Alexis Hornbuckle ready to get defensive

Within minutes of the win over Pitt, Lady Vol guard Alexis Hornbuckle was asked about Tennessee's 26th consecutive trip to the Sweet 16. She called it a "great feeling," but then volunteered how poorly she had played defensively. It was a vintage answer from the junior guard.

"I notice the bad more than I notice the good when I'm playing, and I just wasn't satisfied with myself as far as on the defensive end," Alexis Hornbuckle said Friday after practice ended and shortly before the team departed for Ohio. "I feel like I could have put forth a little more effort. That's my mindset. We have potentially four more games left so I know that I have to play my ‘A' game on both ends of the court so I just take it as a personal challenge."

On Tuesday in Pittsburgh after the 68-54 win, Hornbuckle said, "It's a great feeling to get back to the Sweet Sixteen, especially for me being 100 percent without a cast and being able to support my team. Hopefully I'll provide a better defensive game from here on out than I did tonight.

"I'm harder on myself than anybody else and that's just going to motivate me to work harder and use these next few days of preparation and come back with a vengeance."

The two practice sessions in Knoxville this week on Wednesday and Friday were well suited for Hornbuckle.

"We did what we wanted to do," Coach Pat Summitt said Friday. "We wanted to spend a lot of time with our defense defending sets and then get in some shots. We weren't putting heavy burden on our legs (Friday). I think we probably put more heavy burdens on their minds as far as all the concepts they have to defend. And that's what it is in motion, it's concepts."

Marist, Tennessee's opponent in the Dayton Region, runs a motion offense with three guards on the floor.

"They have like three point guards," Hornbuckle said. "You have to be a pest. You've got to be all up in them. People have been playing off of them, letting them shoot, letting them pick their poison, and we want to apply as much pressure as possible. I know my job is just to get after the point guard so I'm just going to take that and do the best I can with that."

No. 1 seed Tennessee, 30-3, will face No. 13 seed Marist, 29-5, at noon Sunday at the Dayton Arena. Tennessee has never been knocked out of the NCAA tourney by a team lower than a four seed. Tennessee will hold its practice session at the arena on Saturday at 1 p.m. Marist's session is scheduled for noon. The practices are open to the public.

Oklahoma, 28-4, will square off against Ole Miss, 23-10, in the second game Sunday. The winners meet Tuesday for the right to return to Ohio next weekend for the Final Four in Cleveland.

Summitt applauded "the fact we still have four teams alive and well" from the Southeastern Conference in the Sweet 16 in Ole Miss, Tennessee, Georgia and LSU.

"Just looking at what Ole Miss has done, Carol Ross, she's done a great job there," Summitt said. "Her team plays so well. I know she's excited and working hard on her scouting report just like we are. Really proud for the conference."

If both SEC teams win Sunday it would set up a conference matchup in the regional final. But Tennessee must first figure out the offensive efficiency of the Red Foxes and Ole Miss will have its hands full with Courtney Paris and the Sooners.

A television reporter asked Summitt about remarks already made by some – not sure exactly who – saying that the Lady Vols were Final Four-bound.

"They don't coach basketball if they said that," Summitt said. "They don't understand on a given night anyone can lose. Everybody is fighting to go to a Final Four. From the first day of practice on, it's preparation for postseason and trying to get to a Final Four. No one's a shoo-in, and we don't think that way, and we'd better not think that way."

Hornbuckle certainly hasn't taken that approach.

"We play them like they're a number one seed basically," Hornbuckle said. "We play them as our equals. It's the NCAA Tournament and I keep repeating myself as far as anything can happen on any given day. So you have to treat them as a one seed. They've earned their two wins, and you have to respect it. They didn't get here by fluke. They had to play two 40-minute games, and you have to respect that and play two 40-minute games of Tennessee basketball."

Summitt applauded Hornbuckle's willingness to be readily unhappy with her defense in the last game. Pitt guard Shavonte Zellous got 18 points on 7-18 shooting. The fact that Zellous was able to launch 18 shots upset Hornbuckle.

"I think her defense bothered her a lot," Summitt said. She just arrived late on her a lot. Alexis has been our defensive stopper, and that wasn't one of her better defensive performances. But in all fairness to Lex they run a lot of screens and just a lot of action to get her shots. Plus, she can just catch and elevate. One dribble, elevate. She can shoot over people. She shot a few shots with Lex, she had a hand right in her face."

Summitt will need Hornbuckle's defense on the perimeter against Marist. The Red Foxes' motion offense reminds her of the patient and efficient Villanova teams coached by her friend, Harry Perretta.

"Maybe more shooters," Summitt said. "Harry, I don't think this has been his best shooting team. They've just got more weapons, although I think Harry and them beat them (Marist) early (a 69-64 win in overtime on Nov. 19). A lot of things happen early (in the season). They just remind me a lot of Villanova because they set the flare screens, the back screens. It's a reading offense."

Summitt and her assistants spent the two practice sessions in Knoxville getting the team ready for the different looks and options that Marist will present.

"Let's look at it," Summitt said. "The last two teams that played Marist (Ohio State and Middle Tennessee) had to be favored going into that game. We're favored going into the game. But they make shots. They're as disciplined in the half-court offense as anyone we will have faced all year, probably more than anyone we've faced. They shoot it. It's like they all can make shots.

"I think the good thing going into it to give us confidence is this is one of the best defensive teams we've had at Tennessee in awhile. Clearly a lot better than last year's defensive team. We're older; we're obviously just better on the defensive end. If we had a team that was full of some players that weren't committed to playing defense I'd really be concerned, but I have a lot of confidence in this team to defend."

And although Marist is point guard heavy and savvy, Summitt also has complete faith in her floor leader in Shannon Bobbitt.

When asked if she had gotten what she expected from Bobbitt this season, Summitt said, "It's been more. And maybe I didn't know what to think because I hadn't seen her play as much as I saw kids I recruited out of high school, because I watched them in AAU. We learned about Shannon as a junior college player. I only had that experience of being able to see her play. I saw her play on tape, Dean (Lockwood) went down and watched her play and then I saw her play in the national tournament. And that was it. I had limited opportunities.

"I was probably more excited about getting practice going last fall so I could see what Alberta (Auguste) and Shannon could do. When I saw her I knew she was quick as a cat, she had great vision, she could hit the deep corner shots, but she was the type of player there she had to score a lot of points. I think she's learned to create for others as opposed to always thinking create for herself.

"She's become a great point guard in terms of distributing the basketball. That needs to be her mindset from the beginning, not to take away from her aggressive attitude with the basketball, because we need her to score. But we obviously are a team we want to play inside-out basketball."

Bobbitt also provides a complement to Hornbuckle in the backcourt in terms of swagger and attitude.

"Very much so," Summitt said. "I like her confidence. She's got ‘it.' Some players don't have ‘it.' She's got ‘it.' "

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