Lady Vols take out Lady Techsters

Tennessee's game with Louisiana Tech unfolded just as Pat Summitt had hoped – the starters went to work quickly and got to rest early – and the result was an 81-60 win and an abundance of minutes for the bench Monday night.

Most of the starters played the first eight minutes of each half – forward Candace Parker got 13 points in 16 minutes – with the substitutes picking up the remainder of the playing time. Starting center Nicky Anosike also was efficient with her minutes – 6-6 shooting with 13 points in 15 minutes.

"As starters at a national championship program we have a duty every night to come out and start the team off on the right foot and that's what we try to do every night," Anosike said. "As far as my shooting, I guess I was just lucky. I don't know what I ate before the game, but I need to start eating it more often. I guess this was a good night for me. Everything fell."

Tennessee, 5-0, hit nine of its first 10 three-point attempts – Shannon Bobbitt hit three and Angie Bjorklund, Alexis Hornbuckle and Sydney Smallbone had two each – to break open the game in the first half and propel the Lady Vols to a 55-26 first-half lead.

"Well, there's a reason Tennessee's number one in the country," Louisiana Tech Coach Chris Long said. "They put on a display. I don't know if I've seen a team shoot the ball as well as they did in the first half, whether they had open looks or didn't have open looks. I think at one time they were 9-10 from three. That's incredible. As talented and as big as they are, if they are going to be 9-10 from three-point range, they're going to be ahead of a lot of people."

The Lady Vols did get a little long range happy – after starting 9-10 they missed three in a row – so Coach Pat Summitt told them to get back to getting the ball inside.

"They were shooting the ball well from the three-point line," Summitt said. "I think Shannon, she is a player that has a lot of confidence, and I think they kind of feed off of each other. That happens sometimes. The thing you don't want to do is live and die by the three ball, and I thought we got a little bit over-committed to it.

"I wanted to make sure in the second half that we did what exactly we do best and that's inside-out action. But it stretches the defense, and that's what opened up our inside game. Anytime you can stretch the defense out that can make a very big difference for you in that regard."

Tennessee didn't hit a three in the second-half going 0-7 behind the arc. After starting out a scorching 58.8 percent from long range and 47.8 percent overall in the first half, the Lady Vols cooled off considerably in the second half to 30.3 percent shooting and 40.5 percent for the game.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech, 2-2, had settled down and opened up the second half by scoring four straight points. But the starters boosted the lead again and had it to 33 points, 70-37, when Summitt began to substitute. The Lady Techsters managed to chip it down to 21 for the final margin. The missed shots allowed LaTech to get out and run some. The Lady Vols also had 12 turnovers in the second half, compared to just eight in the first half.

"I thought we struggled defensively off the bench," Summitt said. "We've got to get better in that regard. Alex (Fuller) didn't shoot the ball well, and Alberta (Auguste) didn't shoot the ball well. Vicki (Baugh) rebounded the ball but didn't shoot it well. If you start looking at coming off the bench that's where they have to understand their role of efficiency. They can maybe do a better job of moving the ball and being able to knock down shots."

This was the first time this season every player on the bench – there are four substitutes so the starting guards had to log some extra time with them – got significant playing minutes, and that was Summitt's goal going into the game.

"I liked the fact that we were able to get everyone some quality minutes," Summitt said. "The bench, that's a place that we're trying to get better. I think they just have to play to get better.

"They got a lot of good minutes, particularly being able to get Sydney Smallbone some minutes and just really give her a chance to have some film to watch. She's a player that can make shots; we just want to get her better on the defensive end. Vicki Baugh, she's all over the place, obviously a great rebounder. I just asked her (in the locker room) I don't know how many of those were her own shots, but we'll count those on the tape. I'm sure she had to rebound a lot of her own, but I like the energy that she brings to our team."

Baugh had 16 rebounds with 10 coming on the defensive glass so she earned the bulk of her board stats.

"We discussed our roles before the game, and I know my biggest role is to rebound so I had to do that," Baugh said.

Overall, the Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 54-49, and their rebounds per game average jumped from 39.0 to 42.0.

Alexis Hornbuckle had seven rebounds to go with seven assists – she has now passed Chamique Holdsclaw for 10th place on the all-time assists lists (389) – and six points in 20 minutes of play. Anosike grabbed four boards and also added two steals and a block.

But it was Anosike's performance on offense that earned her additional kudos from her coach. She hit fast-break layups, made a nifty step in and step-back shot just on the edge of the paint and hit a short turnaround in the lane.

"Nicky has been making more of a difference with our basketball team because of her defense and also her consistency," Summitt said. "I think that's huge for us. That's what you expect. You expect your seniors to really being able to anchor you down on both ends of the floor. She usually has one of the toughest defensive assignments, if not the toughest. When she plays with Candace, people are keying on Candace.

"I think the fact that Nicky is stepping up and making plays (on offense) that's a real plus for us because they're going to have to guard her more straight up and one on one, as opposed to seeing different double-team schemes and seeing them focus on Candace so much."

The starting unit was clicking from the opening tipoff. The Lady Vols had 14 assists on the first 22 baskets. The defense forced 17 Lady Techsters turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Bjorklund had 10 points in 16 minutes on 4-7 shooting.

Two of Bjorklund's three-pointers in the first half were set up by Hornbuckle, who drove to the middle of the floor and then turned and found Bjorklund behind the arc. Hornbuckle made the flip pass and set a screen in one motion.

The next time down the floor Bjorklund returned the favor and found Hornbuckle behind the arc. By this time the substitutes were in the flow, too. Bjorklund sent an alley-oop to Hornbuckle, who controlled the pass but was out of position for the shot. She fired the ball out to Smallbone, who drained the three-pointer.

"The starters played well together," Summitt said. "I feel very comfortable with the group that starts for us. I think Angie is really just relaxing. She has a lot of composure, which to me that has a calming effect on our offense.

"Also the way Shannon runs our offense. We've done a much better job of really getting everyone involved and having everyone as an offensive threat. Alexis understands her shot selection better than ever before in her career. She's much more confident and composed. When you can have five people that bring a threat and obviously the fact Nicky started out shooting the ball well, along with Shannon, I thought that just set the tempo for us and the tone of how we can play offensively."

Tennessee also set the tone on defense with 11 blocks. Parker had three and Baugh added four. Hornbuckle had two.

"They did a great job in the paint," Bobbitt said. "That gave us a lot of energy, a lot of fast breaks. They led us to a lot of easy points."

Anosike swatted the ball away at the top of the key that Bobbitt secured on the way down. She scooted down court and drained a 15-footer at the elbow. Bobbitt finished the game with 13 points, one of four Tennessee players in double figures.

The 5'2 Bobbitt also got her first career block in the first half.

"I don't think that will happen," Summitt said when asked if Bobbitt could average one a game now. "That's not a goal. Is it her first career block at Tennessee? It may be her last. That's OK. She still takes charges."

Bobbitt didn't see why she should stop at one a game.

"Maybe three," she joked. "It depends."

Bobbitt is at her best with the ball in her hand, and she weaved her way through the Lady Techsters with ease.

"We recruited Shannon," Long said, referring to when Bobbitt was at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas. "She was JoKeirra's junior college teammate as a matter of fact. Shannon brings athleticism, quickness. You can't trap her. We're a pressing team. We got into the press a couple of times, but we were spinning our wheels thinking you're going to trap her.

"She's very good at pushing the ball up the floor and, then as she showed tonight, she's really a good three-point shooter. I think she's brings a lot to the team."

Long joked that "if Jo had done a better job (recruiting Bobbitt), we might have got her."

JoKeirra Sneed did a good job Monday. She had 15 points, 18 rebounds, four steals and three blocks.

"There were times tonight where I thought she dominated the boards against the biggest team in America," Long said. "That's what I've tried to share with her, that it's got to be every night, whether it's Tennessee or our next opponent. But she showed what she's capable of. She battled, and she is a battler. I was very proud of her."

LaTech was led by Whitney Jones with 16 points.

"It's a pleasure to play the No. 1 team in the country," Jones said. "We will just learn from our mistakes and improve on areas where we are struggling. We will just look at this as an opportunity to learn."

Sneed said the team first had to overcome some nerves playing in front of the announced crowd of 14,891. It was a good turnout considering the heavy rain that fell all day Monday and into the evening.

"I won't say intimidation. I always get kind of nervous before every game; it really doesn't matter who we play," Sneed said. "But they are a good team. I believe all of us were kind of nervous at first, but when we started playing we got more comfortable and got into the flow."

The Lady Techsters couldn't overcome a first half in which they shot 26.5 percent from the field. They managed to get some great early looks, but lost the ball in the paint or missed the shots.

"It was a tough first half," Long said. "I thought we started the game actually pretty well. We got the ball in about three possessions right where we wanted it and fumbled it or missed a couple of point-blank shots. (If we don't do that) we go into the first media timeout with a much closer score and maybe some of the jitters of our young players settle down. But it didn't happen that way. Tennessee got away from us.

"We challenged our team at half time to win the second half, and that's what we did. We won by eight points in the second half."

Summitt, meanwhile, was waiting on the clock to tick to about the 12-minute mark of each half, and then she substituted, especially at the post spots. Alex Fuller and Vicki Baugh played the final 12-plus minutes of each half. Smallbone, who finished with nine points and four boards, logged 24 minutes. Alberta Auguste, who had five points and three boards, picked up 18 minutes. Bjorklund, the fifth starter who finished with 12 points and five rebounds, logged the most of any player with 30 minutes, both to supplement the guard spots and get more minutes for the first-year player.

"I think they know how important they are," Anosike said of the bench players. "Just from winning the championship last year we know what we wouldn't have won without our bench and the same thing is true this year. If our bench doesn't come to play then we won't win. They're just as important as our starters, and it's our job to let them know that, and I think they do know that."

Tennessee does have plenty to work on this week, starting with free throw shooting. The Lady Vols were 7-14 from the line, and only three players made trips there. Parker was 5-6, and Anosike and Auguste were both 1-4.

"We've got to get better at the free throw line," Summitt said. "We shoot the ball extremely well, we've got great shooters, and we've got to shoot free throws at a whole different percentage level."

Summitt also raised the bar for shooting behind the arc after Monday's performance.

"From our shooting this evening Pat said that our goal should be 50 percent from the arc," Bobbitt said. "I think we can continue to do this and with a lot of reps in practice have confidence in your shot. Definitely it starts in practice. We get a lot of reps in shooting on the perimeter. We just took what the defense gave us and knocked down the three ball."

The LaTech game was the first of five consecutives contests at home. Next up is Sunday's matchup with undefeated and revenge-minded North Carolina. The Lady Vols took out the Tar Heels last April in the semifinal game in Cleveland in the Final Four.

"It's a great time to have a long stretch at home," Summitt said. "We've got finals coming up pretty soon, and I know this team is very focused on academics. It's important to us not to be on the road as much and that they can be in class and be in their own beds. It's a good time to be at home because right after the holidays we'll be traveling a lot.

"It gives us a lot of quality practice time and preparation time. We've got a long time to prepare for North Carolina, and we'll need every bit of it."


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