Tennessee ready to tip off tourney

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Tennessee players were likely speaking for all of Lady Vol Nation when they said they were ready to tip off the NCAA Tournament. After two weeks of practice and extended periods of rest, the players are ready to see another color on the court besides their own orange.

"Definitely tired of going against each other," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "We love each other to death, but it can get dangerous. We're way too competitive against each other. As far as injuries are concerned it gets a little nerve wracking. We're ready to face different opponents, somebody other than orange."

For No. 1 seed Tennessee (30-2) that will be the blue and gold of No. 16 seed Oral Roberts (19-13) in the second game of the evening session at Mackey Arena. No. 8 seed Utah (27-4) and No. 9 seed Purdue (18-14) pair off first at 7 p.m. The Tennessee-Oral Roberts game will tip off 30 minutes after the conclusion of that game on ESPN2. Game time is expected to be about 9:30 p.m.

The Lady Vols have waited two weeks to play since beating LSU in the SEC tourney title game, and they will have to wait all day on Easter Sunday. The players are staying at a downtown hotel and are using the time to study, rest and watch basketball on television.

Candace Parker said she watched the men's tournament on Thursday and Friday, and it just made her more anxious to get started.

"I am so ready I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight," Parker said right before the team took the practice court Saturday. "I've been watching the men for two days. I can't wait. Let's start the games. Let's play all six games right in a row. Start over the tournament and play again. I love postseason basketball."

Tennessee used its 50 minutes of open practice Saturday for defensive drills, offensive shell work (no defenders) and shooting repetitions from the field and foul line.

The open practice sessions for the eight teams drew few spectators, but there were pockets of orange, including an appearance by Briana Bass, a point guard signee for the Lady Vols from Indianapolis. Bass, who was wearing an orange sweatshirt, attended with her parents. Three young girls in orange waited in a lower corner for two hours for Parker to come out on the floor. She signed their basketballs before she left the practice court.

For the current Lady Vols the rest of Saturday and Sunday would be spent meeting, scouting and waiting.

"I'm just relaxing, hanging out at the hotel, studying," Alberta Auguste said. "That's all we're doing right now. We're going to stay focused. We'll be prepared."

"I've been ready for the NCAA Tournament to start," Shannon Bobbitt said. "It's going to be exciting. We're going to come out here and show what our preparation has done."

Tennessee used the last two weeks to tweak its offenses and defenses and get in a lot of repetition in practice. The players also spent a lot of time with each other.

"Everyone is definitely well rested, but I think the two weeks was good," Nicky Anosike said. "We just got a chance to spend time with each other because we were alone because it was spring break. It was nice to spend a lot of time with my teammates."

Hornbuckle noted the lengthy layoff was something most teams in the tournament were dealing with because of the lag time between the conference and the NCAA tourneys.

"It's not really that tough," Hornbuckle said. "We're the type of team if we get too long of a break we're more than anxious to get on the court. I know I'm excited. I wish we were playing today (Saturday), but we have one more day to wait. We'll just have to get rid of that excitement and play hard on the court."

"I think to some extent it's to our advantage because we're well rested," Parker said. "We're not going at this alone. A lot of other teams haven't played for a week or two weeks. I think we're just excited to get on the court and like Lex said we're just ready to play hard."

Tennessee did arrive in Indiana with momentum after winning three consecutive games in Nashville to take the SEC tourney crown.

"Certainly the SEC was a feel-good tournament for all of us," Pat Summitt said. "I could tell this team was much more focused going into the SEC. … I think we're in a good place right now, but we know we can take nothing for granted in this tournament, and we have to really step up and play, and continue to play a 40-minute game. And our defense and our board play is critical to our success."

The players heard the criticism this season – from the coaches and media – that they had lapses in games. They recovered in most cases but lost to Stanford in December and then LSU in February after leading by 19 points in the first half.

"I know with this team we've been criticized and critiqued all year for not playing 40-minute games," Parker said. "I know it may not necessarily be right but postseason brings out the best in all of us. Obviously I was disappointed not putting a full season together, but we came together at the end in postseason when it's win or go home. I think that's what is important about our team.

"We have a lot of seniors on our team that don't want to go home, and we came together in the SEC Tournament and decided to lock down defensively. That's what got us through our scoring droughts and that's what's got us through tough times. Postseason brings out the best in our team."

Those seniors are Anosike, Hornbuckle, Bobbitt, Auguste and Parker, who will leave with her class and her degree in May. Alex Fuller was also a member of that original class but will return next season for a fifth year. She knows her time with them is limited now, and she hopes that is for six games.

"We cherish the time a lot, especially since we just have six more games left," Fuller said. "We just want to cherish it, have fun and win a national championship."

Bobbitt came to Tennessee with Auguste two years ago to shore up the roster after three players transferred. They both were key reasons why the Lady Vols won a seventh national title. Bobbitt wants to close her career on the same stage.

"I definitely don't want to fall short from last year," Bobbitt said. "I want to go all the way and play in the championship game and have another something to celebrate with the team and something to go down in history. It's really a special class."

Anosike said the addition of Bobbitt and Auguste was seamless.

"We all have a great love for each other," Anosike said. "Bird and Shannon fit right in. I've been playing with Lex for four years, playing with Candace for three. So besides being teammates we're all great friends. It's definitely sad, but we know we have to give every single ounce of energy we have for Tennessee and for each other for the last six games."

The upperclassmen have already spoken to the freshmen about the perils of postseason. A loss in Nashville would not have ended the season. A loss now will.

"They're smart enough to know that, and they're definitely going to give everything they have and leave it all on the hardwood," Bobbitt said.

The freshmen, Vicki Baugh, Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, also have talked among themselves.

"We're enjoying it and taking it one day at a time," Baugh said. "We're all very excited. We know that we have the chance to add the eighth championship to the program so that's always exciting. I'm really excited. It's go hard or go home."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (10.1 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Alberta Auguste, 5'11 senior guard/forward, No. 33 (4.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 redshirt junior forward, No. 3 (21.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (8.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

Oral Roberts Coach Jerry Finkbeiner is expected to start: Rachel Watman, 5'10 junior guard, No. 5 (12.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Mariana Camargo, 6'0 junior guard, No. 1 (13.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Demesha Heard 5'5 junior guard, No. 21 (4.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Janae Voelker 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 11 (11.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg); and Jenny Hardin, 6'3 junior forward/center, No. 12 (13.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

"If you're going to go against the best you may as well go against a team with great tradition like Tennessee," Voelker said. "You see them in the Final Four and the championship every year."

Finkbeiner had joked earlier that he hoped Parker had a paper due after spring break that was occupying her mind.

"I don't have any personal experience with (Parker) except from what I've seen on TV," Finkbeiner said. "It is hard to duplicate her in practice. We have a scout team, a couple guys in the 6'3 or 6'4 range that we had try to duplicate some defensive and offensive things, but we won't fully understand until (Sunday). These girls are as prepared as we are going to be."

Oral Roberts is a 16 seed from the Summit League playing Tennessee for the first time in school history. Finkbeiner knows his team is an underdog – the only one seed to ever fall in the women's NCAA tourney to a 16 seed was when Harvard beat Stanford in 1998 – but he said his players will be prepared.

"We have nothing to lose, everything to gain, but there are certain things we have to do game-plan-wise to keep the game manageable in the first half," he said. "There is nothing worse for a coach than to go into halftime with a sizeable deficit; there just is not a whole lot we can say.

"We are going to try to manage the game and try to play the game in which we can try to push a little pressure over to our foes. We are the David of this matchup. We've come to play, and we've come to win."

Summitt changed her starting lineup against LSU in the SEC tourney, and she has decided to stay with the shift in which Auguste starts and freshman sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund comes off the bench. Auguste told Summitt that she was content to do either.

"I don't have a reaction," Auguste said. "I see it as coming off the bench and adding more minutes to my play. I don't think at it like, ‘Oh, I'm starting now.' I'm just going to stay focused and continue what I did in the SEC Tournament. I'm just motivated.

"That's my motivation to win back-to-back championship. This is my last year. I want to end on a good note."

Bjorklund's sounded the same tune.

"You've got to keep your eyes on the team," Bjorklund said. "It's not about me. It's about this team and whatever it takes to win. If that means me coming off the bench I'm more than happy to take that role. As long as we're winning I'm happy. I've got to come off the bench and perform."

Summitt saw a fatigued Bjorklund in Nashville – she had been headed headlong into that proverbial freshman wall in the month of February – and made the switch in Nashville.

"Angie had low energy in that tournament, and that's why I made the change," Summitt said. "I understand she's a freshman, but at the same time she's been in a starting role for us and played big in a lot of big games. You've got to mentally be ready this time of the year. That was the difference in Angie's play and Alberta's play. I thought it was important for us to get off to a good start."

Auguste, whose nickname is "Big Game Bird," seems to soar when the stakes are the highest, too.

"Bird brings a lot to our lineup obviously defensively, but she's added to our offensive game," Parker said. "One thing that people don't notice is last year she came to play in the big games and she came to play in the postseason. We would not have won a national championship without her last year. She brings a lot to us."

Bjorklund has hit 63 three-pointers this season but was 1-11 from long range in the last four games. She hit seven three-pointers on three occasions – against Gonzaga, Notre Dame and Arkansas – but staggered to the finish line of the regular season. Bjorklund may have benefited the most from the time between tourneys as her shot has been solid in practice of late.

"The break was a good time to just rest," Bjorklund said. "It really rejuvenated me, and I had time to mentally and physically get prepared for the tournament."

BENCH PLAY: The reserves could play a big role in this postseason – Alberta Auguste stepped up a year ago – and the coaching staff is counting on contributions from Alex Fuller, Sydney Smallbone and Vicki Baugh.

Smallbone is back in her home state of Indiana – she played in South Bend – and her family will be in attendance Sunday.

"Syd has got to understand why we recruited her: Make shots," Summitt said. "She can shoot the ball. When you're a go-to player in high school and then you have to do other things that's more difficult."

Summitt asked Smallbone to work on two things in practice, in addition to shooting, and that was not picking up her dribble along the baseline until she had made a decision of where to go with the ball and throwing better passes from the baseline.

"You're going to your home state. I know you want to play. Correct those two things, and you'll play," Summitt said of her conversation with Smallbone.

"She reminded me a couple of times in practice just to fix the little things that I was doing wrong," Smallbone said. "I've been thinking about them a lot lately and trying to work on them in practice. I hope I can get in; I've been working hard trying to get in."

Smallbone, like Bjorklund, also fired a lot of shots at the basket.

"Repetition. I think it's helpful that we've been doing a lot of shooting in practice over the past couple of weeks," Smallbone said. "It's something that all of us as guards have been working on."

Baugh, a 6'4 forward, brings size and athleticism to the post and can pair with Candace Parker or Nicky Anosike in the paint.

"I think Vicki has gained a lot of confidence," Summitt said. "She's learned the offenses. She struggled early because she didn't run her a lot of set plays in high school. Her low post game, that little package is getting improved a lot."

Baugh played key minutes in the win over LSU and hit two free throws with 17 seconds left to seal the game. She also helped Parker defend Sylvia Fowles after Anosike fouled out late in the game.

"I think the team needs my strong points, and Pat said several times that she needs me to be a scorer and helpful on the defensive end," Baugh said. "I think my team needs a lot of help, and I'm going to do my best every game."

Baugh's composure on both ends in that game is what Summitt wants to see in the NCAA tourney.

"What we got out of her in the LSU game second half if I could get that all the time I'd be real happy," Summitt said. "I think our team and our staff would all be real pleased. The thing about her is she's so active. She's so athletic but there are a lot of athletic players that aren't as active. I just thought she was so active. She got her hands on a lot of basketballs, kept the ball from getting inside because of it, and she was aggressive at both ends."

Baugh also was 2-2 from the field and finished with six points and four rebounds.

"That last game was a good example," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "She made two very big plays and hit two huge free throws for us. The upside on that kid is just enormous. I think she can get better now through our next hopefully six games, but a big key for Vicki is going to be this off-season. She's got to really dedicate herself and discipline herself to work on some specific parts of the game that can come back and make her a great player. And she could be."

Baugh will team next season with Fuller, the lone senior, in 2008-09, but the coaches want solid play from the 6'3 junior forward now, too. Fuller can guard in the paint and shoot from the outside and presents a difficult matchup for opponents.

"We need her to score more, especially in the high-low game, but I'm not concerned about it," Summitt said. "I talked to her about it. Nicky, same thing. She hesitated at the high post. She's got to pull the trigger. If she hesitates she doesn't shoot the ball well. If she just catches and shoots like she does in practice she shoots it at a high percentage for us."

Fuller, like the rest of her teammates, wants to tip off this tournament.

"We're ready to get on the court," Fuller said. "We've all talked about it. We're kind of anxious to get back on the court because we haven't played in forever."

FUNNY FULLER: Alex Fuller can apparently imitate all of the coaches. A national television audience saw her dead-on impression of Pat Summitt in an ESPN spot during the selection show.

"Is it that you don't want to play defense or you can't play defense?" Fuller said, catching the cadence, tone and facial expression of her coach to a T.

"I think maybe I said that to her one time," Summitt said. "That was funny."

"Actually she didn't say it to me," Fuller said. "She said it to Dom, and that's where I got it from."

"Dom" is the now-departed Dominique Redding, who went in and out of Summitt's doghouse over defense.

"It's one of her many talents that I just saw myself," Vicki Baugh said. "That was a hidden talent that I didn't know she had."

"She's got all the coaches down," Angie Bjorklund said. "She can do them all."

"That was hilarious, wasn't it?" Candace Parker said. "Ask her to do Holly. That's her best one."

Fuller couldn't believe her teammates had revealed her talents to the media.

"I like to make my teammates laugh when they're having bad days because I care about them," Fuller said with the same deadpan delivery. "I care about them a lot, and they have bad days. They sell me out."

SCOUTING REPORT: Pat Summitt and Dean Lockwood separately watched a game tape of Oral Roberts last Monday night after the selection show in order to prepare for the next day's practice.

"I came in and I said to my staff that they reminded me a lot of Vanderbilt and Dean said, ‘I thought the same thing,' " Summitt said. "They've got good cohesion offensively. They run some really good sets. While they rely on scoring out of their half-court offense they also are very committed to pushing tempo in transition."

Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Oral Roberts game. Here is his assessment.

When Oral Roberts has the ball "They're not the SEC caliber player one through player 10, but their spacing is excellent. They use the whole floor very, very well. They set wing ball screens and some top ball screens and they're really good at misdirection action like getting you one or two passes to go this way and then they kick back to an open shooter that way. What they try to do through screens and through dribble action is try to get shots for three-point shooters. They're very, very good at getting three-point shooters open and they've got some kids who, if left open, can make some shots.

"So we have to really do a good job of defending the whole floor and not let them what I call playing catch. If they're allowed to play catch they'll run good offense. But if we can get into them and maybe make them play more on one side of the floor or the other and make it tough for them to reverse the ball then I think we can be in pretty good shape."

Lockwood expects the Golden Eagles to deploy some man and zone defenses and may have to rely more on zone looks because of Tennessee's size.

"I've seen them play much more man to man, but I personally would be shocked if they didn't play us some two-three zone as a way to deal with our inside," he said.

When Tennessee has the ball: "Number one is tempo, playing at what for them is what I hope is a very uncomfortable pace, and we want to get the ball inside. We have got to get inside touches, we have got to get touches early, and we want to play the game from the inside-out.

"Sometimes people think that only speaks to our post but we need paint points so we need our guards to slash and attack the paint as well. I think we can get some good (perimeter) looks on them, but we can't settle for that. We have to attack. That creates and puts us in a mode that we need to be in."

The staff wants the Lady Vols to commit wholeheartedly to its defensive man pressure and disrupt Oral Roberts' offense.

"I think you're going to see how we can attack them in our man and see how we match up," Lockwood said. "They do present a unique challenge for us in terms of how they space and do some things. They're very good that way.

"We want to have our man defense rise up to the challenge of saying, ‘Let's pressure these guys. Let's really make it uncomfortable. Let's see if we can really influence them and make them play, even in the half-court, make them hurried and faster than they want to play.' "

MACKEY ON/OFF THEIR MINDS: Oral Roberts Coach Jerry Finkbeiner considers West Lafayette and Mackey Arena to be a good memory because it was the site of ORU's first trip to the NCAA tourney in 1999 under his tenure. The Golden Eagles played Purdue, which went on to win the national title.

He joked that the game was close until the Boilermakers "hit a three at the buzzer, and we lost by 17 or 18."

This is Oral Roberts' second consecutive trip to the NCAA tourney, and Pat Summitt said that could help a team in terms of familiarity.

"I think they should come in with more confidence," Summitt said. "It's certainly a credit to a team that has upperclassmen. Obviously they've been there. As I look at them on tape, I like how well they play together. I think they're very committed to scoring in their early offense. If they don't we've got to defend the three ball.

"That has been at times a liability for us, and it's got to be a great sense of urgency and necessity for our basketball team in this tournament. They get to the free throw line a lot. That tells me they're not only committed to the three ball but they can break you down off the dribble."

Tennessee's record in Mackey Arena is 1-2. It's a place Summitt has wanted to forget in the past. On Saturday she was asked about those memories.

"Not very fond so I don't want to talk about my memories of this place," Summitt joked.

The Lady Vols lost to Western Kentucky in the NCAA tourney in 1992. They lost to Purdue in the regular season on Nov. 15, 1998, after going undefeated in 1997-98. The one win at Mackey was against Purdue on Dec. 8, 1995.

Tennessee is 1-3 in the state of Indiana in NCAA tourney play with the aforementioned loss to Western Kentucky, a 1983 loss to Georgia in a regional final at Notre Dame and a loss to Michigan State in 2005 in the Final Four after building a 16-point second-half lead. The lone win came in 1983 – a triple overtime victory over Ole Miss – that set up the regional final loss to Georgia.

"This is a new day, a new beginning," Summitt said. "It's interesting because in the past it's not been real kind to Tennessee and Coach Summitt and the team so we're going to change that."

SCOUTING WORK: Although the Lady Vols don't play until late Sunday, the coaching staff will be at Mackey Arena for the noon and 2:30 p.m. games because the other pod playing at Purdue – SMU, Illinois State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame – also flows into the Oklahoma City Regional.

It allows all the coaches to scout possible opponents in person.

"I like the fact that we can watch in person," Pat Summitt said. "You get a better feel than you do if you're watching a tape or watching on TV. I think it's significant when you're looking at speed and quickness defensively and how physical they are because it's hard to tell that on TV and how much they use their physicality to their advantage, how they defend the post.

"You get an up-close look at it and they get the same benefit in watching us. Sometimes you can watch a team on tape and you can come out at the beginning of the game and think, ‘Wow, they're a lot bigger than they appeared on tape.' "

Tennessee took the same approach last year when the staff scouted the Oklahoma-Ole Miss game in Dayton – Tennessee would play the winner in the regional final – even though the Lady Vols were already very familiar with the Rebels.

"I think it helped because we played them here (in Knoxville) and they played us tough for awhile, but they were playing at a different intensity level (in Dayton)," Summitt said. "They were very committed to transition. Just to see them run and how they spaced, I thought that was key for us. With their pressure it gave us some great ideas of how we wanted to attack them in the full court."

Tennessee also will gather the statistics and media guide information for the teams.

"You can read about them and see what other people are saying about them," Summitt said. "You can read the press clippings."

Summitt usually won't watch game tape of an upcoming opponent – that is her policy in the regular season – but the postseason requires a different approach because of the limited time between games.

Tennessee has a history of overwhelming opponents in the first round.

"We just focus on what we've got to do," Summitt said. "We need to concentrate on what we want to do with our scouting report defense and how important rebounding is going to be, taking care of the ball, executing offensively. It's more about us.

"The scouting part of it is obviously important for our success within our defensive schemes, but at the same time you don't want to focus so much on your opponent that you're not really focused on what you have to bring. We've been scouting all week. Typically I don't watch tape in advance but I did this time. I wanted to make sure I had a chance to look at any team we might play here."

The 2007-08 team has been an eager group when it comes to scouting information.

"They're great," Summitt said. "I think they're exceptional. I think they've got a high basketball IQ because every game they have to learn how to guard particular sets and action within those sets, whether it's a ball screen, it's a flare screen, it's a down screen, it's a back screen, and I think that when players leave the program they leave here with a wealth of knowledge about how they're going to defend.

"Also, we run a lot of different things offensively. I think they're really into learning the game. It's one thing to learn a set play. Then, you've got to learn how to play the game. I think that's a big part of why when players leave here a lot of time they want to go into coaching. They feel like they know the game."

Alexis Hornbuckle, who wants to be a coach after her playing days end professionally, was ready when asked a question Saturday about the keys for Sunday's game.

"We have to come out and be aggressive on the defensive end and not give them open threes or open looks," Hornbuckle said. "They do a great job of knocking down open shots so we have to take that away and containing the penetration from their guards and just putting a lot of pressure on them."

Spoken like a coach.

FAMILIAR FACES: Illinois State is in the other pod and won't cross paths with Tennessee unless both teams were to make the Sweet 16, but Candace Parker does want to say hello to one Redbird.

Tiffany Hudson, a 5'7 shooting guard for Illinois State, played with Parker at Naperville Central High School in Illinois at the point position. The two had exchanged a text message of congratulations before the brackets were announced.

No. 13 seed Illinois State (26-6), the winner of the Missouri Valley Conference, will play No. 4 Oklahoma (21-8) on Sunday at noon at Mackey Arena.

"We're real close friends. Our parents are friends," Parker said. "I was really excited that she got to be here and we're going to hopefully be able to see each other at some point."

Parker also knows Lindsay Schrader, who plays for Notre Dame, and is from Bartlett, Ill.

"We all played on the same AAU team. We had a nice little squad," Parker said with a smile.

HOME CROWDS: If Tennessee and Purdue both win Sunday, the Lady Vols would face the Boilermakers on their home court. Summitt said that's fine.

"We've hosted a lot of events so the last thing I would ever do is sit here and say, ‘I can't believe we might have to play Purdue on their home floor.' That's part of where we are in women's basketball, and I think we have to recognize that as we continue to grow our sport is that we don't have what the men have in terms of the following for neutral sites," Summitt said.

"We're working on that. I think marketing is key, but it is what it is so right now I think that's something that we accept. We may not like it, but that's one of the reasons we try to go on the road and play as many tough opponents as we can on their home floor. We've had six sellouts on the road this year. I'd rather the gym be packed and they boo us for 40 minutes than have a sparse crowd and us get complacent.

"For whatever reason they like a lot of people being there, so if they like it I like it."

The NCAA might want to look at the Sunday-Tuesday format and tip times. Although the intent is to separate the women from the men as much as possible for the purposes of television – the men play Thursday to Sunday while the women play Saturday to Tuesday – the Sunday-Tuesday slate is tough on out-of-towners who work during the week because it requires threes days off.

The 9:30 p.m. tip is difficult for a core fan base – families with children who must attend school the next day. Those who must travel to return home – it's 6.5 hours by car to Knoxville from West Lafayette – can't leave after the game unless they're able to drive all night.

As of Saturday, only 3,500 tickets had been sold for the second session that features Tennessee and Purdue in separate games. It also is Easter weekend so people are traveling for that holiday.

STAY PUT LEX: When the Tennessee players arrived for the press conference, Alexis Hornbuckle didn't see her nameplate so she acted like she was leaving. Pat Summitt told her to sit down, and a name quickly appeared in front of her on the dais.

The players were asked about the importance of setting the tone early, and the moderator called on them one by one to answer.

"I think it means everything to us to start out on the right foot," Nicky Anosike said. "We know from experience that when you don't start out the way you should that kind of has a trickle effect on the rest of the way. So we know we really have to come out here hard and respect our opponent."

"Our biggest thing last year was just taking games one at a time, and know that the first game sets the tone for the tournament," Candace Parker said. "We just want to come out and play hard. I know we're chomping at the bit because we haven't had a game in two weeks so we're excited to get out on the floor."

"Do you want to add anything?" the moderator asked Hornbuckle.

"I think they pretty much said it all," Hornbuckle said with a smile.

"Don't give her an out," Summitt said.

When the players were asked another question, the moderator said, "Alexis, we'll start with you."

Summitt smiled and nodded.

SAY WHAT?: The first question of Tennessee's pre-game press conference came from Shelley Smith of ESPN, who wanted to ask about Connecticut and Geno Auriemma. The Tennessee players on the dais with Summitt – Alexis Hornbuckle, Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike – looked stunned. Anosike also looked angry.

ESPN: "If things go well for you guys you could meet UConn in the final. What is your relationship now with Geno?"

"Well, my phone hasn't been ringing nor have I called him," Summitt said. "I think we're both right now focused on what we need to do to help our respective teams be successful. I really hadn't thought about that. When you get in postseason like this, Oral Roberts is first and foremost on my mind. It's all about playing one game at a time. I think if you do look ahead – unfortunately at times I think that's happened; it's happened to us as well as other teams – then you're not as successful in being able to stay alive in this tournament. One game at a time."

Summitt and the players fielded a few questions about Sunday's game and then Smith asked a series of questions.

ESPN: "What did women's basketball fans miss out on this year because you guys didn't play against UConn in the regular season?"

"I don't know," Summitt said. "You'd have to poll women's basketball fans."

ESPN: "What do you think?"

"I think there's a lot of people disappointed, but I think there's more to the game now than that matchup," said Summitt, who cited rivalries in the SEC, Big East, ACC and Big 12 and also the Tennessee-Stanford game. "There are a lot of great programs out there and some real key matchups. I think in order for women's basketball to grow to the level that we need for it, too, in terms of popularity that's what you need.

"That's what our game needs. I think the television exposure this year was outstanding in comparison to other years and that, too, helped to really bring attention to the growth of our game and also the great excitement and some of the outstanding players that we have. We've got a lot of great All-Americans playing this game and great teams."

ESPN: "One more. How much did your relationship with Geno over the years contribute to that series not being renewed?"

"Absolutely nothing," Summitt said.

"What about the Maya Moore violation at UConn?"

"I care not to speak about that," Summitt said.

Another question was asked relevant to this weekend and then another ESPN reporter asked about an ESPN promo ad that features Summitt and Auriemma and the irony of such.

"I think they're promoting two of the best programs in the history of the game and we just happen to be the coaches," Summitt said. "Obviously I think it's all about the players and the teams. I think just because of women's basketball and the history and the success that we've both had in winning national championships that's obviously the decision that they made to promote the game.

"But I'm all about let's let the players promote the game, and I think as we move forward in this tournament I think you're going to see more and more of that."

Summitt was later asked if she had a sales pitch waiting to convince Parker to return to Tennessee for a fifth year. Summitt's patience for topics not related to Sunday's game was spent.

"I'm waiting to win six games," Summitt said.

"Obviously the game in front of me that's what I'm thinking about right now," Parker said. "That's how I've lived all year is just the game in front of you. You can't control what happens in the future."

Afterwards Summitt bristled at the line of questioning during the team's pre-game NCAA press conference.

"I did not sit down there thinking about, ‘I'm going to have to field a question about Pat and Geno.' And that is probably the last time I will even attempt to answer anything about that because this is not about us," Summitt said. "This is all about our team and what we're focused on doing in Lafayette."

Her response if it starts again?

"Next question," Summitt said.

The players were both perturbed and amused.

"I get sick of a lot of things," Alberta Auguste said coyly when asked about the first question being about another school. "That's motivation. We don't get our respect. That's really disappointing, but what can you say? We are a national championship team, and we do wear the Big Orange. We just have to prove it again like we proved it last year.

"We don't pay any attention to it. That's not really for us to comment on. We just don't think about. It's none of our concern. Our concern is ourselves."

"It is what it is as Coach always says," Hornbuckle said. "It happens, we take it, and we worry about Tennessee. We don't worry about what the media might say and what everybody else wants to know. It's about what we want to do and how we're going to do it.

"It's very amusing. It's basketball. It's life. They're two good programs. They're going to talk about it."

Hornbuckle said the topic doesn't come up among the team.

"They're not us so we don't have anything to discuss," she said.

"We're a type of team that thinks the world takes things like we do," Parker said. "We take things one at a time. We're thinking about Oral Roberts, and that's what we learned from my freshman and sophomore years was that you can't jump ahead because things don't pan out."

Parker did shake her head about the question being the first one lobbed at Tennessee.

"And the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth," Parker said. "Coach is a classy woman, and she's the classiest of them all. I have the utmost respect for Pat and how she's handled that."

Parker said the team would take its queues from Summitt.

"Who else would you follow?" Parker asked. "I'd follow Pat. She knows what she's talking about."


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