Revenge could be two-fold for Hornbuckle, who downplayed the return to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where she was taunted two years ago from beginning to end over a two-year-old high school shoplifting charge that arose from a senior prank and was resolved in such a manner that her record was wiped clean.
The Lady Vols collapsed as a team in that game and a No.1 vs. No. 2 matchup fizzled with a 75-53 loss.
A lot has changed since that game. Duke has a new coach in Joanne P. McCallie. Some principal players on both sides – Shanna Zolman and Sidney Spencer for Tennessee and Lindsey Harding and Monique Currie for Duke – have departed. Hornbuckle is now a college senior and has been lauded by the coaching staff for her maturity and leadership.
"I'm excited to go back," Hornbuckle said. "Sophomore year, still a young player, still young-minded. I've matured and grown so much since two years ago."
Hornbuckle said she has put the torment of two years ago at Duke behind her.
"That's old," she said. "I'm the type of person, one time is OK (to be affected) and after that you've got to step your game up. People grow; people mature. So it doesn't affect them in the same way."
Coach Pat Summitt has not put it behind her. When Duke played in Knoxville last season she asked UT students to not retaliate and said fans were not to go "digging in the dirt." On Friday, she threatened to end the series – Duke is scheduled to come to Knoxville next season and then the contract must be renewed – if the "Cameron Crazies" went after Hornbuckle again.
That, of course, could have the effect of inciting a student body not exactly known for its restraint when it comes to heckling opponents.
"Oh, I'm sure it will," Summitt said Sunday before her team departed for Durham. "The main reason that I said something is I want Lex to be able to go into that environment and play and not have to deal with what she's dealt with in the past. They'll be on me. I don't care."
There is one additional benefit to Summitt's position – her players know she will try to protect them.
Hornbuckle may not have needed for her coach to both make and take the point in this case, but she knows she has her back. That can have a ripple effect on a team.
"I'm sure it does," said Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, who played for Summitt from 1976 to 1980. "Pat has her back. Pat was pretty adamant about it."
But Warlick also has a practical stance.
"The only thing you can do to quiet them down is play hard and win the game," Warlick said.
No. 2 Tennessee (17-1, 5-0) tips off tonight against No. 10 Duke (15-4, 4-1) at 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN2; Lady Vol Radio Network) in Durham as both teams step out of conference in a made-for-TV "Big Monday" matchup.
"That's why you come to a school like Tennessee to play against Duke and Rutgers and LSU and all these teams," Nicky Anosike said. "That's why we came here. It's definitely been a great experience, and it's time to finish it out and give everything."
The senior post has yet to notch a win against the Blue Devils, along with fellow seniors Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste – who both have only had one prior shot – and redshirt juniors Alex Fuller and Candace Parker, who have had two cracks at Duke.
"I just look at it as another big game and don't let any of that other stuff come into play," Anosike said. "This is a new year, new season, new team so just try to take it one game at a time."
Tennessee has started out 5-0 in SEC play and has held opponents to 51.6 points while winning by an average margin of 28 points over Auburn, South Carolina, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The Duke game – sandwiched between SEC games – presents a top 10 matchup and an in-season measuring stick.
"I think it's definitely at a great spot," Anosike said. "I think we've had a lot of tests. In the beginning of the season we had North Carolina as a test to see where we were. Now in the middle of the season we have Duke. We have a lot of great teams coming up.
"I think now is the best time to really toughen up the schedule and be able to measure where we are and what we need to work on, so when tournament time comes there will be no surprises."
Cameron will also give the three newcomers a trip to a truly hostile venue. Tennessee has played well on the road since the loss to Stanford, but the crowds have been relatively tame in that they pull for their team and don't taunt the Lady Vols. They also have lined up on the baseline to take photos of the players during warmups and wait for autographs after the game. The Lady Vols don't expect that kind of reception Monday.
"Duke is always a tough place to play just because their fans try to affect us on a personal level," Anosike said. "We can't let any of that affect what we want to do and what we want to get done on Monday, and I think last time we let that affect us.
"I think we're a lot more mature this year and we're going to use whatever negative energy that they have towards us to our advantage. I think we're a lot more mature. I think we've handled a lot of situations. … I think we're a lot tougher and stronger as a result of a lot of the games that we've been able to play and get through since then so I'm not worried about us at all."
Beyond the antics of the student section, the Lady Vols remember how lax their defense was in 2006 at Duke.
"We struggled," Hornbuckle said. "Our defense was very lacking. One-on-one defense was just not there. It was as if we were playing on our heels. We were timid. We've got to come out aggressive."
This edition of the Lady Vols is a better defensive team, especially with the presence of Parker at the top of the full-court press. Anosike, Fuller and freshman Vicki Baugh also can play the point in the press.
"Whenever anyone is pressuring up there I think it's good for us, whether it's me up top or Vicki or Alex," Anosike said. "We're going up against a point guard, and it's kind of intimidating and allows everyone else to be free within the press."
Hornbuckle agrees with Anosike's assessment that this game is a good midseason gauge for the Lady Vols.
"It's a hard gym to play in, but it's a test," Hornbuckle said. "It's one of the best atmospheres to play in before NCAAs."
Tennessee has a rare losing record against Duke – the Blue Devils lead the series, 5-4 – so the Lady Vols won't lack for motivation. Duke also has won the last three matchups.
"I don't know that I need to jog their memory on this one, I think they are very much aware," Summitt said. "We're not going to just eliminate the past all of a sudden. We're probably going to be digging up some speaking points that might be of interest to them. I think Holly has got that covered in her pre-game."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.7 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.2 blocks per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.2 spg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (21.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.7 spg, 2.2 bpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (9.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.9 spg, 1.1 bpg).
The good news for Tennessee is that Hornbuckle returned to practice Sunday before the team left Knoxville for North Carolina. She participated in all drills and went through the scouting report. Hornbuckle had missed Thursday's game against Arkansas and Friday's practice because of an undisclosed medical issue that required a diagnostic procedure.
Hornbuckle and Anosike have become offensive threats for the Lady Vols this season, and opponents can no longer sag off of them and key on Parker and the perimeter shooters. Anosike is shooting 47.4 percent from the field and has gotten to the line 74 times, good for second on the team. (Parker leads the team in free throw attempts at 134. Nobody else is even close. Hornbuckle is third with 28 attempts.)
Hornbuckle is shooting 50.3 percent from the field overall and 48.8 percent from behind the arc.
"They always say two heads are better than one," Anosike said. "I think you could apply the same principle to basketball. Five heads are definitely better than one or two like we've had in the past. People have been keying on Candace since she started playing and for all of us to help out and take the pressure off of her just makes us so much better."
Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie is expected to start: Jasmine Thomas, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 5 (8.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), has 12 blocks in the past seven games; Abby Waner, 5'10 junior guard, No. 4 (11.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg), torched Tennessee last season by hitting her first eight shots after coming into the game struggling from the field, is 61 points away from 1,000 career points, leads team with 47 assists; Wanisha Smith, 5'11 senior guard, No. 23 (8.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg), has hit 13-28 three-pointers (46.4 percent) in last six games; Joy Cheek, 6'1 sophomore forward, No. 21 (9.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg), averages 11.3 ppg in home games; and Chante Black, 6'5 junior center/forward, No. 11 (13.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), 14th in the country with 2.6 blocks per game, has 45 swats for the season, has gotten on the boards in the last five games with a 10.4 rpg average.
"This is a great game; we're excited," McCallie said. "We're trying to get better. It's like anything else though, every game counts, and I know that doesn't make great press, but it's true. Every game is very, very important to us, and this one certainly as well. We're excited; they're a very good team. But I like our schedule that way. We've played a lot of very good teams so far, and that's the only way to get better is to play strong opponents. They're certainly a strong opponent."
During her session with the media Saturday, McCallie was asked about Tennessee's senior class not having beaten Duke.
"That might motivate them, and that's great," McCallie said. "We're focused on us, and what we need to do as a team to get better and how to defend. And, you know, Parker is all that and a bag of chips, I guess. So, it's exciting and again it takes a team effort, no different than any game. We're going to have to be a very good team defensively."
Both coaches emphasized board play in their meetings with the media.
"Our rebounding is going to be a key in this game – our defensive rebounding, keeping them off the offensive glass, and then figuring out a way to get to the offensive glass," Summitt said. "Our frontline has got to be ready to just pound the glass."
One of those frontline players, Anosike, picked up on the theme, also.
"Rebounding is definitely going to be crucial in this game," Anosike said. "I think whoever rebounds the best and is the dominating force on the boards is going to be the one who pulls off the W. We've definitely got to get on the boards."
Parker leads the team with 151 rebounds followed by Anosike with 120. Tennessee's guards also are under orders to get on the glass. Hornbuckle is third on the team with 92 boards.
"We've been talking about rebounding an awful lot this year," McCallie said. "It's a sore spot with coaches, and I tell you, they are a terrific rebounding team. They are very, very physical, and they really hit you hard. They are an aggressive rebounding team. They are long and lanky in terms of their stature, but they are very, very aggressive to the ball.
"I would certainly want to see our team do a great job on the rebounding end. That would bode well for us if you saw the rebounding stats, and we really did some nice things there. I think it's going to be very critical for this game."
McCallie, who is in her first year at Duke after leaving Michigan State, does have a win over Summitt on her head coaching resume. McCallie guided the Spartans to a comeback victory against Tennessee in a 2005 Final Four semifinal game.
"I coached against her a few times, a lot at Auburn as an assistant," McCallie said. "We beat them in the national semifinal in 2005. We lost to them the next year at the Virgin Islands. I certainly feel respectful for what they do, but I feel very knowledgeable for what they do. I've been around Tennessee for my coaching experience in the SEC; Auburn beat them several times while I was an assistant.
"So I'm learning Tennessee, but the reality is that it comes to the floor, the aggressiveness, the physicality, the rebounding, and the intangibles and they're very good at those. So, we're going to have to be really sharp with how we defend, how we rebound, and how we dictate the physical play."
Black is expected to draw the defensive assignment on Parker. Black had 10 points and five rebounds against Tennessee in 2006. She missed the 2007 game because she was taking a redshirt year after injuring her knee in preseason.
"We're going to make sure we focus on limiting her touches," Black said. "She's a great player, I'm sure she's going to try and get off her shots, and we're going to do our best to limit that."
Anosike has learned one absolute during her tenure at Tennessee: the Lady Vols will get Duke's best shot.
"I know that every team is going to bring their ‘A' game against us and there's no doubt in my mind that Duke is going to bring their ‘A' game against us and they're probably going to shoot light's out," Anosike said with a wry smile. "But we just have to be really focused on what we want to do and definitely bring our defense and rebounding because that's always the key on the road."
Anosike anticipates it will take a blue-collar effort to down the Blue Devils.
"I think we're a tougher team mentally than I think we've been in previous years," Anosike said. "We're not afraid of hard work. We're definitely going to have to roll up our sleeves and battle it out, but it's nothing that we don't love to do and I guess that's the reason why we came here."
Anosike also struck a nostalgic chord when it comes to being a senior. They know the sand is slipping through the hourglass of their Tennessee careers.
"I think that's definitely true with us knowing that this is our last go-around, and it's now or never," Anosike said. "I continuously repeat that to myself every day. It's now or never. I can never get these times back. Ever.
"If I don't work hard and do all the things I want to do I'll live the rest of my life regretting and saying, ‘Well, I wish I would've and if only I could've.' I don't ever want to do that so it's now or never."
FRESH EXPERIENCE: The Lady Vols take three freshmen into Cameron Indoor Stadium with Angie Bjorklund, fellow sharpshooter Sydney Smallbone and post player Vicki Baugh.
Pat Summitt intended to chat with the youngsters and also let the veterans have a talk with them.
"I think it's important that our freshmen, in particular, have an understanding of what the environment is like, especially when we come to town," Summitt said. "I expect them to have the biggest crowd they've had all year. And when you talk about home court advantage and the people on our schedule they probably will have the most challenging environment when it comes to the noise and the communication. It will be important to have tight huddles."
Bjorklund had already heard from some teammates by mid-week.
"We've had a couple of hostile crowds but not anything like that from what I've heard," Bjorklund said. "Just from watching it on TV a couple of years ago it will be a tough environment but I'm looking forward to it. Just getting mentally prepared before the game and stay close with your team. You have to talk louder."
Bjorklund's ability to hit shots – the past two games highlight the extremes when she took three shots against Vandy and didn't score and took 20 against Arkansas and scored a career-high 29 points – will be key Monday because it opens up the inside for Parker to maneuver. Teams also are deploying more zone looks against Tennessee to deal with Parker, and Bjorklund can make them pay for that decision.
"The expectations are getting higher and higher," Bjorklund said. "The bar is rising as the season goes on, but I like it. It's getting more exciting as the year goes on."
Bjorklund attributed the marked difference from one game to the next to ball movement, spacing and the Parker factor.
"Getting the ball inside helps a lot, especially with Candace, doubling down on her, that opens things up for me in the outside game," Bjorklund said. "A huge thing was moving without the ball. I've been working on that in practice so that helps. Coach has talked to me about changing my speeds and making hard cuts and spacing out, especially when you throw the ball inside, getting to a spot where our posts can see us. I've been working on that."
Summitt applauded the high number of shot attempts by Bjorklund, especially since it came under directive from the coach to look for the basket.
"Absolutely," Summitt said. "I don't think she's going to get off 20 shots every night, but I think she has to hunt shots. She's got to work to get open. She's got to read screens. Inside-outside. She can't stand. She's got to move and relocate. I think she's moving better without the basketball.
"She's had some games she was terrific and other games in which I thought she was very casual in her movement away from the basketball. (Thursday) she moved much better, and her teammates are looking for her. If you look at our post players, they are very, very unselfish with their inside-out play."
The freshman will need to both hunt her shot and keep her composure Monday.
"The students are so involved, and you feel like everyone is right on top of you," Summitt said. "That is a big advantage from a home-court perspective. It is exciting to go into a place like that and have the opportunity to play in that type of environment; it is great preparation for your team and forces you to be focused. We've been there and not had that type of focus, and it cost us in many, many ways."
Alexis Hornbuckle can offer the freshmen a firsthand lesson in what happens when a player lets the crowd affect performance. Hornbuckle did, however, recover during the 2006 game and ended up with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals. She had 19 points, nine rebounds and three steals against the Blue Devils in the rematch in Knoxville last season that exorcised some demons for her.
"You have to be on point," Hornbuckle said. "It's so easy for the crowd to take you out of your game. They're right there on top of the floor so if you're not used to that or you're not mentally strong then you won't survive in that atmosphere."
Summitt made one thing clear this week: She is on point for her team. When she announced the series would be in jeopardy if the students taunted her players again, Summitt knew the furious reaction would be redirected towards her.
"People have been on me my whole career," Summitt said. "I don't hear that stuff anyway."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Duke game. Here is her assessment.
When Duke has the ball: "They're going to do high-low. They're solid inside. They shoot a high percentage in the post play. Waner is Waner. She's a great shooter. Smith is playing real well. Thomas is super quick at the point. Chante Black and their post players are solid. They shoot a great percentage. They don't take a lot of jump shots. They shoot around the paint. They shoot from the high post. They drive from the high post."
Warlick watched an assortment of game tapes and noted Duke was playing much better than earlier in the season.
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "I'm sure it's hard to adjust from a system they're used to and then going to another system. Over time they've done well. They're a very good offensive rebounding team. I put them up there as aggressive as North Carolina on the offensive boards. They rebound hard. They're going to be a difficult team to play. I think they're an outstanding team."
Duke has used full- and three-quarter court presses this season, and the Lady Vols should expect to see it against them. The Blue Devils also will fall back into a matchup zone from a zone press.
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "They run a matchup 3-2/2-3 zone. They have a different philosophy because Joanne is different from Gail (Goestenkors), but it works. I think they're going to run more zone than man. I don't think man is their strength. I think their strength is their matchup zone, and they're pressing more now. We've got to take care of the ball."
When Tennessee has the ball: One word: run
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "If we can score easy baskets and score off turnovers, that's what we want to do.
Two more words: inside-out
Absolutely," Warlick said. "We're shooting the ball well as a team. We're going to go inside, and everybody knows we're going to go inside, and our outside people have to be ready. We're not going to do anything different."
Pat Summitt sees the game as a referendum on where her team is right now in all facets of the game.
"They pound the glass. They're athletic. They're skilled. They press," Summitt said. "You've got two teams that like to play a very similar style when it comes to baseline-to-baseline basketball. Real good test.
"I'm excited about it. I think we're ready. I would be very disappointed if we didn't come to play and rebound the basketball."
Summitt has seen a Duke team on tape that McCallie has put her stamp on early in her first year.
"They have a different look, but they've still got some of the same personnel," Summitt said. "They know how to win. Anytime we take the court we bring out the absolute best in almost every opponent we play. I would expect it to be the same when we play at Duke."
Summitt is hoping fans are on their best behavior. She said this week she doesn't object to boisterous crowds – she cited the class of Stanford fans in Maples Pavilion, a venue of similar size and setup to Cameron – but she doesn't want her players subjected to personal taunts.
"That's Pat," Warlick said of Summitt's public remarks about the matter. "We thought they went too far last time, but we don't have any control over that. We don't have any control over what they do or say.
"It was bad, but we go on the road and people sometimes say pretty rough things to us. Unfortunately it's part of our game. I like it when the crowds are into it, but I don't want our fans to (taunt) opposing coaches and players."
Warlick said the coaching staff was ready, as were the players, for another non-conference foe. Warlick will be mobile for this game. She has shed the crutches and walking boot after breaking her ankle last December and can stand on her own two feet.
"We haven't beaten them in awhile," Warlick said. "We're pretty excited about the game."
ODDS AND ENDS: Duke leads the series with Tennessee, 5-4. The Lady Vols are 0-2 in Knoxville, 1-1 in Durham and 3-2 at neutral sites. Duke leads the nation with a 24-game winning streak at home. … Tennessee is 13-4 in games played on January 28. The four losses were to Tennessee Tech, 59-45, in 1970; Belmont, 60-59, in 1977; Georgia, 81-76, in 1990; and Georgia, 81-74, in 1991. The last win on this date came against Alabama, 80-51, in 2007. … Tennessee freshmen Vicki Baugh and Angie Bjorklund played with Duke freshmen Jasmine Thomas and Krystal Thomas last summer on the U19 USA World Championship team coached by DePaul's Doug Bruno in Bratislava, Slovakia. The team went 9-0 and won the gold medal. … The game at Cameron, capacity 9,314, is a sellout. It is the fourth road game to sell out in advance for Tennessee this season. The others were Stanford, DePaul and Notre Dame. Kentucky, South Carolina and UCLA all had season-highs in attendance when Tennessee came to town. The contest against West Virginia at the neutral site of Charleston drew the largest crowd ever, 10,677, to see a women's basketball game in that state. Tennessee also leads the nation in home attendance with an average of 14,763 fans. … Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie, then known as Joanne Palombo, faced Tennessee as a player at Northwestern in 1987. She scored 20 points and had nine assists in 37 minutes on the floor, but her Wildcats lost, 74-71, in Evanston, Ill. McCallie was an assistant coach at Auburn under Joe Ciampi from 1988 to 1992, and the Tigers were 3-6 against the Lady Vols. Tennessee twice faced McCallie's Michigan State team and split – a 68-64 loss in the Final Four and an 83-55 win the next season in the Virgin Islands. … Former Lady Vol Assistant Coach Al Brown, who was on McCallie's staff at Michigan State, followed her to Duke. Brown was at Tennessee from 1995 to 2002. … When Tennessee and Duke tangle, the scores tend to be similar. The average score for Duke is 67.3 and 65.9 for Tennessee – a scant 1.7 differential. When Tennessee defeats Duke, the average score is 75.2 to 63.2 – a +12.0 for the Lady Vols. When Duke downs Tennessee, the average score is 70.6 to 59.6 – +11.0 for the Blue Devils. … Candace Parker has performed well against Duke, the former college team of her fiancé, Shelden Williams, and a school she considering attending before opting for the Lady Vols. She has averaged 19.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg in two matchups. Alexis Hornbuckle has averaged 10.3 ppg and 6.0 rpg in three games. Junior Alex Fuller has hit 75 percent from the field against Duke and scored 5 ppg in two games. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 81.7 points per game while allowing 60.7 by its opponents. Duke scores 71.2 points and allows 55.7. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.5 percent overall and 39.0 percent behind the arc. The Blue Devils shoot 42.2 percent overall and 28.2 percent from three. Tennessee shoots 73.4 percent from the free throw line. Duke shoots 62.7 from the stripe. The Lady Vols average 40.6 rebounds while allowing 36.7 for a +3.9 margin. The Blue Devils average 44.4 while allowing 35.8 for a +8.6 margin. Tennessee averages 17.4 assists and 17.7 turnovers a game. Opponents are surrendering the ball 22.0 times a game. Duke averages 16.3 assists and 18.1 turnovers a game with opponents losing the ball 22.8 times. The Lady Vols swipe the ball 12.6 times and swat it away 6.6 times. The Blue Devils average 13.5 steals and 6.8 blocks.