Tennessee takes opener over UTC

Tennessee took some of the pressure off by putting some pressure on Sunday. The result was a surge in the second half that allowed the Lady Vols to run past Chattanooga, 76-56, in the season opener at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"We talked about it at halftime, and I just told them, ‘You've always got to have your defense and your board play,' " Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "That's a place were you can influence the outcome of a game when you're not shooting the ball particularly well. I think that generated easy points. I think it took a little pressure off of them. I think they were like, ‘Wow, we can't get the ball to fall.'

"I said, ‘Well, we can get more layups. Just do it with our defense and board play. We've got to get more putbacks.' "

It started at the 15:30 mark of the second half when Alexis Hornbuckle got a deflection, tipped the ball ahead, secured it and drove the length of the court for a layup. That was followed by a steal off the in-bounds play by Shannon Bobbitt, who found Angie Bjorklund behind the arc. Bjorklund drained the shot.

"With their defense and their press, they get after people," Chattanooga senior guard Laura Hall said. "Coach Moore told us a few days ago that's what they do. They get a layup, get in a press, get another steal and get a three and that's what happened."

The back-to-back steals led to a timeout by Chattanooga Coach Wes Moore, but Bobbitt got another steal and layup on the first play out of the break and suddenly a 32-28 halftime lead for the Lady Vols had been pushed to 48-37.

"Coach let us know that obviously we weren't shooting the ball too well so we've got to step up on the defensive end and rebounding," Hornbuckle said. "I took it upon myself to try to step up my defense and get Shannon in it. We did a great job of trying to deny the wings and I got lucky and got a steal and then Shannon got a steal right after that. We were energetic, and we were ready to play some defense, and our shots started falling."

Tennessee shot 40 percent in the first half and 52.8 percent in the second to finish at 46.5 percent for the game. The Lady Vols struggled in the first half to put up points, but it wasn't for lack of good looks at the basket.

"We were not as sharp offensively," Summitt said. "We were not making the shots. We had a lot of great open looks. In the first of the game so many of them just rolled off the rim, even in our post-up."

Candace Parker, who finished with 23 points on 9-18 shooting, shot 3-10 in the first half. Shots that usually drop for her were either bouncing out or rolling around the rim and out. After one rather perplexing bounce she gave the basket a bewildered look.

"It was tough, but sometimes you're going to have the lid on the basket," Parker said. "That's what happened in the first half. Shots that I'm used to making weren't falling. My teammates and my coaches helped me get through that. Nicky Anosike told me just to keep doing what I'm doing. And I think that helped a lot."

Anosike had a solid game on both ends of the floor with nine points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals.

"Nicky Anosike, I thought she played big," Summitt said. "She had great screens. She went to the boards. We were a better basketball team when she was on the floor today."

Freshman Vicki Baugh joined Parker in double figures with 11 points on 5-6 shooting and added four rebounds. Baugh was also active on defense. She dove on the floor to reach a loose ball and pushed it to a teammate, who started a fast break.

"Vicki did a great job," Summitt said. "She brings energy. She constantly sprints the floor. She goes for the boards. She defensively is getting an understanding of how to defend in the high post area, low post as well. Nice passer. I just think there's such a great upside to her game because you never have to coach effort with her. That will take her a long way just in terms of being on the floor and bringing the kind of energy that she brings.

"It didn't surprise me. Watching her in high school and watching her play in AAUs, that was a player I thought, ‘We've got to have Vicki Baugh.' Because she's the type of player that can change the tempo of a game. She can change what's happening on the boards. She's very committed to playing hard. I love that about her, but she is becoming a more skilled player. I think with time and working through our system and working through our post drills this year she should be a player that will make a difference for us. It's great to have that energy off the bench."

Baugh is a 6'4 forward who handles the ball like a guard. She joins Anosike, who is 6'4, and Parker, who is 6'5, as big players who can push tempo.

"That's all I did throughout high school," Baugh said. "My best thing was pushing the ball in the open court. I have to get used to post for college. Utilize my height and body better and better."

Baugh showed considerable athleticism during her 17 minutes of playing time and hooked up with the other post players to show how versatile Tennessee is this season, even with its considerable size.

On one play in the second half, forward Alex Fuller pulled down a defensive rebound – one of three in the game for her – and fired the outlet pass to Parker, who took off down the right side of the floor and then crossed to the center of the court with a behind-the-back dribble. Parker found Baugh on the left side of the basket, and Baugh converted the layup, was fouled and hit the free throw.

Later in the game, Baugh closed out on the three-point shooter in textbook fashion, grabbed the long rebound and took the ball the length of the floor. She finished with a banked shot from the left side just outside the lane after looking right and then going left to lose her defender.

"She adds height to our roster, and she adds a lot of versatility," Hornbuckle said. "She can push tempo, another big body that's going to push tempo and hit the open player. She has good court vision, good court awareness, tremendous on the defensive end. She can only get better from this point out, hopefully."

The last line was delivered with a sideways look at Baugh, who thought Hornbuckle was being serious.

"You never told me that," said a surprised Baugh, who then realized Hornbuckle was being, well, Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle has a playful approach with the media – especially when she and Parker are in the post-game press conference together. Parker will often join in in the repartee.

When Hornbuckle was asked about her mother's rousing rendition of the national anthem before the game, Parker interjected, to much laughter, "What happened to her? Why can't Alexis sing?"

"She did OK," Hornbuckle deadpanned about her mother's performance.

Quan Hornbuckle, who sang once when her daughter was a freshman, was a game-day decision when regular vocalist Margaret Cox came down with laryngitis.

"I'm glad she was prepared because they didn't tell me until this morning so I had to call her and tell her to get her voice ready," Alexis Hornbuckle said

"We heard her in the locker room," Parker said. "She got an ovation in the locker room."

"We stood up for her in the locker room," Hornbuckle said. "She couldn't see it."

The Lady Vols were in their locker room, but they would have had no trouble hearing Quan Hornbuckle, who had no need for the microphone – "She has a very powerful voice," Alexis said – and who kept the crowd on their feet cheering long after she nailed the last note.

That performance was scintillating, but the Lady Vols started out flat because their shots simply would not fall in the first half. They were running the offense and getting the ball to the right people – Parker inside and Bjorklund outside – but they were 14-35 in the first half.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga hit five three-pointers and never trailed by more than nine in the first half.

"In the first half, we felt like we were hanging around and that's what you hope for when you come over here," Moore said. "You hope that you can keep it close for a while. I thought defensively in the first half we did what we wanted to try to do. Against Tennessee you have to hope that they have to settle for some jump shots and that they're not hitting them that particular day.

"I thought our kids did a great job of playing team defense and did a pretty good job on the boards. That's a big part of their offense as well. I was very proud of the effort there, and I just wish that we could have maintained it. Obviously, we let the run off their press hurt us in the second half. We knew that that was something we'd have to avoid, and we just didn't quite get it done."

Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 39-34, but that's an area that still needs improvement. The Lady Mocs also exploited Tennessee's pressure on occasion.

"We knew we could get to the hole if we wanted to, just because they had so much pressure on us," Hall said. "We knew that we needed to do more of that and attack. If we had an open shot, take it and if somebody's on you, kick it to the open man. That's what we do."

Hall finished with 15 points, and sophomore forward Shanara Hollinquest added 13 on 6-8 shooting by consistently getting position inside. SoCon Preseason Player of the Year Alex Anderson had eight points but struggled with 3-12 shooting.

"I think I just wasn't attacking enough," Anderson said. "I kind of settled for the jump shot more instead of attacking."

The Lady Mocs had three senior starters in the lineup in Hall, Anderson and Brooke Hand, and this was the third year in a row that they had played in Knoxville.

"I think familiarity helped us a little bit," Moore said. "These seniors have been here so maybe we were a little more prepared. We feel like we've been competitive with most people in the country, but we really haven't been competitive with Tennessee. That was our goal, to come over here and try to hang around and keep it close and have a chance at the end. Except for a few runs, I thought we did that. So there were some good signs, but I told them during the timeout I'm not really into moral victories and I wish we could've taken it a step farther."

Moore recognized that the game was the opener for Tennessee and that they are trying to mesh the veterans with some talented newcomers.

"I know it was their first game, and you hope that maybe they're not quite hitting on all cylinders yet," he said. "I'm sure they're going to get better as the year goes on and I hope we do, too."

But the Lady Mocs can leave Knoxville knowing that they hung with the Lady Vols on their home floor for considerable stretches of the game.

"Wes does a great job," Summitt said. " I think he's got a team that's going to win a lot of basketball games, that's for sure. It was a good challenge for us today."

The Lady Vols have some issues to address, starting with three-point defense. It was better in the second half, but Chattanooga hit eight shots from long range for the game. Two of those were fired from about 24 feet away.

"The one thing that cost us I thought really in the first half was our lack of commitment to defending one on one, which allowed them to penetrate and kick, get to three-point shooters," Summitt said. "Eight for 22, but eight threes that adds up quickly."

Chattanooga also got to the middle of the floor without much resistance when breaking the full court pressure. The breakdowns for Tennessee were usually when a player was out of position or not matched up correctly. Those are matters that can be fixed with some film sessions and practice reps.

"Those girls played hard for 40 minutes," Hornbuckle said. "They came out ready to beat us and not ready to just play Tennessee. They wanted to beat us and make a statement. Their point guard did a great job of applying pressure on the defensive end and of pushing tempo and the rest of the four players ran with it and crashed the boards. They were playing physical. They did everything. That was a coach's dream for their effort tonight."

Summitt knows that every team that lines up against the Lady Vols this season has one goal: knock off the national champions.

"Oh, absolutely," Summitt said. "Now it's like even more motivation and that's something that we will face every game. I would expect (that), because we are Tennessee, and then add to that they have a chance to beat the defending national champions. That's even a greater incentive for a lot of teams and players. Sometimes the agenda is to prove your worth by beating Tennessee."

Tennessee proved what it did last season – that it could grind out a win when needed.

"If I remember correctly, we kind of did the same thing last year," Parker said. "We just had to grind it out against them. I think this was definitely preparing us for later on. Do we necessarily want to do this again? No. But I think we did a good job of pushing through."

The games were similar with a noticeable difference. Tennessee shot 61.3 percent in the first half last year and led at halftime, 59-31. The final score a year ago was 102-72. The Lady Vols' pressure defense was better in this game and so was its board play. Last year the Lady Mocs out-rebounded the Lady Vols, 37-27.

This year eight players for Tennessee recorded at least one board. The starting guards had 10 – six for Hornbuckle and four for Bobbitt.

Bobbitt also shook off a poor shooting performance – she was 2-10 Sunday and finished with four points – and earned kudos from Summitt for her game management.

"Shannon Bobbitt couldn't make a shot, and it was good to see her play through a little adversity," Summitt said. "I don't think I've ever seen her come out and play the way she played offensively and not be able to get herself out of it. But the one thing she did in the second half, she got everyone else involved, and that's what you want a point guard to do first and foremost."

Summitt's record is now 31-3 in season openers and the first win of the season gives her 948 in her career. The first official basket of the 2007-08 season was scored by Anosike, who hit a short jumper in the lane. Parker made both of her three-point attempts – she had never before made more than one in a game – and tied a career high with five steals. Bobbitt had five steals – Tennessee had 21 as a team – and four assists, which put her over the 100-assist mark for her career with 101. Alberta Auguste, in her first game back since a calf contusion, added five points and two steals. Freshman Sydney Smallbone got in the steals' column, too, on the stat sheet with one.

The Lady Vols know they have plenty to work on – especially with Oklahoma and Texas looming this week – but they also secured a 20-point win without their best stuff. Moore saw a team that could repeat as national champions.

"I know this wasn't one of their better days, but you're talking about defending national champions, consensus No. 1 in the country, they have pretty much everyone back intact and added some talented freshmen," Moore said. "They still have to do it on the court, but you're looking at an opportunity at least to repeat and if you do that then you've got to be considered one of the top teams ever. They have unlimited potential."


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