"I caught myself a couple of times just looking at the crowd and thinking this was really great," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "I think it was more than anyone had anticipated. It's great for women's basketball and hopefully it will generate even more interest for West Virginia and for people to get out and support this team. They have a very fine team. They play in a tough, competitive conference and I think it's important in women's basketball that you do have that kind of fan support because it enhances your ability to recruit, as well as to compete in a competitive manner."
The focal point for a majority of the crowd was Hornbuckle, who won four state championships in the venue and who still has a loyal following among West Virginia natives.
"That means a lot," Hornbuckle said. "The program has grown so much in women's basketball, and it's starting to hit West Virginia, which is a good thing. Like Coach said, that's going to help with recruiting and it's going to bring more athletes into the state of West Virginia, whether it's WVU, Marshall."
Hornbuckle's family sat directly behind the Lady Vols bench.
"It was an extremely proud moment just to have her come back home and to play in the arena where she had so much success in her high school career and to have it culminate here her senior year in college," said Hornbuckle's mother, Quan Hornbuckle. "It's been great."
It was from that vantage point that Quan Hornbuckle saw her daughter return to the game just moments after she had been pulled to rousing applause with 4:18 to go and the Lady Vols ahead, 63-45.
Hornbuckle knew she entered the game nine points away from 1,000 and learned with about six minutes to go that she was three points away.
"Courtney Tysinger, one of our media relations people, looked at me and said, ‘You're only three away from a thousand.' Then I got that layup and I was one," Hornbuckle said.
But Summitt wasn't aware of how close Hornbuckle was and lifted her so that she could be recognized by the crowd. When Summitt found out, she hustled Hornbuckle back in the game.
"I'm not going to lie," Hornbuckle said. "I went off to the bench pouting. I was like, ‘Coach, I wanted to get my thousandth point at home.' She was gracious enough to allow me to do that, and I appreciate that."
Hornbuckle nailed a 16-foot jumper with 3:46 to go, and shook her fist for a second as she headed back down court. She hit a layup with 1:59 left to finish with 12 points for the game, and 1,003 for her career. She came out for good with 1:33 left to another huge ovation.
"Proud for Lex being able to come back and play here in her hometown and play the way she played," Summitt said. "I did not think she tried to do too much. I thought she played within herself. She went over the 1,000-point mark. That's why I put her back in when they told me she was one-point shy, certainly not to take advantage of anything other than the fact that she could do that right here in her hometown. It meant a lot to her to be here, and it meant a lot for us to see her do this on this particular night."
Hornbuckle's line for the night was 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"I was wondering what happened, because they took her out and I looked up (and saw her back in) and said, ‘I thought they took her out,' " Quan Hornbuckle said. "They told me that she was so close. When she made that basket Pat turned around and told me that was her thousandth point."
Hornbuckle had plenty of help from Candace Parker, who scored 29 points and added 13 rebounds and three blocks. Nicky Anosike filled up the box score with 10 points, eight boards, six steals, five assists and two blocks.
Anosike executed the give-and-go and high-low pass with Parker to get four of those assists.
"I think they really have connected well, but it's all about them wanting to and wanting to win," Summitt said.
West Virginia, 3-1, was led by Olayinka Sanni with 16 points and LaQuita Owens with 10. Neither team shot well from behind the arc – Tennessee was 2-18 (11.1 percent); West Virginia was 3-16 (18.8 percent) – so the game turned into a battle in the paint.
Parker was 11-19 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line. The Mountaineers simply had nobody who could stop her inside or out.
"Man, she's the best player in the country in my opinion," West Virginia Coach Mike Carey said. "We've seen a lot of players these last two years, and there's no doubt in my mind she's the best player in the country. She gives you a lot of problems out on the perimeter, but she can also go down and post you and passes well, can dribble the ball. I'd like to have about three of them.
"Their size affected us. We were getting it to the hole at times, and we weren't finishing. They were blocking shots. We've got to go a little bit harder evidently."
Tennessee, 4-0, had seven blocks for the game. Alex Fuller got two to go with those of Anosike and Parker.
The Lady Vols defense also was stout on the perimeter. Meg Bulger, who came in averaging nearly 16 points a game, had seven points on 2-12 shooting, including 1-6 from three-point range.
"They were pretty much switching on almost everything," Bulger said. "That makes it tough when they are denying so hard you can't even get the entry pass in. Things like that were making it pretty difficult and then when you finally get the ball you have maybe a split-second to shoot. That kind of forces your shot a little bit and puts you into a zone that you're not really comfortable in and you definitely rush your shot."
The Mountaineers shot 30.6 percent for the game. The Lady Vols shot a decent 42.6 percent, but most of the points came from inside and as the result of turnovers. Both teams had 11 steals – and Tennessee had two more turnovers with 20 compared to 18 for West Virginia – but the Lady Vols converted their opportunities with 23 points off turnovers compared to 12 for the Mountaineers.
Tennessee also was getting on the boards – they won that matchup, 50-35 – and used that advantage to get some fast break buckets that accounted for 14 points.
"Obviously I'm really proud of the intensity that our basketball team played with on the defensive end, on the boards," Summitt said. "I'm always preaching that you have to pack your defense and your board play every time you play this game, but in particular when you're on the road.
"We shot the ball OK but not great, but I thought we did a great job of defending and using our scouting report defense. Certainly a big win for us. It was a very physical game, probably the most physical game, without question, that we've played this year. I thought we hung tough and didn't lose our composure so I'm very proud of our basketball team."
The Mountaineers' strategy was to take it to Tennessee and, as a result, the busiest person on the bench was Jenny Moshak, the assistant athletics director for sports medicine. Remarkably, only 31 total fouls were called – with just 10 whistles in the first half – and both sides lost a player to five fouls in Anosike and Sanni.
"We wanted to play physical," Bulger said. "We know that the Big East is known for playing physical so we wanted to kind of use that to our advantage with Chakhia Cole and Yinka Sanni inside. We wanted to make sure we had ball pressure so they couldn't just stand there and lob it into Candace Parker, which is something they do very well. We definitely wanted to be kind of in their face and in the paint be very aggressive."
Parker banged up her left elbow after being pushed to the floor in the second half. Alberta Auguste came out holding her left wrist but returned late in the game. Vicki Baugh fell awkwardly in the first half and tweaked her left knee. She never returned. The scariest moment for Tennessee came in the first half when Hornbuckle was fouled from behind by Cole on a breakaway layup, and she slammed the back of her head into a chair used by a cameraman.
Tennessee called timeout so that Hornbuckle, who hit the shot, could clear her head.
"I was not happy at all, but because her dad has been a coach I learned early when she was very young playing, that as a parent you don't go running out there on the court," Quan Hornbuckle said. "So I stood up and looked and did a little bit of praying. It's difficult when she see them go down like that."
After the game, Summitt said all of the players survived intact. Baugh was held out of the second half for precautionary reasons.
They're OK," Summitt said. "No serious injuries. Banged up a little bit."
That's a scenario that Tennessee will gladly take – freshman center Kelley Cain remains sidelined with a knee injury – after such a physical matchup.
"We always are used to getting physical games," Parker said. "We're in the weight room all summer, and we're able to take it. It's nothing that we're not used to."
Tennessee also is happy to get out of the state with a win. Homecoming games can take a toll on players sometimes because of the pressure to perform, the emotional high and the potential distractions.
"I didn't play as well as I used to in high school, but it's a little bit different role," Hornbuckle said. "All that matters is Tennessee came to West Virginia, and we pulled together, and we pulled out a win. I'm just happy to continue my winning streak at the Civic Center."
Hornbuckle's maturation as a player and a leader has been lauded by Summitt, and Hornbuckle acknowledged that had this game been played three years ago, she might not have been able to handle the hype.
"To be honest I don't think I would have been mature enough as a freshman," Hornbuckle said. "I probably would have been a little bit overanxious and more excited. I realized it's not about me. It's about Tennessee coming to play West Virginia. It might be my hometown, but I'm still a Tennessee player."
Hornbuckle entered some elite company Wednesday. She joined Chamique Holdsclaw as the only Lady Vols to tally at least 1,000 points, 550 rebounds, 375 assists and 275 steals. She now has 282 steals for her career and passed former Lady Vol Loree Moore, who has 280. With four more Hornbuckle will tie former Lady Vol Semeka Randall, who was on the bench for West Virginia as an assistant coach, for fifth place.
Hornbuckle's teammates were getting their names in the game notes, too.
Anosike's stat line produced season highs in points, assists, steals and blocks. Shannon Bobbitt grabbed a career-high five rebounds in the first 10 minutes and finished with seven boards.
Parker is now 20th in school history in points with 1,429; moved past Michelle Snow into third place for career blocks with 195; and scooted past Kara Lawson and Gwen Jackson into 10th place for career free throws made with 348.
Summitt was asked in the post-game press conference if she thought that Hornbuckle was overshadowed by Parker. The two players were sitting side by side with Summitt, and they looked on with somewhat bemused looks.
"I think Alexis has had a great career," Summitt said. "She's improved her game each and every year. I think this past off-season she was more devoted to her offensive skills, and that's reflected in how she is playing on the offensive end. Our fans love our team. Obviously, Candace Parker has a lot of fans. Alexis Hornbuckle has a lot of fans. Shannon Bobbitt (has) fans. But the neat thing about it is this team is not focusing on how many fans they have, they're focusing on playing together. I don't see that Alexis is going to leave Tennessee and not have been a player that people are going to remember. Certainly she has a big fan club. She loves it. She plays to them."
That brought a laugh from Hornbuckle, and a smile from Parker.
"I think Alexis is definitely one of those people who is always going to give 100 percent," Parker said. "That's big for our team. She's a very vocal leader. She always comes ready to play. We've been playing together for three years now. She'll get in my face and tell me what I need to do and vice versa. I'm just really proud of how she's grown as she's been at Tennessee both offensively and defensively."
Hornbuckle pretended to cry at the remarks – an indication of how relaxed their relationship has become. Both players were more interested at that point in the stat sheet, and they kept peeking at it while Summitt spoke.
When asked what held their interest, Hornbuckle said, "Rebounds! Coach harps on us about hitting the boards hard and beating a team by at least 15 on the boards. 50 minus 35 is 15. Candace and I were kind of looking at that excited. It's an accomplishment for us."
That's an understatement. Tennessee entered the game averaging a program-low 35.3 rebounds per game. But eight of the nine players who logged minutes had at least one rebound. Baugh got two in just five minutes of play.
"They rebound the heck out of the ball offensively and defensively," Bulger said. "They did a great job. I commend them on that. Every one of their players was hitting the boards, and they hit very hard."
Bulger missed last season's game against Tennessee because she was rehabbing a major knee injury. After getting on the floor this season, she was asked if this was the best team she had faced in her West Virginia career.
"Definitely," Bulger said. "There's a reason why they're number one in the country. They proved that tonight. They're very physical. They're smart. Each player knows their roles, they know who they need to get it to, they know who the open man is. They play very smart. They're a very sound team, and they're going to go very far this year."
Carey wasn't looking past the next practice to get his team untracked.
"I told the players after the game I'm not frustrated about the Xs and Os," Carey said. "We can iron that out. We know what we didn't do well and what we need to work on.
"I was frustrated on our intensity and a little bit of pouting when we were coming out of the game. Instead of cheering for your teammate we were feeling sorry for ourselves. Those are the things I've got to iron out, especially with a bunch of seniors. I told them I'll play freshmen before I'll put up with that stuff. That's why you saw there at the end of the game I had two freshmen in, really three freshmen in – one redshirt freshman. I will go that route before I put up with any of that stuff."
Bulger spoke to her teammates during the game to try to get a handle on the situation.
"I think anytime you're down by 20, that's a situation we're not used to, people are going to get a little frustrated," Bulger said. "I was trying to remind everybody that we've got to stick together and regardless of whether we're up by 20 or down by 20 we're in this together and we've got to stay positive with each other. That's important, and that's why teams like Tennessee do what they do because they stay together."
Summitt credited her team's willingness to use its scouting report information for the way the game ultimately unfolded. The Lady Vols jumped out to a double-digit lead within seven minutes of the first half, responded after the Mountaineers cut it to four and led 37-26 at halftime.
"We wanted to take away their three-point shots or at least put pressure on them," Summitt said. "We always do a detailed scouting report and some teams are better at it than others. This team tonight obviously committed to their scouting report defense and when that happens you want to take away the strengths of the players that are the difference-makers, and I thought we did that with the three-point shooting.
"Early on we did a better job with our post defense. We had some lapses there, but I think this team is really committed to their scouting report defense, which allowed them to have a lot of success in that regard."
Carey credited Tennessee's defense and noted his team's lack of execution.
"Tennessee played hard," Carey said. "They were up in the passing lanes. We didn't do what we needed to do. We talked about it and practiced it. We thought we had a game plan coming in for that type of defense, and we didn't do a good job. I thought on the boards Yinka Sanni was very active. Other than that I was very disappointed in our board work."
West Virginia was able to set up a backdoor play on Tennessee to start the second half, but the Lady Vols slammed that option shut after that.
"Because of that we had to start going one on one and taking bad shots," Carey said. "It was frustrating to me we weren't getting offensive rebounds but yet we weren't getting back on defense. And they leak people out. A couple of young ladies kept leaking out and trying to score."
After West Virginia scored to start the second half and shrink the lead to 37-28, Angie Bjorklund responded with her lone three of the game to push the lead to 40-28, and the Lady Vols led by double digits the rest of the way.
"Angie's a very skilled player and I think with each and every game she will get more comfortable," Summitt said. "She hasn't played as well on the road as she has at home. There was enough orange here tonight she felt a little more comfortable, and she will with each and every opportunity that she has to be on the floor. I feel like with her offensive skills and her composure she has a settling effect on the perimeter game. I'm really pleased with the progress she's made and there's still a great upside to what Angie Bjorklund will bring to our basketball team and program in the future."
The present is clearly dictated by Parker. West Virginia simply had no answer for her.
"Hopefully not many people will," Summitt said. "You have to give her teammates a lot of credit because they are unselfish. They play well together. They understand the role she plays for our basketball team and how difficult it is for people to defend her. If you're going to defend her you're going to have to pretty much double-team her, and she does a great job of throwing out of double teams."
Tennessee's game plan was to get the ball inside, where the Lady Vols had a considerable size advantage.
"We knew that our frontline could really punish them inside," Parker said. "My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball and running the high-low action that was our focal point. We wanted to establish paint points whether they came from our frontline or whether our guards penetrated. I think we executed that game plan."
Bobbitt, who scored five points, was able to get inside to score. Hornbuckle got the bulk of her points off of layups. Bjorklund also drove to the basket, got fouled and made her first pair of career free throws.
West Virginia knew Parker would get her points and had hoped to just slow her down. That strategy didn't work.
"We went into this game knowing Candace is going to get 15, 20 points," Bulger said. "You know this already. We wanted to contain her as much as we could. We tried to stay as physical as possible with her in the paint, but it's difficult. She has such long arms and such a nice touch on the ball. Once she gets the ball you really have to hope for the best."
For the opponent that means that she misses. But Parker didn't misfire often. And when the Mountaineers opted for a two-three zone, getting the ball to Parker was paramount because the Lady Vols were shooting poorly from long range. West Virginia opened with a man defense, but that left the 5'10 Chakhia Cole on the 6'5 Parker, who had 12 of Tennessee's first 19 points.
"I expected it from scouting them that they would play us in a zone and I think a lot of that had to do with our ability to score in the man-to-man sets," Summitt said. "Obviously with Candace we wanted to work the high-low against the zone. I thought Nicky and Alex both did a great job of getting the ball inside. We did as a basketball team. With Candace she's been playing tough at both ends of the floor. I'm really proud with where she has taken her game and not just from last year to this year but each and every game she's getting better and better for us."
The record crowd got what it came for and ringed the floor of the Civic Center both before and after the game. Fans took photos of the Lady Vols throughout the game and lined up behind the bench and near the end lines to take pictures during warmups. Summitt was mobbed courtside for her radio show and signed autographs until she had to leave to get on the bus.
It was a festive atmosphere for Lady Vol fans. It was not for Carey, who was displeased with his administration for scheduling the game in Charleston instead of on West Virginia's campus in Morgantown, which is about two hours away.
The Lady Vols players are used to the camera-toting fans, although the number resembled a postseason game. So did the media, which packed press row and the post-game interview room.
"If we go to a state where we might not play a lot, they're happy to see the orange come to town," Hornbuckle said.
Carey appreciated the record crowd, but not the outcome.
"When you're on the losing end it's not a lot of fun. I'd rather five people be here and we won to be honest with you," he said to laughter. "It's great. We had a great crowd here. I'm a little disappointed some West Virginians, a lot of them, had Tennessee on. A little disappointed about that. I'm from West Virginia and I don't care if it's a junior high team playing from the state of West Virginia, I'm going to root for West Virginia. I don't care who they're playing."
Hornbuckle and her high school teammate, Renee Montgomery, a junior guard for Connecticut, have played key roles in putting the state on the basketball map. Meg Bulger, who is from Pittsburgh and whose brother, Marc Bulger, starred at quarterback for West Virginia, also has raised the school's profile of late.
"All we wanted to do was play basketball, excel and make it to a major D1 program and try to make a dent in that program as well," Hornbuckle said. "It just so happened that we were from this state. I'll never forget where I come from. I'll come back and visit. I love coming to help my dad with AAU basketball, just to watch the girls and see how much it's changed. It's a blessing to be a part of that."
The Lady Vols will get some blessed rest Thursday with a day off for the holiday.
"They're going to enjoy Thanksgiving and eat turkey and do nothing," Summitt said. "They deserve it."