Tennessee, Marist meet today in Sweet 16

DAYTON, Ohio – Marist Coach Brian Giorgis said Saturday that his defense against Candace Parker might be to have one player carry the other on her shoulders. But after smiling he sighed and said the problem is the matchup issues extend well beyond Tennessee's 6'5 forward. The Lady Vols know they're the favored team Sunday, but they said there's not a chance they would overlook the Red Foxes.

This would be the tournament to not do so. Three No. 2 seeds are gone, and on Saturday, No. 1 seed Duke fell to Rutgers. The Dayton Region looked stacked with ranked teams during the announcement of the brackets, but Ohio State and Middle Tennessee – the victims of No. 13 seed Marist – never made it here. Oklahoma, a three seed, and Ole Miss, a seven seed, arrived, along with top seed Tennessee.

Tennessee, 30-3, will take on Marist, 29-5, at the Dayton Arena on Sunday at 12 p.m. Eastern (ESPN, Lady Vol Radio Network). Oklahoma, 28-4, and Ole Miss, 23-10, play in the second game with the winners to meet Tuesday evening.

Tennessee has never been eliminated in the NCAA Tournament by any team seeded lower than fourth.

"This is a new era. You can take all that stuff and just put it right around the corner in that big black bin," said a smiling Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, pointing to a nearby trash can in the Lady Vols locker room. "We're seeing an advent in women's basketball. We're seeing things happen that weren't happening, and I think you're going to continue to see that. To combat that, our process of preparation has to be the exact same. It's been so consistent whether we're playing LSU, UConn, Chattanooga, Marist, anybody, I don't care who it is, our process of preparation we've been exactly the same."

The Lady Vols know that they enter this game in the proverbial role of Goliath taking on David, the stepmother to Cinderella, the iconic program to the unknown newcomer. Tennessee is playing in its 26th Sweet 16. This is Marist's first in school history.

A large contingent of orange-clad fans is expected to help fill the 13,000-capacity arena, but Marist sold out a chartered flight from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and also has loaded up the bandwagon with folks wanting to see if the Red Foxes could do what didn't seem feasible when the tourney started.

"There's plenty of room," Coach Brian Giorgis said. "A lot of people have jumped on it and hopefully a lot more. Our country's always been one that likes the underdog. I don't think there's probably a bigger one than us right now in either tournament."

The Lady Vols have heard all the talk about being overwhelming favorites, but they also are getting an earful from their coaches.

"They wouldn't be here if they weren't good, and our kids are very aware they beat a very good Ohio State team and a very tough Middle Tennessee team, who hadn't lost since we played them," Lockwood said. "They've come through 80 minutes to get here. I don't think our players are selling them short, and I think they have a healthy respect for Marist and what they can do and their ability to make plays and make shots."

The Lady Vols also are used to the target that having Tennessee on the jersey attracts.

"There are always people who want us to lose just because of the success that our team has had, especially in the past and the tradition of Tennessee, but that's nothing we haven't seen before," said Tennessee's Nicky Anosike, a New York native who played on the campus of Marist when she attended St. Peter's for Girls as part of the Red Fox Shoot-Out. "We've played in hostile environments before where the whole gym is against us. We're prepared to see anything and we're prepared for everyone to want us to lose. It's not the first time."

The arena could very well be packed with Lady Vol fans, who are known to travel. Dayton is only about a five-hour drive from Knoxville, and the lower level has been sold out for Sunday's game. There were still tickets available in the upper section as of Saturday afternoon.

Anyone not in orange is likely to be pulling for Marist.

"That's what you hope," Giorgis said. "You kind of become America's little darlings. Not only are we a thirteen seed we're a pretty small team in comparison. People like the way that we play. We've got more Ohio kids on our team than they do (four to zero), so we're hoping that Ohio State has forgiven us, and people will jump on our bandwagon. Even if they don't and their crowd is bigger, that's all right, our kids just like playing."

Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 junior guard, No. 00 (8.4 points per game, 1.5 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 junior guard, No. 14 (10.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 3.2 steals per game); Sidney Spencer, 6'3 senior forward, No. 1 (11.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 sophomore forward, No. 3 (19.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 junior center, No. 55 (7.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

Giorgis is expected to start: Alisa Kresge, 5'7 senior guard, No. 2 (3.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 5.4 apg), Marist all-time assists leader with 589, had 11 assists against Liberty, only player in school history to have 500+ assists and 500+ steals; Nikki Flores, 5'4 junior guard, No. 22 (8.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg), scored career high 21 points against Middle Tennessee; Julianne Viani, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 3 (10.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg), had career high 24 points against Ohio State and hit six 3-pointers, has hit 9-14 threes in the tourney and has not had a turnover in two games; Rachele Fitz, 6'0 freshman forward, No. 12 (14.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament MVP, Second Team All-MAAC and 2007 MAAC Rookie of the Year, scored career high 26 points against Harvard, one of four players on the roster from Ohio; and Meg Dahlman 6'3 junior center, No. 14 (11.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), 2007 MAAC All-Tournament team, had a season-high 21 points against Iona in the conference tourney, fourth place on Marist's all time list in blocks with 90.

A key player off the bench for Marist is 5'10 freshman guard/forward Lynzee Johnson, who is from nearby Xenia, Ohio. She averages 4.3 points a game and hits 48 percent from behind the arc and 54.9 percent overall.

Marist leads the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 11.5. Tennessee is sixth in the country in steals at 11.9 and also forces 22.3 turnovers per game. Needless to say Tennessee feels like one key in the game is to get out and pressure the Red Foxes.

"It's very key," Hornbuckle said. "It's very important to get out on this team, bring the pressure early. We are going to have to bring the pressure early from start to finish. They are very efficient in taking care of the ball, and it's our job to disrupt that. I think Shannon does a great job of bringing the heat, as well as our guards, and Candace getting out in the passing lanes. I think if we can hold that for 40 minutes and not have too many breakdowns or try to do it without fouling we'll be in great shape."

Likewise, the Marist players know they have to take care of the ball against Tennessee's relentless pressure.

"That's number one in our game plan, along with defense," Flores said. "Against Middle Tennessee I think it was key for us. Coming into Tennessee, another team that really gets after you, it's going to be important for us to take care of the basketball and have good shot selection."

Summitt has said she feels better about this team than previous ones because it has readily accepted the role defense plays in postseason.

"I think guard play is going to be very important," Summitt said. "Point guard play is going to be a matchup we think is very important in how we defend the basketball in transition. They do a great job pushing tempo. They got the ball deep in their last two games and got in their motion offense. When you have to guard three guards on the perimeter that's a challenge for most teams.

"We understand what we have to do. That's where it all starts – transition defense, extending our defense and defending the three ball."

Two of the leaders on defense are Hornbuckle and Anosike.

"I think we think defense is just as important as offense," Anosike said of the difference in this team from past ones. "Last year we didn't have the right mentality. I think that we felt as long as I score my points I'll be OK. This year we learned … that defense is just as important, if not more important, than offense."

Anosike and Hornbuckle both assumed leadership roles early and have asserted themselves this season. They are vocal on and off the court.

"I think this team they've taken ownership," Summitt said. "When they feel like they need to meet, they meet. I usually don't know when or where."

Those meetings are for players only.

"It is; it should be," Summitt said. "It's their team. There're the ones who've got to make the plays and play the game."

The two juniors are comfortable in vocal roles, partly because they have been in the starting lineup since they were freshmen.

"It does help when you get thrown into the fire early," Hornbuckle said. "I don't want to say you feel the need, but you know, you've been there. You watched the older players, what they said, how they said it, what you need to say to the team to keep them up and running. I think Nicky and I have done a great job – as well as everybody; it's been a team effort – as far as we need to meet, we need to calm down, we need you to do this, we need so and so to do that, I'm going to be accountable for this. Our team has actually stepped up and taken a lot of challenges that we've thrown at each other this year."

Most of the questions directed at Giorgis were about handling Parker, but he is familiar with the four other starters – he knows Anosike and Bobbitt's games from their New York days – and said the matchup issues for his team extend well beyond Parker.

"Oh my God, absolutely," Giorgis said. "That's the problem. You've got Bobbitt who's shooting lights out. You've got Spencer who can shoot it. You've got Hornbuckle who is just so solid. I played against Anosike (as a high school coach in New York), and she's a great player. They all go to the offensive boards, which has been a problem for us this year because we do swarm so much.

"People say, ‘box out,' but if you're double-teaming how are you going to box out that (other) kid, if you're helping and stuff like that. If they shoot it well from the perimeter we're going to struggle."

Rebounding has not been Tennessee's strong point this season – the Lady Vols average 37.9 per game – but Marist's numbers are even lower at 33.8 per game.

Tennessee hopes to use its height and its inherent tendency to crash the offensive glass. Forward Alex Fuller could be key in that area.

"Considering we have the advantage in that area that's going to be one of our main points," Fuller said. "It always is. We do have the height advantage."

When Summitt puts Fuller in, it usually means instant board play. Fuller is sixth on the team in minutes played at 20.8 and fourth on team in rebounds per game at 4.4.

"If you look statistically at what she's done on the boards and her minutes she's been very strong," Summitt said. "She's got a nose for the ball. I don't know that you can teach that. I think it's instinctive, and it's just ingrained in her. It's big for us."

Giorgis is concerned about keeping Tennessee off the boards. Summitt is concerned about her team reacting to Marist's well-run motion offense.

"When you go up against a Tennessee or people like that that really get after you defensively they'll take you out of your sets," Giorgis said. "That's why I like our motion, and we drill our motion every single day in practice and we'll do it out of different looks, but it's still the same principles.

"What most people do is just get out and get after you, and our kids have to be ready to put the ball on the floor and penetrate and find somebody when help comes. Being patient with things. That's what I worry about. Sometimes when people get after you, you start rushing and looking for the first opportunity and now you're playing their tempo. We do like to run, especially off rebounds and steals, but we preach a lot about making other teams play defense."

This Tennessee team certainly doesn't seem to mind playing defense.

"I think it's the attitude," Hornbuckle said. "Defense has a lot to do with attitude and passion. It's the dirty work basically. If you don't want to do it you're not going to be good at it. This team wants to work hard, and we realize – especially the returners from last year – defense is very important. I think we lost some of our games because we lacked in defense. We thought we could rely strictly on our offense. We learned that early this year and passed that down to the newcomers. They've done a great job of just coming in and rolling with it.

"I think any team, especially major D1, anybody can score. But who's going to be the best defender? What team is going to allow the least amount of points, cause the most turnovers? Our team has done a great job of taking that in and living on it day in and day out."

Giorgis also is preaching defense to his team. Most of the questions directed his way Saturday were about matching up with Parker.

"We thought of putting Nikki Flores on Alisa Kresge's shoulders and going with a triangle and one, but I think it would slow us up a bit," Giorgis said. "I don't know how well Alisa could move."

"That would be interesting, wouldn't it? I don't know if we would still be her height," said Flores, who said her coach's funny approach was typical. "He's trying to enjoy it. Make us relax a little bit. That kind of humor helps us."

However, there is nothing funny about trying to guard Parker.

"None of us are starting out on her," said Dahlman of herself and the two other players on the dais, Kresge and Flores. "But we'll probably get a chance to guard her at some point. She is a great player, but we can't get caught up in the fact she's Candace Parker. We've got to treat her like any other player and respect what she can do."

Parker will, however, be the main focal point.

"Obviously it begins with Candace," Giorgis said. "We want to try to do as much as we can to be a pain to her. I still hope we can run out and get to the shooters like Bobbitt. My biggest concern is I can't teach 6'3 so we're going to be guarding somebody who's big with a small kid. People say go zone, but we don't play much zone. I might have to go with different personnel, which is fine in our motion, because everybody understands that (but not necessarily on defense). Our best lineup is with our three munchkins and our two frontline kids."

The Marist team has been emboldened by the way the tournament has unfolded so far with lower seeds not just pushing higher seeds but beating them.

"I think it helped us, confidence-wise, because it showed us that we can play the higher teams," Flores said. "We served as a model, I guess, for other teams that underdogs can win. I think it's a great confidence booster for us, especially coming into a game playing the number one seed. We're going to need as much confidence as we can get, but we're still going to play our game."

Their coach said his team has already conquered the mental aspect of the game. The players think they can win.

"That's half the battle," Giorgis said. "It's what I like about this group. The kids feel like they can play with anybody; that's important. They just like to play the best and compete. We like to say we like to be pains to people. A lot of times we've played the major powers well, but it's been for 20 minutes or 30 minutes. We did it for 40 minutes the last two games."

It was those performances in the last two games that ensured the Red Foxes had Tennessee's attention.

"They are the Cinderella team," Bobbitt said. "You cannot underestimate nobody in this tournament. Anything can happen."

Tennessee doesn't want anything to happen. The Lady Vols want the expected to happen. To try to facilitate that Tennessee kept the preparation process intact.

"I think now as we head into this phase our process is going to be no greater or no less than what we've done," Lockwood said. "We're going to watch their team and look for tendencies that we want to exploit, things we want to take away from them. We're going to look at personnel and identify key things that we don't want them to do.

"They are standing in the way of a place we want to go and where we want to be. Whether that's Marist or anybody else it's a game for 40 minutes that we have to attack, and it just so happens to be a Cinderella team and a Cinderella story, and I think it's great for basketball, but in our players' eyes they're in our way."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Marist game. Here is her assessment.

When Marist has the ball: "A lot of motion, a lot of ball movement, good three-point shooters, have some good penetrators. They're a difficult team because they all step away from the basket, and there's constant movement. They read defenses very well so we've got to try to keep them in front of us. Guarding personnel is going to be key for us."

Tennessee has deployed a trapping and pressing defense all season. Expect to see the same Sunday.

""We're getting after them," Warlick said. "That's our game. We're going to come after them because our defense has been our bread and butter for us, especially in the tournament. We're not going to do anything different from that standpoint. Our big players are going to have to come out and guard the perimeter. We're still going to put pressure on the ball. We're still going to be physical. We're still going to try to allow them one shot and done. We're keeping the same game plan. We can't look at it like Marist isn't a very high seed. They beat two very quality teams to get there. We're not taking them lightly at all. I've spent more time watching Marist out of concern that they are doing something right."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We're going to establish the inside. Our posts are not going to be able to put the ball down, because they're going to have two or three people on them. We're going to try to not quick shoot the ball and try to get second-chance points."

Marist was able to frustrate Ohio State's center, Jessica Davenport, by swarming her in the lane and making a lot of contact.

"They were around her before she even caught the ball," Warlick said. "When they did thread the needle and get the ball in they tripled team and came from all directions."

Candace Parker's ability to roam the baseline and move in and out of the paint – even extend past the arc for some give-and-go action – should help Tennessee.

"It does," Warlick said. "She maybe gets a little more open looks, but she's going to have people around her. We've practiced against that so we hopefully are prepared for what they're going to bring."

The post players would welcome some sharpshooters on Sunday from long and short range.

"We've got to hit mid-range jumpers, and we've got to have second-chance points," Warlick said. "I think you're going to see us do a lot of inside out. We're going to throw it in and kick out and go from there. We are going to have to move Candace. She's not going to be able to put the ball on the floor on the block."

OKLAHOMA-OLE MISS GAME: The second game features another SEC team in Ole Miss and Oklahoma of the Big 12 Conference. Those teams also held open practices and pre-game press conferences with the media Saturday afternoon.

Both teams feature go-to players in the Sooners' Courtney Paris and the Rebels' Armintie Price. Price doesn't get as much attention nationally as Paris and Tennessee's Candace Parker, but Pat Summitt said she should.

"Price is an All-American," Summitt said. "It would be really unfair if she wasn't recognized as a Kodak All-American just because she's not been on TV as much as, say, Candace Parker, has. She plays both ends. She plays with great passion. You take her off that team? That team's not playing in this tournament. She's the kind of player that will put people on her back and say, ‘Here, we go,' and she makes it happen."

Oklahoma Coach Sherri said her biggest concern about the game was Ole Miss' vaunted pressure defense, which was responsible for ousting the defending national champions in Maryland.

"Ole Miss is terrific at applying pressure and forcing you into mistakes," Coale said.

The Sooners didn't handle the pressure of Texas A&M earlier in the season, and Coale said her team used that experience to emphasize taking care of the ball and making better decisions with it.

Much of that pressure is brought by Price and her cohorts.

"She's an unbelievable athlete," Coale said.

One of the ways Oklahoma adjusted to pressure was to insert freshman point guard Jenna Plumley into the starting lineup.

"We feel so controlled when she has the ball," Coale said. "It's a poise. It's a stance that says, ‘We're in good hands here.' "

Plumley will need that poise against Ole Miss.

"It's very ironic that, I think, we are the sixth scoring offense in the country, yet we don't have any offense," Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross said. "It's pretty funny. Our defense is what it is. It has to be aggressive, it has to be quick, it has to be all things that people are aware of, our traps, our rotations. That's the identity of this team.

"It's our persona, it's what makes us swagger, and if it's good, we're good, and if it's not, we're not."

Price is joined in the lineup by two other seniors in Jada Mincy and Ashley Awkward. Oklahoma is led by the freshman point guard, the senior Leah Rush and the All-American in Paris.

Ross indicated it would be the wrong approach for her team to focus just on Paris.

"As much as I respect Paris and her abilities and what she's been able to accomplish and is accomplishing, we still have to keep our focus on our team defense," Ross said. "She is surrounded by talented players that deserve our respect and our attention.

"If there is one (a way to stop Paris), I've failed to see it on the film yet of anybody that has had any success in stopping her. We will continue to mix our defenses up, try to keep Oklahoma off balance as best we can, just try to be an irritant. Just find ways to try and slow down a great offensive machine, which so much goes through her. If she doesn't get it on the initial, she gets so much on putbacks, which have become so much a part of their offense."

Mincy said the Ole Miss team would combine forces to guard Paris.

"Everybody keeps asking me how you're going to guard (Paris)," Mincy said. "It's a team effort. Everybody is going to guard her."

OPEN PRACTICE: Tennessee held its session before a crowd of a couple hundred enthusiastic fans at the Dayton Arena.

As the team walked on the floor they were greeted with some rousing applause. Senior Dominique Redding got the crowd in cadence with its clapping as the team started getting ready. The players broke into a rendition of "Rocky Top," while running in warm-ups.

When Pat Summitt and the coaches came out a few minutes later the applause started again. Summitt spoke to fans in different sections while she waited for the players to finish stretching. When the team gathered in its pre-practice circle, the fans applauded.

Needless to say the Lady Vols were feeling the love in Dayton.

The players kept up a steady chatter during the practice as they broke into groups for shooting drills. Shannon Bobbitt, who was with the guards, said "I see you Dom" and "I see you Alex," to Redding and Alex Fuller as they made shots with the post players.

"What, Shannon? You don't see me?" Candace Parker asked.

Bobbitt provided the biggest laugh of the day when two basketballs got stuck in the net. She jumped to try to dislodge them but came up well short.

When the players and coaches re-gathered at the center court circle the fans serenaded them with "Rocky Top."

The players then took turns launching half-court shots – "They play half-court shoot-out?" said an astounded observer – and Alexis Hornbuckle drained one to the delight of the crowd.

Pat Summitt signed autographs along the sideline as practice drew to a close for as long as she could. NCAA rules require her and the team to leave the floor when the next team comes out to practice.

GEM IN GIORGIS: Brian Giorgis, an unabashed admirer of Pat Summitt, has been an engaging and witty presence with the media. He coached for years at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie and had considerable success.

When Marist offered the collegiate job, Giorgis said, "It was like, ‘Wow, I wouldn't have to move.' "

He also realized his pay would increase significantly.

"If you've ever worked at a Catholic high school you get a lot of blessings, but you don't get a lot of pay," Giorgis said.

He took the contract to school and showed it to the sisters.

"They said, ‘Wow, you need to go. You've done everything you can possibly do here, and if it doesn't work we'll take you back,' " Giorgis said. "And that was the key. When you get to be my age a little security is helpful.' "

Giorgis also served as athletic director at Lourdes for 10 years. If a team had an unfilled coaching position the AD took it. That is how Giorgis ended up with the title of tennis coach one year.

"First time a kid hits the ball in the net, you say, ‘Hit it harder.' Hits it deep, say, ‘Hit it lower,' " Giorgis said. "I did coach a lot of different sports."

Giorgis retold the tale about how he went to the Smokies on a family vacation and went by Summitt's office unannounced to meet with her. They ended up talking basketball for about 15 minutes, and he left with an autographed photo. At the time he was coaching at Lourdes.

"When I visited her in 2001, the first thing she said to me was, ‘You got any players?' " Giorgis said.

Summitt has been effusive in her praise of Giorgis since she has watched film on his Marist team.

"Anything that Pat says that's just awe-inspiring," he said.

Giorgis will try to do what's never been done in the women's tourney – a 13 seed advancing to the Elite Eight. An icon stands in his path. Marist is only the third No. 13 seed to get this far. The other two were Texas A&M in 1994 and Liberty in 2005.

"This is everything," Giorgis said. "We love playing the big schools. Their Xs are a lot bigger, faster, stronger than our Os. It's why you play the game. Sometimes it's not a matter of all that; it's how well you play together as a unit and what you do and things have to go right."

UPSETS GALORE: The 2007 tourney had already had its share of upsets and the biggest Saturday was the elimination of overall No. 1 seed Duke by No. 4 seed Rutgers in the Greensboro Region in North Carolina.

"I think most people would say it's good for the game," Pat Summitt said.

For Tennessee it becomes another cautionary tale.

"When you are a coach, you see the upsets and you're getting ready to go to the gym and play, you're thinking, ‘We can't let this happen,' " Summitt said. "I think it's a great warning sign for all of us but more importantly it speaks to where we are in our game right now. It seems like the women are having more upsets this year than the men.

"I think that the coaching is so much better, we have more players to go around so we have more quality teams. I think on a given night we're seeing that the team that is ready to play and is the most efficient on that stage at that time has a chance to win no matter what. The seeding is not that much of a factor. It's brought more interest now to our tournament already this year."

NOON TIPOFF: Tennessee got the early tip time, and it suits Pat Summitt just fine.

"I love it," Summitt said. "Let's get up and let's play, and let's see what happens early. There're some long days when you play until 9:30 at night."

That could happen Tuesday when the game times are 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. for the two regional semifinals that evening in Dayton and Dallas.

The Tennessee players don't seem to mind one way or the other.

"I don't care," Shannon Bobbitt said.

"Personally, I don't care," Alex Fuller said. "It's not really going to affect us, except how long we get to sleep."

"It can be good," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "Everything is so close together. When you have a seven o'clock game, you wake up, you might have a shoot-around, you might have pre-game, you might have two hours to sleep.

"But (at noon), you wake up, you go to pre-game and an hour and a half later you meet. Everything is quick, but then again you have your whole day in front of you. So a game is a game, I'm ready to get it over with, I'm excited to play so twelve o'clock is a good time."

BY THE NUMBERS: Marist and Tennessee have never played before. … Tennessee is 9-1 in games played on March 25. The sole loss was to Delta State, 62-58, in 1977. … Tennessee's record in the Sweet 16 is 21-4. Of the 15 teams in the Sweet 16 with Tennessee, the Lady Vols played eight of them this season and posted a 7-3 record. The losses came to Duke, North Carolina and LSU (SEC tourney). The wins were over UConn, LSU (regular season), Georgia, Ole Miss, Arizona State, Middle Tennessee and George Washington. ... The win over Pittsburgh in the second round gave Pat Summitt her 94th NCAA tourney win to 19 losses for a winning percentage of 83.2 percent. … Neither Tennessee nor Marist gives up many points per game – 54.1 for the Red Foxes and 56.1 for the Lady Vols. Tennessee has the clear edge in steals – 11.9 to 7.7 for Marist. The Red Foxes take better care of the ball – 11.5 turnovers to 15.5 for the Lady Vols. Marist averages 16.2 assists per game, Tennessee, 15.6. The teams are about even in field goal shooting percentage – 44.5 for Tennessee and 44.6 for Marist.


BEST HUG: That exchanged between Tyler Summitt, Pat Summitt's 16-year-old son, and Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross. Tyler, who was born shortly before basketball season started 16 years ago, has grown up in the game.

"We were talking about this last night," Summitt said Saturday. "My son went on the road with me when he was 12 days old. I can remember we were going up to play the University of Illinois, and he was in the van and I just told the players whatever you do don't step on him. And he was on the bench. For 16 years he's either been on our bench or around the game. Now, he's a point guard. Probably the hardest part of motherhood is watching your son be a point guard."

GREEN OUTFITS: When the Lady Vols left Knoxville on Friday they were wearing green adidas outfits that had been selected by seniors Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding.

"It was Gilbert Arenas' Vegas edition, and he's my favorite player," Redding said of the Washington Wizards star and his All-Star game outfit. "It looked really nice."

"We just wanted to go with a different color outfit," Spencer said. "We have so much orange, and we like the green and light blue outfits so we picked green."

Junior Alexis Hornbuckle was OK with it, though it seems almost heretical to not wear orange.

"I liked the outfit personally," Hornbuckle said. "It's something new. It's something you can wear on a different day."

She also pointed out an odd observation – green as camouflage.

When players are in orange, "you walk through the mall and get bombarded," Hornbuckle said, while the green allows them to be "kind of be incognito."

The coaches were spared the green look.

"Thank goodness, no!" Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Can you write that with an exclamation point? No! I think it's a great look for them; it's a great team look. But I just can't see myself in that attire.

Lockwood already endured his embarrassing fashion moment of the season when he donned a cheerleader outfit, along with the other two assistants, and helped lift up Pat Summitt during a routine during a UT men's game timeout.

The postseason supplement media guide has photos prominently featured inside the back cover. Lockwood has his arm thrust in the air while his other arm has a death grip on Summitt's leg so she wouldn't fall. His mouth is wide open in mid-shout.

"It looks like I'm ready to take a flag up San Juan Hill," Lockwood said.

CONFIDENCE IN A PLAYER: Pat Summitt in Nicky Anosike and her offensive performance in the two games in the NCAA tourney so far – 7-12 from the field (58.3 percent), 5-6 from the line (83.3 percent), 9.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg.

"I like where she is," Summitt said. "I think she's very confident right now. She seems very confident and very focused. I think she's just responded. She knows what she has to do. She doesn't mind doing the dirty work. She also knows she's going to benefit a lot from playing inside with (Candace) Parker. We're going to get double-teamed. Marist is going to double team us. There's no doubt."

CONFIDENCE IN A TEAM: Pat Summitt in her team and its championship caliber potential.

"Absolutely," she said. "I didn't know that going into the year. I didn't know how our point guard Shannon Bobbitt coming out of junior college and into Division I basketball would handle the schedule that we had in place. I wanted to move Alexis Hornbuckle to the two guard position and I think Bobbitt's maturity and that of fellow junior college transfer Alberta Auguste has enabled us to do that. Alberta has backed Alexis up all season.

"I think the play of Shannon has been more than I had anticipated and that has put us in a position to be a better basketball team with Hornbuckle at the off guard and freeing her up to be more creative offensively off the dribble and getting to the paint. I think we are a better team because of that. With the play of Candace, that has been tremendous from last year to this year to see Parker develop her skills, composure and toughness. She is much more aggressive on the offensive end."

Summitt also has no doubt about who should be Player of the Year.

"I just think she can play so many positions," Summitt said of Parker. "She's been a great rebounder for us. She's a big play person. I just think her versatility and obviously she's elevated her defense. There's no doubt about that."

Summitt cited a block that Parker had against Pitt's Marcedes Walker in the last NCAA tourney game as evidence of her commitment to defense.

"How about the block Parker had?" Summitt said. "It was a volleyball spike. I've watched her play volleyball. That's what she can do."

SCOUT REVISITED: It was Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell who devised the defense on Marcedes Walker that had forward Sidney Spencer face guarding her in the paint and Nicky Anosike out on the perimeter.

"When she said it I was like, Wait a minute now. I've got to think and re-think on this one,' " Summitt said. "It made good sense because she has size. It gives us a chance to put Anosike on the perimeter where she can guard anyone. Having Nicky and having her versatility on the perimeter defensively it's huge."

Caldwell explained her thinking in the unusual defensive matchup.

"What I saw (on film) was when she see a player like Marcedes Walker you've got to limit her touches," Caldwell said. "Defensively we felt as though we could bring the heat to their perimeter game to eliminate some of those easy entries into the post. So the one thing that we felt Sid could do because Sid is a physical-type player is be physical with her and front her.

"I thought Sid took the challenge and did an exceptional job of just really fighting around and making her have to work for all of her positions. Walker is a tough guard. She does a great job in her footwork and getting isolations on the low block. But with Anosike and Hornbuckle and Bobbitt on the perimeter we really have been stressing ball pressure and by applying that ball pressure we would have hoped – which it did work – for us to limit her touches as well."

BEST ANSWER: That of Oklahoma's Courtney Paris when a sportswriter asked what it was like growing up with William "Bubba" Paris, her father and a former NFL player, as the head of household.

"I think Lynne, my mama, was the head of household," Paris said.

FUNNIEST QUOTE: That of Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale. The press conference room had bright lights shining on those on the dais, but the rest of the room was bathed in shadows and the media's faces were kind of obscured.

"It's kind of dark," Coale said. "I can't see who you guys are. That's kind of scary."

BEST EXCITEMENT: That exhibited by Marist players Meg Dahlman, Alisa Kresge and Nikki Flores.

The players told of being inundated with voicemails and text messages from family, friends and professors. They also have received countless emails, including ones from strangers just wanting to wish them well.

"I keep getting all these phone calls telling me that your face and your team has been all over SportsCenter and ESPN and I'm like, ‘Oh my gosh. We must be doing something right,' " Kresge said. "That was amazing to me. … I think I have had more interviews in the last two days than I've had in my entire life. It's nice to get our school's name out there and the MAAC itself."

The Red Foxes also picked up some fans in Stanford. The school hosted a sub-regional and each team is assigned local volunteers hosts, who bring food and drinks into the locker room and answer any questions a team might have about the area. Marist's hosts from Stanford are flying in Sunday for the game.

Tennessee's Nicky Anosike, who played in Staten Island, knows a lot of Marist players, who also hail from New York and New Jersey.

"I know a lot about their team," Anosike said. "I played against them in high school so it's like a reunion almost."

Anosike told her team that "these girls can shoot, and they are not to be taken lightly."

BEST PRE-GAME HUDDLE: That of Tennessee players during the press conference. When a reporter asked about specific matchups with Marist, Candace Parker leaned over to Sidney Spencer and Anosike and asked, "What are we allowed to say?"

They huddled briefly and Parker said, "We have had a lot of different looks. … Nothing is set in stone. As long as we come out there and play Tennessee basketball we'll be just fine."

The answer drew a smile and nod of approval from Spencer.

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