Tennessee takes out Florida

NASHVILLE – Pat Summitt stood in the locker room after Friday's 92-61 over Florida and talked about decision-making and strength. The players – some wide-eyed, others unable to control their laughter – were listening to her talk about a raccoon, and they were in a raucous mood after their opening game in the SEC Tournament.

The Lady Vols had a statement of their own to make with their play and will need to tap into that same resolve for today's semifinal matchup with in-state rival Vanderbilt.

Tennessee, 28-2, was ready to run from the opening tip with Candace Parker and Shannon Bobbitt on the same page to the tune of 48 combined points – Parker with 26 and Bobbitt with 22.

"I think we've really emphasized in practice the last couple of days just up-tempo and pushing the tempo every chance we get on makes or misses," Parker said. "So I think Shannon did a great job of just looking up the floor, and I just told her I was going to run, and she made some really nice passes."

Bobbitt had six assists and found Parker with long heaves and short passes. Parker was 11-16 from the floor and had 20 points by halftime. Tennessee led 48-33 at the break, which allowed Pat Summitt to go to her bench. No starter played more than 28 minutes.

"I think it's important for us as a coaching staff to be mindful of winning and taking the opportunity to not give extended minutes," Summitt said.

Florida, 18-13, made some runs on the strength of its three-point shooting – 8-18 from long range and 10 steals – but Tennessee never let the lead fall behind 13 points in the second half and pushed it to as much as 35 points.

"We got beat by what I think is the best team in the country, and they're talented, they're deep and obviously they're very, very well coached," Florida Coach Amanda Butler said.

"I think the thing that's most impressive about Tennessee is how deep they can go and how much talent they can bring off the bench. That's really hard to counter."

Tennessee got eight points each from Vicki Baugh and Alberta Auguste. Alex Fuller added five points and seven rebounds. Sydney Smallbone had two assists, one rebound and a steal.

"Overall a good effort, good energy, good off the bench," Summitt said.

Tennessee's guard play was stellar. Alexis Hornbuckle joined Bobbitt in pushing tempo and scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Hornbuckle hit two three-pointers and got to the rim both in transition and in the half-court sets.

"Alexis and Shannon played really well, but Alberta came in and was very efficient for us, as well," Summitt said. "That's something we haven't had in the past consistently is great guard play. I don't think we can win this tournament here, I don't think we can get to Tampa, if we don't have great guard play."

Summitt also got the 40 minutes of effort that she has been seeking from her team, with a pre-game assist from senior center Nicky Anosike.

"Nicky Anosike pulled us together and said we didn't start off the tournament last year well at all, and that set the tone for our loss to LSU in the semifinals last year," Parker said. "We all knew that we had to come to play. Florida is a great team; they were playing well.

"I think we just decided to play with a lot of energy, and we played a 40-minute game. Didn't we?"

That question was directed at Summitt, who smiled and said, "We did. I'm glad to say that. It makes me happy."

"It's on the record," Parker said.

"Take that down please," Hornbuckle said to the assembled media and to much laughter.

Florida was led by Sha Brooks with 20 points and Depree Bowden with 15. The Gators connected on eight three-pointers, but the Lady Vols answered with seven of their own, including two back-to-back ones in opposite corners by Bobbitt to push the lead to 69-48.

Tennessee's effort came on both sides of the ball, and the defense was withering with traps on the wings that helped force Florida into 17 turnovers, which the Lady Vols converted into 24 points.

Parker scored off back-to-back steals in the first half – one from her deflecting a pass as Florida tried to get the ball up-court and another from an Auguste trap and steal. That was followed by Hornbuckle swiping the ball just past mid-court after reading the pass coming out of the trap. She scooted down court for the layup.

Tennessee also had 11 blocks – four by Parker, one by Fuller and two each for Anosike, Baugh and Hornbuckle.

Parker now has 254 for her career – she already holds the Tennessee record – and moved into eighth place on the SEC career lists. She also passed Kara Lawson (1,950 points) and is now fourth on UT's career scoring list with 1,956 points. The 26 points tied Parker's SEC tourney high against Georgia in 2006. She crossed the 900-rebound plateau with eight boards and now has 906.

Bobbitt now has 617 career points in just two years of play. Hornbuckle has scored in double figures in her last three SEC tourney games. Her three steals gave her 347 for her career – she owns the Tennessee record – and moved her into the eighth all-time spot in the SEC.

Tennessee did what Parker had said it would do when the time came – play in postseason form.

"I think it's sometimes – and I've talked about this – but coming off of a national championship it can be very challenging in terms of getting the players to understand how they need to play every possession and have a sense of urgency and as coaches you always feel that," Summitt said.

"But I think with this team, they had so many returning players that I think in some regard they wanted, if they could, they would probably have said, ‘Let's fast-forward this season and get to the postseason.' You want them to always enjoy the process, and I think they have."

They certainly enjoyed Summitt in the locker room retelling them about defending the homestead – actually her beloved yellow lab, Sally Sue – from a marauding raccoon on her back deck on Wednesday night.

Summitt entered the locker room to the sound of players – most of whom had not yet heard about the incident – laughing about her wildlife encounter.

"Daniel Boone! Where's your hat?" Parker exclaimed. "Does she have the hat to prove it?

"That's why I hadn't told them. Did you tell them?" Summitt asked a writer.

Parker, who was hearing the story for the first time, was both amused and dumbfounded. She spotted Summitt's teenage son, Tyler, and said, "Tyler, your mom! Why didn't you go wrestle the raccoon?"

But Tyler was safely asleep and didn't know about the incident until later.

"Was it Sally or Sadie?" Parker asked, wanting to know which of Summitt's dogs was in danger. "I didn't even know about it. That's a strong woman."

Baugh got a case of the giggles when the story was told to her. She was still laughing when Summitt walked in.

"I couldn't help but laugh," Baugh said. "Can you imagine Pat backhanding a raccoon? There's some fight in her. That's definitely a plus."

Summitt clearly enjoyed the players' merriment and even reenacted the episode. She showed how she drew her arm back – like clearing space in the paint – and then toppled the raccoon.

"I couldn't believe it," Angie Bjorklund said. "I was like, ‘She did what?' She's intense. I'm lucky I'm not the raccoon."

Auguste laughed when the story was told to her but quickly clarified why.

"I'm laughing at the raccoon, not the dislocation," Auguste said. "The raccoon had no business being at Pat's house and messing with the dog so good job, Coach."

Summitt had taken the trash out to the deck and came upon the raccoon, which was tangling with Sally Sue.

"I understand where she's coming from," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "She was saving her dog."

"I dislocated my shoulder as soon as I did it," Summitt said. "I knocked him from the top deck all the way down."

The team physician, Dr. Rebecca Morgan, made a late-night house call to get Summitt's shoulder back in place.

"Let me tell you, don't ever go near one," Summitt warned her players and mentioned the possibilities of bites, scratches and exposure to rabies. "I should have never done that."

"They're nice in ‘Pocahontas,' " Cait McMahan said.

"Quote that," Hornbuckle said with a roll of her eyes.

Only Anosike seemed able to muster sympathy for her coach.

"I felt bad," Anosike said. "I honestly felt bad for Pat because she seemed like she was really in pain."

Hornbuckle sought some solutions.

"We're going to have to watch out for coach," Hornbuckle said. "We're going to have to put security guards out there and take the dog out for her. Have Tyler start taking the dog out. That's crazy. That's painful. It's something I wouldn't want to experience but good thing she's all right. She's always bounces back."

"That is crazy," Parker said. "Pat is going to be put in a bubble for postseason. We're going to wrap her up in a little bubble and not let her out."

The players did manage to be serious and field some basketball questions after the game.

"We did want to come out and make a statement because I feel like we've been underachieving a lot this season, and we just wanted to let people know we're here and we're for real and it's time to stop all the games and this is it, especially for the seniors," Hornbuckle said. "Every game means something. It could be your last."

Parker said the team needed to set the tone on the first day of postseason play.

"It was a huge statement," Parker said. "Honestly, we needed to come out and dominate like we did, and I'm really proud of how we set the tone for the tournament."

Anosike, who had eight rebounds and four steals, made sure the team was in the right mindset before tipoff.

"I just remember the first game last year we played horrible and that set the tone for everything we did the rest of the tournament and so we knew we had to have a good start in order to continue and then win," Anosike said. "I think the best thing we did was push the ball and rebound."

Despite shooting 54.8 and 55.9 percent in the two halves, Tennessee still managed to grab 45 rebounds, including 33 on the defensive end. Florida had 41 boards.

Parker and Bobbitt looked like a quarterback and wide receiver making use of the open field.

"The good thing about Shannon is if you run the floor she's going to find you," Parker said. "I told myself I was just going to run the floor for her every time, and she found me. It's hard to stay up with us if we're like that. We barely set up a half-court offense, and we generated a lot of our points off our defense. I was just really happy with how we played."

One of Parker's prettiest baskets came when Bobbitt led her a little too far with the pass. Parker ended up under the basket but rotated out into the paint and finished with a reverse.

"We were hungry from the beginning to the end," Auguste said.

Summitt asked for better guard play in the postseason, and she got. She also asked Bobbitt to accelerate the pace. She got that, too.

"It's a lot easier and a lot of fun running," Bobbitt said. "I just saw people running down the court, and I hit the open man. I am going to do whatever Pat asks me to do, and she wants me to push tempo every game, and that's what I'm going to do."

All three freshmen logged playing time, and Baugh detected the difference in her teammates now that it's March.

"We have no choice but to play a 40-minute game and I just see how everyone is acting," Baugh said. "We have to take everything that we've learned and apply it on the court for good now."

Bjorklund also was playing in her first postseason and noted the orange presence.

"The fans were there – great support," Bjorklund said. "I felt like I was at home. That was awesome. I know we'll get that everywhere we go, and that's why it's great playing here. It's getting more competitive now that we're in the tournament. It's fun. I'm a competitive person so it's fun."

Bjorklund had just three points, but she had seven assists – three to Auguste, two to Hornbuckle on three-pointers, one to Bobbitt on a three-pointer and one to Parker.

"No way!" Bjorklund said of her assist total. "Oh, wow. They've been face guarding me a lot and as the season has gone on the less open shots I've been getting. I'm going to look for the open player. If they come out hard on me someone else is going to be open."

Bjorklund scored three points on a busted play by swishing the three-pointer.

"I saw Vicki Baugh first and then I saw Candace and a girl hit my arm so I misfired," Hornbuckle said. "Luckily Angie was there to pick it up and knock down the shot."

The ball bounced over to Bjorklund, who had gone wide on the fast-break attempt while the posts ran to the rim.

"If I'm open I'm shooting, no matter what," Bjorklund said. "That's what coach wants me to do; that's what I'm doing."

At the time of the media interviews the Lady Vols did not know who they would play next – Vandy-Auburn was the late game – but they said at this time of year it's a matter of being ready for anyone.

"We just play Tennessee basketball," Bobbitt said. "Every team in the SEC is tough and is going to come at us."

Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said the Lady Vols face a significant challenge – the Commodores are an efficient offensive team, the performance against Auburn being an aberration, and Tennessee must now try to beat them for a third time this season.

"They're a very good offensive team," Lockwood said. "They run numerous sets. They get the ball inside very well. They get shots for their shooters. We have to do a very good job of defending their sets and try to get them out of rhythm. If you let Vanderbilt establish a rhythm they're a very, very good team.

"Also, you've got to solve their zone. You've got to make a shot to bring them out and make them do something. You've got to make a midrange shot, maybe a couple of threes."

When Tennessee is on defense, pressure is key, he said.

"We've got to bring our heat," Lockwood said. "If we play passive and we let them play catch, as I call it, not good, because this team can get a rhythm real quick."

Vanderbilt is the defending SEC tourney champs. The Commodores also won in 2002 and 2004 when the tournament was held in Nashville. They are 8-0 is what is now known as the Sommet Center. So Vandy has never lost in the building, and Commodore Coach Melanie Balcomb has yet to beat Tennessee while at Vandy. One streak will fall Saturday.

"It's all about this year, this moment, this game," Lockwood said. "Those are nice storylines, but at the end of the day when you tip that ball up it's execution and what happens on the floor. You've got to be able to block and tackle, as we say. Football is a game where you block and you tackle. The same thing with basketball – you've got to get stops; you've got to make plays."

Summitt likes what she has seen so far from her players.

"I think they came in focused and if (Friday) is any indication and we can build on that, then I feel like our basketball team is going to be ready to play," Summitt said.

ODDS AND ENDS

LOUD CHEER: When the Tennessee band walked out on the Sommet Center floor.

LOUDER CHEER: When the Tennessee players ran into the court.

LOUDEST CHEER: When the Tennessee coaching staff came out of the tunnel.

FIRST TENNESSEE POINT: Shannon Bobbitt from the free throw line.

FIRST TENNESSEE FIELD GOAL: A finger roll finish by Candace Parker after she grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled through the Florida defense and went right to the rim. Parker had 20 points in the first half.

BEST HUSTLE: That of Tennessee's Nicky Anosike, who tipped the ball away from a Florida player, chased the ball down at the other end, corralled it, spun and found a trailing Alexis Hornbuckle for the layup.

BEST PAT ON THE HEAD: That for Candace Parker from Alberta Auguste after Parker scored in transition on a feed from Shannon Bobbitt and also got fouled.

FUNNIEST REMARK ABOUT HAIR: That made by Candace Parker about Shannon Bobbitt, whose hair was sticking up after the game.

The friendly smack talk started when Bobbitt noted that Parker was back in the locker room quickly after the post-game press conference and joked that the writers must not have asked the superstar any questions.

"They were just talking about you the whole time," Parker said. "I was like, ‘I don't even know her. I don't like her. She has a peacock hair thing. I don't like that.' "

BEST BLOCK: By Nicky Anosike on Florida's Sharielle Smith, who had slipped to the basket. She was met by Anosike, whose arm swooped sideways and sent the ball away to the other side of the basket. Anosike also retrieved the ball.

WORTHY OF MENTION: The two blocks Candace Parker made on a driving Sha Brooks. The ball was sent out of bounds both times.

ALSO WORTHY OF MENTION: Vicki Baugh's blocks on Brittaney Thomas, which she sent straight down like a volleyball spike, and on Sharielle Smith.

"I enjoy blocking shots," Baugh said. "Sometimes I just swing around and that's when I need to calm down. I was getting a little upset, too, so that was one way to take out my anger."

BEST ASSIST: That from Shannon Bobbitt to Alexis Hornbuckle in transition. Bobbitt curled a bounce pass around the defense to Hornbuckle, who was cutting to the left. Hornbuckle caught the ball and finished on the right-side of the basket in one motion.

"That's fun," Hornbuckle said. "That's the kind of basketball we love playing. You can't do anything but smile and want to get the ball back in your hands, so it ups the defensive pressure. I think it helps as far as, ‘OK, let's get this rebound so we can get in transition and see what happens.' "

LATEST HOURS: Those kept by Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who scouted the Vanderbilt-Auburn game since Tennessee plays the winner on Saturday.


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