters sometimes we don't get our team off to the best start. I think that's why we're a team. The starters compensated for that today. We got us off to a great start and then came back in and brought it back up. Against Texas, the bench was why we were ahead. So I think that's how we are and when we both come to play, it's something special."

Tennessee got the lead back to double digits to stay at the 17:26 mark of the second half and pushed it to as much as 21 points late in the game.

Carey had warned his team about Tennessee's fast starts – the Mountaineers weren't able to stop it – but he was proud of his team for battling back.

"We talked about it coming into the game right before we came out and started the game," he said. "Their first 10 minutes they're going to try to give us their best shot. Be ready for that, for pressure, for them to kick it inside and really get the running game going. Then when Parker dunked the ball, I thought ‘Wow, we're in trouble.' The crowd got involved.

"But give our girls a lot of credit. They didn't quit, they kept scrapping, getting on the floor and getting some loose balls. Their size just overwhelmed us at times even when we were on offense trying to set picks and get through them and backdoor and that type of stuff. Our girls did a good job of getting back in the game. I think at one time we were down nine and had some opportunities with the basketball and just couldn't convert."

The Parker dunk was definitely the highlight of the first half. A close second was a Shannon Bobbitt bounce pass between her legs to a trailing Hornbuckle, who was fouled on the way to the basket. She hit one of two free throws to push Tennessee's lead to 32-20 with 2:08 left in the first half. Bobbitt had another steady game at point guard – eight points and 2-4 from behind the arc, two steals, three assists and no turnovers.

Tennessee had 11 steals for the game – Hornbuckle had three and now has at least one in 47 straight games – and it was a Parker steal that led to her dunk.

After the game Parker blamed herself for the technical and said her jersey-popping days are done.

"I didn't know that it was illegal showing emotion," she said. "Rebound. That's what we say when we mess up. We say rebound. That's my fault, but I know now. I didn't know it was illegal to do that. We've played some opponents that have popped their collars against us. I didn't know that that was the rule. It is and I learned from it, and it's not going to happen anymore."

The dunk was Parker's fifth in her career and third of the season. The first two were last March in a first round NCAA tourney game. The last three have been at home in Thompson-Boling Arena. This one brings the dunk full circle in the women's game. The first woman to dunk in college was West Virginia's Georgeann Wells on Dec. 21, 1984, nearly 22 years ago to the day of Wednesday's Tennessee-West Virginia game.

"I didn't know that," said Parker, who was appreciative of the historical tidbit.

"I knew that," said Hornbuckle, who was born in Charleston, West Virginia.

And with that they both smiled. Tennessee has reason to be happy right now. But the Lady Vols know they need to close out the week with a good game in Norfolk.

"We want to continue to play better and to improve in each and every game," Summitt said. "It's always good to be able to go on a break on a positive note and hopefully this team can do that."

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