Lady Vols to face Arkansas

The Lady Vols clinched the SEC championship Monday against LSU and will say goodbye to the seniors on Sunday before the Vanderbilt game. In between is a road game to Arkansas. If there were ever a chance of a letdown Thursday's game wedged in the middle of the week is the place it would happen. Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said it's the staff's task to not let that happen.

"Our job is to make sure they're not sleep-walking," Lockwood said. "We're going to point out you're not playing a 12-win team, or a 10-win team or a 14-win team, you're playing a team that has 18 wins on its season. Any team that has 18 wins is dangerous.

"That's just like saying any person with a weapon can hurt you. I don't care if he's a sharpshooter or if he's the worse shot in America, if he's got a sidearm he's got a chance to put a bullet in you."

No. 2 Tennessee (25-2, 12-0) and Arkansas (18-10, 3-9) tip off Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network) at Bud Walton Arena.

The Lady Vols staff and team got back to Knoxville in the wee hours of Tuesday morning after a hard-fought 56-51 win over LSU, with two starters, Candace Parker, and Alexis Hornbuckle, logging 37 minutes. Coach Pat Summitt gave the players, who still had to go to the class Tuesday, the day off from practice. They reassembled Wednesday afternoon to fly to Fayetteville for a practice/scouting session there.

The Lady Vols will have to fight through some fatigue from the opening tip. The Monday night game – moved from Sunday for television – means three games this week with the short-turnaround between the road games. The team will depart Fayetteville after the game by charter flight and arrive home very early Friday morning. These two road games, LSU and Arkansas, are two of the longest trips in the conference for Tennessee. The preparation for Vandy then begins Friday, but because of other events at the arena and recreation center the team must find an off-campus place to practice.

"We're going to be zigging and zagging," Lockwood said. "It's kind of like a mission. You know that until you get to your desired location you just can't rest and you've got – I don't care how heavy the load is or how long the trip is – you've got to keep pressing forward.

"Sunday night will allow a little opportunity to just catch our breath. But until that point in time we've got a very set schedule and a very predetermined agenda in terms of what we're trying to do and the times we're trying to do it. We're kind of all in a mission mode."

The SEC title is no longer at stake – every other team has at least three losses so it's the sole possession of Tennessee – but the Lady Vols' undefeated streak in conference play this season remains in play.

"It's their Senior Night," Lockwood said of Arkansas. "They're going to be very excited for their seniors. This is a feather-in-your-cap type team. We're the feather in the cap. You might lose your last three fights, but if you somehow can get that one shot in and knock out the heavyweight champ, you'll be remembered forever. That's how our team has to realize that this is the type of approach that they're going to take."

Summitt is expected to stay with her starters: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (8.2 points per game, 1.4 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (9.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.3 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (20.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (7.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

Arkansas Coach Susie Gardner is expected to start: Brittney Vaughn, 5'7 junior guard, No. 25 (6.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.7 apg), has 329 career assists, eighth in Arkansas' record book; Dominique Washington, 5'10 senior guard, No. 3 (6.7 ppg, 1.8 rpg), had seven three-pointers against Auburn, scored 37 points against Ole Miss last season; Tanisha Smith, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 22 (6.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg), named to WBCA All-American squad, played for Lincoln Prep in Kansas City, Mo.; Sarah Pfeifer, 6'0 senior forward, No. 40 (8.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg), has endured five surgeries in four years (knee (1), shoulder (3) and nose (1)); and Lauren Ervin, 6'3 junior center, No. 44 (12.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg), a Kodak Junior College All-American, Southern California junior college player of the year.

Gardner has suspended freshman Donica Cosby, the team's second-leading scorer at 12.2 ppg and a starter sometimes this season, for one game for violation of Women's Athletic Department policy. Cosby was permitted to practice, but will not dress for the Tennessee game.

Seniors Washington, Pfeifer, Danielle Allen and Leslie Howard will be honored before the game.

"The thing with them, they are always a team that plays well at home," Summitt said. "We have had some tough battles there, and I don't expect this one to be anything different. They are in an ‘everything to win, nothing to lose' position. We have to have the leadership and maturity to go in and be ready to play against a team that will fight us hard. … If we don't go in inspired defensively, it could be a long evening for us. I have a lot of confidence in our team to go take care of business."

Parker has been all business of late. She has taken her game to yet another level – her first half play against LSU should have sealed a few more Player of the Year ballots – and appears to be rounding into postseason form as the regular season rolls to an end.

"Honestly it's horrible to say, but yes there is a different mindset for postseason," Parker said. "You try to get that mentality the whole season and I think that what Coach has tried to bring out of us is bring out a postseason mode earlier and earlier. But unfortunately it is a different mindset. I just think you realize you're winding down. You're getting closer and closer to do or die."

That approach certainly hasn't hurt Parker. She has elevated her play on both ends of the floor. Her block on LSU's Sylvia Fowles – Parker pinned the ball off the glass – might have been the most athletic feat in women's college basketball in terms of the physicality of both combatants. Fowles is 6'6, agile and strong.

"For me at the time you just look at and you say, ‘That's just a great team play and a great effort play and you're pumped up for your team and that's a great stop,' " Lockwood said. "But as I watched it again, if you watch it on tape, you can't help but be thrilled for women's college basketball.

"Here we have two of the best players in the country, and they're waging battle like that and Sylvia gets great position, makes a good solid move to turn and score and here comes Candace Parker – 6'6, 6'5, two frontline players, two of the more athletic bodies and players in the women's game – and you just can't help be thrilled for where women's college basketball is and where it's going."

Parker and Hornbuckle have logged a lot of minutes for Tennessee this season. Hornbuckle leads the team with a total of 815 minutes for a per-game average of 30.2. Parker, despite missing one game, is second at 781 minutes for a per-game average of 30.0.

Those are the season-long numbers. They go up slightly in SEC play. Through 12 games Hornbuckle has played 377 minutes for an average of 31.4. Parker has put in 333 minutes in 11 games – she missed the Mississippi State contest because of respiratory illness – for an average of 30.3 Spencer has logged 340 minutes in SEC action for an average of 28.3 minutes.

"Subconsciously I think you might be pacing yourself," Hornbuckle said. "Not from the get-go, because we usually open all the games pretty well and then it's like throughout the course of the game you find yourself taking more and more possessions off. I know personally if I find myself doing it – like if it's very noticeable to myself – I'm like, ‘C'mon, Lex. You can't do that.'

"You're working not for this game but for the later games, for the SEC Tournament and for the NCAA. I think we're slowly starting to see that, but we don't really have too much time to get it right so it's like a must."

Hornbuckle uttered those words last week when there were four games left in the regular season. Now it's down to two.

Tennessee won the LSU game on the strength of Parker's first-half performance, Anosike's first-half defense on Fowles, its team defense for 40 minutes and rebounding.

"Going into the LSU game I thought rebounding was a key for us, and we had to get paint points and establish our inside game," Summitt said. "I didn't realize how much we would have to rely on paint points."

That was in reference to Parker single-handedly carrying the team offensively in the first half.

"Candace Parker did a great job, Shannon Bobbitt knocked down some key outside shots for us with Sidney Spencer struggling," Summitt said. "Alexis Hornbuckle came up with some big plays for us. I thought our defense was solid. It was a big win for us, and that speaks to our team's ability to answer runs. They never went ahead of us. I felt like we stepped up when we had to. Dominique Redding came in and got us a much needed eight points. A lot of people contributed."

That echoes what Parker said last week.

"I think definitely we're coming around," Parker said. "We have a lot of different players that are doing great things. They're applying what we've learned all season. I think we have great veterans that know what's needed and what's expected in the postseason."

That is typical of Parker. Despite having to carry the team's offensive load at times she will talk about the team afterwards.

One player who said she's not looking ahead to postseason is Bobbitt.

"I take one game at a time. Tomorrow," Bobbitt said.

That should help ease the minds of the coaching staff a little bit. The pre-game preparation will emphasize that the Lady Razorbacks, especially at home, will be ready. That means not trying to convince the Lady Vols that they are the best the conference has to offer at 3-9 in SEC play but also not selling them short either.

"We've got to do everything as a coaching staff to not present an unrealistic picture of Arkansas but to let them know that this is a very serious team who is very capable and they're very athletic," Lockwood said. "In fact with 10 minutes left in the game against LSU just a few days ago they were up a point (at home). This is not a team to be taken lightly and fooled with."

SCOUTING REPORT: Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Arkansas game. Here is his assessment.

When Arkansas has the ball: "We've got to stop high-low. They really run different forms of getting into high-low. They're probably as versatile getting into high-low action as any team we've played. They'll start in a double stack, they'll start in one-four, they'll do a four out, one in look. They'll do it right out of transition. They'll do it in the half-court offense. We really have to take away their high-low.

"And the other thing we're concerned about is their athleticism on the perimeter – their ability to dribble drive. They have very good drivers and they're very perimeter-oriented and they really attack off the dribble. Our one-on-one defense and our help-side defense have to be very strong Thursday night."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We've got to again go with the staple of establishing an inside game. We have to play the game from the inside out. We don't want to quick shoot against this team unless we have layups or wide-open shots. We don't want to not make them have to guard. We want to punish them a little bit when we're on offense. By that I mean put the ball inside and make them have to play against our big strong frontline kids.

"We want to set good screens. We want to make them guard screening and cutting action and ball movement. We don't want to make it easy for them when they're on defense. We want to establish the inside game, and we want to run in transition, which we always do. We don't care if it's Arkansas or LSU or Vandy. We're going to try to run because that's what we do. But then once we're in a half-court game we want them to guard our stuff."

Tennessee could very well next week see a team it closed out the season with this week. The SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., will be held March 1-4. To see Arkansas again the Lady'Backs would have to win on the first day and be on UT's side of the bracket.

"At this point there's still a lot of jockeying going on," Lockwood said. "This is a team that we could see in one of the early rounds. This is an opportunity to obviously finish the regular season, this is one of two games, but this is a chance to get a look at somebody that in a week and a half from now we might be tipping it up again with."

Some SEC schools use their off day in the conference schedule – they will have a week with only one game – but Tennessee isn't one of them. The Lady Vols built-in off day was used to work in the Duke game. Summitt has no control of the SEC schedule, but it's fitting that Tennessee's closes with a bang, not a whimper.

"This is vintage Pat Summitt scheduling," Lockwood said. "You are taking on all comers. Playing three games in a week and two of three are nationally ranked teams. One of them was a Final Four team the past couple of years. The other (Vandy) is probably as good a team in our conference as there's been in the last couple of years who hasn't been in the Final Four. And the third team is somebody with 18 wins.

"This is vintage Pat Summitt. We're going to finish by saying we can take anybody on. I think it's great prep for going into postseason. Obviously we're going to have to string a lot of games in a short time period. This is going to be great prep for us to do that. Two of the farthest places to play in the conference are LSU and Fayetteville. So if we can take long road trips and prevail and then finish those two road trips by playing a tough opponent at home and prevail in all three if we're fortunate enough to do that? That is a great training ground for what we're going into in the postseason."

ON TAP: Six other SEC teams are in action Thursday in the following matchups: Mississippi State at Alabama, 7 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net); Florida at Auburn; and LSU at Vanderbilt, 9 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net).

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Arkansas, 17-1. The Lady'Backs' one win came at home, 77-75, on Dec. 29, 1996. … Tennessee is 11-3 in games played on February 22. The three losses were to Cincinnati, 29-9, in 1924; Western Carolina, 54-43, in 1972; and LSU, 83-78, in 1997. … The Lady Vols can still win even when shooting poorly. In the eight games this season in which they shot in the 30s, their record is 6-2 with wins over Georgia (39.6 percent); Mississippi State (39.5); Notre Dame (38.1); South Carolina (37.9); UConn (37.1); and LSU (31.3). The two losses – and the only losses so far – were to North Carolina (36.2) and Duke (36.1). … The Lady Vols have shot in the 50s against eight teams: Chattanooga (57.9 percent); Middle Tennessee (56.5); Arizona St. (54.8); Kentucky (53.2); UCLA (53.1); ODU (50.9); UT-Martin (50.9) and Stanford (50.0). No opponent has shot in the 50s against Tennessee. Duke came close at 49.1 percent. … Only four teams have scored 70 points or more against Tennessee this season: Arizona State and Duke with 74 points each; Chattanooga, 72 points; and North Carolina, 70. … In last year's game against Arkansas, Candace Parker shot 70 percent (7-10) and scored 18 points. … Arkansas Coach Susie Gardner, who is in her fourth year, was born in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. She played for Georgia from 1982 to 1986 before serving as a graduate assistant for the Lady Bulldogs for two years. She was the head coach at Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tenn., and led the Lady Govs to three-straight Ohio Valley Conference titles. She coached her first game as a Division I head coach on Nov. 15, 1996, against the Lady Vols, losing 80-59 in Knoxville. When her Austin Peay team played in the 2001 NCAA Tournament, they faced the Lady Vols in opening round action in Knoxville and fell, 80-38. … By the numbers: Tennessee's SEC opponents are only scoring 52.0 points per game and 56.0 for all opponents. Arkansas surrenders 75.8 ppg in league play and 66.8 ppg for all opponents. The Lady Vols average 37.6 boards a game, Arkansas, 41.0. Tennessee averages 16.2 assists to 15.1 for Arkansas. The teams are about even in blocks – 5.4 for the Lady Vols, 5.3 for the Lady'Backs. Tennessee averages 12.4 steals, Arkansas, 10.1. As far as turnovers, 16.1 for Tennessee to 16.4 for Arkansas. Tennessee has forced a lot of turnovers in SEC play with 24.8 per game. Arkansas has forced 17.3… Tennessee closes the regular season this Sunday against Vandy at Thompson-Boling Arena. So far more than 21,000 tickets have been sold. Capacity is 24,535. Tipoff is 1 p.m. Gates will open at 11:30 a.m.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories