Tennessee, Stanford tip off tonight

PALO ALTO, Calif. – The Lady Vols will scatter for the Christmas holidays after tonight's matchup with Stanford, and sometimes the pregame focus is not on the court but on the upcoming trip home. "We do that," Pat Summitt said. "About every year." Tennessee can't afford to take a journey of the mind at Maples Pavilion against the Cardinal.

Tennessee senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle expects to get Stanford's best shot and then some when the Lady Vols and Cardinal tip off at 10:30 p.m. Eastern (TV: Fox Sports Net; Lady Vol Radio Network). The game is expected to be a sell-out at Maples, which holds 7,233.

"Stanford is Stanford," Hornbuckle said. "We're 11-0 in the past 11 meetings. That's motivation in itself for them, and we're on their home court. They would love to go into the '08 season with a win against Tennessee.

"We have to come in here ready to play basketball. You can't come in here relaxed. You can't think you went on break."

No. 1 Tennessee, 10-0, would like to close out the 2007 part of the schedule with a win and stay undefeated. Coach Pat Summitt said she expects this senior-laden team to be focused.

"The fact that we're playing Stanford and a team we have great respect for, I think they know they have to bring our ‘A' game," Summitt said. "Obviously I would be disappointed if they didn't, but I would also be surprised. I think with the leadership that we have on our team and the maturity of our veterans, I think they're excited about playing this game."

The Lady Vols practiced Friday afternoon at Maples Pavilion – it no longer has its signature bouncy floor – and went through the scouting report for No. 5/4 Stanford, 9-1. The team was loose, especially the guards, Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt.

The smiles from Hornbuckle indicated she had put the first half of the UCLA game behind her – a situation so frustrating for her that she asked Summitt to pull her out.

"It was that bad," Hornbuckle said. "I was that frustrated. I missed a wide-open layup. I pump-faked. Two defenders go flying. I'm wide open. I missed it. I missed two tip-ins. The first one? OK, it happens. The second one? I was really mad. And then I couldn't catch the ball. So that made me even more mad.

"There was a lid on the basket for me, and it happens, and I got frustrated. The frustration part? Out of my system. I can't let my offense affect my defense. Hopefully that's completely out of my system. We won't see another half or game like that."

Hornbuckle hit a three-pointer to open the second half, and that seemed to exorcise the shooting demons. She finished with 12 points, all scored in the second half.

"I told Dean (Lockwood) I needed that," Hornbuckle said. "He said, ‘I don't care how you get it. If that's what you needed I'm glad you got it.' "

Hornbuckle's demeanor at practice Friday indicated the first-half performance was out of her system.

"You've got to have fun," Hornbuckle said. "It was a game. It's over and done with. We came out with a win. I'll try to correct that problem."

Tennessee got out of Los Angeles with an 82-70 win after leading by a single point at halftime. The Lady Vols went to a matchup zone to start the second half and immediately went on a run that pushed the lead in double digits.

"We just didn't defend them well off the dribble drive," Summitt said of the team's first half. "They're really good one-on-one players. They're athletic. I thought that's where we really broke down. I thought our zone was probably the best defense we played in extending our defense. We're not opposed to doing that. Everybody knows that I'm predominantly man-to-man but not if it's not working."

A more troubling stat for the coaching staff was the 23 turnovers in the UCLA game, a season high.

"We turn the ball over too much," Summitt said. "I think when you go on the road you've got to take care of the basketball, and you have to defend and rebound and not let the offense affect the defense."

Before the team departed for California, Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said the two-game road swing would be instructive in terms of gauging what the team was doing well and what needed to be improved.

"I think we need more games that are really going to put us through a meat grinder and challenge us," Lockwood said. "I think this West Coast trip will be good. We've got to go through the meat grinder a little bit more before I can say, ‘I think we can get a lot better or a little bit.'

"There is no question one area is rebounding. We can get so much better rebounding."

Tennessee won on the boards against UCLA, 38-27, but Summitt wants the team to get more inspired on the defensive glass. The Bruins had 12 offensive boards, and that was too many, she said. The Lady Vols have done well on their offensive end.

"It is the immediate reward," Summitt said. "(An offensive rebound) is an opportunity to get to the offensive glass and score, as opposed to being disciplined, to keep other teams from doing the same. It is something that we are going to have to emphasize in drills."

Lockwood would like Tennessee to develop a shutdown mentality on defense. He sees a team that will toy with opponents too much sometimes.

"At times we're like a cat playing with a rat," Lockwood said. "We'll bat you around a little bit as opposed to just saying, ‘We're not letting you move an inch. I'm going to corner you right now.' We've got to develop that a little bit."

The giveaways also concern Lockwood. Tennessee is averaging 19.8 turnovers a game.

"Our turnovers we're pretty close to 20 a game," Lockwood said. "That's one area I look at efficiency wise we're not going to be able to go to Stanford and turn it over (that many) times. Those are three tangible areas – rebounding, defense and turnovers. Our half-court defense just be able to clamp people. I'd like to see us go four or five possessions and not let people score. We're capable of that. I think we just have to hold ourselves to that."

The notion of shutdown defense reminded Lockwood of when he worked in England for the Welsh Basketball Association as a consultant and came across Russ Saunders, who played at New Mexico, at a clinic.

"He was happier than heck to see another American," Lockwood said.

Saunders was Michael Cooper's roommate in college – Cooper went on from New Mexico to star for the Los Angeles Lakers and now coaches the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA – and he told Lockwood stories about Cooper's defensive state of mind.

"He used to sit and think about is it possible to hold a guy scoreless," Lockwood said. "He was always getting the best (player on the other team). He'd have a ball and he would be throwing it up while he was lying on his bed and he would say, ‘I wonder if it's possible to hold a guy not just scoreless, but shot-less for a whole game.' That's how he used to think. That was his mindset.

"Larry Bird was asked at the end of his career who gave you the hardest time, and he said, ‘No question, Michael Cooper.' He had the mindset to say, ‘I wonder if it's possible. I wonder if I could do this.' "

Lockwood wants the Lady Vols to ponder similar lofty goals.

"That is what I would like to see our team do: ‘I wonder if it's possible to hold someone scoreless for seven possessions, eight possessions. I wonder if it's possible to go four minutes,' " Lockwood said.

"It boils down to the half-court stingy nastiness. I think we've got that in us. Candace Parker) can be like when she wants. Shannon Bobbitt. Alexis. Nicky is like that. As our season gets longer and we go deeper into SEC play I'd like to see that mindset evolve."

Tennessee's post defense has shown some vulnerability at times this season, and Stanford will present a big challenge. Summitt said the initial pressure must come from the guards.

"I think it starts with our perimeter defense," Summitt said. "If we want to have an impact on the post game, it starts with the perimeter and carries over to the post game. I think they understand they're going to be really challenged.

"It's not like we don't have great respect for what we're seeing from Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen. She looks like anything but a freshman and obviously Candice Wiggins had a great summer and one of the best guards in the country. We go into this game with tremendous respect for them. They've got players that can come off the bench, too. They've got depth. I think they're solid."

Summitt was stunned to learn that Tennessee has won the last 11 matchups with the Cardinal.

"It doesn't feel like it," Summitt said. "Those games have been so close, down to the wire. That's a stat I had no idea. Someone said that to me and I was like, ‘No, I can't believe it.' I have so much respect for Tara and her program and the success she's had here and nationally, and it doesn't seem right."

Stanford will want nothing more than to not let the streak go to 12. Tennessee wants to protect its ranking and its 16-game winning streak that dates to last season's national title run.

"I don't know that as a team we feel pressure," Summitt said before noting that Bobbitt seemed to have a postseason focus in March. "I do know Shannon before the North Carolina, I asked her what she was feeling, and she said, ‘Coach, we can't lose." And I said, ‘It's December. December.' "

Summitt has said she schedules not to go undefeated but to get her team ready for postseason so that nothing comes as a surprise and there's no pressure situation they haven't already been exposed to.

"We haven't really talked about anything other than the next game," Summitt said.

The next game is tonight. The Lady Vols will disperse in different directions afterwards to begin their journeys home for the holidays. Hornbuckle said early departures are not on the mental itinerary.

"You can't be on your flight before it left," Hornbuckle said. "You've got to be focused on the game."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.6 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game,); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman forward, No. 5 (11.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (21.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (8.8 rpg, 6.4 rpg).

Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer is expected to start: Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 1 (5.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg), returned to point guard spot after missing last season to an ACL injury; Candice Wiggins, 5'11 senior guard, No. 11 (17.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg), preseason All-American had a season high 35 points against Baylor, career high is 37 points against Oregon in 2006; Cissy Pierce, 5'10 senior guard, No. 13 (2.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg), had a season high 12 points against Yale in season opener; Kayla Pedersen, 6'4 freshman forward, No. 14 (13.0 ppg, 8.82 rpg); McDonald's All-American was recruited by Tennessee, scored career high 22 points against Baylor; and Jayne Appel, 6'4 sophomore center, No. 2 (15.8 ppg 8.9 rpg), had season high 30 points, 20 rebounds against Utah.

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scout for the Tennessee-Stanford game. Here is her assessment.

When Stanford has the ball: "They're very well coached. Tara takes advantage of her talent so she's going to go inside. We're going to have to defend the high-low look. Pedersen was a great addition to their team. She's the type of kid she fits perfect in their season. She shoots outside; she can handle the ball. Very good passer. Can shoot the three. Appel, she's a strong kid who plays very well on the block and works hard to get the ball before it gets there.

"I think their team centers around Candice Wiggins. I think she's an emotional leader for them. When she plays well and does good things, the team does good things. I think she is key to that team emotionally and offensively. We've got our hands full with her. She's a multitalented player. They will stretch our defense."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We're Tennessee. We're not going to do anything different. We're going to do the things we do. We're going to run the basketball. We're going to hunker down and play defense. We're going to rebound the basketball. And if we do those things and get to the free throw line that means we're aggressive on offense, we're not settling for jump shots, we're getting in the paint, we're getting the ball inside, then great things happen for us.

"If we don't defend and we foul and we give them second-chance points, it's not a good game for us. We're better when we're running the ball, pushing the ball, getting easy buckets, getting steals and scoring. That's our game. Stanford knows that."

Warlick expects the Cardinal to deploy its man defense, but that doesn't eliminate the possibility of zone looks, too.

"The majority of the time they're strictly man to man," Warlick said. "Now that doesn't mean Tara won't do that (show different looks). What I've seen they've pretty much stayed man to man."

Tennessee also relies on its man defense, but Pat Summitt didn't hesitate to go to the zone in the second half against UCLA.

"For us it just depends on how the game's flowing and how we're doing," Warlick said. "We'll either play man or zone. We don't discriminate. We'll play anything that's going to help us win."

Warlick will once again stay in touch with the team via text messages sent to Debby Jennings, the associate athletics director for media relations, who is courtside and close to the bench. Summitt put Warlick on a speaker phone Friday during a staff meeting. Warlick could not fly because of a blood clot in her calf and had to remain behind in Knoxville.

"It's been different," Summitt said. "I miss her. We had her on the speaker phone when we were planning practice. This was her scout. I really hate it for her. We miss her. We're so close. We've got great chemistry with our staff. I have never had a staff I enjoy like this staff as far as across the board. She would love to be here, I know that."

The coaching staff is expecting another classic battle Saturday and knows the vanquished foe – whichever team it ends up being – won't drop without a fight.

"They're who they are, and we're who we are," Warlick said. "So it's just a matter of wills and who's going to out-work who, who's going to be focused enough to make the points and make the stops. It sounds pretty simple, but that's the game plan. Whether your kids carry it out or not is up to them.

"It's all about scouting and being prepared. Whether, I'm there or not they're going to have them very well prepared for the game."

SHOPPING STARS: Despite being in a state studded with stars, the Lady Vols are still drawing their share of attention. The team went shopping Thursday – Pat Summitt took a day off the court to allow them time to rest – and were popular everywhere they went.

"Going to the mall I was amazed at the people that came up," Summitt said. "The players had on their sweats so they were all talking to them and coming up to them. I gave them the option of going into San Francisco. They opted to come here (Palo Alto) and go to the mall, so they shopped. They shopped for hours."

The players weren't the only ones busy shopping. Summitt went to Nordstrom's and was recognized immediately, even though her usual helper, someone Summitt is on a first-name basis with, wasn't there. Apparently Nordstrom's is a popular stop for Summitt on the road.

"We shipped several boxes home," Summitt said. "As soon as I came in this one lady comes over – and it wasn't Faye – she goes, ‘Coach, I would be happy to help you.' The people here are very friendly. A number of people said, ‘Glad you're here. See you at the game.' "

The team seemed to have its focus at practice Friday afternoon. They went through the scouting report, shot free throws and worked on shooting drills. The day off likely helped their legs, as did having more legroom on the second leg of the two-game swing.

The players and staff were shoehorned onto a commercial flight on the trip to Los Angeles from Knoxville, but they had a much roomier trip from southern California to the Bay Area.

"The plane was about half empty but coming out we were all in the back of an airplane that was packed," Summitt said.

ON TAP: Four other SEC teams are in action today in the following matchups: Jacksonville State at Alabama; St. Louis at Florida; South Carolina at Clemson; and Lipscomb at Vanderbilt.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Stanford, 19-4. The Cardinal last won in 1996 in a December game in Knoxville. Tennessee is 5-3 on the road against Stanford. … Tennessee is 4-0 in games played on December 22. The last win came just a year ago against Old Dominion, 75-59. … Candace Parker dunked against Stanford last season in the 77-60 win over the Cardinal in Knoxville. The Lady Vols led that game at halftime, 35-28, with Stanford's last three points of the half coming in spectacular fashion on a heave of about 50 feet from Candice Wiggins as the clock expired. … Pat Summitt now has 957 career wins, putting her 43 away from 1,000. Tara VanDerveer is two games away 700 wins. Combined, the coaches' record is 1,655-365. Both coaches are in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, and both won Olympic gold as coaches – Summitt in 1984 and VanDerveer in 1996. … Stanford has won six straight games since losing to Connecticut in a Thanksgiving tournament in the Virgin Islands. That is the Cardinal's sole loss this season. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 81.4 points a game. Stanford scores 74.5, on average. Lady Vol opponents are scoring 63.3 points to 57.9 for Cardinal foes. Tennessee has attempted 172 shots behind the arc and made 65 for a 37.8 shooting percentage. Stanford has attempted 139 and made 38 for a 27.3 percentage. Both teams shoot well overall – 46.6 percent for Tennessee and 44.5 percent for Stanford. Tennessee is led by Candace Parker at 52.2 percent. Jayne Appel leads Stanford at 54.6 percent. The Lady Vols average 41.6 boards per game and have a +3.8 margin over opponents. The Cardinal averages 43.7 boards and has a +9.2 margin. Tennessee has a small lead in assists – 18.1 to 16.2. Stanford has a whopping decrease in turnovers – 13.5 to 19.8. Tennessee has a substantial lead in steals – 12.7 to 7.4. Both team like to swat the ball away. Tennessee averages 6.9 blocks a game. Stanford averages 4.2.


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