The Lady Vols started the game with jump shots – and mostly missing them – but then opted to drive to the basket and find Candace Parker inside. The difference was evident in the shooting percentages – 38.5 percent in the first half and 60.6 percent in the second half to finish at 50.8 percent for the game.
The difference also was a settled down Shannon Bobbitt. The point guard opened up the game at warp speed.
"She was out-running everyone like she had been shot out of a cannon," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Here comes Bobbitt."
Tennessee started the first half 4-20 from the field, but then Drake had six consecutive turnovers, and the Lady Vols had six consecutive field goals.
"We just kept playing hard-nosed defense, and we just let our defense create for our offense, and we got transition buckets, we got key rebounds, putbacks and that started it off," UT guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "That's all we needed to get ourselves going. And then from there we just kept hitting the open man and making the open shots, whether it was a layup, whether it was a cut, whether it was an open jumper, and rebounding, whatever it might be, we just played off that momentum."
Tennessee started in the second half in the exact opposite manner of the first half. Parker opened with consecutive layups. Then Sidney Spencer got an offensive board off a Bobbitt miss and scored on a layup.
Then it was Bobbitt's turn. She hit consecutive three-pointers on assists from Nicky Anosike and Parker. A steal and a layup by Spencer was followed by a steal by Anosike and a 15-footer from Bobbitt that came off two hesitation moves before she drained the shot from the free throw line. That was followed by a Bobbitt steal in the open court and a layup.
Suddenly Bobbitt had 10 points within three minutes, Tennessee led 48-14 at the 15:48 mark, and Drake had yet to score. It would take two free throws at the 10:30 mark for the Bulldogs to get on the board in the second half. By that time it was 55-16, and Summitt had gone to her bench to try to rest her starters for the second round game.
Hornbuckle opened the game by taking outside shots and started 0-4 from the field. So she opted to drive inside and ended up hitting 6-11 from the field on an assortment of slashes to the basket. The first bucket, which seemed to get her going, came on a drive to the left side with a scoop shot finish off the glass with her right hand.
A replay of the shot was playing on the television inside the Lady Vols locker room. Hornbuckle watched the highlight and then explained her approach.
"Offensively I just wanted to take open shots, and my jump shots weren't falling in the beginning of the game," Hornbuckle said. "Coach said, ‘Get to the hole. Get to the rack. Open up something.' You can start your momentum off with a layup and you get that confidence and it seems like everything else will just flow into the system. I just kept going to the hole."
Tennessee ended up with four players in double figures with Hornbuckle with 14; Parker, 13; Bobbitt, 11; and Dominique Redding, 10, an NCAA career high.
Drake, 14-19, didn't have anyone in double figures, but three players came close with Lindsay Whorton hitting three 3-pointers to finish with nine points. Monique Jones and Lauren Dybing pitched in with eight points each. Jones led all rebounders with eight boards.
The Bulldogs lived up to their reputation of taking care of the ball – they had 19 turnovers, but Tennessee only managed 10 steals. The Lady Vols limited their turnovers to eight. Tennessee's starting backcourt of Bobbitt and Hornbuckle didn't have a single turnover. Hornbuckle had two steals, and Bobbitt had two steals and an assist. Parker, Anosike and backup point guard Cait McMahan led the team with three assists each.
"That was an emphasis," Fuller said. "Coach told us that we needed to get on the boards because obviously our offense wasn't really working for us so that was her main point."
Tennessee got on the boards and got pressure on the ball – Anosike led the team with three steals – and stymied Drake's offense.
"Obviously our field goal percentage was low, and we weren't scoring," Anosike said.
The Lady Vols started off the game shooting 20 percent from the field. That fact caused Anosike, who was 3-5 and scored nine points, to stop mid-sentence.
"I didn't know it was that low," she said. "We just knew from SECs when our shot's not falling we have to come back with defense, and I think we learned that lesson. If anything good came out of that loss, it's that. We learned we need to bring our defense every night so it started here."
Anosike was referring to the loss to LSU in the semifinals of the SEC tourney. That game was 15 days ago, and Tennessee played initially like it had been off the court for some time. But instead of being sluggish the team was too wound up, particularly Bobbitt.
"Like coach said I didn't get settled in early in the game," Bobbitt said. "I felt like I was too anxious and didn't run the team well. My role is to get the game up-tempo from the beginning and get the ball inside so we can set up a good inside game and work outside after."
A writer at the post-game press conference asked the players what halftime was like. Parker smiled and told Bobbitt to handle that one.
"It was a lot of fun wasn't it?" Summitt interjected.
"At halftime Pat stressed to us that we had to get on the boards and we weren't winning the boards offensively and that's what our main mentality was going into the second half and playing intense and up-tempo on defense and that's what got us started in the second half," Bobbitt said.
Drake was held to 37 total points, tying the fewest scored against Tennessee in NCAA tourney play. North Carolina A&T also managed only 37 points in 1994. Drake's 12 field goals set a record low. The previous low was 13 by Austin Peay in 2001. Drake's 21.4 percent shooting was the lowest by an opponent this season since Tennessee-Martin shot 20.4 percent.
"We just had a really hard time in the half court handling their pressure, getting the ball in and once we did get the ball in we were our farther than we really wanted to be," Drake Coach Amy Stephens said. "Their length, size and athleticism is clearly a match above ours."
Stephens was pleased that her team was able to control tempo – Tennessee didn't get into its transition attack until later in the game – and handle the pressure without too many turnovers.
Tennessee still managed to get 28 points off of turnovers to three for Drake. The Lady Vols also dominated in the paint with 44 points scored there in comparison to 10 for the Bulldogs.
Hornbuckle was a key part of Tennessee getting inside the gaps for interior scoring.
"She did a great job of getting paint points," Summitt said. "Her dribble drives were strong and aggressive and to the rim. And then we just settled down and got the ball inside."
Tennessee got a steady game from Redding, a reserve who scored from outside and on putbacks.
"I'm pleased with her," Summitt said. "She can help us."
"She played really well," Hornbuckle said of Redding. "She came out there confident and eager to help the team and she did a great game inside and out. Ball came in to her, she kicked it out. Open shot, she knocked it down. She was getting boards. That's a big-time player so we need that every night."
"I was trying to focus on serving my teammates," said Redding, who along with Sidney Spencer has one more postseason tourney run left in her career.
Spencer chipped in eight points and also had four rebounds, two blocks (NCAA career high) and a steal.
"We took the momentum from the end of the first half and kind of carried over, started playing our kind of basketball, all nerves set aside and all anxiety and just tried to play Tennessee basketball," Spencer said.
Stephens saw the shift from the opposing bench.
"The sleeping giant awoke at halftime," she said.
Parker's two quick layups in half-court sets to start the second half seemed to set the tone and erase any effects of a sputtering first-half start.
"I think having been off for awhile we came in the first half a little anxious," Parker said. "I feel like we settled down in the second half and ran our sets and ran them right. That started us off and then we picked up our defensive intensity and just maintained it. Shannon did a great job of getting us in offensive sets so that was what we fixed going into the second half.
"I feel like we were just anxious. It was our first game and we were quick-shooting a little bit. If we're going to do that we need to get on the boards, and we weren't doing that either. A combination of lack of rebounding on our part and just not running our sets correctly, but we fixed that, and everything was cool after that."
Bobbitt and Summitt will have a sit-down film session on Monday so that the point guard can see on a screen how her play changed between halves.
"I just think Shannon was overanxious," Summitt said. "You've got to understand she's new to NCAA postseason. I'm glad she got this opportunity to play through it. We'll watch the tape. I want her to watch the early possessions with me because a lot of times she was out-running our whole team, and they were getting a couple back on defense so we have to decide what we want to do in that situation. Once she settled down I thought we all settled down."
Steady play from the point is paramount in the postseason. The fact Bobbitt did settle down was comforting to her coach. Bobbitt had said Saturday that she didn't know what to expect coming into the tourney.
"I just went with the flow," Bobbitt said Sunday. "The game is no different from the other games. I just came out here with the winning mentality and to do whatever it takes to win, and we came out on top."
Fellow newcomer Alberta Auguste, who had seven points to go with her six boards, seemed calm about the whole situation.
"It felt like a regular game to me," Auguste said. "I understand it's postseason so we have to fight a little bit more than what we were doing in the regular season. I was excited to be out there. We've just got to take it from here."
Freshman point guard Cait McMahan displayed her typical can-do spirit.
"One down, five to go," McMahan said with a smile. "Show us our opponent."
Senior walk-on Elizabeth Curry logged five minutes, and her teammates tried to get her an open shot at the end, but Drake, to its credit, continued to defend even with the game well out of hand.
"It was a lot of fun," said Curry, who is from Iowa and grew up watching Drake. "The team played well and came out in the second half taking care of business, which gave me to opportunity. I was just excited for the team and the direction we're headed in the tournament. But anytime you get to step on the floor with these girls it's a special atmosphere, and tournament time just adds that much more to it."
The fact Curry was in for that many minutes was a good indicator for Tennessee. No starter went 30 minutes – Anosike came closest at 29 – and Bobbitt only logged 18. The other three starters played 25 minutes or less.
"We got to rest our starters quite a bit. Nicky, she's an endurance player anyway," Summitt said.
Summitt was calm and smiling post-game, as she usually is in the post-season. She will take the win and move on.
"Obviously we brought our defensive intensity tonight," Summitt said. "That's a good thing because we weren't executing as well offensively in the first half. … But once we settled down and got the ball inside – we have to understand we have to establish our inside game – we closed out the half and came back and obviously went on a 25-0 run (to start the second half).
"This team defensively we spent a lot of time between the SEC loss and taking the court here on being able to rely heavily on our defense and disrupt our opponent. But I think we're also making better decisions offensively. We saw that in the second half so I was really proud to see how we shot the ball in the second half because you're going to have to make some shots in postseason and certainly we are capable of doing that."
The Lady Vols will have fan support from Drake's coach.
"I'd like to congratulate the University of Tennessee on their win and wish them the very best of luck throughout the course of the tournament," Stephens said. "I'm sure there'll be many people in Des Moines cheering for the Lady Vols. I'd also like to thank Coach Summitt for the time that she gave our program and the class act that she is."
TEAM SUPPORT: The Lady Vols watched the Tennessee men defeat Virginia, 77-74, on Sunday afternoon to advance to the Sweet 16 in Coach Bruce Pearl's second year at the helm.
"We watched the whole thing," Pat Summitt said. "We watched the first half together with the team and then we did our scouting at halftime. We turned it back on and two minutes had elapsed. That's all we missed so we got to see the rest of it. I talked to Bruce after the game. Today's his birthday, and he didn't even tell me! I'll have to call him and sing to him and wake him up."
Summitt left a phone message for Pearl, and he called her back later Sunday.
"Obviously he's very excited, appreciated the message," Summitt said. "He was talking about in postseason players have to make plays, and he was talking about Chris making all those free throws. They had to make a lot of big plays. Virginia kept coming back and he said we had to keep answering and making plays. He's really proud of them and really proud for Chris to hit those free throws."
Chris Lofton was 9-10 from the line and hit six consecutive shots from the charity stripe to seal the win at the end.
"It's tremendous," Summitt said of the Vols' accomplishments in the tourney. "He's brought this team together. They're disciplined, they're tough-minded, they're just relentless on defense. He's made a difference. His coaching style with this team has made a tremendous difference."
The Lady Vol players were thrilled with the win, and the two seniors, Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding, were especially happy for Lofton.
"Sid was really very vocal, she and Dom with Chris," Summitt said. "But the whole team, they're cheering. They watched the game as much like a coach as we did."
PITT-JAMES MADISON: The second game in Tennessee's pod proved to be a lot closer between the eight and nine seeds. The Pitt Panthers, playing on their home floor, found themselves in a dogfight with the Dukes of James Madison.
Pitt shot a scorching 52 percent in the first half but only had a 31-27 lead after the first 20 minutes. James Madison shot 32.4 percent in the first half – and 16.7 percent behind the arc – but had 12 more shots at the basket than the Panthers did with nine points off of turnovers compared to zero in that category for Pitt.
The second half was much like the first with Pitt maintaining a single-digit lead and James Madison sticking close.
But Pitt, 24-8, had a sixth man – a very loud and boisterous crowd – that drowned out the hearty contingent of Dukes fans who had made the trip from Harrisonburg, Va.
The game remained interesting late in the game when Pitt's Shavonte Zellous picked up her fifth foul at the 3:02 mark of the second half with some overzealous perimeter defense. She angrily went to the bench, and her mouthpiece beat her there after she tossed it under a seat.
James Madison kept attacking the basket and pressuring the ball, but the Panthers were able to not only keep the lead but also build a cushion and hold onto home-court advantage to advance to the second round with the 71-61 win.
Zellous finished the game with 17 points, and Jania Sims added 11, but the difference maker in the game – called a "warrior" by her head coach – was Marcedes Walker, who had 20 points and 15 rebounds.
"I thought Marcedes was a warrior," Pitt Coach Agnus Berenato said. "It was just her presence on the court. … She set the tone. She is a big-time player. She put the team on her back."
Walker was the target of a lot of heckling from a group of James Madison fans, but she laughed it off after the game and said they were "cheering for me."
"Good answer," Berenato said.
James Madison, 27-6, was led by three players in double figures: Tamera Young, 16; Shirley McCall, 12; and Meredith Alexis. 11. Andrea Benvenuto had nine points and six assists.
Alexis, a senior, got emotional in the post-game press conference, and Benvenuto, another senior who helped get the program back to the NCAA tourney, said the reality of their careers having come to an end hadn't sunk in yet.
For Pitt the victory was the program's first ever in the NCAA Tournament. Berenato said at first she just wanted to get in the 64-team field and then she just wanted to win one game. Now she just wants to win two. Her top player felt the same way.
"I didn't want to play this game and be one and done," Walker said. "I think I stepped up to the challenge, and I'm going to step up to the next challenge on Tuesday."
Berenato and her players continued to thank those in attendance at the post-game press conference. The coach and Zellous and Walker walked the room to greet each person before taking their seats on the dais.
"It's great to see you all here to support this, especially so late on a Sunday evening," Berenato said as the clock closed in on midnight.
At the end of the press conference, Berenato used the closing seconds to again address the media.
"I just want to thank you again for being here," she said. "If you're not here writing our game doesn't grow. … You people being here shows great support."
ODDS AND ENDS
WORST NON-CALLS: Three of them in a row in the other pod in Pittsburgh in the first round game between Notre Dame and Cal. The Golden Bears were down, 60-59, with seven seconds to go after Tulyah Gaines made three free throws to pull her team within one.
Cal set up full court to either get a steal off the in-bounds pass or foul the Irish. After Notre Dame successfully in-bounded the ball Cal made three swipes at players with no calls as the Irish advanced the ball down court. Finally a foul was called with half a second left. Notre Dame made two free throws and prevailed, 62-59.
Cal Coach Joanne Boyle was asked about those late seconds in the post-game press conference. Coaches are not allowed to criticize the officiating so Boyle sat silent for a few seconds, which said more than words could. Finally she said that everyone knew Cal wanted to foul in that situation but it didn't unfold as planned.
"I'll just say, we tried to foul three times," Boyle said. "When you're in a game situation like that, just as a spectator, you would know that we were trying to foul. We tried on three different occasions. I thought we got good looks."
This was Cal's second year in a row in the NCAA tourney, and Boyle has her Bears believing in themselves.
"I told them, ‘We're two years into this, and I'm not happy to be here anymore,' " Boyle said. "We're expected to be here, and we're expected to advance. We're preparing ourselves all year for that."
Notre Dame moves on to face North Carolina on Tuesday evening. The Tar Heels wiped out Prairie Valley A&M, 95-38.
HEAVY HEART: North Carolina forward Erlana Larkins has worn shoes this season with "Dr. J" on them. It's not in homage to the high-flying Julius Erving or even the Michael Jordan "Jumpman" logo on her Nike shoes. It's in memory of her brother, Jarrad Larkins, who died three days before Christmas of a heart condition that had been undiagnosed.
"Dr. J" was her brother's nickname.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Hands down to the Prairie Valley band and cheerleaders. From dancing to upbeat tunes to gymnastics flips down the length of the court, the male and female cheers gave their fans plenty to cheer about. Their spirit also brought appreciative applause from those in attendance pulling for other schools.
NEVER GIVE UP AWARD: To Prairie Valley Coach Cynthia Cooper, who called timeout at the 8:37 mark of the second half with her team down 81-26. She held court on the court – instead of having the players sit – and delivered an impassioned speech to one of her players who left a Tar Heel three-point shooter wide open.
Cooper gestured with her clipboard and gave that player an earful. For the rest of the game the player made sure to call out who she was guarding on the perimeter.
Cooper wasn't through. After North Carolina got a basket on an interior pass, Cooper climbed all over an official for not calling three seconds. She had a legitimate point as the Tar Heel player had been loitering in the lane.
BEST TOSS: Alberta Auguste, who launched Dominique Redding's knee wrap across the court and onto media row. Redding's wrap had fallen off and onto the court, and Auguste's intent was to clear it completely from the playing floor. She succeeded. The soft, flexible wrap looked like a boomerang as it flew through the air. It hit the headset of an ESPN statistician.
"I hit someone?" Auguste said. "Tell him I love him."
He wasn't hurt and only wanted to not make SportsCenter in that fashion.
Auguste had her own blow to the head to worry about. She had an icepack on her face and a swollen nose after colliding with Nicky Anosike.
"I ran into Nicky's shoulder, but I'm all right," Auguste said.
BEST FAN CLUB: That of Candace Parker. A cluster of young girls wearing Pitt T-shirts and sitting behind the basket squealed with delight every time Parker did anything with the ball from passing to scoring. They even applauded her letting a Drake air ball go out of bounds.
MOST DEDICATED FAN CLUB: That of Pat Summitt. They lined up along the railings more than an hour before tipoff waiting to snap photos of Summitt as she entered the court area. They got their photos when the coaches came out for the national anthem shortly before the game tipped off.
BEST LOBBYING: By a smiling Dominique Redding, who held onto the ball after a Drake shot clock violation and asked the official: "I get the rebound, right?" She didn't – the ball never hit the rim so Redding's board didn't count because the shot clock had expired – but she still finished with three boards.
"I'm trying to hunt rebounds because that is all coach is griping on me for how if I could rebound for this team I could really help us a lot," Redding said. "I'm just trying to get any rebound I can."
BEST SUPPORT FROM THE BENCH: Pat Summitt to UT's pep band after its rendition of "Rocky Top." She gave them a thumb's up right before play resumed. Summitt can appreciate a good a capella version of the song. She did it during a timeout at a Tennessee men's game this season while wearing a cheerleader's outfit.
"They're a lot better," Summitt said of the band's performance.
MOST ODDBALL QUESTION: That directed at Candace Parker by a writer who wanted to know if her mother, Sara, had been a cheerleader at Iowa, where her father, Larry, played college ball. Parker laughed and said no but intended to tease her mother.
"No, she wasn't a cheerleader, but that's good," Parker said. "I'm going to take that back. I'm going to tell her that."
BEST SIGN: That held up on poster board by a member of the James Madison spirit squad: "Marry Me Meredith." The proposal was directed at Meredith Alexis, the senior center for James Madison. The group had a lot of characters with two members wearing carved-out basketballs on their heads. Another had a long purple wig. Most were in blue jeans and purple T-shirts, but several wore khakis with purple dress shirts and gold ties. The enthusiastic supporters filled a lower section alongside the Dukes' band.
BEST BAND SPORTMANSHIP: That of Tennessee's when Drake finally scored on a free throw after starting the second half 0-15 from the field. The band members applauded. The free throw came at the 10:30 mark and was Drake's first point of the second half to make the score, 55-15. Monique Jones hit the second one, and the band cheered again.
LATE HOURS: Those kept by Tennessee's coaching staff. Holly Warlick, Nikki Caldwell and Dean Lockwood were on press row for the second game to scout James Madison-Pitt, which didn't end until 11:30 p.m. Video coordinator Angel Elderkin also was burning the midnight oil. She had to get the Pitt tape to the coaches immediately after the game ended.
BEST MARKETER: Pitt Coach Agnus Berenato, who used her post-game remarks to praise her players, thank the media and push ticket sales for Tuesday's matchup between Pitt and Tennessee.
"I hope people start lining up and calling the ticket office, and we have a sell-out Tuesday night," she said.