Shannon Bobbitt ready for big stage

The way Shannon Bobbitt sees it she played the worst game of her career at Tennessee the last time she took the court. The junior guard spent the two weeks between games working on what she did wrong. Her head coach liked the results and pronounced herself "comfortable" with the point guard position.

That's a key word because as Pat Summitt stood outside the locker room at the SEC tourney she had said she was "concerned."

"I felt like I could have played the worst game I could have possibly played against LSU," Shannon Bobbitt said of the semifinal game in the SEC tourney against LSU in Duluth, Ga. "I feel like I'm going to learn from that, and I'm definitely going to watch film to make that be my motivation while going into the NCAA Tournament to not let that happen again. I'm excited about everything."

Bobbitt's willingness to point fingers only at herself when the point guard play is not up to par is one of the reasons she earned Pat Summitt's respect so early in the season. Nothing has happened to change Summitt's assessment of Bobbitt, who is in her first year at Tennessee.

"I'm comfortable," Summitt said. "I think the important thing is that she's comfortable. The one thing about her, Shannon is one of the most coachable guards I've ever coached at Tennessee. She wants to get it right. She wants to learn. She's constantly asking. She's watching film.

"She's not afraid of the big stage. If anything you have to settle her down. I thought in the LSU game she got those two quick fouls and then put a lot of pressure on herself. I think my job is to let her know what I expect and try to keep her loose. Have that focus but also have that confidence that goes with it."

Bobbitt acknowledged some nerves early in the season, but then she remembered her roots in New York and summoned those memories to settle herself down.

"I had a couple of games where I was too nervous, and I played too uptight instead of just relaxing and playing my game," Bobbitt said. "I'm not nervous as far as the stage and the crowd, because I played at Rucker Park so I just have to know how to keep my composure and let the game come to me."

Still, Bobbitt will play in her first NCAA Tournament game when Tennessee, 28-3, takes on Drake, 14-18, on Sunday at 7 p.m. (ESPN2) at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. She is readily aware of that.

"I don't even know what to expect going into the NCAA Tournament," Bobbitt said. "I have some of the returning players letting me know how it's going to be. I'm just trying to practice as if I'm in a game situation."

So far, so good in that regard.

"I think she's had some really good practices," Summitt said. "I've been pleased."

Summitt has two young point guards this season in Bobbitt and freshman Cait McMahan. Both have had some shaky games and others where they were poised and handled the pressure.

"I don't think she's your true freshman," Summitt said of the first-year Bobbitt who played two years in junior college. "Hopefully this first, second round we can do what we need to do there. We can get her settled down a little bit. You always have the option if Shannon and Cait are overanxious to look at Alexis in that position."

Junior guard Alexis Hornbuckle has had to play the point position on and off for three years. In her freshman year Loree Moore had her tonsils removed and missed several weeks. In her sophomore year Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood transferred at mid-season. In her junior year she had had to take the reins on occasion to settle down the team or help out when Bobbitt or McMahan got in foul trouble.

But it doesn't seem to be an issue that Summitt is worried about now.

"I'm not overly concerned about it," Summitt said. "If you really wanted to sit around and give yourself ulcers, you could think about it all the time. You could find reasons. (Nicky) Anosike's got to rebound better and score more points. What's our point guard play going to be like? I have a lot of confidence in this team. I think you have to trust your players.

"I think there's been even seniors that didn't play well (in NCAA tourneys). It's a different platform for them, but I think you just have to work through it during the game. If someone's having a bad game – and it doesn't necessarily mean just the point guard – we have to try to manage that and not panic and keep them calm and focused."

Focus isn't an issue when Summitt is trying to relay something to Bobbitt. The coach has raved all season about how coachable Bobbitt is and how well she responds to teaching.

"I just know that Pat is one of the best coaches in the country, and you have no choice but to just listen and learn and that's how I was brought up," Bobbitt said. "I know she knows the game, and I admire her and look up to her so much that I'm going to respect everything that she says to me. That's my personality, and I want to do whatever it takes to win. It's definitely a compliment (to call Bobbitt one of her most coachable guards), and I thank her for that."

Bobbitt will refer to Summitt as Pat – as she encourages her players to do – or as coach, but Bobbitt also sprinkles in yes and no ma'ams when in conversation with Summitt.

"There are certain things you shouldn't say and certain things you should say and give them your attention," Bobbitt said. "That's how I was brought up to address Pat Summitt."

Bobbitt and her teammates will be on the floor of the Petersen Events Center for the first time Saturday when Tennessee holds its open practice at 3 p.m. Drake's open practice follows at 4 p.m.

Lil Bit may be all business sometimes, but she also knows the postseason is supposed to be fun.

"I understand it's business, and we want to win," Bobbitt said. "That's our main goal, that's our mission. We've been working hard and this is for winning the national championship and I'm going to go out there and have fun, and I'll be at my best when I'm having fun."

PASSAGE OF TIME: Tennessee Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick knows the head coach on the opposing bench well. She recruited Amy Stephens nearly 22 years ago when Warlick was an assistant at Nebraska from 1983 to 1985.

Stephens, now the head coach at Drake, remembers the visit like it was yesterday. Warlick had to shake off some cobwebs to summon some memories.

"It makes me feel real old, especially when she can remember details of my visit, and I can't," said the 48-year-old Warlick who is in her 22nd season at Tennessee.

Stephens was a shooting guard from the rural town of Alliance, Nebraska – she recalled that Warlick would have made an up-and-back trip of about 14 hours to come watch her play – when she was being recruited by the University of Nebraska, where she ended up going and still holds the school's career record for three-pointers and is second for career steals and assists. Stephens started 113 games for Nebraska and later became an assistant coach at her alma mater. She headed her own program at Nebraska-Kearney before taking the job at Drake, where Stephens is in her fourth year.

"She's a great kid. She still is. I can call her a kid because she's a lot younger than me," Warlick said. "I got an email from the (former) head coach at Nebraska that Amy and I are getting reunited in this game."

That email came this week from Kelly Hill, who coached Nebraska when Warlick was an assistant and during Stephens' playing days. Warlick actually left a month before Stephens got there because the assistant job at Tennessee, Warlick's alma mater, became available.

"I followed her (college career)," Warlick said. "Her dad was the superintendent of schools. She had a little sister that was around the gym, a little gym rat."

Warlick is going to meet with Stephens and her family this weekend. She noted that the little sister is now grown and married. Warlick had no doubts that Stephens would be a great player at Nebraska.

"You could just tell she was a special kid," Warlick said. "She carried herself very well. She was a great leader on the floor. She was somebody we needed at the time. Team player. Very unselfish player. I figured she was going to be a head coach just because of how she was on the floor and how smart she was. She was a great shooter."

Stephens remembered minute details of the recruiting visit – Warlick coming to her high school game in Alliance, going to eat afterwards at the local Pizza Hut with her family and then sitting in the living room with Warlick and her parents during the recruiting pitch.

"I have fond memories of Holly recruiting me for Nebraska," Stephens said.

Stephens also was impressed at how long Warlick traveled by car – and in an over-and-back trip on the same day – to watch her play.

Warlick remembered Alliance as being "in the middle of nowhere. It was freezing, too. It was an up-and-back trip but back then you just did it. You went. I don't know how far it was. It was a long way."

Stephens was a rarity – a player recruited by Nebraska in a very rural part of the state. Most of the recruits came from Omaha and Iowa.

The two coaches have kept in touch at Final Fours and WBCA conventions, but this reunion will be a little special. Stephens has asked Warlick to meet with her and her team some time this weekend.

"She called me on the phone and she wanted to know if I would meet her team and her parents," Warlick said. "Her family is going to be there. I'm anxious to see her family."

That may seem odd – opposing coaches meeting before a game – but it's what happens sometimes when paths re-cross some two decades later.

"Holly is a very special person," Stephens said. "She's a big part of why Tennessee is so special."

Stephens also has a high opinion of Pat Summitt.

During her teleconference with media this week Stephens used her opening statement to make a heartfelt speech about how she felt about Tennessee's coach. She noted she had read both of Summitt's books and used her principles at every school along the way to Drake.

"I borrowed shamelessly from her principles," Stephens said of The Definite Dozen, which became The Bulldog Beliefs at Drake.

Drake won the Missouri Valley Conference to get into the NCAA Tournament as a 16 seed. The team lost Jill Martin – the conference's preseason player of the year – to back injury early in the season; then key player Jordann Plummer broke her foot in December; a bout of bronchitis spread through the team after a player tried to play through it without telling anyone because the team was so thin; and finally the leading scorer, Brandy Dahir, got mononucleosis right before the MVC tourney and couldn't play.

"We're living proof it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get back up," Stephens said.

The injuries caused Stephens to have to revamp her team's offense midseason. A team that had been picked to win the conference in the preseason had to reinvent itself.

"It's just been unbelievable," Stephens said. "We envisioned ourselves being here. We just didn't think it would be this kind of journey."

Stephens has told her players that "they have a chance to play against the benchmark of women's basketball."

Drake, 14-18, won four consecutive games in its conference tournament on its home floor in Des Moines, Iowa, with a roster of eight available players. The Bulldogs defeated Wichita State; the tourney's top seed in Southern Illinois; Evansville; and finally Creighton in overtime in the championship game.

"You like to see young coaches in this profession that are excited – obviously she's done a great job," Summitt said. "They put themselves in this position through the tournament play."

Although Stephens has tremendous respect for Summitt and Tennessee she won't let such admiration overwhelm her team in terms of taking on a number one seed.

"We will play as hard as we possibly can, and we will do it as a team," Stephens said. "They're excited about the opportunity. They get it. They understand what just happened with our basketball team. …We'll be ready when tipoff comes."

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