"We had a little adversity. Imagine that? Welcome to SEC basketball," coach Pat Summitt said on the post-game radio show before adding that at times the game looked like SEC football or perhaps wrestling.
No. 4 Tennessee (16-1, 3-0) survived, 52-41, at Georgia by playing defense, getting on the offensive glass and taking care of the basketball. No. 15 Georgia (14-4, 2-2) scored the fewest number of points since losing 48-31 to Berry on Feb. 15, 1974.
Tennessee shot 39.6 percent – Parker was 4-13, Spencer was 2-6, and Shannon Bobbitt was 1-9 – but Georgia only connected at a clip of 31.9 percent. Both teams attempted 14 three-pointers. Tennessee made four (28.6 percent); Georgia made one (7.1 percent). Tennessee also struggled from the free throw line - 6-13 for 46.2 percent. Georgia was 10-10 from the stripe.
The offense Sunday for the Lady Vols came from Hornbuckle and Anosike, who both scored 14 points and who both had been struggling from the field of late. It was some timely production because the Lady Vols' leading scorers, Parker and Spencer, weren't getting many looks at the basket. Parker finished with 10 points and didn't get her first points until hitting two free throws at the 1:39 mark of the first half. Her first field goal came on a drive to the basket at the 12:15 mark of the second half.
But Anosike was 6-9 from the field and Hornbuckle connected on 6 of 11 shots, including 2-3 from behind the arc. Hornbuckle got her first six points on fast-break baskets in the first half after a steal – she had three and now has at least one in 53 consecutives games – and on two sweet feeds from Bobbitt.
Both of Bobbitt's assists to Hornbuckle came after Bobbitt stole the ball. Bobbitt first uncorked a hesitation move to get past one defender in the paint and when another defender blocked her path, Bobbitt found a trailing and wide-open Hornbuckle in the lane. The second assist came with a full speed bounce pass between the legs to Hornbuckle, who was running just behind Bobbitt.
Hornbuckle added five rebounds and two blocks – including one on Georgia's Tasha Humphrey – to her stat line.
"She just elevated her game," Summitt said post-game on Fox Sports Net.
Hornbuckle said in her interview with Fox Sports that Summitt had told her that defenders needed to respect her total game and that meant becoming an outside shooting threat.
Tennessee finished with 12 steals – Bobbitt led the team with five – and just 13 turnovers. Georgia had 19 turnovers and just five steals.
Georgia was led by Christy Marshall, who scored 12 points off the bench. Tennessee got bench help from Alex Fuller, who was the leading rebounder with eight boards – split evenly on the offensive and defensive end – and she got a basket from an offensive board on a missed three-pointer by Parker.
"She did a great job on the boards," Summitt said to Mickey Dearstone on the post-game radio show. "Alex is a very dependable player."
Overall Georgia out-rebounded Tennessee, 36-33, with Georgia getting eight dead-ball boards to two for Tennessee. But 18 of the Lady Vols' boards came on the offensive end and either resulted in a basket or kept the ball out of Georgia's hands to cut down on fast-break chances.
Anosike had seven boards and ended the game with 502 career rebounds. She is the 33rd Lady Vol all-time to hit the 500 mark. Spencer had four rebounds and now has 403 for her career, becoming just the fifth Lady Vol to collect at least 400 rebounds and 100 three-pointers. She joins Kara Lawson, Tamika Catchings, Abby Conklin and Tasha Butts.
Anosike was selected the player of the game and told Dearstone that she was able to put together a complete game on both ends of the floor. Anosike owned the offensive glass in the closing minutes of the game, and after grabbing one rebound on a long carom, she passed out to Bobbitt and told her to slow down. At that point Tennessee was in position to take care of the ball and run out the clock.
"They were leaving me alone on the block," Anosike said.
Georgia's strategy was to double and triple team Parker and chase Spencer all over the floor. Parker found Anosike under the basket and Cait McMahan on the perimeter. McMahan nailed her sole shot attempt, a three-pointer, to give Tennessee a 25-16 lead with 55 seconds left in the first half. Georgia's Ashley Houts hit a layup with 32 seconds left to send the teams into the locker room at halftime with a 25-18 score.
The 25 first-half points tied the fewest by UT this season – matching the output at North Carolina, where Tennessee has lost for the only time this season.
But Tennessee responded this time with defense and board play and left Georgia coach Andy Landers clearly frustrated. He got a technical foul for tossing a rolled-up sheet of paper in the air after not getting a foul call on the sideline in front of his bench. At the end of the game, he peeled off early in the handshake line, acknowledged the rest of Tennessee's team with a wave and turned to leave the floor.
"It's hard to fathom how and why we do some things," Landers said.
Humphrey, Georgia's All-American player, was held to eight points on 3-11 shooting. Parker, Anosike and Fuller all took turns guarding her.
The teams were only whistled for 25 total fouls – 18 for Tennessee and 17 for Georgia – because the officials were allowing a lot of contact, especially in the paint, and the perimeter scramble for loose balls often looked like fumble recovery drills.
Anosike said on the post-game show that Summitt had warned the team that the game likely would be rough.
"It was hard for us to get into any kind of rhythm," Summitt told Dearstone. "The physicality of this game was unlike any we played this year."
Summitt said the North Carolina game was similar in terms of physical play. However in this case the Lady Vols responded and summoned a team effort to overcome any obstacles.
"You can't cry about anything here," Hornbuckle told Fox of the physical play.
And although the Lady Vols were pleased with the outcome – Summitt said the win could put Tennessee in the "driver's seat" in the SEC regular season race – Hornbuckle said the team had plenty of things to work on in practice.
That will have to wait until Tuesday. Summitt is giving the team off Monday and since school is out for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the players won't have to go to class either.
The whirlpool might be a good place to spend the day.