National title banner to be raised today

Tennessee will raise a banner Sunday commemorating the program's seventh national title and then must turn its attention to an opponent wanting to knock off the champ in Texas. The script will be the same all season – minus the banner pageantry – as the orange target on the Lady Vols now glows even more luminous.

No. 1/1 Tennessee, 2-0, takes on No. 21/22 Texas, 2-0, at 3 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena (Lady Vol Radio Network, TV: ESPN2). The ceremony to raise the banner and present the players with their rings is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. As of Friday, nearly 16,000 tickets had been sold – TBA now holds 21,678 after the renovation – and the gates will open at 1:30 p.m. to accommodate the expected crowd.

After the brief festivities, players from both teams will warm up and then the game will tip off. For Pat Summitt the shift in focus will be split-second.

"I'm so proud for the student-athletes who represented us and the people that played the games and made it happen," Summitt said. "It was a great journey. It will be a great reminder of what that team accomplished and how they came together at the right time and committed to one team, one goal.

"But then very quickly I will turn my focus on playing against this Texas team who's obviously going to be a big challenge for us. We can't live in the past once the ball goes up."

Summitt has watched six banners rise to the rafters. Her associate head coach, Holly Warlick, has been with her for each one. For everyone else, it will be a new experience. Nikki Caldwell put one up as a player in 1991, but this is her first as a coach. Since Tennessee's last title was in 1998, no player has witnessed such either.

The four freshmen will watch from the sidelines. It will give them a vivid visual on why they came to Tennessee,

"I think it's wonderful for them to see," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "Now, it becomes tangible. Now, it becomes more real.

For the returning players, it's their defining moment on the legacy of Lady Vol basketball.

"It's that moment of putting your stake in the ground: Hey, this is what we did," Lockwood said. "It's one more moment. The last thing you're going to hear from us once our year gets going is last year. New year, new deal. But it's one more time that is going to allow us just for a few seconds to reflect back on that wonderful team and that wonderful feeling that we were all blessed to be a part of.

"And then we tip it up, and they're going to try to rip us a new anatomy part."

Texas comes in under a new coach, Gail Goestenkors, who took over for longtime Longhorn Coach Jody Conradt, who retired last spring. Goestenkors is 5-4 against Tennessee while at the helm for Duke.

Summitt expects her players to shift their attention to Texas as soon as the ceremony is over.

"We do have a veteran group, and with the schedule we play they've been able to learn how to focus and refocus," Summitt said. "So hopefully if we're not focused we can refocus immediately."

Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (15.5 points per game, 4.0 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (6.5 ppg, 6.0 rebounds per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (5.0 ppg, 1.5 steals per game); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (25.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (5.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

Goestenkors is expected to start: Carla Cortijo, 5'7 junior guard, No. 3 (12.0 ppg, 6.5 apg), junior academically but redshirt sophomore because of knee injury as a true freshman, named to Big 12 All-Freshman Team last season; Brittainey Raven, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 10 (17.0 ppg, 4.0 spg), started 25 games last season, had 15 points against Tennessee last season, team co-captain this season; Erneisha Bailey, 5'9 senior guard, No. 20 (11.5 ppg, 3.0 apg), member of the Big 12 All-Defensive Team last season; Earnesia Williams 6'1 junior forward, No. 00 (11.0 ppg. 3.0 rpg), also a junior academically but redshirt sophomore in eligibility because of knee injury, team co-captain this season; and Ashley Lindsey 6'4 junior forward, No. 35 (11.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg), has a wingspan of 6'7 and three-quarter inches, ranked No. 10 in career blocks (80) at Texas after two seasons.

Seven post players are on Texas' 13-player roster, but only one, Williams, has extensive college experience. The Longhorns strategy this season is to get down the floor in a hurry before the defense gets set.

"Athletic, aggressive, transition, transition, transition," Summitt said. "Run, run, run. And then run, run, run. The primary is run, run, run. The secondary option is run, run, run."

That was partly why Summitt opted to take off Friday from the practice court. She knew her players would need their legs for Sunday. She also recognized how tired they would be after the late trip back from Tampa. The game Thursday – a 70-67 win over Oklahoma, another Big 12 team, in which two starters played 40 minutes – didn't tip off until 9:40 p.m.

"I got to the house and went to bed at 3:30, and they had to go to class (Friday morning)," Summitt said. "I didn't have to go to class. I need to go to coaching school class on rebounding I think."

The rebounding numbers are particularly vexing to Summitt. This team has size at four positions. Parker and Hornbuckle are getting on the boards, but it drops off after that. As a team Tennessee is averaging 36 boards per game. Opponents are grabbing 39 per game.

"We have to control the boards, and I've been talking about boards … obviously last year was not a good rebounding team," Summitt said. "This year is not a great rebounding team, and if they don't become one it could be costly for us and it could cost us (Sunday).

Anosike managed only three rebounds against Oklahoma. She raised expectations in the national title game when she tallied 16. Nobody expects that game in and game out, but a three in the box score, none defensive, stands out.

"That was so uncharacteristic of Nicky," Summitt said.

Tennessee only had nine offensive boards in the Oklahoma game, and one-third belonged to Anosike.

"We weren't going to the offensive boards," Summitt said. "We've had this problem since we started playing our exhibitions."

Summitt also singled out Hornbuckle, who picked up two quick fouls against the Sooners, and Alberta Auguste, who had some defensive breakdowns.

"Alexis takes herself out of the game in the first two minutes of the game," Summitt said. You're a senior; you don't do that. She has to have more discipline and not put her team in that situation. Both of them do. The two are our best perimeter defenders. I expect more from both of them."

But Summitt's voice and demeanor were calm. She trusts the veterans to do what they are supposed to do. She knows the freshmen will require some patience.

"They are learning," Summitt said. "They're freshmen. But they have to learn how to play through (mistakes) and learn from them. I'm sitting there on the bench and I turn to my staff and I said, ‘We've got two veterans coming off the bench and then we're looking at freshmen.'

"But they're going to be an important part of the future of this program and I know that, but I want them to be ready come postseason to play at the level they have to play at to help our team. I think our schedule should allow them to be seasoned by that point in time."

That will mean some growing pains along the way.

"Oh, yes," Summitt said.

But there are ways to ameliorate the process. That is why all four freshmen were in the coaches' offices on Friday.

"I had them all come in and meet with my staff," Summitt said. "All the freshmen came in, and we just talked about what we expected from them and asked them how they felt. They all want to contribute. Vicki Baugh plays so hard, and there were some traveling calls in that game (that threw freshmen off their game). I thought her effort was great, and I don't want to change that about her game. She just plays with such intensity that she can impact the game with her intensity alone, especially from a defensive standpoint."

Summitt also noted that a road trip means freshmen are suddenly out of their comfort zone. Angie Bjorklund struggled in Tampa and shot 1-6. She missed her three 3-point attempts.

"When you go on the road like that it is different," Summitt said. "It's not as warm and fuzzy as it is here in Thompson-Boling Arena. She has to learn to get up and get ready to play on the road."

Bobbitt and guard Cait McMahan endured the same thing last season when they went to Tempe.

"We talked about that," Summitt said. "We talked about Shannon at Arizona State. She was walking a tightrope on the sideline with the ball. She and Cait were taken out of basically what we wanted to do. There're some growing pains with being a freshman, and they're going to get through it, but come March they're going to be a different team as far as a team of freshmen coming to help our veterans."

The team practiced Saturday for two hours to go over the game plan for Texas and get in some shots. Practice ended shortly before the football game began, and the main lights were turned off in the arena as the fans that had been watching the open session scattered for the exits for kickoff. Bjorklund came out of the post-practice film session with a manager to rebound for her and took jump shots in the dim light.

"We talked about the difference in how aggressive she was in the USA game and then how passive she was against Oklahoma," Summitt said. "My take on that just from watching it and then really talking to her is her shots didn't fall, she was tentative, but that's her first road game. "I'm not worried about Angie's shot. She rushed in that game. I watched tape with her (Friday)."

Parker, who scored 28 points against Oklahoma, worked with Lockwood on the other end after practice. Bobbitt scored 27 points in that game. Nobody else had more than five.

"We need more balance from the offensive perspective," Summitt said. "I feel like in that particular game we had two players they were making plays, making shots and the rest of the team recognized that. Obviously we're going to depend on Angie to be a more consistent offensive player. Likewise with Nicky. Nicky wasn't even looking for her shot. I think she was looking for the high-low game, and we need her as a low-block player just like we need Alexis as a creator and a finisher. We've got to have more balance."

Summitt's tone remained matter of fact. She knows it's early in the season, and she knows these games are intended to expose her team's strengths and weaknesses so that they can be both exploited and corrected.

"I thought it was a great game for us," Summitt said. "The closeness of the game throughout the game. They were a different team against us than they were playing Maryland at North Carolina. They learned from that game, and I know they got into some foul situations, but I thought Sherri did a great job of rotating and keeping some fresh bodies on the floor, particularly in the post game."

Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale said she wouldn't trade her 0-2 start for a 2-0 start against overmatched teams.

"I think that's smart on her part," Summitt said.

On Sunday, the coach will be looking for "a balanced offensive attack (and) that Alexis makes shots," Summitt said. "She's as good as any guard in the country off the dribble. Just get her playing to her strengths."

Tennessee will get Texas' best effort. Just like it got the best game from the Sooners. Every opponent that lines up against Tennessee wants to be the one to defeat the reigning national champions.

"To be honest we always get the best from everybody," Parker said. "We always have a target on our back, especially with winning this past national championship and the previous six. It's always like that. It's no surprise. That's why when people always ask about the pressure of repeating, we always have pressure at Tennessee so it's no different than any other year."

But is the pressure to repeat perhaps greater and thus different than in past years? This team will be seeing its first banner Sunday. Nobody on the floor knows what it's like to try to repeat.

"I don't know because we haven't done it again yet," Parker said. "Honestly, we don't feel pressure because Tennessee has pressure every year. We're expected to be in the Final Four every year. We're expected to win a national championship every year. So it really doesn't feel any different. It felt like we were defending our six previous national championships every time we played. We've gotten used to it. We've grown accustomed to it."

Parker, who had 15 boards against Oklahoma, didn't show any signs of pressure last Thursday, nor did Bobbitt, who hit five threes in the second half.

Bobbitt called the upcoming banner ceremony the fulfillment of a dream that began on the courts of New York.

"The biggest stage in the NCAA," Bobbitt said. "Playing with the best against the best. You can't ask for more than that."

The accomplishment has taken awhile for Hornbuckle to absorb.

"When it first happened and the buzzer goes off, yes," Hornbuckle said about grasping what the team had done last April. "The next morning I wake up and I think, ‘Man, I feel like we should have a game today.' You're still on that high horse, that cloud nine but something in you is still, ‘I feel like there is another game I am supposed to be playing.'

"And even throughout the year obviously you keep hearing are you going to repeat, congratulations on the championship, you're like, ‘I did win a championship.' I think it doesn't really set in until years down the road or when you go to the next level and you come across people who never had that opportunity. Maybe never made it to a Final Four or always fell short. You will always be in the history books as a champion. It hasn't fully set in, but it slowly creeps up on you. It's building up."

Anosike said the hardest part of the process for her is the reminders. She wants to focus on this season.

"I think the biggest challenge is everyone always bringing it up that we won the championship," Anosike said. "It's kind of like you just want to forget it and be able to move on to the next season and do what you've got to do to do it again. It's a constant reminder of what you did last season. It is hard to kind of look forward when it's constantly being brought up. Just kind of focusing on this team and who we are now as opposed to focusing on what we did last season."

Perhaps the official banner ceremony will begin the process to put the issue on the back burner and let the focus turn to this season.

"I think as soon as people start to realize that we are a totally different team this year, and we have four new players who are going to add to our success, I think once people realize (that), it will start to die down," Anosike said. "I guess for now we haven't really been on a national stage and no one really knows anything about us except what we did last year so I can understand why it's the topic of everything right now, but I am sure it will die down."

Lockwood said the team and coaches need to take the time to enjoy Sunday's ceremony, but the process of shifting to this season began last spring.

"Nikki and I were first-timers as coaches to experience it," Lockwood said. "I think it takes a couple of weeks to sink in because there's such a flurry of activities once you get back (from the Final Four).

"But once that wears off – we were so proud of that group and appreciative for everything that happened and thankful to them – then you start to focus your thoughts on next year's team. You couldn't help but be positive and optimistic and enthusiastic. I have a lot of enthusiasm for this group. I have a lot of energy being around them and getting ready to prepare and go to work and go to practice. I'm excited as all get out. Anytime you have talent on board, you're excited. And when you have talent that has also had experience and success, you're even that much more excited."

Lockwood also knows that nobody can predict when a team will win another one. For that reason, he wants the players to savor Sunday.

"We know how tough the road is," he said. "There aren't any guarantees in this. We're going to be more hunted than ever before. The demands on our team to be at our best all the time is like a high-stakes poker game. We just went to the next room. We are the hunted, but I don't think we can dwell on that. If you dwell on that, then that creates more pressure than what you need."

The fact the process will be harder this season – the Oklahoma game revealed how hunted Tennessee will be – is something the players can embrace.

"It's kind of like we're taking a step back and saying, ‘OK, we know it's going to be a lot harder this year to put ourselves in the position for postseason than it was the previous season. It only gets harder,' " Hornbuckle said. "I think that keeps us hungry. The good thing about our team is we're never complacent. We're never satisfied. So we just keep coming out with a vengeance, getting better and trying to repeat."

ON TAP: Five other SEC teams are in action Sunday: Florida Atlantic at Kentucky; Arkansas State at Alabama; UL-Lafayette at Ole Miss; Mercer at Mississippi State; and LSU vs. Maryland in the Preseason Women's NIT title game.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Texas, 17-11, and has a 7-5 record in Knoxville. … Tennessee is 5-0 in games played on Nov. 18. … Former Lady Vols Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding, who both graduated last spring, will be on the floor Sunday for the banner-raising ceremony …Pat Summitt is one win away from 950 for her career. … ESPN's Mark Jones will handle play by play with Carolyn Peck, who coached at Florida last season, serving as analyst. ... Carol Ross, who coached at Ole Miss last season, does the analysis for KVET radio in Texas. … Junior shooting guard Erika Arriaran is out for Texas because of injury. Arriaran underwent arthroscopic surgery Nov. 10 for a meniscal tear in her left knee and is expected to be sidelined for six weeks. … Freshman center Kelley Cain is out for Tennessee because of a kneecap injury and is listed as day to day. She has yet to play in a regular season game. Cain did rehab exercises in practice Saturday.


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