Tennessee takes out South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The Lady Vols shook off a poor shooting performance – save for Shannon Bobbitt's 20 points and Candace Parker's 15 – and secured its second SEC win of the season, a 71-48 road victory over South Carolina on Sunday, by deploying full court pressure and forcing the Gamecocks into 30 turnovers.

On an afternoon when Tennessee (14-1, 2-0) was misfiring from inside and outside, the Lady Vols applied their "pick your poison" philosophy with Shannon Bobbitt, who had been quiet of late offensively but poured in a game-high 20 points by hitting 4-6 from behind the arc. Bobbitt's output raised her per game average to 10.1 points, putting all five starters in double figures.

Candace Parker hit 6-11 shots to finish with 15 points with 11 of those coming in the first half when the Lady Vols needed offense. Bobbitt had nine points by the break.

Tennessee needed the production from the duo against South Carolina (11-6, 0-2), because while the Lady Vols were getting open looks the shots weren't falling.

"We missed a lot of easy shots," Coach Pat Summitt said. "This team offensively has been one of our best. Not shooting the ball well in the first half hurt our overall shooting percentage in the game.

"But I do feel this team is a pretty efficient offensive team and going on the road and shooting on the road it's always a guessing game to see, ‘Will they shoot as well on the road?' We have in the last couple of road games. I'm looking now to see where we're headed. Hopefully we can continue, and that all goes back to our shot selection, which I think is pretty good."

Angie Bjorklund ended up with 10 points but missed six of her eight 3-point attempts. Nicky Anosike finished with 12 points – she got inside and got to the foul line – but had to sit out for all but eight minutes of the first half because of foul trouble.

Summitt did see too many quick shots early – which left Tennessee out of rebounding position – but the Lady Vols' defensive pressure was able to make up for that deficiency.

"Obviously we played in spurts," Summitt said. "We didn't get into a good rhythm early on. We were jump-shooting the basketball. We did a better job in the second half of establishing our inside game. I thought our defensive intensity was good. Our rebounding was sub-par, but we picked that up in the second half. Our guard play, in terms of rebounding was a little bit better with Angie and Lex.

"I thought Shannon and Lex did a good job in the backcourt taking care of the ball and running our offense."

Alexis Hornbuckle, who scored three points and took just four shots, led Tennessee with seven rebounds. Bjorklund had five boards. Parker and Anosike combined for six rebounds, and the Lady Vols were out-rebounded, 41-33.

That number was affected by the quick shooting – and South Carolina's 30 turnovers, which cut back on the Gamecocks' possessions and opportunities for defensive rebounds by Tennessee – and Summitt said she wanted to watch the game film on the flight back to Knoxville to see exactly what happened.

Tennessee got 26 points in the first half off of 18 South Carolina turnovers to lead 37-14 at the break. They finished the game with 41 points off of turnovers and had 18 steals.

The 14 points scored in the first half by South Carolina was the lowest output by an opponent this season and tied for the sixth lowest allowed in Tennessee history. The Gamecocks' 48 points scored was the lowest allowed by the Lady Vols this season.

South Carolina had trouble even getting into its offensive sets because of Tennessee's full-court pressure. Bjorklund was the safety valve on the back of the press, and Parker and Anosike played at the top. The Gamecock guards had trouble even seeing at that point.

"That was a comment that we got from one of our players during a timeout," South Carolina Coach Susan Walvius said. "It was, ‘I can't see. I'm sure it's there. I can't see.'

"We weren't attacking that very well. We were trying to pass, and we had worked in practice on trying to attack it with the dribble. There were plenty of opportunities to do that today – go right by them. And we tried to pass around them instead.

"They do not allow entry passes. That's a typical Tennessee team that they create a lot of offense from their defense. They really overplay wings. They put a lot of pressure on the ball. They trap ball screens. They're very athletic, very big and very aggressive defensive team. They always are."

The 6'5 Parker and the 6'4 Anosike have both the size and the wingspan to create a lot of disruption in a press.

"We can get size on the basketball," Summitt said. "Both of them can play effectively in our press and when they do it's hard to throw over them. You have to look to beat them off the dribble. We did a better job of defending the dribble penetration as well as throwing over the top."

Anosike is quick enough to stay with perimeter players. Parker doesn't have the lateral quickness of Anosike but she used her length to her advantage. She had four steals with two coming by picking off passes that South Carolina tried to get past her.

"Our 1-2-1-1 press the bigs just have to be active," Parker said. "I know if I get beat then I have four defenders behind me to help me out. I think just having confidence in my teammates allows me to get out there and play against smaller players."

South Carolina was led by Ilona Burgrova, who had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out with 3:37 left in the game.

"It was very interesting, and it was challenging," Burgrova said. "I think every player loves to be challenged. That kind of gave me the energy to be a little bit more successful than I usually am."

Burgrova drew the defensive assignment on Parker with Demetress Adams picking up Anosike. Adams had 10 points and seven rebounds.

"Ilona did a fantastic job today," Walvius said. "Demetress Adams on the defensive end did an absolutely fantastic job."

South Carolina's downfall was the turnovers. Adams and Burgrova combined for eight. The three starting guards, Samone Kennedy, Brionna Dickerson and Jordan Jones, accounted for 14.

"We know defense is a priority to this team," Bobbitt said. "We had to show it for 40 minutes. We just had to have the fire to do it, I think we did a pretty good job of stopping them and (forcing) a lot of turnovers."

Summitt wanted to open the game with some intensity and one way to tap into that is to play 94 feet.

"One reason was to keep our team's intensity up and see if we could turn them over and get some easy shots and get off to a good start," Summitt said. "I do think that when you challenge your team to get out and extend their defense they've got to work at it. If they don't work at it, it's going to break down."

The breakdowns occurred offensively where the Lady Vols shot 36.4 percent in the first half, the worst first 20 minutes of the season. South Carolina was even worse at 30 percent.

"I wasn't concerned until we opened the game and we just didn't play with the same level with five people consistently with the type of intensity that we have to have," Summitt said.

"I thought with the press our intensity (was good) and with our half-court defense I thought we defended the high-low action. We didn't rebound where we needed to rebound the basketball. We got careless in the second half with our turnovers. Our bench needs to be more efficient as well."

In the last four games, Hornbuckle has had 18 assists to just one turnover. She had two assists and zero turnovers Sunday and moved into a tie with Kristen "Ace" Clement for eighth place in the UT record books with 429 assists.

"I think she's playing the best basketball of her career," Summitt said. "Just her decision-making. She's doing a nice job of getting the ball inside. She's unselfish. As a basketball team I think we're very unselfish and that's why we are a better passing team."

Tennessee ended up with 14 assists, a number that is respectable considering the overall shooting percentage of 40 percent.

Summitt was OK with Hornbuckle only taking four shots because she recognized that Bobbitt needed to get the ball. Hornbuckle's one three-pointer moved her into a tie with Michelle Marciniak – currently a South Carolina assistant – for 14th place in the record book with 66 career treys.

"Shannon had the hot hand on the perimeter," Summitt said. "That's a good thing when your team looks for the players that they know can score for them in certain games. That may vary, but in today's game Shannon obviously was feeling pretty good about her offense and doing some good things for us."

Bobbitt hit the 100th three-pointer of her career to move past Kellie Jolly, who had 99, and into 11th place in the record book. Bobbitt also led the team with four assists.

"She controls tempo so well," Walvius said. "I'm so impressed with Tennessee's patience in general. … Shannon makes them go. They certainly feed off her energy. I thought she did a great job attacking the basket, finding open people and then stepping up and hitting big shots for them.

"When you've got that kind of speed and quickness and you can stop on a dime and shoot a three and hit it consistently it makes you very hard to guard."

The crowd clearly enjoyed Bobbitt with the ball in her hand. A buzz rippled through the Colonial Center when she crossed over Burgrova and drove to the basket. She missed the layup but hit both free throws.

Right before halftime she dribbled the ball between her legs in rapid-fire fashion over and over and then stepped back and drained the shot with two seconds on the clock.

Does she hear the crowd?

"Yes, she hears them," Parker said.

"A little bit," Bobbitt said with a smile. "I'm just a crowd pleaser. I'm going to go out there and do what I do best. … I didn't feel that it was needed for me to shoot it, but I just took what the defense gave me. They were double-teaming on Candace so that gave me a great opportunity to shoot the three ball."

Tennessee had plenty of fans with orange throughout the Colonial Center. The crowd was the fourth-largest to see a women's basketball game at the center and easily surpassed the previous season high of 1,518 fans.

"We love our fans," Bobbitt said. "They definitely give us a lot of motivation and seeing all that orange out there makes you feel like it is home-court advantage. We just had to come in here and play within ourselves and do the best we could."

Bobbitt, a native of the Bronx, needed one question repeated to her because she couldn't hear the soft-spoken sportswriter.

"She's from New York. You have to talk a little slower," Parker advised to much laughter in the room.

Shannon had been asked if she's confident enough to take players off the dribble and once the question was repeated to her, she readily replied.

"Yes, I am," Bobbitt said. "I'm going to say again: I take what the defense gives me. I felt I can create off the dribble and take the open shot, and that's what I did tonight."

The Gamecocks also appreciated the fan support, and Burgrova specifically thanked the Tennessee fans for coming to the game.

"We have to thank them," Burgrova said. "Thank you for coming. It was nice to see. I think the freshmen enjoyed it. I think all of us enjoyed it actually."

South Carolina was pleased with how it played the second half. The Gamecocks shot 50 percent in the final 20 minutes to finish at 41.7 percent and played Tennessee even, 34-34.

Burgrova got 11 of her points in the second half. Adams picked up five steals – the Gamecocks didn't have a single steal in the first half – and added eight points to the two she scored in the first half.

The Gamecocks are a team in flux because of injuries. Jones is playing with a severe bone bruise in her knee. Courtney Newton, a freshman point guard, has been lost for the season because of an ACL injury. Ashlie Billingslea and Lakesha Tolliver missed the Tennessee game because of injury and illness, respectively, but could be back for next Sunday's game against Ole Miss.

"We've had one injury after another injury after another injury," Walvius said. "Typically teams tweak their systems as the year goes on. We're a team that's had to re-do our system as the year has gone on due to injuries."

South Carolina has used different lineups this season against some of the top teams in the country in Connecticut, Oklahoma and Tennessee. The upside has been experience for different players. The downside has been the defeats.

"It is a little bit hard and Coach had to talk to us and encourage us a little bit," Burgrova said. "But I think the young players are starting to understand that this is not the end. We have so many other options that we can go it and Coach tried to explain to us what are those options. We could be a little bit down but as we understand better it's fine.

"I hope it's going to carry through to the practices we'll have this week and it's going to carry to the Mississippi game. The team was very excited to play Tennessee."

Despite the 0-2 conference start Walvius saw enough Sunday to believe her team can succeed in the SEC this season, despite the youth.

"You have to be positive," Walvius said. "You have to continue to see them for their strengths and see them for who they can be and maybe not what they are right now. … I think we'll do well. I think this team has a good chance. We are where we need to be, and we've got to take care of business. This team doesn't make excuses. It's one of their mottos. Faith, unity, no excuses. They say it every day. … We're not in a bad place right now. … We've got a chance, I still think, to be very, very good in this league as it goes on."

There were three freshmen in the starting lineup against Tennessee. Walvius opted not to play senior guard Ebony Jones because of how they wanted to try to attack Tennessee.

"Ebony did not play because of the offensive attack that we had for Tennessee," Walvius said. "We really wanted to put the ball on the floor a little bit more today … It was just the rotation that we had. As Ilona said we try to go to our strengths and our opponents' weaknesses."

The Gamecocks' strategy was to deliberately slow down the pace to limit possessions and start its offense with about 10 seconds on the shot clock. But Tennessee's pressure led to three shot clock violations in the first half and the forcing of some bad shots.

"They came out and forced us to turn the ball over a little bit in the first half," Walvius said in a bit of an understatement. "Tennessee is a team that wants to play an up-tempo style. Our philosophy was to limit possessions in the first half so you saw us holding the ball, holding the ball, holding the ball and then trying to go at 10.

"I thought that was somewhat effective in that it was limiting possessions. Unfortunately we were turning it over. At the 10-second mark our goal was to go hard and be aggressive. We weren't going hard and we weren't attacking the way we wanted to attack and that's really what we had spent the last two days on."

South Carolina will next get ready for Ole Miss in a week. Tennessee travels next to Kentucky, which has started 2-0 in the conference, for a game Thursday. The Lady Vols return to practice Monday to work on what likely will be rebounding. Summitt's initial reaction to the Lady Vols' total of 33 boards was that not enough players went to the glass.

"I'll have to look at the tape," Summitt said. "You have a feel during the game, but I can watch the tape and see who's not going to the boards. Was it long rebounds?

"I felt like a few times we only had one or two players going to the boards. Those are second-chance opportunities that you can get on the offensive end and you can limit on the defensive end. There were a lot of turnovers. That's going to limit your opportunities to board as well. That's why I like to wait until I get on the plane and watch it or go home and watch it and then I have a much better feel."

Summitt had mixed feelings about her team's performance. She saw the defensive intensity that she craves, but the offensive impatience to start the game and lack of rebounding are troubling.

"You look for perfection as a coach on every possession and that's not realistic so I've got to see what is," Summitt said. "I know my expectations are high and they probably think at times unrealistic, but I know what they bring to the court. I know how talented they are.

"I know when they decide they want to press they're one of the best pressing teams in the country. When they want to run they're one of the best running teams in the country. When they want to rebound they're one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

"So as a coaching staff we feel our job is to keep them working hard, keep them motivated and keeping them together and for the most part they've done that."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories