"I don't know," Summitt said of her former assistant coach. "Come Sunday I hope this basketball team will be ready to play and take care of business."
Summitt joked that she wasn't a scorer and "DeMoss never could shoot," so they would have to let the players decide the outcome.
Thursday's game played out like road games at Auburn (17-8, 4-5) often do – close affairs in which the Tigers hang in the game with defense and the Lady Vols go on offensive spurts and hold on.
Although Auburn was down 18 with 14:27 left in the game and the score, 47-29, the Tigers managed to shave the lead to seven, 57-50, with 5:00 to go. Tennessee then went on a run – keyed by two offensive boards by Sidney Spencer and Nicky Anosike, who stuck the second-chance opportunities, Spencer off a Candace Parker miss and Anosike off her own – and managed to push the margin out to 15 points, 68-53, with 1:59 left.
"We had to make a stop right then and a statement," Summitt said. "I thought we did that. We went back and just elevated our defense and had five people really committed. I think what caused a lot of our struggles was the fact that we didn't have all five people, we might have two or three, then we might have a couple of players break down, whether we were in zone or man. You have to give Auburn credit. They did a good job of getting the ball inside. I thought they had a lot of composure offensively."
For some reason Tennessee played the last two minutes by fouling Auburn and allowing the clock to stop and the Tigers to score from the line. That pushed the final margin to 10 points.
"I'm waiting for someone to explain that to me," Summitt said to Dearstone.
But even with the two teams seemingly taking turns with the surges, the outcome was never really in doubt thanks to another double-double by Parker, who had 25 points and 11 rebounds, 10 of which were on the defensive end. Alexis Hornbuckle came within one rebound of a double-double with 12 points and nine boards.
Tennessee won the battle of the boards, 42-35, and had a whopping 23-14 edge at halftime. Nearly half of Tennessee's first half rebounds were on the offensive end, which helped the Lady Vols jump out to a 10-2 lead and maintain that eight-point margin at halftime, 32-24.
"You have got to put bodies on people," Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. "You have to literally put yourself on them and back them up and hope that you maybe get a reaching over foul or just put yourself in a better position to get the ball. We weren't even putting bodies on them. You don't have an opportunity to get the board if you do not put bodies on kids.
"Candace Parker has extremely long arms, so if you don't get her out of there with a body then she is going to get the board. Anosike is a very aggressive rebounder. You just have kids who are going hard to the boards, and if there is nobody in front of them, they are going to get the board."
Anosike and Spencer had six rebounds each. Anosike also scored 10 points on 3-6 shooting and four free throws, and Spencer had nine points but struggled from the field at 4-11. According to the CSS broadcast, Ret. Col. Earl Spencer was in the stands for the game – the senior forward said her grandfather hadn't been able to come to her games because injuries from his military service prevented him from traveling – so perhaps his presence had Spencer pressing a little. She did hit a three-pointer in transition and also grabbed five offensive boards.
Tennessee got plenty of offense from Parker, who played 37 minutes and was effective on both ends of the floor. Hornbuckle was, as usual, all over the floor on defense and finding shots from the perimeter to help open up the inside.
"Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle were pretty solid for us," Summitt said. "I thought those two players really came to play. This Auburn team, they just didn't go away. I think the thing we have to learn as a basketball team is that is how people are going to play us. Life on the road is tough. We had a difficult time getting five people, particularly on the defensive end, to commit to what we wanted to accomplish defensively. Obviously we had enough strong play at different times. We had some good four-minute segments. That's what we talked about a lot."
Tennessee's steals were in single digits with nine – Shannon Bobbitt, Alberta Auguste and Hornbuckle had two each (and Hornbuckle now has at least one in 60 straight games) – but the defensive pressure was all over the floor at times and was effective in disrupting Auburn's offense and taking a lot of time off the shot clock.
The shot clock stopped working right after Tennessee's first basket – a shot in the paint by Parker down low – and it took several minutes to get it to reset correctly. On Auburn's first possession the Lady Vols forced the Tigers into a shot clock violation.
"Let me tell you something, it's daunting," Fortner said of Tennessee's pressure. "Their pressure is daunting, and we don't have anything in our practice that can simulate that. So you practice what you can and you can tell them what they are about to face, but there is nothing like when you get into that environment and you have it happening to you. It's just different. There is not another game we've played all year, there is not another team we've faced all year that pressures the ball like they do and denies passes like they do. So there was an adjustment period."
Auburn opened in a man-to-man defensive scheme but then went to a 2-3 matchup zone that Tennessee struggled against. The Lady Vols shot 40.3 percent for the game and 14.3 percent from behind the arc. Only the seniors, Spencer and Dominique Redding, connected from long range.
Bobbitt only scored four points, but she also had four assists, a career best in an SEC game, to one turnover. Her best assist came late in the game on a behind-the-back pass to a cutting Auguste, who went in for the layup. Backup point guard Cait McMahan didn't score but had two assists to zero turnovers. Still, Summitt wanted more from her point guards, especially on defense, and ended up going with a bigger guard lineup of Hornbuckle and Auguste for substantial stretches.
"We talk a lot about having the defensive discipline with all five players," Summitt said. "I didn't think that Shannon and Cait brought the type of pressure that they needed to bring, that's why I wanted Alexis and Alberta on the floor. They gave us size. Obviously I think the two of them were very effective with their defensive presence. They gave us more size.
"I was looking for people to be a lot more aggressive. I thought that Shannon and Cait played on their heels until late in the game when Shannon went in, and obviously she was terrific on the defensive end."
Auburn was led by DeWanna Bonner with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Whitney Boddie had seven points, nine assists and four steals. Auburn also got 20 minutes from Keke Carrier, who is returning from a foot injury. She had 11 points and nine boards and carried Auburn in the second half.
"KeKe gave us 20 awesome minutes tonight," Boddie said. "She has been progressing, and her progression is the key to our success."
Parker was selected Player of the Game by Dearstone, who teased her about the matchup with the 6'7 Carrier and mentioned that the two players were going at each other. Parker doesn't usually face off against someone taller than she is, although the lean Parker is used to matching up against bigger post players in the paint.
"I'm big at heart," Parker said on the post-game radio show.
"She is 6-foot-7 and has a few pounds on me," Parker said in the post-game press conference. "I feel like I relied on my teammates a lot. Sometime we were fronting and sometime we were playing behind. I felt like we did a relatively good job on her tonight."
Auburn once again played the Lady Vols close – in fact Tennessee has now beaten the Tigers by 10 points or fewer in four of the last six contests – but the team wasn't interested in moral wins.
"I don't think that it was really a moral victory," Boddie said. "We haven't beaten Tennessee since 1997, and tonight was just another loss. They are number three in the nation and we thought that we could have beaten them tonight. It does give us confidence to know that we can play against a team like that."
For Tennessee it was a road win in the nation's toughest conference and another step towards it goal of running the table in the SEC.
"It was a fun game," Parker said. "It was a road win for us in the SEC and that is always good. Auburn came in here and just wouldn't go away. We would be up by a lot, and they would come back. I really tip my hat to their effort and them not giving up."
The team won't use the basketballs Friday, but the players will lift weights and watch film to get ready for Sunday's game against Kentucky. Tipoff is set for 5:25 p.m. to accommodate an ESPN2 broadcast as part of its "February Frenzy" promotion.
ACADEMIC HONORS: The College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) announced Thursday that Candace Parker, Sidney Spencer and Nicky Anosike have been named to the District IV All-Academic Teams. Parker and Anosike garnered spots on the first team, while Spencer picked up second team honors.
Parker, a sports management major from Naperville, Ill., earned a 3.65 GPA during the fall semester and has a 3.29 cumulative average.
Anosike, a junior, is on pace to graduate with a triple major in sociology and criminal justice, political science and legal studies. She has a 3.76 cumulative GPA, including a 4.0 mark during the fall term. The Staten Island, N.Y., native picked up third team All-District honors from CoSIDA in 2006.
Spencer posted a perfect 4.0 in the fall, and has a 3.75 GPA. The Hoover, Ala., native is pursuing a degree in sport management and makes time to volunteer in the greater Knoxville community on a weekly basis. A member of the SEC's Good Works Team, Spencer earned third team All-District honors from CoSIDA in 2006.
Former Lady Vols Tye'sha Fluker and Shanna Zolman, who graduated in 2006, also claimed spots on the All-District teams last season. Zolman went on to earn first team Academic All-American accolades, becoming the first Lady Vol to do so since Kara Lawson in 2003.
The Academic All-America team will be announced Feb. 27 and is selected from the All-District first teams in each of the eight districts.