Tennessee tames Kentucky

Coach Pat Summitt said as Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle go, so goes Tennessee. Parker dunked in the second half and Hornbuckle followed that crowd pleaser with a coast-to-coast play of her own as the Lady Vols cruised to a 79-51 win Sunday over Kentucky before a packed house in Knoxville.

No. 2 Tennessee (20-1, 7-0) secured the 20th win of the season for the 32nd consecutive year in Pat Summitt's tenure. It took a halftime speech by the coach to shake the Lady Vols loose and an eight-point halftime lead doubled within the first five minutes of the second half.

"Well it was obviously two different halves for our basketball team," Summitt said. "I thought at halftime we just weren't rebounding the basketball at all. Our defensive boards were good to us and yet we were not going to the offensive glass.

"I told them in the locker room we go as Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle go. They have to bring intensity at both ends of the floor from the opening tip to the last possession of the game. We saw in the second half what happens when they do that. Just trying to get them to understand that they set the tempo and the example."

The message got through and the players delivered. Hornbuckle scored 13 points, all coming in the second half, and Parker finished with 20 points by attacking the basket.

"It was like I didn't have the energy, which is very rare for myself, and it was very frustrating," Hornbuckle said. "Of course, Coach yelled at me and just woke me up a little bit, and I came out with a whole new attitude"

"I had to get on her, too," Alberta Auguste said.

"Bird helped," Hornbuckle said.

The remark was playful, but Auguste, whose nickname is Bird, played a solid game on both ends of the floor. She had a season-high 11 points, four assists, six steals, one block and no turnovers.

"Right now as I think at where we are with Alberta she's a player that comes in and immediately makes us a better defensive team," Summitt said. "She is a player that's going to get to the paint. Her pull-up obviously has gotten better. She only had one rebound, but she had four assists. I'm encouraged by where she is."

Summitt thinking about where a player is in February means her mind is also thinking about postseason and who can contribute when it's win or go home.

"If you look at play off the bench, Alberta played very well," Summitt said. "She's been playing well. She's committed to playing both ends of the floor. I thought we were a better defensive team when she is on the court so that was good to see."

Auguste injured her left bicep muscle in practice Friday in a collision that also tweaked her shoulder. But she underwent rehab Saturday and was cleared to play.

"I'm a warrior. I'm back," Auguste said. "I fought through it. I knew how important it was for me to play today. Being out there I just had fun and I was confident."

Auguste was also on one end of the one of the game's biggest plays. She got a steal on Kentucky's end and fired the ball down court to Parker, who had broken for the basket. The pass went a little high and to Parker's right, but she corralled it, turned, looked for the defense and, seeing none, slammed the ball.

It was her first dunk since stuffing one at Connecticut on Jan. 6, 2007, and the first at home since Dec. 20, 2006, against West Virginia.

Parker, who now has seven career slams, was thinking dunk the entire time, and Summitt realized it.

"I saw it (coming) once she got control of the ball," Summitt said. "I wasn't sure. She might have defense on her by the time she did."

"Bird threw the ball perfectly," Parker deadpanned. "It was my fault I didn't catch it and I had to line up my feet. I was worried about getting hurt. I'm glad I didn't get hurt. … I turned around and nobody was there so I was like, ‘Oh, OK.' "

Parker had help from Hornbuckle, who ran interference to keep any Kentucky defenders from getting too close.

"She was blocking," Parker said.

"I try to do what I do," Hornbuckle said.

Hornbuckle didn't get an assist. Nor did Auguste.

"I was trying to lead her to the goal, but I threw it too far," Auguste said. "She still got the dunk. I hope I got my assist."

"I dribbled," Parker said.

"Oh, well," Auguste said. "I was happy she dunked anyway."

The players were all smiles in the post-game and the lighthearted mood resulted from a second half in which the Lady Vols outscored Kentucky by 20 points, 47-27. Tennessee finished the game with 19 steals and forced an eye-popping 36 Wildcat turnovers.

"I'm very disappointed with the outcome," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "It was not a good day for us. We had a hard time scoring and didn't take care of the ball. You can't feel good about a performance when you turn the ball over as much as we did. It was a tough day."

Mitchell got a technical in the first half for protesting to the officials – oddly enough after a foul call on Tennessee – who allowed a lot of contact to go uncalled on both ends.

"I obviously wasn't behaving properly," Mitchell said. "There's not a lot to say about it."

Kentucky (11-11, 5-3) only trailed by eight at halftime, 32-24, but the Wildcats also lost their starting point guard, Amber Smith, with half a tick left on the clock. Smith was driving to the basket off a Tennessee turnover when she collided with Auguste.

"She did a hop step," Auguste said. "When she went up I tried to block it and hit her body. She was yelling before I hit her."

Mitchell said the initial conclusion was that Smith sprained her knee, but a more definitive diagnosis would come later.

"We'll have to evaluate it (Monday)," Mitchell said. "It was a very tough collision there. She's a tough player and works real hard. We're certainly praying that she's OK and it's not a major injury. We should know something more with a little time."

Tennessee had eight steals at halftime. The Lady Vols added 11 more thefts in the second half. Auguste led the team with six and Nicky Anosike and Vicki Baugh had four apiece. Hornbuckle had three and is now just 15 away from breaking Bridgette Gordon's school record of 333 steals.

The Lady Vols lived in the Wildcats' passing lanes.

"They're very set on running their plays at times and a lot of teams, like Kentucky, like to do high-low this year so denying the middle was a point of emphasis in practice and every walk-through," Hornbuckle said. "We just tried to get in the passing lane, and it helped us."

Tennessee also went after Samantha Mahoney, who had to move to the point position after Smith was injured. Mahoney led the Wildcats with a team-high 18 points but also had a team-high seven turnovers.

"Amber's been doing such a good job at the point, up until today I hadn't played much point so I had to move in and take her spot," Mahoney said. "With them cranking up the pressure and really getting out in the passing lanes and kind of all over the court, it was a little disturbing to our offense."

Mitchell took up for Mahoney by noting she wasn't getting any help against that pressure.

"The ball-handler gets a lot of the blame, and I don't think that was the case here," Mitchell said. "I think we stood around a little too much and didn't give our ball-handler very many opportunities to find an open receiver. That was something that we need to work on and get better at doing."

Kentucky did shoot the ball well and late in the second half was at 50 percent from the field. No team has shot 50 percent or better against Tennessee this season, and the Wildcats ended the game at 47.4 percent.

It was a good-bad scenario for Kentucky because while they were 18-38 from the field, Tennessee got twice as many attempts at 31-76 (40.8 percent) because of all the Wildcat miscues.

"Maybe it was because we didn't have a lot opportunities to shoot is why we were shooting the ball so well because we were turning it over so much," Mitchell said. "But I thought that the times we took care of it and were aggressive and able to beat their pressure, I thought our players did a good job of finding the open player and making some shots.

"We have struggled from the field clearly so that is encouraging to see. That is a bright spot. I hope that carries over."

Kentucky got 11 points from Sarah Elliott, who was 5-6 from the field, to go along with Mahoney, who was 6-9 overall and 3-4 from behind the arc.

Parker led all scorers with 20 points and was joined in double figures by the aforementioned Hornbuckle and Auguste with 13 and 11, respectively, and Anosike, who had 10 points.

Summitt spoke to Parker at halftime about shot selection, and the results were tangible. Parker was 4-9 in the first half and 6-8 in the second.

"She told me to just go strong to the hoop, just go inside the paint and take over in there," Parker said. "Stop shooting fade-aways."

Summitt said Tennessee's success hinges on the production and style of play of Parker and Hornbuckle.

"Candace was going to the rim, attacking the basket and not shooting fade-aways," Summitt said. "Alexis was much more aggressive. I didn't think she played well in the last couple of games and I just felt like she's got to get on track because we depend on Alexis. She sets the tempo for us from the defensive standpoint. And I think she should be consistently one of the best rebounding guards in the country. You've got to want to play defense and rebound. She's accustomed to doing a lot of dirty work and for whatever reason in the last couple of games she hasn't been as efficient.

"She certainly stepped up for us in the second half. Second half was a different look for her (offensively). That's what she needs to do. She needs to do it every game, not pick and choose, not turn it on in the middle of the game. Bring it and maintain that level of intensity and know we expect her to lead by example."

Auguste noted a turning point when Hornbuckle got a steal in the first half.

"It started off when Alexis got her first steal," Auguste said. "The intensity just kept getting higher and higher."

Summitt also had given the team the day off before the game from practice. Players reported for rehab and treatment, but didn't take the court.

"A day off always helps," Hornbuckle said. "We go so hard every time we're in that gym that that day of resting … . I definitely think we had a lot more energy this Kentucky game than when we were at Lexington."

The Wildcats out-rebounded the Lady Vols two weeks ago in Lexington. The teams played to a draw, 35-35, on the boards Sunday. Parker had seven boards, all defensive. Freshman guard Angie Bjorklund had an SEC-high six rebounds split evenly between the offensive and defensive glass. She also added eight points and a steal. Baugh led Tennessee with 10 rebounds – five on offense and five on defense.

"It was good to see Vicki Baugh active," Summitt said. "While she didn't score as well she goes in and goes to work. You know she's got a nose for the ball and she's going to rebound. We're a better team when she is on the floor because of her rebounding."

Baugh also knows when to stay on the floor. On Kentucky's first possession after Parker's dunk, Hornbuckle stripped the ball-handler on a drive to the basket, hurdled Baugh, who had hit the floor going after the ball, dribbled behind her back, drove in for the bucket and was fouled.

The crowd of 19,269, still on its feet from the dunk, erupted again with 7:47 left in the game. On the next play, Auguste stole the ball, dribbled behind her back and found Hornbuckle behind the arc for the 20-footer and an assist. The plays epitomized how Tennessee played in the second half – up-tempo and as a team.

In the first half, Shannon Bobbitt pushed tempo off a Parker block and got the ball back from Auguste and drained a three-pointer. On defense, Tennessee got two shot clock violations – one in each half – and a play by Alex Fuller that doesn't show up in the box score.

Fuller chased Chelsea Chowning, who literally circled the court in a half-court set, and then dropped back in help defense at the start of the second loop and drew a charge on Lydia Watkins. Shortly thereafter Fuller hit a seven-footer for her only field goal of the game.

Tennessee started the second half with a Parker layup, Bjorklund jumper and then a three-pointer by Bobbitt on a pass flipped back to her from Hornbuckle, one of six assists in the game for the senior guard. Hornbuckle is now in seventh place on Tennessee's career list with 445. That pushed the lead to 41-27 and forced a Kentucky timeout.

Tennessee didn't let up as Bjorklund hit another mid-range jumper and Parker scored on three consecutive layups, two set up by assists from Anosike on a give and go and a pinpoint pass.

"Nicky's playing well," Summitt said. "You can count on her to bring it every night. I thought Shannon Bobbitt picked up her tempo in transition and pushed the ball better once we addressed that. We picked it up in the second half."

That was an understatement. Tennessee pushed the lead with six minutes left to 28 points – which was the final margin – and didn't let up even as the bench piled up more minutes. No starter played more than 29 minutes.

"They did what good teams should do," Mitchell said. "They had us overmatched in the second half when Amber went out and Sam had to handle it every single time down the court with not much relief, and the rest of the players are shaky ball-handlers. Tennessee did a good job of exploiting our weaknesses there.

"The disappointing thing for me was just trying to mentally stay in it. It's hard to do, trust me … they are a good team and put tremendous pressure on you. What we hope we can grow from is staying through even the toughest situations, and that's about as tough as it gets. They were gambling. They were not doing a lot of fundamentally sound stuff there. Everybody was rolling up on the ball. We just couldn't make very good passes. We'll try to learn from it and get better because that's about as tough as it gets there in the second half."

Summitt still wants 40 minutes of intensity. The team got a step closer Sunday.

"We have to start our offense with our defense," Summitt said. "To me if we can disrupt people and take them out of what they want to do offensively then that's going to create more opportunities for us in the open court. I think we're probably at our best when we are in the open floor.

"We've spent a lot of time working on our half-court offense, but if we really want to open it up I think we have bring pressure in the full-court situation or three-quarter in a zone. Work off the turnovers to generate easy offense."


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