Lady Vols look to get better

The Lady Vol basketball team will return to practice Wednesday afternoon to begin preparations for NCAA postseason play. Tennessee took three days off after losing in the semifinals of the SEC tourney, but before the players left Duluth, they expressed relief for the chance to keep the season going and said their work begins in Knoxville.

"I'm not happy about how we played, but I'm happy we've got a second chance," said sophomore forward Candace Parker, who scored four points in the 63-54 loss to LSU in Duluth, Ga., at the Gwinnett Center. "We're going to learn from this. I'm just happy we've got a second chance, and this isn't over."

Junior guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who scored 29 points in the loss and made the All-Tournament team, said Tennessee must use the two weeks between the loss and the opening game of the NCAA Tournament to get better.

"I think it's motivation, especially the outcome that happened (Saturday)," Hornbuckle said. "It has to be motivation. If not, it's not Tennessee. You lose one? So what. Get back in the gym and work that much harder. No need to cry about it, no need to hang your heads. Things happen, and we just learn from it, we build from it, and we get stronger."

Senior forward Sidney Spencer, who seeks to find the good in a bad situation, immediately pointed to Hornbuckle's play, especially on offense. Hornbuckle averaged just under 10 points per game coming into the tourney. She scored 46 in two games for an average of 23 ppg. The scoring didn't slow her down on defense either. She had three of her team's four steals against LSU and was singled out – along with Nicky Anosike – for defensive effort.

"I think she did it all," Spencer said. "She was so intense. I'm so glad for her that she played that well. I hope that it carries over into (NCAA) postseason for her. If it does that's great for our team, because I know that other players are going to bounce back and are going to score and are going to do what they naturally do so this is going to be great if she does that."

Spencer, who came into the tournament fighting a stomach illness that had left her unable to eat solid food for several days, is one of the ones looking to bounce back.

"We've got to get back to our basics and get to work," Spencer said. "But I think it was great for the inexperience that we do have on our team to be in a tournament situation with that do-or-die-type play and to be able to lose but to still have a shot at the national championship. So I think this was a good experience for us, but we've just got to get back to work."

Tennessee's area of inexperience in postseason is at the point guard spot. Junior Shannon Bobbitt is in her first year at Tennessee. Backup point guard Cait McMahan is a freshman. Both players were getting their first taste of postseason in Duluth, and both players took responsibility for what went wrong.

Tennessee struggled to get into its offense against the ball pressure of LSU, and Parker, who had been an inside force for the Lady Vols in the month of February, didn't touch the ball nearly enough in the paint. She was 4-15 in two games – the 81-63 win over South Carolina and the loss to LSU, which lost the tourney title to Vanderbilt on Sunday.

"I have no worries or concerns about her," Spencer said of Tennessee's go-to player in Parker. "She's a big-time player. She's a clutch player obviously. She hit the last-second shot last year against LSU to win it. I don't have a doubt in my mind that she's going to be affected by this at all."

Coach Pat Summitt was asked if the struggles of the go-to player might have contributed to the struggles by other players, except Hornbuckle. Anosike also contributed on offense with nine points, but Bobbitt didn't score and Spencer was held to seven points on 2-11 shooting.

"I think when your go-to player (struggles), whether it's Candace Parker or whether it's Sidney Spencer, it does put more pressure on everyone else," Summitt said. "And sometimes that's a good thing. I think for Alexis it was a good thing.

"I think for some other players it maybe did get them a little bit out of sync. You can't play worried. You've got to be focused, and you've got to be efficient. I didn't think our point guard play was where it needed to be. I don't know how much that did bother them, but I think they have to be strong enough to realize we're all going to struggle at times, and we have to take some ownership for our play and play well when other people aren't playing well."

After the game Bobbitt fielded the questions about her play with the poise of a veteran. She used the word "learn" eight separate times when answering queries.

"Watch this tape; learn from this loss," Bobbitt said in one of those replies. "And just get prepared and work hard in practice. … Just learning from my mistakes – not being a leader and bringing the energy and intensity for 40 minutes. Think about this game and learn from it. It's going to haunt me for a couple of days, but definitely I'm going to learn from it. It's not going to haunt me as much, it's going to make me stronger."

Bobbitt's counterpart acknowledged that the point guards have to set the tone, but she also noted that it's a team effort.

"Leadership," McMahan said when asked what they point guards have to provide. "And we've just got to get everybody on the same page. It's not only from the point guard, everybody's got to do it. Everybody's got to want to be on the same page and want to bring that 110 percent effort."

Like everyone in Tennessee's locker room, McMahan applauded Hornbuckle's effort. When Hornbuckle returned to the locker room following the post-game press conference she was met with slaps on the back and words of praise.

"You couldn't ask for a better job," McMahan said of the guard. "She brought it on offense, defense. You could just tell she wanted this so bad, and some of us didn't have that tonight."

McMahan was angry about the outcome and said perhaps the team would benefit from not wanting to feel that way again this season.

"That could be because now we know how this is going to feel," McMahan said. "Next game we lose we're done. We're packing it up. We're going to have to have this game in the back of our heads every time we step on the court."

The point guards will have to use the next days of practice to watch film and fix their mistakes.

"I hadn't been concerned about our point guard play until (Saturday)," Summitt said as she stood outside the Lady Vols' locker room in Duluth. "(Saturday) it just wasn't good, and if it's that way in postseason it could be a short postseason for us. But if it does happen Alexis will go to the point. She had to go to the point some (against LSU) for us.

"Is that our best look? No. Shannon and Cait have got to learn from this."

Summitt also pointed out the off night from key performers and the lack of production from the bench. But she also noted that she expects the team to respond to and not shirk from the loss.

"I think they're competitors," Summitt said. "They hurt. They won't take this lightly. They understand. We've got so many competitive people on this team. I think we'll have some good practices and good preparation days."

Bobbitt basically guaranteed that the team would bounce back.

Of course," Bobbitt said. "This is the University of Tennessee. One of the top programs in the country. Of course we're going to bounce back. We're going to do well."

USA TEAM: Candace Parker was named as one of the 21 members of the 2007-08 USA Women's Senior National Team. Former Lady Vols Tamika Catchings and Michelle Snow were also named to the team.

Parker is one of four collegiate players in the pool of team members. The others are Sylvia Fowles of LSU, Jessica Davenport of Ohio State and Courtney Paris of Oklahoma.

The group will train together over the next two years as the U.S. attempts at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games and then defend its three consecutive Olympic gold medal winning streak. It is expected that players selected to compete on USA Senior National teams in the 2007 and 2008 international competitions will come from the USA Basketball Senior National Team pool.

The other players in the 21-member pool are Katie Smith, Sheryl Swoopes, Seimone Augustus, Alana Beard, Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Katie Douglas, Cheryl Ford, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, DeLisha Milton-Jones, Deanna Nolan, Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi, Tina Thompson and Lindsay Whalen.

The USA's next chance to qualify for the 2008 Olympics will be at the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship, slated for Sept. 25-29 in Valdivia, Chile. The gold medalist at that tournament will earn a berth to the Beijing Olympic 12-nation field. Other teams participating in the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship will be Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico. Should the United States not win the gold medal in Chile, there will be one final chance to qualify for the Olympics at the 2008 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament slated for June 9-15, 2008, at a site to be determined.

The national team is coached by Anne Donovan. Her assistants are Mike Thibault, Gail Goestenkors and Dawn Staley.

"The parity at the top level of the women's international game is at an all-time high, and we recognize that our national team program needs to be adaptable in order to put the U.S. in the best possible position to reclaim the gold medal in Beijing and beyond," said USA Basketball President Val Ackerman. "By including a larger number of players in the program, we hope to create a more competitive training environment for the team, as well as accelerate the development of the young players who we will count on to continue our winning tradition in the future."

Said Committee chair Reneé Brown, WNBA chief of basketball operations and player relations, "We are not just looking to the next two years and our goal of reclaiming the gold medal in Beijing, we also have identified some of the top young candidates who will take the torch from our veteran leadership, from players like Sheryl, Katie and Tina, and run with it well into the future. The committee feels that this is a very strong mix of players, from the young up-and-comers to international veterans.

"If you look back, that's what USA Basketball has been doing for decades – the torch has been passed from Pat Summitt and Anne Donovan to Teresa Edwards and Katrina McClain. They have lent their leadership to Lisa (Leslie), Sheryl and Dawn, who are in the process of passing it along to our next generation of players."

Donovan said, "By identifying a pool of players we'll be able to train extensively and evaluate the best fit for our national team. The more that our staff and our players are able to train and play together, the better our USA National Team will be, come competition time.

"When you look at the makeup of this group, we have a lot of youth. What a benefit it is for them to be able to train with our veteran players, to learn from them on the court and off the court."

Each of the four collegiate players was an unanimous all-conference first team selection this season. Davenport (Big 10), Paris (Big 12) and Parker (SEC) were their conference's players of the year.

In addition to Brown, the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee is comprised of athlete representatives Jennifer Azzi, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Championship gold medalist, and five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards; representing the NCAA is University of Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt; and appointed by the WNBA are New York Liberty vice president and general manager Carol Blazejowski; Indiana Fever chief operating officer and general manager Kelly Krauskopf; Minnesota Lynx chief operating officer Roger Griffith; and Los Angeles Sparks general manager Penny Toler.


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