LSU takes down Lady Vols

Coach Pat Summitt has been preaching to her team for nearly three months that they needed to play two halves of basketball. Perhaps her message will get through after the Lady Vols surrendered a 19-point first-half lead and lost to LSU, 78-62, in a game that left the winner atop the SEC with two weeks left in the regular season.

"Obviously, I'm very, very disappointed in our basketball team," Pat Summitt said in her post-game press conference. "I want to make note before I continue talking about our team I thought LSU played a terrific game. They came after us. We did some good things early, but that's about it. Bench was pretty much non-existent.

"We can't expect Candace to carry us every night, and we've got a lot of people just standing around watching. We got exactly, exactly what we deserved. We didn't defend, and obviously we didn't make shots."

Candace Parker led all scorers with 26 points to go with 10 rebounds, six assists, a career-high six steals and two blocks.

No. 1 Tennessee (22-2, 8-1) opened the game with a 19-2 lead in a clinic of inside-out offense and stout defense.

"In the first 10 minutes of the game I can honestly say we were in lockdown mode," Parker said. "We did not let them score. Everybody was throwing up, on their team, garbage and we were collecting the glass and going the other way with it. We were really making them play to their weaknesses, and after that 10-minute stretch, we just let them score."

No. 7 LSU (21-3, 10-0) started hitting shots and the Lady Vols kept losing the ball – 11 turnovers in the first half – and the Lady Tigers methodically wiped out the lead.

"To be honest I don't know how we went from 21 to 2, and then I look up, and it's 29 to 20," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "We're only up by nine. Obviously shots weren't falling as much as they were in the beginning of the game but when that happens you just have to commit to defense and rebounding.

"For some reason, whatever reason that was, we didn't do that as a whole for the entire game. I can't speak for my team, but I personally did not get complacent (with the lead), and I hope that wasn't the mindset of the rest of the team. I really don't know what it is, but I hope we figure it out before it's too late."

Hornbuckle and Parker handled the post-game press conference and answered every question in detail, even when there wasn't really an answer, such as how does the team sort through what happened. The 16-point loss was the worst since a 22-point defeat at Duke on Jan. 23, 2006.

"Honestly I don't know how to answer that question," Hornbuckle said. "It's hard to process because we're confused just as much as y'all are. How did that happen? How did we get a 21-2 lead and then turn around and now we're down? That's something we need to look at and look at it deep and fix it. That's all you can do. Look back and learn."

Summitt has been warning her team that it couldn't keep expecting to win with uneven efforts and couldn't just turn the intensity on and off. Has that message gotten through now?

"I have no idea," Summitt said. "I can't figure this group out. I would have thought coming off our win over Rutgers knowing we were sitting there undefeated (in the SEC), just like LSU, and the winner of this game would probably win the league if they took care of business. If we both have a loss (later), head-to-head, if we beat them then we're SEC league champions. Did that matter? Not to everyone."

Hornbuckle started out the game exactly as planned. Summitt had wanted her to penetrate more to open up the perimeter. She drove the lane and swished a 12-footer. Parker then drained a three-pointer. On LSU's next possession, Nicky Anosike tipped the ball away, Parker grabbed it and got fouled in transition. She hit both free throws. That was followed by Hornbuckle's three-pointer.

That caused LSU Coach Van Chancellor to call a timeout with the score, 12-2. Tennessee didn't slow down at all with Parker and Anosike hitting shots so Chancellor called another one with the score, 18-2.

"The first timeout I tried to be very encouraging," Chancellor said. "The second timeout I challenged everything about their livelihood, so to speak, as a player. I wanted to try to shake them up.

"I told them there's no 19-point plays. Try to get a little bit back at a time, and I thought that was the difference in the game. We were able to cut it and get back in the game in the first half. I thought at that time this might be like General Custer when the Indians got him. I thought it might be a massacre there for awhile."

Angie Bjorklund hit a three-pointer to put Tennessee up 21-2, but then LSU started to find some offense with the outside shooting of Erica White, Allison Hightower and RaShonta LeBlanc. The Lady Tigers hit six 3-pointers for the game with five coming in the first half. By halftime Tennessee had just a three-point lead, 33-30.

The blown lead was similar to other games this season in which Tennessee started out well and then didn't respond well to the other team's run.

"We started out against Rutgers and played well," Summitt said. "Didn't close out the first half the way we wanted to. I don't know. You'll have some players come up here; maybe they can tell you.

"But we cannot win relying on a couple of players to makes plays and other players not showing up. And then our offense obviously affected our defense. I am not happy about much of anything that I saw tonight. It is unacceptable."

Parker got some scoring help from Anosike, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds. Anosike took a shot to the nose and had to be taken to the locker room right before halftime. She returned wearing a different jersey, No. 12, and added two blocks and two steals to go with her points and boards.

Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt combined for 17 points but were a combined 5-21 from the field. Bjorklund attempted just three shots and had five points.

Part of the reason that Tennessee opened up the game so quickly was because Chancellor opted to let Ashley Thomas guard Parker one on one because Sylvia Fowles is prone to pick up fouls. Parker had nine points within four minutes and Thomas had two fouls. That meant Fowles had to be assigned to Parker with some help defenders.

"It was bad coaching that started the game," Chancellor said. "I had us in the wrong defense. I switched and put Sylvia on her and started doubling her on every play and just taking a chance with the rest of them. We can't stop Candace Parker. She's the real thing. If you're talking about all-time greats in the college game she's one of them. Ashley got two fouls so I switched Sylvia over. It wasn't just Sylvia. We were having double teams and triple teams.

"We would never put Sylvia on anybody because she's just prone to foul a little bit. She's Ms. Double-Double, and we don't want her to get in foul trouble. You don't want to know what I was thinking when she picked that third foul up reaching over the back."

Fowles finished with 17 points – she now has 2,000 for her career – 14 rebounds and three blocks.

The strategy to take a chance with the rest of UT's players on offense worked, whereas that approach had backfired for opponents in other games this season. But against LSU, Bjorklund couldn't get open looks and Alberta Auguste and Alex Fuller combined to shoot 2-10 for four points off the bench.

"They were keying on Candace," Summitt said. "They were trying to double-team her, but other people have to make plays. We took a lot of shots, but we didn't make a lot of baskets. Bjorklund has got to do something better. Alberta is one for seven. Fuller is not playing her usual offensive game. We just didn't get a lot of help."

LSU got all of its bench points from Hightower, who scored 10.

"I think she's the best sixth player in the country," Chancellor said. "When you hunt a sixth player I don't want someone that can come in and be a defensive stopper. I don't necessarily want a rebounder. I want instant offense, and Allison Hightower is instant offense. I thought she came in tonight and just lit it up."

Hightower made two key threes in the first-half when Quianna Chaney was struggling from the field. Chaney had three points in the first half but finished with 14.

"I had Coach in my ear. I had players in my ear," Chaney said. "They told me I wanted to score so bad I was rushing it and to just let it come to me."

"Chaney's thought process is this: I'm going to shoot when I'm hot. When I'm not hot I'm going to shoot until I get hot," Chancellor said. "That's just her mentality. She has never seen a shot she didn't like or wasn't willing to take.

"But my first challenge at LSU was getting the Chaneys of my team to come back and shoot the ball. After she couldn't throw one in the Atlantic Ocean I thought at the end she really helped us. That's the mentality I've been trying to get them to have since day one."

Tennessee got away from what it was doing best – getting to the rim – and that unraveled the lead and ultimately the game.

"And then we had some people out of the clear blue taking shots and not making shots," Summitt said. "And then we started turning the ball over. So we're not making shots, and we're turning the ball over. It's hard to win against a team as strong as LSU. I want to take absolutely nothing away from them. They got it done tonight in a very impressive fashion. There's no quit in them."

LSU never panicked, even as the deficit ballooned in the first half.

"To tell you the truth we actually kept our composure as a team," Fowles said. "Nobody fussed at each other. Nobody got on each other about anything. Before we stepped foot in the gym we knew it was going to be somewhat difficult, and we knew they were going to be hyped because they were on their home floor and their fans were going to get involved. I kept saying to myself, ‘We're going to come back. Just keep your composure and let the game come to you.' "

LSU starts five seniors. Those players have been to three consecutive Final Fours. They don't lack for confidence and wiping out a 19-point lead on Tennessee's home floor will only boost it.

"That just shows that we have a lot of heart," Thomas said. "The majority of our team are seniors, and it's real important for us to go out with a bang. We come out and play hard and have a lot of fun."

Tennessee started out having the fun by shooting nearly 50 percent midway through the first half. By the break that percentage had fallen to 41.9. By the end of the game the Lady Vols had shot just 34.8 percent.

Perhaps the early lead came too easy.

"It wouldn't surprise me," Summitt said. "Just looking back at our game against Rutgers, pretty much the same thing happened. The came out and made their run and we were one for 15. Obviously we didn't shoot the ball well at all in the second half.

"This team is not a team that gets excited and remains committed to 40 minutes of quality play. They pick and choose when they play one and unfortunately it's at different times and it's different players."

All five of LSU's starters were in double figures. Erica White had 16 points, Thomas had 10 and LeBlanc added 11. The Lady Tigers shot 35.5 percent in the first but a scorching 60 percent in the second half and finished at 46.4 percent.

"They did a great job of being committing to their offense, getting the ball inside to Sylvia Fowles and if (they) couldn't, Quianna Chaney and Hightower, they were knocking down big threes," Hornbuckle said. "Erica White was splitting our defense like water. They did a good job of executing. We weren't knocking down shots, and we weren't getting on the boards like we should."

Tennessee held a 24-15 rebounding edge at halftime. But LSU caught up in the second half and the battle of the boards ended in a tie, 40-40.

"They're a great offensive rebounding team, and that's what gets their offense going," Fowles said. "If they miss, they go back up and get it. Coach kept telling us if we don't crash the boards, it's going to be a long night. We dug inside ourselves, and we challenged ourselves to go out there and make sure we went out there and got on the boards."

LSU also started disrupting Tennessee on the offense. The Lady Vols had eight turnovers – one in the first half – against the rugged defense of Rutgers but ended up with 19 against LSU.

"They're a very active team," Hornbuckle said. "They're quick; they like to get in the passing lanes. They like to make you play faster than what you want to, and we played right into that. We weren't playing our tempo. We weren't playing Tennessee basketball.

"Just reading the defense. If they're overplaying you go back door. If they're fronting on the high block, try high-low. We were just getting overanxious and having poor shot selection. In the second half, (Summitt) told us to get the ball inside and obviously take care of the basketball, get on the boards. Everything that we weren't doing, she was telling us to do."

Summitt was clearly frustrated after the game. Everything she had been warning the team about came true. Summitt is somewhat haunted by what happened to the 1998-99 team after coming off an undefeated season and a ational title. She saw bad habits, a lack of focus and a tendency to look to postseason.

"The team that went undefeated the following year in '99, they were really a pain to coach," Summitt said. "This team has not been quite as bad if you compare the two, but in the last couple of games they reminded me of that team. No great sense of urgency. They start great, they get casual, and then tonight they get beat."

Summitt wasn't sure yet how to gauge the reaction of her team, which seemed subdued after the loss.

"I didn't really get a lot of feedback, but I didn't ask for it," Summitt said.

That will come Friday when the team returns to practice.

"We'll probably run to Vanderbilt," said a still-steamed Summitt as she left to do her radio show.

The Lady Vols play in Nashville on Sunday afternoon. LSU left Knoxville in first place in the conference.

Hornbuckle said Summitt's directive that the team play two halves has penetrated her mind.

"It sunk through for me, personally, in the Rutgers game and obviously tonight we didn't put it together for 40 minutes," Hornbuckle said. "I don't think we even put it together for close to 25 because we only did half of the first half and not much in the second half. And I already said if you come against a good team and you don't put together 40 minutes you will not win."

Summitt had been trying for weeks to warn the team that its style of play would catch up in the final box score one game.

"Well, obviously, it did catch up to us," Parker said. "We lost, and we've been, to this point, getting away with it winning. We lost a big lead at Stanford to close the first half. We were up on Rutgers, and they came back. We were up on a number of teams, and they came back. That's a problem we need to address.

"There are always positives you can take away from a loss. I'd rather take it away from a win. Obviously we need to get better at one-on-one defense. I thought our rebounding was pretty good. But just keeping leads obviously and I'm sure tomorrow in practice we'll address some of these the things."

Perhaps Lady Vols fans – there were 15,574 people in attendance at the game – would have felt better after the loss if they could have come to post-game press conference and listened to the irrepressible Chancellor.

He cracked jokes.

"I thought when the score was 21-2, I didn't want to answer my cell phone," Chancellor said. "I thought it might be the athletic director telling me I no longer had a job. We were playing so bad at that time. They were playing so good. I was really proud of our team tonight for just coming back – to come to Tennessee, it's a great program, great coach, outstanding players – to come back and win I'm really proud for our seniors. They played well."

He teased a Baton Rouge reporter for letting the Tennessee media ask all the questions.

"That's one of the things about the coach being in TV, he understands the media," said Chancellor, a head coach in college and the WNBA before working in broadcast and then taking the LSU job last spring. "TV, compared to coaching, it's just like stealing. That's no pressure in that job."

He interviewed his own player.

"Ashley Thomas is not going to come in here without somebody asking her a question so I'm going to ask it," Chancellor said. "Ashley, how hard is it to guard Candace Parker?"

"It's pretty difficult because she's so long," Thomas said. "You've got to try and keep her off the block so she's not so close to the basket. … You've got to try to play as smart as you can. Sometimes you have to learn to give up some points."

He showered Summitt with compliments.

"I want to say one thing in closing," Chancellor said. "The Tennessee fans are some of the classiest fans out there in the game. When I walked by them today they gave me a nice little clap.

"You know it here, but I don't think no one has ever meant more to a game – I was in TV; I couldn't say this; I couldn't show partiality – now I'm the LSU coach I can say it. I hope you really, really every day of your lives understand what a wonderful coach you've got here and what a great person and what an outstanding job she's done for her program.

"Don't ever take Coach Pat Summitt for granted because she's one of a kind. OK? I've been wanting to say that for 10 years. I finally said it."

The Tennessee players are about to get an earful from that coach.

"I think we'll regroup," Hornbuckle said. "Obviously we're upset because we're not happy with the way we played and nobody likes losing. We have time to recover and change things.

"We just have to have an open mind to criticism because it's going to come. Coach is going to let us know what we did wrong whether we like it or not and it's a matter of if we want to change it or not."

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