Lady Vols roll over Carson-Newman

Pat Summitt wanted to see what her four freshmen could do, and she got the answer: score, rebound and run. One was the leading scorer with 26 points; another was the leading rebounder with 12 boards. At times all four were on the floor together and although the coach joked they needed oxygen at halftime, they acquitted themselves well in Tuesday's 91-30 exhibition win over Carson-Newman.

The starting five of Shannon Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle, Angie Bjorklund, Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike played the first eight minutes and got Tennessee off to a 19-5 start and then Pat Summitt started the substitutions. Bjorklund, a freshman starter, stayed on the floor and was soon joined by fellow first-year players Sydney Smallbone, Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain.

Bjorklund played 35 minutes and poured in 26 points to lead all scorers. Cain and Baugh both played 25 minutes, and both scored 11 points. Smallbone also logged 25 minutes, including getting some repetitions at the point position, and contributed four points and one rebound, steal and assist.

"Obviously, we wanted to get our young players a lot of minutes," Summitt said. "I thought our starters got us off to a good start. We really got to see some quality time and learn a little bit more about our four newcomers. I think all four are going to contribute this year. We've got to really make sure that our players know how to come off the bench and really step in and us not lose when we do substitute in terms of what we want to do on the floor.

"I was really pleased overall. It was good for them. I thought we were going to have to get out some oxygen for them at halftime, a couple of them, but they kept pushing through. Going into this game the main objective was to see how our two frontline people played. I thought Vicki and Kelley played well together, and they've been working a lot in practice together. Angie and Sydney they're certainly staying very aggressive for us on the offensive end. I like their mindset."

The freshmen spent considerable time on the floor together with Alex Fuller, who was the second-leading scorer with 17 points, Hornbuckle and Bobbitt taking turns in a supervisory role.

"If we'd had five freshmen, we would have had five freshmen on the floor," Summitt said with a smile. "We were just trying to rotate and divide the minutes."

Bobbitt was the other player in double digits with 10 points, though she really only had eight points because of an own-goal by Carson-Newman. She passed up a few open shots to back out the ball and let the freshmen run through the half-court offenses. Hornbuckle added eight points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals in 19 minutes of play.

Parker and Anosike got to be spectators for the most part. Parker played eight minutes and Anosike logged 15. Summitt wanted to see how Baugh and Cain paired up in the paint.

"I liked how they played together," Summitt said. "I thought they connected very well. Vicki, she just has a nose for the ball. I thought her rebounding at both ends of the floor was really aggressive.

"(Cain) just really has a dominant presence in the paint and she's got nice soft hands and a great shooting touch. I'm just really pleased with her progress. She missed a number of practices (because of a concussion), and we're going to have to get her in a little bit better shape. We'll work on that daily so she can play quality minutes."

Carson-Newman struggled all night against the size and length of Tennessee. TyKira McDaniel led the Lady Eagles with 10 points – including a nifty drive in which she made the layup and drew the foul – and Ashley Tipton, who played at nearby Farragut High School, added six points.

"It's a lot different than in our conference or at our level of Division II," Tipton said. "Some of the passes that would get there against teams in our league just have no chance of getting past UT. That's a huge difference on the floor. Also, just visibility. You try to look at your post players and you've got a big girl in front of you, and you have to maneuver just to see your post player and your visibility peripherally all you've got is right here (arms held out body width) because you can't see through them."

Cain is 6'6, and Baugh is 6'4. The 6'3 Fuller and the 6'0 Bjorklund patrolled the perimeter when Cain and Baugh were inside.

Tennessee shot 45.8 percent (11-24) from behind the arc. Bjorklund drained six 3-pointers, Bobbitt nailed two and Fuller hit three.

"Alex spent a lot of time on her face-up game," Summitt said. "She has a lot of confidence, and we have a lot of confidence in her and in her ability to make shots. The one thing is that she's not forcing shots. She's letting everything come to her."

Summitt said Fuller is better able to catch and shoot this season and worked this summer on her perimeter game.

"Moving well without the ball gets you more scoring opportunities, particularly on the perimeter," Summitt said.

Fuller said she went into the summer not to work on shooting, per se, but to get stronger and more agile.

"Over the summer I basically worked on my body and worked on my strength," Fuller said. "I worked on my shot, but it wasn't a point of emphasis. I just kind of worked on my game on the perimeter, more so than shooting.

Fuller, who played 24 minutes, took on the role Tuesday of helping the freshmen adjust on the court. The upperclassmen know they need the contributions of all four if Tennessee is going to defend its national title this season.

"They were able to play off of each other and see how each other plays," Fuller said. "They are getting to know each other on the court. They got to know us and play with the upperclassmen and they could kind of mirror what we were doing out on the court."

Bjorklund added, "Just to have the experience on the court and just being able to go out and play together and get the minutes, I think that helped us a lot."

Baugh, perhaps thinking about how much Summitt intended to call the numbers of the newcomers, was nervous before the game.

"Actually before the game I was saying I don't know why I have butterflies with this game, and I didn't during USA," Baugh said. "Once you get on the court all that goes away."

The first time all the freshmen took the floor it took about three minutes to get them into any offensive groove. There were some missed shots down low and a three-second violation. But they adjusted and Baugh showed an ability to run the floor when she handled the ball on the fast break and fired a pass under the basket to Fuller, who converted and was fouled.

"The top thing was rebounding and also how we pushed the ball as a team," Baugh said.

Tennessee won the battle of the boards, 45-32. Cain had 12, and Baugh grabbed 10.

"Kelley has great size and presence," Summitt said. "I didn't realize she had 12 rebounds until I picked at the stat sheet. I would have thought that she and Vicki were pretty even in that aspect of the game."

The rebounding numbers were encouraging because that is an area that Summitt has been concerned about, and the fact it was against Carson-Newman doesn't diminish the performance. The smaller Lady Eagles stayed even with Tennessee on the boards in last season's game, which was particularly galling for a Summitt-coached team.

"As a coach and a person there are a couple of things you don't want to go through and that's the loss of a loved one and playing Pat after a loss," Carson-Newman Coach Dean Walsh said. "Whether it's the national team or not you don't ever want to be on that end. To see them get out-rebounded and knowing last year we tied them on the boards we knew that was going to be an emphasis coming in. Then you throw in the size with that and we were put behind the eight-ball right at the beginning."

Tennessee got on the boards with one of its best rebounders resting an ailing right shoulder that she hurt in practice Oct. 23. Parker played her eight minutes in the first half and then cheered from the bench for the rest of the game.

"She's a little sore," Summitt said. I talked to Jenny (Moshak) at halftime and she told me she would prefer if we rested her. She's just tender. Why push it if you don't have to? She'd like to play every minute of every game, but we need to rest her. Just make sure we are smart in how we handle this injury.

"Jenny tells me what to do, and I did it. She's my boss when it comes to that."

Summitt also needed to see what her freshmen could do on the court. The exhibition game against the USA national team didn't allow as many minutes for them, especially the post players, and she needed to get them live action before the season opener this coming Sunday against Tennessee-Chattanooga at 3 p.m.

"I liked what we were able to do and in particular to get our young players some valuable minutes, just to get them the reps they need," Summitt said. "You can get them at practice, but it's a lot different when you're in a game situation. I think we're ready to open up. I'm excited about playing on Sunday."

Walsh definitely saw a Tennessee team that was ready to start the season.

"Wow," he said by way of opening his post-game remarks. "I don't know where to start."

Carson-Newman played Auburn last Sunday in a 94-52 exhibition loss. If Walsh had to handicap the Tennessee-Auburn game he would install the Lady Vols as an overwhelming favorite.

"Playing Auburn already right now I don't even think it's close," Walsh said. "It's a 20, 30-point difference as of now. Obviously that will change as the season comes on and they play each other. If this bunch keeps improving it's kind of scary to think they couldn't repeat."

Walsh was talking to sophomore Catelyn Dake on the way to the press conference and they were comparing this year's Tennessee team to last year's.

"The major difference that I see is a higher confidence level, the leadership of Alexis is showing out there," Walsh said. "The energy level is good. Then you throw in the size with what they have returning. I think by far this is a better team."

Walsh said he wanted to play Tennessee – this is the fourth year in a row the Lady Eagles have come to Thompson-Boling Arena – because he will find out who on his team won't back down.

"There are lot of things that we come into this looking to do and obviously winning is not one of them but competing," Walsh said. "I was a little disappointed at our effort tonight. I think the size, speed, length, talent level – things you can't control – really had a lot to do with that and just got to us. I thought that there were spots where we did well. Second half I was pleased with our rebounding and our effort. Defensive effort at times really wasn't bad. Lack of communication is something we're definitely going to work on starting tomorrow.

"The reputation we have is to be a very aggressive, very physical and very mentally tough team. That's basically what I'm looking for in these situations. To play in front of 13,000 people is never going to happen to these kids. When I go back and break down film, I try to erase the size factor, the athleticism factor and just see how mentally tough we were. Honestly, if you can make it through this. …. We are looking at the mental toughness and how we can bounce back from that and how we sustain and move forward."

The listed crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena was 12,457. Both Tipton and Dake, who also played at Farragut, were in the arena last season before the $20 million in renovations.

"I think it's awesome," Dake said. "I like it a lot better than it used to be, and I think it looks great."

One Carson-Newman player who scored a basket in the arena likely wishes it never happened. Shari Buford scored three points for the Lady Eagles and two for Tennessee when she inexplicably shot at the Lady Vols' goal, rebounded her miss and then swooped over to score on the other side of the basket.

"I think I'm still mortified over that," Walsh said. "I've seen it happen in rec league or Biddy League basketball. What's sad about that whole scenario is I thought she played with a lot of energy. I thought she did a great job until that point. To lose your mental focus in that situation you just can't do it. In a situation like that in a close game you break down mentally, you lose. That's the thing she's going to have to learn from it. She knows in no uncertain terms that wasn't a good thing and nor is it anything funny."

The Tennessee players looked baffled as the play unfolded. Bobbitt was standing near the end line and, as the closest player to Buford, was credited with the basket.

Tennessee didn't need the help. The Lady Vols shot 54.3 percent for the game and all nine players tallied points in the box score.

Bobbitt got six of her points from long range, including one in which she missed from the right corner, moved six feet to her left and got the ball back from Baugh, who rebounded the miss. Bobbitt bottomed out that shot.

Baugh's stat line included six assists, two blocks and two steals to go along with her double digits in points and rebounds.

"I'm learning every extra minute," Baugh said. "Basically with transition, with defense, and plays, all that, I think I am getting better at memorizing, knowing them and also just knowing the Tennessee way."

The Tennessee way means even though this was an exhibition game the players knew it was a chance to get better. And although the stats won't count in anyone's official career totals – the three 3-pointers were a personal best for Fuller; the 26 points were a new high for Bjorklund – the players know Summitt is keeping score. They also know the season officially starts Sunday.

"Every game counts in this program," Fuller said. "We're going to go into practice and work even harder than we have. We know it's our regular season opener so we've got to go in and practice hard and play off of each other and help each other. And when Sunday comes we'll be ready."

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