Shooter confidence = on-court success

Confidence. Alberta Auguste says she has it now. So does Shannon Bobbitt. Sidney Spencer says if you have it, every shot is going in. Alexis Hornbuckle found a horn of plenty of it and became a three-point threat seemingly overnight. The result for the Lady Vols is a cornucopia of shooters.

Coach Pat Summitt used the confidence word several times to explain how Tennessee has now put several players on the floor – besides Sidney Spencer – who are legitimate three-point threats. The timing couldn't have been better. Spencer hasn't made a three-point shot in two games. Shannon Bobbitt has made nine in the same timeframe.

Alberta Auguste made three 3-pointers against Alabama. Alexis Hornbuckle is now making one or two a game after starting off the season with inconsistent performances behind the arc.

The shooters will be needed Monday when No. 3 Tennessee (20-2, 7-0) takes on No. 14 Georgia (19-4, 6-2) at 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2, Lady Vols Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Bulldogs' strategy in Athens last month was to surround Candace Parker – she was doubled and sometimes triple-teamed – and deny her the ball as much as possible.

Spencer should get back on track soon. She watched film with Summitt on Friday to break down what has been happening on the floor.

"Sid's going to need to do a better job of reading the screening action – when we're screening for her really keeping her eyes on her defender and reading pocket, curl, flare," Summitt said. "I think sometimes she gets a little overanxious, and she starts cutting hard to the ball. Just watching tape with her (Friday) I think she saw some things that she can do. And then as I told her, I said when we run certain action and screening action then you've really got to set and use the screen and when we post you up, you've got to be physical in your post-ups."

Hornbuckle has confidence – that word again – in Spencer.

"When Sid wants a shot, she can get it," Hornbuckle said. "I've seen the difference. When she wants to work for a shot, she does what it takes. She reads the defense, she comes off the screen the right way, and she gets her shot off.

"I think this happens with every player. You get frustrated. They're face guarding and you're like, ‘If I'm going to sit here and run like crazy the whole game I'm going to be dead tired. I might not be able to shoot when I get the ball.' But at the same time if she works hard then that opens up everybody else on the floor."

Spencer may have misfired in the past two games but it was just 10 days ago when she scored a career high 26 points against Vanderbilt and was 4-6 behind the arc. For the season she's hitting 47.5 percent (47-99) of her three-pointers.

Before nearly every practice Spencer is on the floor early shooting with the aid of "The Tennessee Gun," an automatic ball feeder that is placed under the basket. The ball chute can be rotated so a player can take shots from all over the floor. The timer can be set so a shooter can work off the dribble – more time between ball feeds – or shoot in rapid-fire succession to work on release time.

It's the same machine Spencer used to work all summer. She also got shooting tips from UT men's player Chris Lofton and worked out with men's player JaJuan Smith.

"It was mainly Chris and JaJuan that were here," said Spencer, who noted their class schedules in the summer were similar so they would end up in the gym at the same time. "JaJuan would come and work out with me one on one and show me drills one on one, and that was very helpful and talking with Chris.

"They were telling me different things about my shot, specifically my step-back move. They discussed that with me and how it wasn't very believable and how to make that more effective. I tried to work out with them and naturally they're quicker and faster and so I think that probably helped. Also, shooting with the ‘Gun.' I just put the times that it would release the ball down to zero so I had to shoot a lot faster."

Spencer used the "Gun" every day with a goal of getting 250 to 300 makes every session by shooting off the dribble, taking threes and working in transition.

"It takes about an hour and 30 minutes," Spencer said. "It's real easy, but you've got to come in and work. If you come in and mess around, you'll be here for two and a half hours and that's no fun. Come in and get it done.

"Hard work does pay off, and repetition does pay off. Those days where you don't want to get in the gym in the summertime because you're tired or it's sunny outside, just coming in and trying to get in 300 shots just really paid off. I'm glad that I've had people to be able to work out with and everyone has that mindset of getting better in the off-season has really helped."

Spencer, whose grandfather, Earl Spencer, played for the N.Y. Knicks, learned her shooting style from him. Earl Spencer's NBA stint was interrupted by his service in the military, and injuries in that line of work ended his sports career. He is not able to travel because of the long-term effects of combat injuries, but Sidney's parents, Janice and Stephen Spencer, have been to every game this season, home and away, except for two.

Earl Spencer, a guard/forward, "was an incredible shooter," said Spencer, who added her father was an excellent rebounder.

Because of Sid Spencer's size she was always put in the post in middle and high schools, but she started to develop range on her own and shot her first three-pointer in competition as a sophomore at Hoover High School in Alabama.

"I've always been dedicated to working on my shooting," Spencer said. "I felt like in high school, I played the four (power forward), and I wanted to be not strictly just an inside presence. I wanted to expand my game. So my coaches started working with me on my outside shooting. I really didn't start shooting threes until I was probably a sophomore in high school. That was probably the first time I took some threes in a game.

"From there I wanted to just build on that and just to be as multidimensional as I possibly could. But coming in my first two years here there were other people that were the scorers on the team. That was their role. My role was different. I came off the bench and I came in, and I rebounded the ball and I could get easy shots like that. But then as people graduate and leave your role changes, and you have to step into roles. Or when people get injured you have to step up into roles. And so that's just kind of how I've evolved."

Spencer also had a summer workout partner on occasion in former Lady Vol Shanna Zolman, a pure shooter with perfect form who holds the school career (266) and single-season (103) three-point records.

"She is strictly a two (wing); I'm just a post that's been turned into this guard," Spencer said. "She has an incredible form; it's a lot better than mine, and she's more consistent that's for sure. She came back this summer and worked out with me, and she told me that I had really improved.

"I shoot sort of like an old school men's player I think. The ball is over the top of my head. That was just how I was taught to shoot. My grandfather played in the NBA, and I shoot a lot like him and then my dad shoots like that, too."

Spencer was able to smile wryly about her accuracy of late from behind the arc.

"In the last three games it's been like 75 percent or like 20 percent," Spencer said. "I haven't really been consistent. I think it's just being confident, just taking good shots and not trying to force anything. Confidence is amazing. If you know you're going to make your shot, it doesn't matter how your feet are or where your shoulders are when you shoot it, it's going to go in. I think confidence is really big."

Spencer knows when she releases the ball if it's going in or not.

"You can tell if I go in to rebound," she said. "The coaches are always telling me, ‘Shoot first, rebound second.' I think sometimes when I shoot it I know it's off and so I'm immediately going to rebound. You can watch the way I shoot if I go immediately to rebound. I pretty much know if it's going in. I'll hesitate (if it's going in). You'll watch me hesitate, and then I'll go rebound. You can tell."

Auguste has found that amazing attribute known as confidence. She had it when the season began, lost it somewhere down the road and her offense unraveled. She arrived at Tennessee from Central Florida Community College, where she averaged 23.6 points a game last season. Nobody was looking for similar numbers as a Lady Vol, but her offensive slump wasn't expected either.

She finally broke out of it against Alabama and has now scored in double figures in back-to-back games.

"I think she lost some confidence," Summitt said. "I think you do. You're coming out of an environment with her junior college experience where you're averaging over 20 points a game. As I told her, the reins are a little bit different here because you aren't always capable with our schedule of playing through minutes, what I would call tough minutes of play. With our schedule we're in tight situations so the reins are a little bit tighter."

But when Summitt could she let Auguste play through some miscues. She also watched film with her one-on-one on the plane en route to Tuscaloosa last weekend and told her that she had confidence in her. The result was a breakout offensive game for Auguste.

"Confidence basically," Auguste said when asked what the difference was in the Alabama game. "I had a lot of confidence. Last couple of games (before Bama) I didn't have confidence. I was thinking more than playing. It's just a feeling. Sometimes when I go out there I try to do too much, and not play the way coach expects me to play. But this game I actually played basketball, played her style. We talked on the plane about what she wants me to do and what I'm capable of doing. It was helpful just talking to her and her showing me my mistakes and the things I have to work on to become a better player."

So what happened along way from the beginning of the season to the Alabama game?

"I lost confidence. I don't know how, but I just lost it," Auguste said. "Now I'm getting it back, and I know how important I am to this team. Just have to be mature and step up to the plate and help the team out.

"It was stressful, scoring a lot in juco and then coming here. I didn't think I was going to score 30 points a game having Candace and Alexis Hornbuckle and Sidney Spencer. I pretty much have to know my role and that's defense like coach told me, but she said my offense is going to come. Just be relaxed, let it come to you. That's one thing I have to learn."

Summitt hasn't hesitated lately to insert Auguste in a game, especially when she wants an athletic and rangy player who can help Hornbuckle and Bobbitt disrupt an opponent's perimeter game. But Summitt has made it clear that Auguste is also to look to score without sacrificing effort on defense and on the boards.

"With her it's more about being a solid defender and a rebounder," Summitt said. "I think her dribble drives and pull-ups, that's her bread and butter, that's where she needs to go to on the offensive end."

The sit-down session with Summitt helped Auguste clarify what she should be doing on the court, and the film gave her visual confirmation of what was not working.

"My role is to basically come out there on defense and help the team out in any errors that they are making," Auguste said. "I sit on the bench and I watch certain things and coaches point out to me when I go out there this is what I need to do. Don't make the same mistakes they're making. So defense and rebounding are the main keys for me to help this team."

As far as scoring, "I'm more of a creator, driving to the basket, getting everyone else involved," she said. "Coach is always telling me to look for my shot first, but sometimes I get caught up looking down low feeding the post or passing up my shot to get somebody else a shot."

The film session showed her what she wasn't seeing in live action on the floor.

"I felt like I was rushing," Auguste said. "That's another thing coach pointed out to me. Sometimes I get in a game she thinks I'll go out there and try to make my offense happen and go out there and shoot. Sometimes I didn't feel that way but just watching it on tape I see what she's talking about."

The game tapes also showed how much better the Lady Vols are as a team when players emphasize ball movement, especially reversing the ball. In some games Auguste watched the ball was getting stuck on one side of the court.

"I was into the flow; I reversed it," Auguste said of the Alabama game. "That's something she also talked to me about – reversing the ball and if we can't get a shot that's when I can go ahead and create and do what I'm capable of doing. That's when I felt it. It brought my confidence back actually."

Confidence. Bobbitt has plenty, too. But she first had to make the gargantuan leap from junior college to starting point guard at Tennessee for Summitt.

"With Shannon I've wanted her to be more aggressive offensively," Summitt said. "I think it took her awhile to really get into the mindset of being a scorer and not just a point guard. She was a scorer at Trinity Valley, but I think when she came here she had so much information – it was information overload because she had to learn all new offenses, learn our defense, our terminology and a lot of times she was just thinking about, ‘What play am I going to run?' Who do I need to get the ball to?' as opposed to really being aggressive with her own game.

"Now I think she's comfortable. She knows the sets, and she knows our defensive philosophy and schemes. So I think that's really helped her."

Bobbitt also has scored in double figures – and hit nine three-pointers (9-15) – in the past two games against Alabama and South Carolina.

"She's so little she just kind of runs and hides," Hornbuckle said.

Bobbitt said as much after the Bama game.

"I was being funny," the 5'2 Bobbitt said. "I'm so small. When we played against Alabama, they would all just shift to one side and it always kept me open on the opposite side. My teammates found me. I took advantage. I had an open shot, and I took the three ball."

The Lady Vols have an additional three-point threat in Hornbuckle. She sat down with Summitt after the UConn game, saw her off-balance approach to the basket and corrected it. The results have been remarkable. Hornbuckle now has a solid outside shot to complement her slashing and dribble drives. She always was irreplaceable on defense in terms of tone-setter, pressure, deflections and steals. Now she has a complementary offensive game.

Hornbuckle also joined some select company this week. Her career numbers include 800+points (805); 450+ rebounds (450); 300+assists (313); 225+ steals (229); and 45+ blocks (46). The only other players in Lady Vol history to hit those numbers in all five categories were Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings.

"She's had her best year," Summitt said. "No question about that."

Hornbuckle said the difference on offense was as simple as it seemed: shooting mechanics.

"I think it is," Hornbuckle said. "It's recognition. I'm the type of person if I see it, you can tell me, but if I don't see it, it's harder for me to correct it. I have to see, ‘OK, I went in there like this. Now I need to go in here and do this step, get balanced, get my shoulders square.'

"Even if you're fading away you can still be square to the basket and that took awhile for me to understand because I was like, ‘It's a fadeaway.' But if your body is facing the rim and you're still going sideways it's a harder shot, but you have a better chance of it going in instead of coming over one shoulder and throwing something up. It's just easy, just getting in there watching film."

And, of course, confidence. Which she now has when she squares up to shoot a three-pointer.

"It was just getting in the gym, repetition," Hornbuckle said. "In high school it was no thing for me to come and shoot a three. I believed every one was going in. If you have confidence, and you already know how to shoot it's going to help you out. I think it was a lack of confidence. I wasn't comfortable coming down and shooting threes. I felt like that wasn't my role.

"I'm the type of person I'll do whatever it takes for the team and coach said, ‘We need you to be a threat from not only penetrating but outside jumpers, not free throw line, I'm talking about people being able to guard you from the arc on in.' "

A coach's request + confidence = success.

That formula is incredibly simplistic but so far it's been a very effective one for this team. And on a day when Spencer struggled the Lady Vols scored nine three-pointers – six from Bobbitt and three from Auguste. A month ago that would not have seemed possible.

"I was so proud because on a day it felt like there was a lid over the rim and here comes Shannon hitting all those baseline threes and just shooting with confidence," Spencer said. "Sometimes I find I'm telling her, ‘You're hesitating. Just shoot the ball.' So just to have her shoot with confidence and not thinking twice.

"And then Bird coming in and shooting with confidence and not thinking twice. That's great that they feel they have that confidence. I'm telling you that confidence goes a long way. I'm really proud of them, and I hope they can build on it. I think it's a great time of the season for this to be happening, and I just hope they can build on it. I like that we're slowing getting better."

ON TAP: Georgia and Tennessee don't play until Monday. The rest of the SEC plays Sunday in the following matchups: Alabama at Vanderbilt; Auburn at Mississippi State; Florida at Kentucky; LSU at South Carolina; Ole Miss at Arkansas.


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