Tennessee raises banner, sinks Texas

Tennessee raised its 2007 national title banner to the rafters Sunday and then showed why it started the season favored to repeat with a 92-67 dismantling of Texas that featured smothering defense and balanced scoring, including a career-high 18 points from Alex Fuller.

No. 1 Tennessee, 3-0, had a double-digit lead in less than seven minutes and ended the first half with three players already in double figures. The Lady Vols shot 51.3 percent in the first 20 minutes and improved that to a scorching 57.1 percent in the second half to finish the game at 53.7 percent.

Alex Fuller came off the bench – Coach Pat Summitt considers her a starter but wants a veteran as her initial sub – to score 18 points and hit both of her three-point attempts.

Candace Parker led all scorers with 21 points. Angie Bjorklund was 4-8 from behind the arc and compiled 16 points. Alexis Hornbuckle added 13 points with a three-pointer and an assortment of drives to the basket. Shannon Bobbitt, one of the offensive stars in the Oklahoma game with six three-pointers, hit one against Texas and put up five points and five assists. She is averaging 4.3 assists through the first three games.

"Definitely encouraging to have more balance on the offensive end and more people who stepped up and made shots for us because in the Oklahoma game it was a two-person offensive attack for the most part, and that was with Candace and Shannon and certainly (encouraging) to get Angie more involved," Summitt said.

"We need to play all of our games here because she's very comfortable in Thompson-Boling Arena. (Bjorklund) is going to have to just have the same mindset when we do take the road and go to West Virginia this week. Alexis played a lot better. Alexis' defense in the first half was terrific. I thought she was the one player that just disrupted so much of what they wanted to do from an offensive standpoint. I was really pleased to see that happen."

The afternoon began with the banner ceremony and most of the 15,699 people in attendance were in their seats early. As the time for the festivities drew near, the fans began rhythmic clapping. The freshmen lined up along center court with the managers and new staff members and watched while the scoreboard played a video of highlights from the Final Four.

Then, departed seniors Dominique Redding, who was carrying the national title plaque, and Sidney Spencer came out of the tunnel to thunderous applause. As the players were introduced one by one, the banner was slowly lifted from the floor to about their eye level. The coaches were introduced last, and once they were all in place, the 2006-07 team held onto the bottom of the banner as cameras flashed all over the arena.

As the players left the floor, the banner was hoisted above the court to the ceiling. Within a few seconds, the players returned for warmups, and the crowd erupted again. The 2007 banner was shifted into its proper place beside the 1998 one after the game.

"It's really exciting to see your mark left on Tennessee," Parker said. "As a class we came here wanting to win a national championship, wanting to win several national championships. Just to see the banner raised with the other six was an amazing feeling. I think it was great to be able to celebrate last season."

Summitt had wanted her team to immediately turn its attention to Texas, and the players did.

Parker scored Tennessee's first 11 points. Her 11th point came from the free throw line after Nicky Anosike tipped a pass on Texas' end, grabbed the ball out of the air and threw it ahead to Parker. The crowd was anticipating a dunk, but Longhorn defender Brittainey Raven was in pursuit and fouled Parker, who opted to lay in the ball. Parker's momentum carried her out of bounds, and Bobbitt jumped into her arms.

Texas was led by Raven with 18 points and Kathleen Nash with 17. Carla Cortijo added 12 points.

The Lady Vols blanketed Texas on defense to start the game and led 22-10 midway through the first half. Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors called timeout when Bjorklund hit her first three-pointer, and then had to take another one a minute later after Tennessee pushed the lead to 30-10 on back-to-back three pointers by Bjorklund.

Fuller, who was a perfect 6-6 in the first half, got two of her points on a putback when Hornbuckle tried to lob the ball to Parker but it hit the rim instead. Fuller gathered the carom and finished the play.

Fuller got another basket after Hornbuckle blocked a shot and Bobbitt secured the loose ball, only to lose it off her right foot. She tracked it down all the way across the court, sprinted down the floor with Texas defenders in pursuit and found a wide-open Fuller under the basket.

"Alex was very efficient for us," Summitt said. "I'm really pleased. She is handling the role of coming off the bench. She could easily be a starter, and she's accepted her role. I think it's important for any basketball team that you have someone that's going to come in and give you a lift. We have so much confidence in her to come off the bench and score for us and contribute in other ways."

Fuller's final line was 18 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal. She was perfect from the line and behind the arc, in both cases making two attempts. She misfired once in the second half to go 7-8 from the field.

"I could have been seven for seven, but I had somebody in my ear talking to me," Fuller said. "I'm not going to say any names. I can just point."

Parker looked up and away innocently as Fuller discreetly pointed to her. Apparently Parker, who was on the bench at the time, yelled at Fuller to shoot. She did, though she apparently wasn't looking to at that moment.

Fuller was on a press conference roll by this time. She didn't have much to say about her offense - it's not her primary focus when she enters a game - but she had plenty to say about her defense. Fuller took two hard charges on the low block in the second half, even with the game well in hand, and got pancaked to the floor.

"I clearly wasn't thinking, because they were hard, and it hurt," Fuller said while Parker and Hornbuckle lowered their heads in laughter. "But my teammates were beat, so I had to step out and sacrifice my body."

Again, the deadpan delivery while her teammates looked on with mock incredulity.

Those charges accounted for two of the Longhorns' 30 turnovers. Tennessee compiled 18 steals – nine in each half – and seemed to spend the afternoon in the passing lanes. Parker had four steals. Hornbuckle led the team with five and passed Shelia Collins for seventh place in career steals with 279. The record is held by Bridgette Gordon with 333, putting Hornbuckle a very reachable – for her – 55 steals away from taking the all-time mark.

"We knew that they were an aggressive team and the way to kind of take that away from somebody is to limit their touches," Hornbuckle said. "We wanted to go out there and deny the wings and try to take away the high post, where they run their offense through. For whatever reason we were getting deflections and steals and coming up and converting them on the other end."

Texas, 2-1, doesn't execute much of its offense in half-court sets. Its strategy is to run and use the quarter-court to score.

"That's the way we play," Goestenkors said. "We're up-tempo. We don't have those big, strong bodies on the low block to pound it in, so we need to run. I think that's going to be our style. I could try to do something totally different, like Chattanooga did for instance, where they really spread the floor out and slowed it down, but that's not our style. We don't have the three-point shooters like some other teams do, so we really need to rely on our athleticism.

"It's been good for us, and it will be good for us, but now we need to learn when to push and to be able to push with poise. That was the word that really comes to mind for me. We didn't have a lot of poise. So finding that balance between pushing the ball and having the poise necessary to execute in the quarter-court."

Tennessee didn't mind the pace a bit.

"I know we love to play that fast tempo, get the rebound, control the boards and then just get out and run," Hornbuckle said. "We love that. That's the way we practice. Against Oklahoma, for whatever reason, we weren't able to do that. We made it a point of emphasis to not only get back and play good transition defense but push tempo and make them play transition defense, as well."

Tennessee scored 40 points off of turnovers. The Lady Vols led at halftime, 51-32. They had 24 assists – Hornbuckle led the team with six – on 36 field goals. Hornbuckle now has 378 career assists and with eight more will pass Chamique Holdsclaw for 10th place in the record books.

"I always think passing is directly related to unselfish play," Summitt said. "I've had a lot teams that had great passers but didn't always look to pass. This team I think they really understand ball movement, player movement, getting all teammates involved. There were times that all five people touched the basketball. That has happened only a couple of times in our previous games.

"To me it's an indication that they really understand how they want to play in the half court. They want to be harder to defend, and they want to be unselfish. Sometimes, too unselfish, but I thought they did an excellent job of really finding open players and keeping the ball moving."

The game was replete with examples. Anosike to Parker on the break-away. A steal by Hornbuckle, who pushed the ball down the floor and passed to Anosike, who passed back to Hornbuckle, who found Bjorklund for a three. Bjorklund to Alberta Auguste to Fuller under the basket. Auguste to Fuller on the wing. Vicki Baugh, who stripped the ball-handler in the open court, and found Sydney Smallbone on the break. That was just the first half.

When they weren't passing the ball to each other, they were intercepting Texas' tosses.

Tennessee had back-to-back steals early in the second half. Parker went the length of the floor with the ball and laid in an underhanded flip in front of the basket when the defense blocked her way to the rim. Another steal. Bobbitt to Parker to Anosike. A Bobbitt steal, the ball to Parker, who drove to the basket, stopped midway in the paint, turned her back to the basket and dished to Hornbuckle, who hit the layup and was fouled. Hornbuckle alley oop to Parker. Another steal. Auguste to Parker, who found Fuller behind the arc. Fuller to a cutting Smallbone for a transition layup.

"We share the ball tremendously," Hornbuckle said. "In practice we try to make the extra pass to get the better percentage shot. We struggled with that in the exhibitions and a little bit in the UTC game."

Tennessee didn't win the battle of the boards – the Lady Vols had 34 to 36 for the Longhorns – but they set the tone early on the glass. Also, with a shooting percentage of 53.7 percent there are fewer rebounds to grab.

Summitt's emphasis at practice Saturday was getting back on defense and getting on the offensive boards. At halftime Tennessee had 21 rebounds with 11 coming on offense.

"I was very concerned about this game watching them on tape," Summitt said of Texas. "They have great overall team speed, quickness. They do a great job of moving the basketball and getting open looks. They play off the dribble. We didn't do a great job of defending penetration. We had a lot of hand checking in that regard, particularly in the second half. I think our defense had something to do with that (30 turnovers) today as far as the effort that we had."

Summitt came out of the game with the season's third win and a lot of film to show the freshmen. Bjorklund fouled out of the game in 23 minutes. Smallbone, who scored seven points, had four fouls in 15 minutes.

"Certainly we were able to get our freshmen some minutes, and that's going to be great footage for us," Summitt said. "We've got some footage we can definitely watch here. Teaching tool, but overall pleased. I thought we played with tremendous intensity on the defensive end, and much better job on the boards."

Baugh had six rebounds in 17 minutes of play. She also scored four points – including a nifty turn-around baseline jumper off an in-bounds play – and had two blocks, a steal and an assist.

Summitt likes the firepower that the freshmen can provide. Baugh oozes athleticism and has barely tapped into her potential on the floor. Bjorklund and Smallbone are sharpshooters who are not reluctant to find the basket.

"Trust me," Summitt said. "With Angie she happened to be sitting in my office when I was talking about her (on the phone with a reporter). I was discussing the fact that she has the green light here. I went on to talk about her and what she brought to our team and when I hung up, I said, ‘Is what I said OK?' And she goes, ‘Yeah, nobody's ever told me I had the green light.' And I said, ‘Well, you have it.' And I told Syd the same thing.

"I said, ‘Do you think we recruited you for your defense or your rebounding or your scoring?' And they said, ‘For our ability to score.' I like the fact that they are aggressive. They have to understand how to play on the road. They've got to get a different mindset on the road. They're very comfortable here. I think they're both going to really bring a lot to this basketball team and help us stretch out the defense. You've got to guard both of them, because they can make shots."

Parker said Bjorklund did in Sunday's game what she's been doing in practice since it started.

"Angie has been huge for us," Parker said. "She's a great shooter. She's proved that in practice. I was really happy that she came out and hit some big shots for us. She's going to continue to grow as the year goes on, and I think that we need her to be a piece of our puzzle of (trying to repeat) our national championship."

Sunday started off with a big reminder of what the team was shooting for this season, and the players and staff soaked it up. Goestenkors, who brought a young team into the arena, didn't think they were too affected by the hoopla or the crowd, but she did detect a few nerves. The Texas team stayed in the locker room for the short ceremony.

"I love playing in front of this crowd," Goestenkors said. "It's a great environment for women's basketball. We talked about it before the game, for the freshmen in particular. I asked if they were nervous and they felt like they were excited. I thought we saw some nerves.

"I thought Kat, in particular, played an exceptional game. She did not play like a freshman. She was one of the most poised players we had out there. We haven't seen that pressure this year yet. That kind of pressure you don't see very often, so, like I said, we'll learn from it."

Nash hit 3-4 from behind the arc. She also had nine boards. She joined in the turnover spree with five, but was not alone. Cortijo ended up with seven turnovers, and Raven had six.

"I was a little nervous at the beginning," Nash said. "My teammates and coaches did a good job of settling me down. The turnovers were most likely because Tennessee did a great job of pressuring us, and we're not used to seeing that type of pressure. We just need to get better when we have that much pressure of taking care of the ball."

Goestenkors left Knoxville with a victory the last time she was in town, but she was the head coach at Duke then. She took the job at Texas after longtime Coach Jody Conradt retired. One of her assistants is Mickie DeMoss, a former assistant at Tennessee who left the head coaching position at Kentucky after last season. DeMoss and Summitt shared a heartfelt hug before the game.

"I told Gail I don't know that I would ever have the courage that you had to make that kind of move, but that's because I've only been at one place," said Summitt, who is in her 34th year at Tennessee and now has 950 career wins. "I think Texas has some of the best basketball talent in the game. She inherited a group, and she will add to that with her ability. Mickie DeMoss is one of the best recruiters in the history of women's basketball. I think that's going to be a tough combination and obviously an effective one in recruiting."

Parker played for the USA Senior National Team last September, and Goestenkors is an assistant coach for the squad. They will likely be back together next summer for the Beijing Olympics.

"They have a very talented group of young kids," Parker said of the Longhorns. "Raven, she really stood out. We really focused on guarding their perimeter players. They were able to hit the three. I know Coach G. is a great coach, and she's going to do a phenomenal job at Texas with all the support staff that she has there."

Goestenkors noted what her team did wrong Sunday, but she also pointed out that Tennessee took control of the game.

"Give so much credit to Tennessee," Goestenkors said. "They played I think a terrific all-around game. I know they've been looking for contributions from other players besides Candace and Bobbitt and they got that today. They shared the ball really well, pushed the ball in transition and, obviously, caused many, many problems for us with their defense.

"Thirty turnovers, nobody is going to overcome that I don't think. Just give them a lot of credit. This is a learning and growing experience for our team. I know that we will get better. I thought we competed better in the second half. We're still young, relatively inexperienced and we are going to learn, we're going to grow and get better."

Summitt said that's the point of playing tough games against top opponents, especially early in the season, win or lose.

"I think this Texas team, I have a lot of respect for the program, for Gail, and I do think when they get back they're going to take and learn from this just like we learned from our Oklahoma game," Summitt said. "I thought we got a lot better because of what we saw in that particular game.

"Oklahoma got a lot better after they played Maryland, might I say. They looked like a completely different team. But that's what the season's all about. You start out and you know it's a work in progress. Our coaching staff has done a great job. Teams get better. It's all about getting better for postseason."

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