Tennessee, LSU square off

Tennessee takes its perfect conference record and quest for an SEC title to LSU for a Monday matchup of top 10 teams. The game is on ESPN2, and it's not part of the network's February rivalry or frenzy promotions, but it could have been. These two programs have owned the regular season title for the past six years – four straight for Tennessee before LSU took the last two.

No. 2/3 Tennessee (24-2, 11-0) limps into Baton Rouge to face No. 7 LSU (23-4, 9-2) at 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2, Lady Vols Radio Network). The Lady Vols goal, voiced by Coach Pat Summitt, is to get to 12-0 in the conference.

"That would be huge for us," Summitt said.

A key player is Candace Parker. Of course the sophomore forward is always a crucial part of Tennessee's success but in this case she is even more so. LSU has the inside presence of the 6'6 Sylvia Fowles, and Tennessee's post depth took a blow when Alex Fuller took a shot to the eye against Ole Miss.

Fuller, also a sophomore forward, has eased her way into practice this weekend, and is likely to be able to play. But her effectiveness and minutes – she must wear protective eye goggles – could be limited by the lingering swelling around her right eye.

Tennessee's backup point guard, Cait McMahan, sprained her left elbow against Ole Miss, but she had no structural damage and has been cleared to play. Her issue will be pain management.

Summitt's plans for Parker have always been clearly stated: Establish the inside game early.

But Parker has sometimes drifted out of the paint far too early in games.

"Sometimes she does step out and face up," Summitt said. "There're times we want her to. But sometimes she takes it upon herself to move out of the post. That's where she's got to be disciplined and stay inside."

Granted, Parker is bound to get frustrated by the no-calls inside. It is usually after she is hammered a few times while going to the basket without a foul being called that she starts moving outward.

Parker has said it's been a season-long process to work through her frustration with the level, and ferocity, of the contact she often draws. Parker, although quite tall, isn't a prototypical post player of bulk. She's agile and fluid under and away from the basket. Summitt wants to take advantage of Parker's versatility, but needs her to stay on course to avoid confusion.

"We've got a lot of offenses to move her, and that's what I want her to do – move within our offenses, not just step out and face up," Summitt said. "Because we're not in great rebounding position at that time."

Rebounding has been an on-and-off issue this season. The Lady Vols out-rebounded Ole Miss in the last game out, and the coaches made it a point to remind players at halftime of who needed to do what.

"One thing that has certainly come to my mind that we're going to do is to keep specific stats and talk at halftime about who is rebounding and who is not," Summitt said. "We'll look at how many opportunities we've had, how many missed opportunities and holding them accountable throughout the game. We talk about it a lot at timeouts, and focusing on the next four minutes. We talk about separating ourselves for the next four minutes and dominating the glass, but I think that we need to hold them accountable from a statistical standpoint."

Parker has been a solid rebounder all season and dominant on the defensive glass. She has 171 defensive boards. The next closest is the 81 grabbed by Alexis Hornbuckle from the wing position.

"We rely a lot on Candace Parker rebounding for us," Summitt said. "She's obviously been a real force on the defensive boards where Nicky Anosike has been inconsistent. Alex Fuller has done a decent job, but our frontline can share responsibility and that is exactly what I want them to do."

Summitt has no objection to Parker setting up in different spots in certain offensive sets. Parker still brings the ball down the floor sometimes and sets up the offense. She also will start high, cut to the basket and get a feed from another post player, who also has pulled out of the paint. Needless to say it opens up a lot of space inside, especially if the opponent is in a man defense with the center and power forward trying to track Parker and Anosike 10 to 20 feet away from the goal.

"I think our offense enables our post players to do that as well," Parker said. "It's not an offense where our post players are stagnant on the post. It's an offense where we all can play different positions. We have trail posts, all that stuff. It benefits us all."

But for Tennessee to be successful, especially with the postseason looming, Parker has to both attack the basket from assorted spots on the floor and establish the inside game down low.

"If we're going to play deep, let's face it, that's how she has to play," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "She has to be an attacking player."

The question for opposing teams becomes how to defend Parker. She's seen one-on-one coverage and double and triple teams. Opponents also are packing or collapsing into the paint to encourage Tennessee to shoot from the outside from almost all five positions on the floor. If the shots aren't falling – and it's hard to have four or five consistent outside shooters at one time – it becomes a very effective defense.

"I think it all depends on your coaching philosophy," Summitt said. "Some people say let her have what she wants and don't let anybody else go off on you. Others say take Parker out of the game, make other people beat you. It's more just the philosophy of the coach than anything."

A team's ability to match up also is a factor. LSU, in Fowles, has someone inside that can be assigned to Parker.

"I think in the LSU game, yes," Summitt said. "I think you're looking at someone that has the size and the presence to impact with their defense. That'll be fun to watch, be interesting. I hope it'll be fun to watch."

As far as defending Fowles, Summitt said: "I don't think one thing is going to stop Fowles. We may have to use a number of defensive schemes. We'll make those calls as the game unfolds and plays out."

Summitt is expected to stay with her starters: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (8.0 points per game, 1.4 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.3 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (12.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (20.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (7.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

LSU Coach Pokey Chatman is expected to start: Erica White, 5'3 junior guard, No. 5 (7.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.2 apg), preseason All-SEC Second Team by coaches, scored then career-high 20 points against Baylor, bumped that to 22 against South Florida; RaShonta LeBlanc, 5'7 junior guard, No. 12 (5.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.1 apg), scored career-high 15 points against Tulsa, tied career high with eight assists against Ohio State, also competed on LSU's track & field team; Quianna Chaney, 5'11 junior guard, No. 15 (12.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.4 apg), had a career high 24 points against Michigan State, and game-high 20 against Georgia with five three-pointers, a career high; Porsha Phillips, 6'2 freshman, No. 22 (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg), starting in place of Ashley Thomas, who has an injured right knee, scored 12 points against UConn including what she thought was the game-tying shot and earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for her performance, will get her second career start, nickname is Pokey; and Sylvia Fowles, 6'6 junior center, No. 34 (17.6 ppg, 12.6 rpg), 20 double-doubles this season, LSU's career blocks leader with 220 so far, 41 points shy of 1,500 for her career, has 20 rebounds in three SEC games this season (Auburn, South Carolina and Arkansas), school has a Web site for her, www.bigsyl34.com.

Summitt's stated goal of running the table won't be an easy one. LSU had won 43 consecutive games at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center until losing last week to UConn. A shot that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime was ruled a two instead of a three-pointer because Phillips' shoe was clearly on the three-point line. LSU responded in its next game against Arkansas by going on a 24-0 run when the game was knotted at 49 midway through the second half.

Since the SEC went to a 14-game format in 1998, only LSU and Tennessee have successfully navigated an undefeated conference slate – four times for Tennessee (1998, 2001, 2003 and 2004) and once for LSU (2005).

Three other SEC teams have finished unbeaten in conference games: Ole Miss, 8-0, in 1985 and 11-0 in 1992; Georgia, 9-0, in 1986 and 1991; and Auburn, 9-0, in 1988 and 1989. Tennessee went 11-0 for four consecutive years from 1992 to 1995.

So, given the challenges of the SEC, what kind of statement is made by running the table?

"Well we haven't done it yet, but obviously the way that we have played and, in particular on the road, and answering second half runs, whether it was Auburn or Georgia or Vanderbilt, I think we've shown a lot of character and composure in those games," Summitt said. "To me that is very encouraging for our basketball team. In this league everyone will challenge and make a run and if you don't answer, then you're not in the position we're in right now. I'm pleased with what this team has been able to do in that regard. It wasn't a goal to go undefeated; the goal was to win the SEC regular season.

"Obviously LSU has been the one that has done that of late, and we established that as our goal. But we talked about it after our wins at Georgia and Vanderbilt – it was more my idea. I said to them that I really want to challenge them as a team to run the table in the league. I said if you want the number one seed (in the NCAA tourney), then that is the way to do it. From the national perspective that is important to us. … It won't be easy to win out; we know that. Certainly playing at LSU is a big challenge. It will be a new experience for our three newcomers as well."

Those three are junior guard Alberta Auguste, a native of Louisiana; fellow junior Bobbitt; and McMahan, a freshman.

"I think it is going to be one of our biggest, toughest SEC places besides Georgia, but I'm excited to go down there," McMahan said. "I've never been in LSU's gym. LSU has a history of being a good team. I think it's going to be a good battle. But if we bring what we have it's about us, not what they're going to do, it's about what we're going to do."

Bobbitt has had almost an entire season to get accustomed to road games. She's been in a lot of tough environments since her christening at Wells Fargo Arena against Arizona State in the third game of the season. Bobbitt said she has settled down playing on the road.

"Of course. I have to be," Bobbitt said. "We're not going to play here in the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament so I have to be comfortable on the road."

Bobbitt's enthusiasm hasn't ebbed since the season started. She has energy at practice, points out good plays and can keep a steady amount of chatter going when necessary. Instructions from the coaching staff are still met with, "I got you, Coach."

"That's part of my job being the point guard," Bobbitt said. "I know at this time of the season everybody's tired, everybody's sore, everybody's hurting, but at the same time people are hungry to win a national championship. I'm here to bring the energy and keep on reminding everybody, ‘We got this. We're going to get better.' And we're going to do it. We're going to win a national championship as long as we stay hungry and work hard."

Bobbitt also isn't buying the notion – still bandied about in the bowels of the Internet – that Tennessee is Parker and everyone else.

"One woman team?" Bobbitt said with a look like she had just smelled a foul odor. "That's impossible. Coach Dean has said it can't be a one-woman team because somebody passed the ball to somebody, somebody got that steal, somebody got that rebound in order to pass somebody the ball to score the ball. I think it's a team thing, and there's no I in team. It's definitely a team thing."

Tennessee, as a team, does need to help Parker on the boards. The Ole Miss game was a good step. Tennessee had 44 to 39 for the Rebels.

"I think we're very capable of establishing that consistency in our rebounding game," Hornbuckle said. "I think it's a must going into postseason. You have a lot of good teams but if you can't keep them off the boards and you're giving them second and third chances that's going to lower your chances of winning that game if it's a close game. I think once we realize that and realize that every possession means something – if we miss a shot we need to get second and third chances; if they miss a shot it's need to be one and done."

Hornbuckle also acknowledged that a team can be guilty of putting more emphasis on it when the foe is more formidable.

"I think it's a matter of wanting the ball," Hornbuckle said. "When you go in there and say, ‘Oh, it's not a Duke. It's not a Connecticut. It's not a North Carolina,' then your mindset goes down, which shouldn't happen. A mark of a good team is you can play everybody the same way every night. I think our mindset was not correct going into those games" when Tennessee was out-rebounded by teams, such as Alabama, that it should have dominated on the boards.

The Lady Tigers definitely fall into the category of formidable foe, led by Fowles.

"With Sylvia Fowles in the middle, she's got the defensive presence and rebounding capabilities to really impact the game," Summitt said. "That's what I think, that rebounding is foremost on my mind. … I think she's taken on a bigger load at both ends of the floor. She's committed defensively and playing hard and working on the glass within their motion offense."

The Monday game leaves Tennessee with a short turn-around before the next game, which is Thursday at Arkansas. The team will return from Baton Rouge in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

"We'll take Tuesday off and just go down there (to Fayetteville) and do our scouting on Wednesday," Summitt said. "We don't have a lot of time next week to be concerned with getting up and down and doing a lot on our legs. It will be more mental preparation than anything."

Parker's offensive game is blossoming at the right time. In the last four games, she has scored 25, 31, 25 and 22 points.

"Candace, she has really tightened up her offensive package in the last (four) games in particular," Summitt said. "It's been really good. I think it's important that we move her a lot; we screen better for her. Right now our best two screeners are Alexis and Shannon. We've got to get people into understanding that a screen assist is as good as a pass assist. That's where we can get a lot better."

Parker appears to be rounding into postseason form, but she said the results are easily explained – shots fell.

"Honestly, I haven't done anything out of the ordinary that I haven't done all season," Parker said. "Obviously it's a mindset, but I think sometimes things just fall. I feel like when Sidney and I were going through our slump they were great shots, they just weren't falling, rattling out, wasn't finishing around the basket."

Monday evening would be an opportune time for Spencer and Parker's shots to fall if Tennessee intends to win out in the SEC. A road win in Baton Rouge, the first since 2003, would make quite an impression in conference play.

"That we're not here to play around," McMahan said of such a statement if the Lady Vols get the win. "We're not here (with) just a little swagger; we're here to do it all. We're here to do it big. We have two losses under our belt, and we don't want to lose again. And I think that's what we're going for."

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-LSU game. Here is her assessment.

When LSU has the ball: "We obviously want to make sure that we are defensively matched up because their transition game is very, very good to them – identifying their shooters early, picking up the ball early, that's going to be a key for us. When they get in their offensive sets they're a very patient team. They're a team that really looks to isolate inside and get good looks for Sylvia (Fowles) so we've got to be aware of Sylvia in that high-low action.

"They run a motion offense so just defending certain concepts out of the motion. Depending on what players are running out of that motion action we've got to make sure that we're doing a good job defensively of shutting down the middle of the floor as well because a lot of their reversal and high-low action comes through the middle of the floor.

"Defensively, finish our defense off – one and done, making sure that we're not allowing them to get second and third shots."

When Tennessee has the ball: "Obviously we want to establish our running game. We're a team that likes to get easy transition baskets as well. We're going to establish an inside-outside attack. We want to make sure that we have great player movement and great ball movement. That's going to be key for us. And then obviously we've got to do a good job of setting and using screens, setting and using handoffs and reading what the defense gives us."

Pat Summitt also is concerned about the middle of the paint and Fowles' ability to get the ball there.

"One thing that strikes me is that she does a great job of, in her screening action, getting the ball right at the basket in the middle of the floor," Summitt said. "They do a great job as a team of putting her in a position to catch and score. I think their spacing in terms of high-low action and getting her in position to be able to get to the basket, it's hard to defend her when she gets in position. That's where, to me, on the offensive end they really have improved. She gets a lot more touches and with Seimone Augustus gone, you expect that."

Augustus, now in the WNBA, was the consensus national player of the year last year and a two-time player of the year in the SEC in 2005 and 2006.

"I think they have done a great job overall," Summitt said of adjusting to the loss. "I'm impressed with the workload that Sylvia Fowles has taken on for that team. That's what you have to have, when you lose a great player, you have to have someone willing to step up. She stepped up and has been a go-to player. She's done a great job. In watching them play, they are aggressive from all positions.

"It's not like they are standing around watching Sylvia work. That's always a concern as a coach. I think we're experiencing some of that with Candace Parker in regard to our rebounding. In watching LSU play, they are working together as a team and trying to make things happen as a team."

Tennessee has a season-full of rough road games with LSU qualifying as the toughest of them all in conference play.

"I think so just because you look at LSU and their standings in the SEC," Caldwell said. "They're leading the SEC and probably have gotten some national standings as well with their defensive ability to make you shoot a worst percentage, limiting their opponents to 50 points a game. It's going to be a challenge for us offensively but we also have been known for our defense and board play so we're going to bring that as well."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with LSU, 34-9. The Lady Vols have played LSU twice in the past two years for the SEC tourney crown – and won both matchups in two-point and one-point games – but they haven't defeated the Lady Tigers in Baton Rouge since 2003. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on February 19. The two losses were to UNC-Greensboro, 51-36, in 1972; and to Georgia, 84-65, in 1984. … Monday is President's Day with this nugget from the Lady Vols' game notes about the states of Louisiana and Tennessee: In the mid-1800s, presidents from the two states served a majority of time in the White House. The state of Tennessee supplied three of the country's presidents (No. 7 Andrew Jackson, 1829-37; No. 11 James K. Polk, 1845-49 and No. 17 Andrew Johnson, 1865-69) while one served from the state of Louisiana (No. 12 Zachary Taylor, 1849-50). Since then, neither the state of Tennessee nor the state of Louisiana has seen a president elected from their home state. Tennessee's Al Gore came close in the 2000 presidential race. … LSU has four losses on the season by a total of 10 points. In order of defeat for the Lady Tigers: Baylor by 4 (64-60); Ole Miss by 3 (77-74); Georgia by 2 (53-51); and Connecticut by one (72-71). … By the numbers: Tennessee averages 37.4 rebounds a game, LSU gets 41.9 a game. Tennessee allows 56.2 points a game with LSU surrendering a very low 49.1 ppg. The Lady Vols are shooting 45.4 percent from the field with LSU at 44.0 percent. The teams are nearly identical in assists with 16.3 for Tennessee and 16.1 for LSU. The blocks are knotted at 5.4 per game for each team. Tennessee has the edge in steals with 12.6 to 10.6 for LSU, but the Lady Tigers have fewer turnovers, 13.3, with Tennessee surrendering the ball 16.2 times a game. … This will be Tennessee's 12th game this season against a ranked team and the seventh such matchup for LSU. … UT and LSU have met 27 times while both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. This will be the 28th such meeting. … This will be the 44th meeting all-time between the schools with 25 of the 43 games decided by 10 or fewer points. No other team has recorded that close of margins of victory against the Lady Vols in as many meetings. … Lady Vol history from Tennessee's game notes: "On Jan. 29, 1979, the Tennessee Vols and the Lady Vols were in Baton Rouge at the PMAC, for a double-header with LSU. The women played first and the game ended in a 74-74 tie. Then-LSU men's coach Dale Brown suggested that the women's teams finish their overtime in the auxiliary gym so the men could get their game started on time. After much bantering back and forth with then-LSU BenGals skipper Jinks Coleman and UT's Pat Head, Brown allowed the women's teams to finish the overtime with a shortened running clock. The Lady Vols managed just six points in the three-minute overtime while LSU scored 11 to win, 85-80. Five days later in Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville, on Jan. 29, No. 7 UT thumped No. 17 LSU, 92-48. Current Lady Vol Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick was UT's junior point guard that night in Baton Rouge – Warlick tallied seven points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished four assists and had nine steals in a weird 43 minutes." … Tennessee leads the NCAA women's basketball attendance race and passed the 200,000 attendance mark against Ole Miss on Feb. 15. The current standings: Tennessee, 14,040 per game (210,594/15); UConn, 11,152 (156,126/14); Texas Tech, 10,696 (128,353/12); Oklahoma, 10,213 (91,917/9); and New Mexico 9,427 (122,545/13). … Tennessee's final home game of the season against Vanderbilt next Sunday may become a sellout. To date, 20,210 tickets have been sold for "Senior Day." Gates will open 30 minutes earlier than usual at 11:30 a.m. Tipoff is 1 p.m.


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