Auguste is a senior wing player in her second year at Tennessee. She is usually the first perimeter player off the bench and is averaging a healthy 18.5 minutes of playing time per game.
"Me starting doesn't make a big difference," said Auguste, a 5'11 guard from Marrero, La. "It adds more minutes to my playing time. I basically have to step it up even more because I'm playing more minutes. I'm not trying to put more pressure on myself. I just want to play the way I've been playing."
The way she has been playing has drawn accolades from the coaching staff. Coach Pat Summitt didn't hesitate to name Auguste the replacement for senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who is going to miss Thursday's game because she must undergo a diagnostic procedure for an undisclosed medical condition.
No. 2 Tennessee (16-1, 4-0) will tip off against Arkansas (16-3, 1-3) at 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: MYVLT2/WUXP in Nashville with color commentary by Coach Bruce Pearl; Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Arkansas lost one of its top players in senior Lauren Ervin, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 10 against LSU. The 6'3 center was averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds a game.
Tennessee knows it will still get the Lady'Backs' best effort and the Lady Vols have mentioned several times this season that they can't take any opponent – and specifically Arkansas – for granted. Arkansas took Tennessee to overtime last season in Fayetteville in the penultimate regular season game. The Lady Vols prevailed to preserve a perfect run through the SEC.
"I think every SEC opponent that comes in to play us here we typically get their best shot," Summitt said. "They've had a costly injury but sometimes when that happens it helps mold a team and inspire a team so we've just got to be ready to play. It's one game at a time."
Summitt has had her share of injuries over the years that have derailed a promising season and cost her program dearly. At the end of a recent practice, she had six players left on the court with the rest getting treatment for various aches and pains or out for illness. When an assistant hollered out of habit at the conclusion of a drill for players to sub in, there was only one left on the sideline.
Two Lady Vols, Cait McMahan and Kelley Cain, are taking redshirts this season to recover from knee surgeries. McMahan would have been a key backup at point guard and Cain was expected to provide depth – not to mention considerable size at 6'6 – in the post.
"Every day when I come to practice I just hope no one gets hurts," Summitt said. "In the women's game unfortunately there are a lot of injuries."
Tennessee won't be at full strength tonight with Hornbuckle out. The Lady Vols were missing Alex Fuller last week against Kentucky because the junior forward needed to rest her sore knees. When Candace Parker missed the first half at DePaul for a curfew violation, it was Fuller who stepped into the starting lineup and scored a career-high 19 points.
Auguste can draw on how the team handled that now that it is her turn to step up for a starter.
"We didn't let that affect us," Auguste said. "We're not going to let this affect us as well. When everyone is playing as a team, we know everything is going to be all right. We count on each other. We believe in each other."
Parker gets her share of accolades, and rightly so, but the loss of Hornbuckle, even for just one game, is substantial.
"There are very few players like Lex," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "In addition to what numbers she brings you, her energy and the way that she can lead and the intensity level she brings to a game, her competitiveness, that's as much as anything.
"Part of you is leery about losing that but part of you is saying this is an opportunity for the rest of the team to stand in the gap. We've got to get other people to stand in that gap and to close it. Am I leery or apprehensive? Certainly. But at the same time I am very confident in Bird and I also look at it as an opportunity. Injuries and medical things, they happen. And you have to be prepared to do the next thing."
Auguste's recent play has the coaches more at ease than they otherwise might be over the absence of Hornbuckle. Auguste has been playing solid defense and can score, especially in transition and with drives to the basket. She also has a pull-up jumper that has been effective for her this season.
"She has played very good basketball of late," said Lockwood, who said the coaches wouldn't make any fuss over the start. "Just get in the flow of it. Pat may talk to her individually for just a few minutes. We feel very confident in Alberta. Bird's a player that is legitimate in this league. She could start for a lot of teams, especially playing the kind of basketball she is now. We're fine with her being out there to start the game, and we know she can do the job for us."
Auguste's weakness this season has been ball handling and turnovers. She knows an opponent will try to come after her once the ball is in her possession.
"Once I get the ball, the pressure is going to be on me," Auguste said. "They're going to trap. I'm going to have the mindset of breaking out of the trap and look for the open man."
Summitt sees a silver lining in the situation in that the start – which Auguste heard about Tuesday – will reemphasize Auguste's importance to the team.
"I hope so," Summitt said. "If you go back to last year and postseason, she dialed it up. There was no doubt, which as a coach sometimes that almost makes you mad when the season's over because you could have been bringing a whole lot more.
"But I attributed that to the transition from the junior college game to being on a pretty big stage in women's basketball. I thought it took her longer. Shannon (Bobbitt) came right in and felt comfortable with what we were doing. Alberta, she was the go-to player (in junior college). She was the Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle. She had the ball in her hands a lot and things changed when she came here because of the caliber of players that we have. I think it took her awhile just to feel like, ‘I've still got a really important role.' "
Summitt wants Auguste to look for her shot – tonight and in the next game and the one after that and so on.
"Looking for my shot is a mindset," Auguste said. "I have confidence in my game. Sometimes I look to pass more than I look for my shot."
Summitt wants another starter to shoot more in Angie Bjorklund, the freshman wing. Bjorklund only took three shots against Vanderbilt on Sunday and the head coach made it clear that was not nearly enough.
"She's talking to me about being more of a scoring threat," Bjorklund said. "I've got to look to create a little bit more, move without the ball better. She has talked to me about, ‘You have to start now in practice and do it every single day in practice because you can't just turn it on for the games.' "
Lockwood said the way to get a young player to shoot more is rather simple.
"I think you verbalize it," he said. "I think how freshmen can be sometimes and I think women may be even more so – you wouldn't have to tell a lot of guys twice – and I remember Candace being a little like this, they're very concerned about the equilibrium of the ship: I don't want someone to be upset because I'm taking shots.
"(Bjorklund) needs to know our team needs it. It's taking pressure off of Candace. It's stretching the defense. It helps Lex and Shannon. People have to go out and get Angie, which means the gaps are wider. We just need to reassure her not only do we want you to do it, but this team needs you to do it. It helps the team and we have every confidence in you. We want Angie to know we have supreme confidence in her."
Perhaps there was a language barrier. Bjorklund, who is from Spokane Valley, Washington, is still learning Southern.
"I'm getting it down," she said with a big smile.
Joking aside, Tennessee isn't lacking for scorers and has two starters in double figures. The other three are hovering close to that threshold.
"With this team we have five players who can score," Bjorklund said. "I like it."
Bjorklund noted the team will miss Hornbuckle, but the first-year player certainly can understand the notion of someone needing to take responsibility.
"That's a tough loss," Bjorklund said. "You can't replace Lex. She does everything for us. Our rebounder. Our assist person. She can score. She works hard on defense. That's going to be tough to replace, but that just means other people have to step up."
"Going into a game without Alexis is a bit of a challenge for us," Summitt said Wednesday on her teleconference. "She has been one of our best all-around players at both ends of the floor. She has had a great year to date and when you think about what Alberta has to do… things that come to mind immediately are being efficient on the offensive end, looking to score and rebounding on both ends of the floor. On the defensive end, she needs to bring the intensity. Alexis has done a great job when we have a lull. She seems to be the one to bring the energy and get our defense going."
Tennessee was without Hornbuckle for a month two years ago after she broke her wrist. Hornbuckle managed to watch those games but couldn't sit still on the bench.
"It's hard," said Hornbuckle, who didn't know yet if she would be able to attend the game or would have to watch on television. "But obviously I want to watch. I want to support them whether I'm here or on TV, whatever Jenny (Moshak) asks me to do. Either way it's hard. It was hard when I broke my wrist.
"But they'll be OK. They're a strong team. We're coming together well towards the end."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.9 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game, 1.8 steals per game); Alberta Auguste, 5'11 senior forward, No. 33 (4.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (9.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (20.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 2.6 spg, 2.3 blocks per game); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (9.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 spg).
Parker was back at practice Wednesday for Tennessee after missing Monday's session because of illness. The team was off Tuesday and responded with an upbeat session Wednesday, as Summitt had hoped for following a day off.
Arkansas Coach Tom Collen is expected to start: Brittney Vaughn, 5'7 senior guard, No. 25 (9.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.0 apg), has increased her points scored in SEC games to 12.8, led the league in assists last season with 176; Charity Ford, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 32 (8.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg), scored a career-high 16 points against Marquette this season and hit four 3-pointers; Ayana Brereton, 5'10 junior guard, No. 34 (10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg), had a career-high nine boards against Texas Tech and career-high five steals against Marquette; Sarah Pfeifer, 6'0 senior forward, No. 33 (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), graduate student at Arkansas, has undergone five surgeries in five years – two that ended her season with a shoulder in 2004 and a knee in 2006 – and was granted an extra year by the NCAA; and Whitney Jones, 6'0 junior post, No. 31 (11.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg), had 16 points, 10 rebounds against Florida, hit her first career three-pointer in that game.
Pfeifer moved into the starting lineup with the loss of Lauren Ervin, an All-SEC player who suffered a season-ending tear of the ACL in her right knee. Ervin had 11 points and 11 rebounds in last season's overtime loss to Tennessee.
"Tennessee is a big game for us because you're playing the best team in the country, and you're playing them on the road," Collen said in a video interview clip on Arkansas' website. "We know they're going to bring energy and really try to blow us out of there. It's a game that you've got to play. You find out a lot about yourself. When you're one and three (in SEC play) and you're playing the best team in the country on the road you're going to find out whether your kids are still fighting or not.
"We've got to keep our kids fighting and kicking. It's all about going in there and executing. They're more talented than we are. You're not going to go in there and run them out of their own gym and beat them on sheer talent or athleticism. You've got to execute. You've got to execute just to stay in the game. So that's going to be the big challenge for us is can we execute and can we play with a top-notch team and show a little bit of improvement. If we can do that then we've got a good chance of coming home and getting another win."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Arkansas game. Here is his assessment.
When Arkansas has the ball: "The team does a lot of high-low action. We've had good games and bad games off it (in terms of defense). They're going to do a lot of high-low off of ball screens. They're going to do some flex action on the baseline (putting four players on the baseline with one post going to the elbow – the corner of the free throw line – on the opposite side of the ball to get the pass from the point guard, which initiates the screening action. The post player can pass to a forward on the low block open off a back screen or to the other post player who popped free on the high block on a down screen.).
"They're real good off the dribble drive. They've got some good one-on-one type players. We have to do a good job of defending the main part of their action, which is high-low, and also we've got to be able to keep them out of the paint on dribble drives."
Lockwood expects the Lady Razorbacks to deploy some zone defenses with a sprinkle of man.
"I think we'll see a lot of zone," Lockwood said. "I think we may see stints of man, but I would be surprised if they played man for 40 minutes. I think we're going to see a 2-3 zone. I think we're going to see some 3-2 zone. They've pressed a little. They've used what we call 12 back, like a 1-2-1-1 or a 1-2-2 and then they move it to about three-quarters of the floor as a pickup point."
Lockwood said Arkansas would occasionally try to push tempo.
"I think they'll run selectively," Lockwood said. "I don't think they're going to just slow it up, but I don't think they're going to want to push, push, push tempo."
When Tennessee has the ball: Tennessee always wants to push the pace, but the Lady Vols are lower in numbers Thursday with the absence of Alexis Hornbuckle, a primary cog in the running game.
"We're still going to run, but I don't know (how much) minus Lex because the same type of depth isn't there," Lockwood said. "I think that we're still going to look to push the ball and create some advantages that way, try to either get them scrambled and we attack the paint or go inside."
Lockwood expects Arkansas to put two defenders on Candace Parker, who enjoyed single coverage for the most part against Kentucky and limited double teams in the Vandy game.
"I anticipate doubling because they've shown on tape where they double the post," Lockwood said. "But we want to get the ball inside and make people react to us. What are they going to do? Single coverage, double coverage, where are they going to double from and that's going to play into what we do off our inside-out action. But we want to establish that we can get the ball in there."
ON TAP: Eight other SEC teams are in action Thursday in the following matchups: LSU at Auburn; Georgia at Florida; Kentucky at South Carolina; and Ole Miss at Mississippi State. Alabama and Vanderbilt are idle.
Tennessee is off this Sunday because the matchup with Duke is Monday evening in Durham (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2). The other 11 SEC teams play Sunday but Georgia steps out of conference with a contest at Oklahoma. The SEC games are: Auburn at Alabama; Mississippi State at Arkansas; Florida at South Carolina; LSU at Kentucky; and Ole Miss at Vanderbilt.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Arkansas, 18-1. The Lady Vols are 9-0 at home, 8-1 away and 1-0 at a neutral site. The Lady Razorbacks sole win came in 1996. The neutral site was at the 1998 Final Four. … Tennessee is 7-3 in games played on January 24. The three losses were to Tennessee Tech, 83-61, in 1976 (this same year also accounts for a win on this date over Kentucky in a double-header); LSU, 85-80, in 1979; and Kentucky, 96-82, in 1986. The last win on this date came in 2004 against Duke, 72-69, in Durham. … Candace Parker has a stellar track record against the Lady Razorbacks. She has averaged 23.5 ppg and 12.5 rpg against Arkansas and had 29 points and 17 boards in the overtime win last season. … The Lady Vols have allowed an average of just 50.3 points per game in the first four SEC contests with a winning margin of 24.3 points per game. No opponent, in or out of conference play, has shot 50 percent or better this season against Tennessee. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 80.7 points per game with opponents scoring 61.1. Arkansas averages 70.9 and allows 58.2. The Lady Vols hit 47.4 percent of their shots from the field overall and 38.6 from behind the arc. The Lady'Backs average 45.3 overall and 32.2 from long range. Tennessee averages 40.1 rebounds per game with opponents getting 37.0 for a +3.1 margin. Arkansas grabs 40.6 with foes getting 34.9 for a +5.7 margin. Tennessee averages 17.1 assists and 18.2 turnovers. Arkansas averages 15.4 assists and 17.6 turnovers. The Lady Vols average 12.3 steals and 6.5 blocks. The Lady'Backs average 8.1 steals and 5.3 blocks. Candace Parker leads Tennessee in steals (45) and blocks (38). Lauren Ervin led Arkansas in blocks with 27. Ayana Brereton has 23 swats. Brittney Vaughn leads the team in steals with 35.