Rivalry Week: Tennessee vs. Georgia

It's only been three weeks since Tennessee and Georgia played so both teams know each other's personnel and have pored over the scouting reports. Not that is much matters anyway. When the Lady Vols and Lady Bulldogs meet on the court it's usually a brawl between border state rivals.

"Every time we play Georgia it's a physical game," sophomore forward Candace Parker said. "I'm just ready to adjust to whatever they do during the course of the game. They're probably going to give us different looks because I feel like we handled it pretty well how they defended us last time. So get focused on the game and not worry about all that stuff."

That stuff refers to the double and triple teams that Parker was surrounded by Jan. 14 in Athens, where the Lady Vols gutted out a 52-41 win. Parker ended up with 10 points but only got off six shots. She had a game-high four assists by finding open teammates.

Georgia could deploy the same defense again: Cover Parker and make someone else win the game. It hasn't worked yet. Tennessee's two losses came at the hands of Duke, which jumped out to a huge lead, and North Carolina, which didn't stop Parker but nobody else ever got on track.

"It wouldn't surprise me," coach Pat Summitt said of the Lady Bulldogs smothering and swarming Parker again. Obviously it was a close game, and they had some success with it. I think we're better prepared to handle it now, because we've seen it so much.

"You look at the Alabama game. She scores nine points, but she got a lot of other players good shots. She got (Shannon) Bobbitt some threes throwing out of double teams. I was surprised myself (at Georgia) how many times they had three people on her. It's interesting philosophically. Do you say, ‘Parker's not going to beat us. Somebody else is. Or are we going to guard her straight up?' We usually know that pretty early in a game. We've got her in the high post more. It's hard to double team her up there."

No. 3 Tennessee (20-2, 7-0) and No. 9 Georgia (19-4, 6-2) tip off Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2, Lady Vols Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena as part of "Rivalry Week."

The two teams certainly qualify as rivals. This will be the 52nd meeting between the programs and even the underclassmen recognize how much this game matters to the coaching staff and not just because it's an SEC matchup.

Summitt is expected to stay with her starters: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 point guard, No. 00 (8.0 points per game, 1.3 rebounds per game, 3.1 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (9.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.4 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (12.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (19.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (7.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

Georgia coach Andy Landers is expected to start: Ashley Houts, 5'6 freshman guard, No. 1 (8.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg), SEC Freshman of the Week on Jan. 22 – her third time – after playing 40 minutes and averaging 15 points and four assists in wins over Vanderbilt and Florida State; Janese Hardrick, 5'6 senior guard, No. 14 (9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg), three-point threat, with two more threes will rank No. 6 on school career list, has started every SEC game this season; Cori Chambers, 5'9 senior guard/forward, No. 21 (13.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg), has 1,374 career points, 18th place so far on the school's all-time list, only player to start every game this season; Tasha Humphrey, 6'3 junior forward, No. 34 (15.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg), has 1,536 career points, 13th place so far on list, was SEC Player of the Week last week after averaging 25.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in wins over Ole Miss and Florida; and Megan Darrah 6'3 junior forward, No. 24 (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), gives Georgia another three-point threat in the lineup, started all 32 games last season.

Key players off the bench for Georgia include sometimes starter Rebecca Rowsey, a 6'3 junior forward, and Angel Robinson, a 6'5 redshirt freshman forward. In the first game 6'1 freshman guard Christy Marshall scored 12 points off the bench.

Tennessee is undefeated in conference play and alone in first place. Georgia is coming off a big win over LSU.

"I think it got our attention, the fact that Georgia beat them, and we had a tough game at Georgia," Summitt said. "I definitely feel like they're playing with a lot of confidence."

Landers seems to feel the same way.

"I believe we're on our way up," Landers said. "Defensively, we've been very good lately, even going back a couple of weeks. Offensively, we're not clicking like I know that we can or like we will, but I think that we're moving in that direction. This week holds a lot of promise in that regard. I think we can get a lot better."

Georgia is getting more scoring of late out of Humphrey, a First Team All-SEC player last season, who is putting up more points and grabbing more boards.

"She knows her capabilities and also I think she's realizing that her team needs her to be the leader," Hornbuckle said. "She's playing well. Inside-out, it's hard to guard somebody that body frame who is that multidimensional."

Hornbuckle and Humphrey are friends and correspond frequently, but the conversations aren't usually about basketball.

"It's our lives, but it's not everything," said Hornbuckle, who also counts LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Erica White and Maryland's Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood and Crystal Langhorne among her friends because they are in the same college class and played against and with each other while in high school.

Tennessee backup freshman point guard Cait McMahan, who has been a solid performer off the bench, knows Houts well from their summer playing days.

"We've been battling out since AAU," McMahan said. "Her AAU team and my AAU team always butted heads. We know each other. We talk off the court and stuff. I think she's doing a great job coming in as a freshman doing her thing for Georgia. Obviously her role is way different than my role. It's going to be a good competition throughout the next four years for both of us."

McMahan is still recovering from a bone bruise to her right knee that she suffered last fall. Doing anything basketball out of practice is prohibited – she can't do any shooting on her own, for example, to save wear and tear on her knee – but she is playing 15.1 minutes a game and after starting off the season with too many turnovers she has her assist to turnover ratio at 1:1 with total numbers of 29 and 28, respectively.

She still remembers two turnovers in the Georgia game – wing passes, one of which went right to Houts.

"I feel like I've improved on my turnover ratio," McMahan said. "I know Georgia game I had two bad turnovers, which still haunt me at night. I don't know what was going on that day. I don't throw the ball away as much as I did, but that comes along with being a freshman. That's probably what I'm doing better. What I could do better is getting back probably. Coach hounds me about that and just being more aggressive on defense."

The last game at Georgia was a defensive one with both teams scrapping for every point. Georgia's 41 points was its lowest total since 1974 and the lowest ever under Landers. Hornbuckle and Anosike scored 14 points each on a day when Parker and Spencer were limited to 12 total shots.

Tennessee has found more scorers, including Alex Fuller, who has always been steady, and Alberta Auguste and Bobbitt. The production was timely with Parker and Spencer becoming every defense's focal points.

"They're drawing more attention than anyone else on the floor," Summitt said. "That shouldn't come as a great surprise to us, but at the same time I think we've got a good supporting cast. That's where I told Lex she's got to be more aggressive off the dribble. Alex and Nicky have got to score points. Very seldom are they going to ever be double-teamed. They're going to be able to play straight up against someone. It helps to get the supporting cast confident, aggressive, and I do think we're more assertive in those positions now."

If Tennessee gets scoring from at least three other positions on the floor then the opponent will have to limit the double and triple teams on Parker. So far nobody has stopped her one on one. The problem is she rarely sees that defensive setup anymore.

"Very seldom does she get a one-on-one situation," Summitt said. "She gets a one on two and a one on three more frequently than a one on one. But I think, too, she's going to have to play at the high post, not shoot any fadeaways, get to the basket some from there. She's a scorer. She'll figure out a way to score."

Parker also has to figure out ways to handle the constant contact – a lot of which goes uncalled – that includes pushes, elbows and forearms to the body.

When asked about working on adjusting to the physical play that goes un-whistled, Parker took a deep breath and said, "Ongoing. It's an ongoing thing that I need to work on. It's something that has been a part of my career ever since I played basketball. Teams have gotten physical. Different refs call different games. Some let you play, and some really crack down and call fouls. Honestly you've just got to play through it. It's adversity, and you've got to play smart and protect yourself. That's key. You don't want to get hurt but try not to worry about it."

When in her career did she realize she was going to get pounded on nearly every possession?

"I was four. My brothers double-teamed me," Parker deadpanned. "No, I was young, probably in junior high, seventh, eighth grade was when teams started doing that. Just get physical, push. I've always been taller and bigger, and real athletic. In high school I was really thin. I used to get pushed around a lot. I feel a lot stronger. International experience, you get stronger, but it's one on one.

"I tease with my brother and I'm like I wish college would have defensive three seconds because then people couldn't stand in the lane. International is one on one; you have to play everybody straight up, because everybody is capable of scoring. It's cool. You deal with it. There're advantages to college as well."

From Summitt's vantage point on the sideline her star forward is getting hit a lot. But she has been pleased with how Parker has handled it for the most part.

"I think Candace has a lot of composure," Summitt said. "I told her you play and I'll have to be the one to point out how you're being defended. (Thursday) night for example we start out, she can't make a cut without having a forearm and a body just thrown into her body. It was obvious. I addressed that early on.

"I just thought there was a lot of elbowing and a lot of shots to the body off the ball. I think Candace knows that she's a target for every team that we play and for the most part she's pretty much kept her composure. That probably goes back to playing the international game. They just beat you on every cut. That's the international game – dirty, elbow, forearms."

Parker reminds herself that the opponent wants to get her upset and off her game.

"You have to remember that their main goal is to do that to you so if you react and you get frustrated then they kind of won," Parker said. "I just play with it. Purposely trying to hurt me or purposely try to hurt one of my teammates, yeah. But if it's within the game and it's just physical then all right you just have to play through it. Throughout your career you run into players like that but hopefully the coaches and the referees will get a hold of the game."

Parker's teammates keep an eye on her, too, and are always there to help her up or walk with her away from any potential face-off. It's easy to understand why Parker would get upset. The collisions and slaps to her body can be heard courtside. All too often no whistle blows.

"It's aggravating; it's frustrating," Hornbuckle said. "But at the same time it just helps you build a little stronger character. You realize they want you to boil over, they want you to react, they want you to get a technical or get outside of your game and get in your head. I think she's done a great job of just calming herself down, walking away, whatever she needs to do to get her head right and realize, ‘OK, my team needs me more than me getting upset.' "

The first game with Georgia was the most physical game that Tennessee had played since the matchup with North Carolina in early December. The Lady Vols anticipate it now and know they have to match it the entire game.

"I think we'll be more prepared for the physical-ness," Hornbuckle said. "It was consistent for the whole 40 minutes. Some teams bring the heat, and it's off and on. It's like they were consistent with it. If you were cutting through the lane you were guaranteed to get bumped off your cut. You can't complain; you just have to play. You have to match that intensity.

"We did that when we first came out, and it's like we dropped off. They came up with more intensity than we had, which caused their run. I think that if we lower our shields than obviously we'll be in a battle. Once you get it one time, you're kind of prepared the next time. You're better prepared."

The strategy with Parker could be to move her in and out of the lane. She will post on the high and low blocks and move out to the perimeter on some possessions.

"She's the type of player she can go inside or out," Hornbuckle said. "So if they're pushing her off the block, it's no big deal for her to turn and face up. But at the same time there's going to be a possession where they might not push her as hard and they might forget to body her up. She's going to get great post position. I think since she's able to go inside and out, that helps her out. She's not limited just because it's so tough inside or just because she's getting double-teamed."

Summitt wants Parker to be a dominant inside player. Once she can get a defender sealed on the low block she is basically unstoppable. But Parker's versatility also can be exploited.

"I want Candace to have an inside presence," Summitt said. "How much we post her it will vary with the game and who we're playing and what kind of defensive schemes they have. If they're going to play her one on one, we're putting her there. If they're going to double team her then we may bring her to the high post or play her on the perimeter."

The object of all this attention is used to it. As always her remarks include her teammates.

"We knew coming into this year that teams are going to try different things and different looks and I feel like the only two teams that have been successful in what they've done is Duke and North Carolina," Parker said. "I feel like it's pick your poison. We have other people who are going to step up if you take one option away."

Hornbuckle is one of those people. So is Auguste, whose nickname is Bird, and Bobbitt. Shutting down or limiting Parker and Spencer don't mean the opposing team will prevail on the scoreboard. Parker has seen just about every defensive scheme out there.

"Candace really has been guarded differently whether it's been physical play, double teaming, triple teaming," Hornbuckle said. "They're denying Sid the ball. But most people have been denying Sid the ball all season with the exception of when we went to Florida. Her first four shots were wide open.

"But most people have been denying her the ball, and it's just a matter of how hard she's going to work. Because even though she might make a hard cut and not get the ball, now somebody else is open. Now Bird's open. Now Shannon's open.

"And for Candace it's just a matter of maybe pulling her off the blocks, pulling out the distraction and then making her slice to get back to the block. I think that we recognize that and whether it's getting it into them and them kicking it out and getting it right back or them kicking it out and somebody else taking a shot and now they're like, ‘OK, well we can't double team. Now we can't deny Sid as hard because Shannon's over here shooting the lights out of the gym.' "

In other words Tennessee is by no means a one-woman team. Just ask the supposed one.

"There's no way," Parker said. "Our team is not such where if you shut down one player then you can't operate. We operate on different cylinders. Everybody comes into their own. In different games we have a lot of different weapons. For them to say that … obviously at the beginning of the year we were receiving a lot of criticism concerning this may be one of the least talented teams, that's not the case. We're working hard every day to get better. We're not a one-woman team."

Parker received a game ball last Thursday evening before tipoff to commemorate her reaching 1,000 career points against Alabama. She knew about the presentation but didn't mention it to anyone. As Parker walked towards center court to meet up with Summitt, her teammates headed to the tunnel for introductions. As Parker stood with Summitt, they suddenly emerged en masse from the tunnel.

"They got mad at me because I didn't tell them that they were doing the presentation," Parker said. "They said, ‘We look like bad teammates running in the tunnel and you were getting your ball.' They came out and were celebrating. We just joke around a lot about it. We're funny."

They're also atop the SEC standings, and it's not a position the team wants to share. They also don't want a blemish on their conference record. It's especially sweet after spending last season unsuccessfully chasing LSU for the top spot after an early conference loss to Kentucky.

"It's really nice to be able to get ahead," Parker said. "We have two – I don't like to say quality losses – but losses to opponents that, ‘All right, we lost to them.' We're working hard. We know that we're in the driver's seat in the conference right now. With a win against Georgia we keep it there. We have some tough games, but that's how we like it."

The players are proud of what they've done so far – especially since it was just last fall when one national pundit opined that this might be one of the least talented teams Summitt ever had – but they also know there are seven more conference games left in the regular season.

"I think it's a good thing what we've done. I think it's always good to start off with such a good record," Hornbuckle said. "But at the same time that's only getting us better and preparing us for the second half of SEC play – facing Georgia again, not yet facing LSU or Ole Miss. Those are going to be great games, and I think that these games have all prepared us for that, and it's going to keep preparing us until we finish out the SEC."

Georgia, Tennessee's longtime bitter conference rival, would love to put a mark in the SEC loss column for the Lady Vols.

"Going to Knoxville always is a lot of fun for us," Landers said. "We enjoy that challenge. We've always felt like that – more times than not – we're in position up there to get the ‘W.' We'll go in Monday with that thought and that being our drive and motivation."

The Tennessee players and coaching staff are anticipating a closely fought contest.

"To me every year we play Georgia it's been a tough game," Parker said. "Every conference game is tough. Everybody brings their ‘A' game against Tennessee. I guess the orange does that."

SCOUTING REPORT:Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report. Here is her assessment.

When Georgia has the ball: Look for Tasha Humphrey to be more involved in the offense than in the last game. "I think she's scoring more the last couple of games. They're the same team. They're going to pound it inside. They're going to go high-low. I'm waiting on (Cori) Chambers to go off because she's still a great offensive player. (Ashley) Houts is taking care of the ball more. I don't anticipate them doing too many things different from when we played them."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We've got to take some relief off Candace. Others players have to make plays. That will free up them doubling up. We've got to continue to push the ball in transition and if we can score in our primary (offense) we're in business. We've just got to continue to bring the pressure and hopefully we can cause some turnovers and get some easy layups."

Could Georgia bring more pressure than in the last game?

"He's playing eight people so he's playing a little bit more of a controlled game," Warlick said. "If they get steals and long rebounds I think they're going to run."

With Tennessee undefeated in the SEC does that give Georgia extra incentive, especially with the big win over LSU?

"They didn't need to win that game to be ready to play us," she said. "We beat them last time, and we would feel the same way. I think they're a good team, I think they're a well-coached team and it's just a matter of who's going to get down and play the better defense and rebound."

Will this be a typical border state basketball battle?

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "I'd like for it to be different, but no, they're not going to lay down and die. They never have and we're not either. They're too good of a team."

Georgia will bring a freshman point guard into Thompson-Boling Arena, but so far Houts has handled the responsibility.

"I think she's doing exactly what he wants her to do and that's just run the offense," Pat Summitt said. "They haven't been as much of a running team as they were a year ago. Just her deliberate play and getting people the ball she really has done a great job of running their sets. I'm not surprised. She's a true point guard and from that standpoint the most efficient at handling the ball."

Summitt isn't sure exactly how Parker will be guarded in this game since the smother method didn't result in a win for Georgia three weeks ago.

"It's a wait and see," Summitt said. "Are they in their zone or are they going to play us man? Are they going to run or are they going to try to control tempo? We see a lot of different schemes, and it varies from the first game to the second game sometimes. We want to play our game. We want to get out and press and run and certainly score in the half-court game. I thought in the first game our board play was significant to the outcome so we've got to make sure that we're mindful of controlling the boards."

Summitt watched game film of Georgia on Friday and this past weekend.

"They're running a few more things, but I don't see that much difference," she said. "(Angel) Robinson is playing better. Tasha is more involved. I'd say that's probably the two players I think give them a good inside (presence). They're running their triangle offense. Houts is doing a good job of pushing the tempo and running their half-court sets. He's got three really good freshmen" in Robinson, Houts and Christy Marshall.

Hornbuckle expects Georgia to want to get Humphrey more touches this time and sooner. Although Humphrey plays inside and Hornbuckle on the perimeter she realizes her defense on the Georgia guards can disrupt Humphrey's game.

"I'm thinking they're going to look for Tasha a lot more early," Hornbuckle said. "They gave her the ball when necessary I felt like while at Georgia. I think they'll look for her earlier and a lot more often. That's our job to limit her touches as well as bring the heat to the guards so that they can't see her inside as easily as they want to.

"I think it's just in general, whether it's posting up on the block, whether it's mid-post, stepping out, they seem to be flowing a lot better. I think it's so important to bring the pressure on the guards because then it kind of negates every thing else. It cancels out. You can't just come down and drop a pass off to Tasha. You have to bring the heat to the guards, and I think it starts with us, and that's going to help out our posts. Because Tasha's such a great player inside or out you want to limit her touches. It's not like guard her when she gets the ball. You want her to touch the ball the least amount of times possible."

SUPER BOWL: Pat Summitt played host for her staff and some neighborhood friends for Sunday evening's Super Bowl matchup between the Indianapolis Colts, led by former UT quarterback Peyton Manning, and the Chicago Bears.

Who are you pulling for Coach?

"Why should you even have to ask?" Summitt answered. "I'm pulling for Peyton and the Colts."

Summitt and every other fan of Manning and the Colts got their wish. The Colts won, 29-17, and Manning was awarded the MVP trophy.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Georgia, 37-14, with four of those 14 losses coming in Knoxville. The last time was Dec. 8, 1996, when the Lady Bulldogs won in overtime, 94-93. Georgia also has suffered some shellackings in Knoxville, including 102-43 in 1998. But the last two matchups in Knoxville were close affairs with Tennessee winning 77-70 in 2005 and 94-85 in 2006. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on February 5. The two losses were to Mississippi, 68-54, in 1986, and to Connecticut, 81-67, in 2004. … Georgia has won five consecutive games since losing to Tennessee in January. Tennessee has won the last five matchups with Georgia. The Lady Bulldogs last win came in the SEC tourney in 2004 in overtime. … Only four teams have beaten Tennessee twice at Thompson-Boling Arena: Duke, Texas, UConn and Georgia. … By the numbers: Tennessee is averaging 75.1 points per game; Georgia, 72.9. Tennessee allows 55.1 points per game; Georgia, 59.3. The teams are about even on the boards – 37.6 for Tennessee, 38.0 for Georgia. Tennessee averages more steals (13.1) than Georgia (9.3), but the Lady Bulldogs take care of the ball (14.7 turnovers) better than the Lady Vols (16.7). The Lady Vols reject more shots, 5.8 blocks, to Georgia's 3.0 blocks. Candace Parker averages 2.8 rejects per game.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories