Tennessee, Notre Dame tangle again

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – The day before the regional semifinal games is one for practice and press conferences, and the line of questioning – and the answers – can be a bounce or two off the court such as Candace Parker's hair, Pat Summitt's shoulder, Muffet McGraw's shoes, Gary Blair's restaurant recommendation and Abby Waner's reluctance to even utter the name of Duke's conference rival.

No. 1 seed Tennessee, 32-2, and No. 5 seed Notre Dame, 25-8, will tip off at approximately 9:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2) on Sunday, 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game between No. 2 seed Texas A&M, 28-7, and No. 3 seed Duke, 25-9, which begins at 7 p.m. Eastern at the Ford Center.

The Tennessee players were loose and relaxed Saturday and will, once again, spend the day waiting to play Sunday.

The Lady Vols opened the NCAA Tournament with a late game against Oral Roberts a week ago and needed about a half to fully wake up and play defense.

"I think a lot of it is we'd been off for two weeks," Coach Pat Summitt said. "In that first game we were rusty. It took us awhile. I thought in the Purdue game we came out with a lot of energy. It'll be 8:30 down there (in Oklahoma City, which is on Central time). It is what it is. It's not like we're the only ones that have to deal with it."

Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell, a former Lady Vol player, said the team has to be ready regardless of the time display on a clock.

"At this point it doesn't matter what time you play," Caldwell said. "Whatever time we play, we're playing. When that ball goes up you come to play. This team has been here. We've done it. No excuses at this time of year."

Caldwell also said the players need to gauge better the buildup to tipoff. In West Lafayette, Ind., the players were hyped Saturday, the day before the game. That was due in all likelihood to the long break between the SEC and NCAA tourneys.

"Mentally you've got to be at another level where you know, ‘OK, I'm playing at 9, 9:30 at night so during the day let me get rest,' " Caldwell said. "When it gets closer to game time, then start getting yourself mentally prepared for the game. Don't be thinking about it at 10 o'clock in the morning when you first get up because you've got the whole day and the evening.

"We don't want to drain them in that aspect because at this point in time physically you're at the peak of where you should be and the teams that mentally go into the game prepared, who mentally have what they're going to do as far as their game plan and who commits to scouting report defense, those are the teams that are going to advance."

That message has gotten through to the players.

"We're going to be focused and not sit around and think about the game too much," Alberta Auguste said. "We have to be focused. I think we will be all right. It's crunch time. We know Notre Dame will be out to get us so we have to be ready to play."

The scenario – late tip time and deeper into tournament play – allows Summitt to repeat her oft-repeated directive to what she believes is now a receptive audience.

"They have to bring it, and we have to be very mindful of playing possession basketball," Summitt said. "And not taking possessions off."

Angie Bjorklund attributed the slow start in the first game to the gap between postseason games.

"I think it was because we were off so long but it's no excuse," Bjorklund said. "I think that was a good learning experience that we can't come out slow like that again. Like Coach said, ‘Don't take another possession off.' "

Shannon Bobbitt also viewed that start as an aberration.

"That was a one-time thing," Bobbitt said. "We just came out with a sluggish start, and we're not going to let it happen (Sunday). We've definitely got to start off on a good note."

Freshman forward Vicki Baugh said she has noticed a difference in the veterans on this road trip.

"We get focused when it's time to get focused," Baugh said. "I can tell that this trip is about business. I see it when we leave on the bus. We're going to go and handle business. It brings us together more, more meetings, things to keep us focused on the game."

Focus is key for Tennessee both because of the late tip and the prior meeting with Notre Dame on Jan. 5 in South Bend. The Lady Vols jumped out to an early lead and ran away with the game, 87-63. Any chance of being complacent in the rematch?

"There is no relaxing in postseason," Bobbitt said. "This is the Sweet 16, March Madness, anything can happen. We're going to come out and play hard."

"You can't overlook anybody," Bjorklund said. "We have to be ready."

Notre Dame didn't play with poise in the loss to Tennessee, and Coach Muffet McGraw said after the game that her team had been intimidated. In the rematch, the Irish players noted, they are the clear underdog.

"We have nothing to lose; they have everything," senior guard Charel Allen said. "They're the defending champs. And I would think we learned when we played them earlier this season we have to guard the three-point line. We gave up seven threes to one girl, and that's not acceptable. We have to guard the three-point line."

That player was Bjorklund, who is expected to come off the bench tonight because of a late-season shooting slump.

"Not really fond memories," McGraw said of Bjorklund's play in the first game this season between the teams. "And we were trying to guard her. … We might put somebody on the bench with her just so we're ready for her when she comes in."

Bjorklund said she expects to see defenders draped on her this game.

"If the same game plan is to double Candace that would be great (but) I have to be ready to be face guarded," Bjorklund said.

Both teams are led by senior guards – Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle for Tennessee and Allen and Tulyah Gaines for Notre Dame.

"I think that at this point in the season, I think in the NCAA Tournament the guard play is usually what wins the game," McGraw said.

Allen is the first player in Notre Dame history to record 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals.

"She's the one who makes the big shots when we need them," McGraw said. "She's played well consistently all year long."

Caldwell said guards have so much influence in games because they can both disrupt and dictate.

"Guard play is going to be huge," Caldwell said. "When you look at postseason play you want to look at the team that can really disrupt the perimeter game. When you can do that, then that disrupts post entry, that dictates the time that they get into their offense, it dictates who gets the basketball.

"We've made it a point to challenge our guards to not only be aggressive offensively but also be on that defensive end just as intense and just as committed to playing."

Bobbitt knows her ability to push the ball will be crucial to Tennessee's fortunes in Oklahoma City.

"Guard play sets the tempo in every game," Bobbitt said. "We have to play great defense; we have to be on top of our games."

"You can't take anything for granted," Bobbitt added. "You've got to come out and compete, leave it all on the hardwood floor, have fun, enjoy your teammates and your staff. We're having fun but at the same time we've got that business mind."

Bobbitt provided business-like answers as she was peppered with questions about Sunday's game, but she did let a smile slip when asked about the lack of respect accorded to Tennessee from the prognosticators. Despite being the defending champions the Lady Vols have not been picked to repeat.

"That was expected at this point," Bobbitt said. "It happened last year as well. Nobody expected us to win last year. That's a lot of motivation for us. We enjoy being underdogs. We're the number one seed, and we're underdogs.

"We have no problem with it. As long as within this locker room we believe in us, we're going to be just fine."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt is expected to start Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.8 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Alberta Auguste, 5'11 senior forward, No. 33 (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (21.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (8.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw is expected to start: Tulyah Gaines, 5'7 senior guard, No. 1 (7.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Charel Allen, 5'11 senior guard, No. 2 (15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Ashley Barlow, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 20 (12.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Lindsay Schrader, 6'0 junior guard, No. 24 (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg); and Erica Williamson, 6'4 sophomore center, No. 52 (6.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg).

Williamson is playing more minutes in the post since freshman Devereaux Peters was lost to an ACL injury midway through the season. Peters played 24 minutes against Tennessee and had 10 points and eight rebounds. Williamson played 14 minutes and had five points and four boards.

"She has had some great games for us this year, really, really maturing as a sophomore," McGraw said. "So she is going to be important … certainly the interior defense is going to be really crucial for us."

Barlow, also a sophomore, is the second-leading scorer for Notre Dame. She stole the ball in the closing seconds against Oklahoma to secure the 79-75 overtime win in the second round.

"She's kind of the unsung hero of our team, somebody nobody talks about," McGraw said. "We get a lot of stuff from her. She is able to score out of the offense and get big plays. She shot well from the three-point line this year, and she is the most-determined player I've ever coached."

Hornbuckle noted the number of scoring threats for the Irish.

"They have balanced scoring," Hornbuckle said. "Their guards do a great job of pushing tempo and knocking down open shots and you can't sleep on their post game."

BUCKY BALL: Alexis Hornbuckle has answered the bell in the first two games of the NCAA tourney and leads the team in rebounds (14), steals (10) and assists (12). She is second in scoring at 13.5 points per game.

Hornbuckle's style of play – a frenetic pace on defense and relentless approach to the glass – is key to Tennessee's postseason success. Her contributions on offense in the first two games have been critical.

The Lady Vols won the national title in Cleveland last year and Pat Summitt candidly told Hornbuckle it happened in spite of her offense. The words resonated with Hornbuckle going into this postseason.

"It's in my mind," Hornbuckle said. "It's definitely in the forefront of my head. I don't want to be silent offensively in the tournament like I was last year. I felt like everything else kind of fell into place, besides my offense, so I'm trying to bring together the total package."

Summitt said the difference for Hornbuckle this March is her confidence.

"I just think she's playing with a lot of confidence," Summitt said. "I think she knows she has to be a big-time player for us. She starts with her defense, but I've been really pleased with her shot selection, just her composure offensively. She's set on her threes. I think she took maybe one shot that might have been off balance (against Purdue), but the rest of her game was just really, really solid."

Hornbuckle is 5-9 from behind the arc for a shooting percentage of 55.5 percent from long range in the first two games.

"Before we left for the tournament I watched film on just my shots and shot selection and the shots that I was making and the shots that were more difficult," Hornbuckle said. "I'm just trying to play more on balance and looking for my shot instead of over-passing."

Hornbuckle's effort has a trickle-down effect on her teammates.

"It brings more energy to the other players on the team her shooting gaps and getting steals and pushing tempo with me and I can run the wing some and spot up for the three," Shannon Bobbitt said. "It's great for us."

Tennessee will need those corner shots from Bobbitt in regional play to help open space for the post players. If Bobbitt and Hornbuckle are hitting from behind the arc – and Angie Bjorklund also can light up teams from long range – the Lady Vols become a very formidable foe. Bobbitt has struggled so far in the tournament and is 4-14 (28.6 percent) from three-point range.

"It's huge for us," Summitt said. "I think it makes a big difference when you've got great guard play and when you've got a guard like Alexis she can create her own shot, she's been knocking down threes, so that draws more attention from the defense.

"Shannon is going to get her game back, her offensive game. It's just a matter of her being confident. If she misses a couple then she tends not to shoot the ball. I want Shannon to be hunting shots all the time, especially in the corner. That's where she's at her best."

Bjorklund got loose for seven three-pointers against Notre Dame when the teams played in January. Tennessee expects to see some different defensive looks from the Irish in this game.

"They may play us in man-to-man and some zone," Bobbitt said. "We definitely have to knock down the shot and open up the defense for our post players so it can be easier for them in the post."

A complete offensive game combined with Tennessee's trademark defense would be welcomed by the coaching staff.

"I think with Alexis and this senior class, we played in spurts a lot this year," said Summitt, who singled out Hornbuckle only because the question was specifically about her. "How many times did I just wish we could see one 40-minute game? Before SECs I was searching. Are we ever going to play a 40-minute game?

"I think for these seniors they were waiting for postseason. Alexis is one of those. I feel really great about where she is right now mentally, what she's bringing to our team and her leadership. It's been real positive. Good news for us. Great timing."

For Hornbuckle the motivation comes easy right now.

"It has to do with each game could be my last as a collegiate player for the Lady Vols," Hornbuckle said. "I'm trying to go out as strong as possible."

BAUGH BALL: Freshman Vicki Baugh has had some solid minutes in the first two games of the NCAA tourney. Pat Summitt wants that play to continue, and the approach is to not say much about it to the forward.

"I don't want to put any pressure on her," Summitt said. "I just want her to keep playing like she's playing. I like what she brings to our team. She plays with a lot of freedom. She's a player that attacks the rim, attacks the glass. Rebounding is a big part of her game."

Last January, Summitt was asked about Baugh making the transition to Division I basketball from high school, particularly since she played facing the basket before coming to college.

"It's a process," Summitt said. "I'd like to fast forward it, but it's hard to do that."

However, Summitt made it clear in January that Baugh would be expected to contribute this season.

"I'm focused on this year," Summitt said then. "I know they have to play a big role next year, but I'm thinking postseason. I'm thinking tournament. If Vicki Baugh improves as much from now to the end of the season as she has from the beginning to now we've got a different problem for opponents. She's working hard. I love her intensity and her energy.

"Now she needs to not only be able to knock down the high post shot but to be able to go inside and catch and have the composure and knowledge to know, ‘How am I going to score here?' That's just a process that we're going through."

Baugh has scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the first two tourney games. She has developed into a weapon off the bench that Summitt said she could become.

Baugh has leaned on Nicky Anosike and Candace Parker for help this season and to tap into their experience before both leave Tennessee.

"It's really good to be able to play with some of the best players in the country," Baugh said. "I want to work to be just as good or better."

IMPARTING WISDOM: The upperclassmen have guided all three freshmen this month so they can contribute now and get some experience for next year, when they will be the veterans on the 2008-09 team with six true freshmen and redshirt freshman Kelley Cain.

"They've been helping us along and also we're realizing how it is ourselves," Vicki Baugh said. "I feel our team has come together more to win. Our chemistry on the court is better. They let us know what to expect coming into postseason.

"We're all realizing our role and what we contribute to this team. We're all going to have to grow pretty fast. We're going to have to be teaching our freshmen. This year we grew a little bit faster. Pat had that meeting with us to let us know beforehand that we're real vital for next year so take this year and learn all you can."

Nicky Anosike said she felt "lost" as a freshman in postseason, and she wanted to make sure the current youngsters didn't endure that.

"I always feel like the seniors it's their job to step up in the postseason and lead the team, because we've been here and we know what it takes," Anosike said. "I really just try and make sure that no matter what, the team is on the same page and that your freshmen never feel lost because we need them, because I know what it's like to be a freshman and feel lost because I was there. So I just make sure it doesn't happen on this team."

The freshmen were loose in the locker room and seemed to be enjoying the hoopla mixed with the practices, meetings and interviews.

"I take every opportunity to step back. It's busy, but you have to kind of step back and realize where you're at," Bjorklund said. "There's only 16 teams left (to start the weekend) and we're here and we're only here for hopefully a couple more weeks and then it's over. You have to take time to enjoy the process."

"I think we're just soaking it all in," Sydney Smallbone said. "This is our first go-around. It's an experience for us right now and preparation for the years to come so we're trying to soak in as much as we can. We're going to have a lot of freshmen coming in next year so we're going to have to know the ropes."

Those freshmen have gotten a primer from Anosike on how to handle that situation.

FULLER FINE: Alex Fuller, who played sparingly in the first two games because of a sore left knee, said she is ready to go this weekend.

"I'm good," Fuller said.

Fuller can play in the paint or shoot from behind the arc so she gives Tennessee a versatile weapon on offense.

"Any team that would scout would know the main thing I do is stretch the defense," Fuller said. "More than likely they would be playing up on me because I do shoot the three. It will help Candace out to take the pressure off of her and the double and triple teams off of her."

With the first two games well in hand for Tennessee – the final scores were 94-55 against Oral Roberts and 78-52 against Purdue – Pat Summitt said she decided to rest Fuller, who played in short stints.

"I didn't want to play her the other night much because why do that in the type of game that we had once we opened the game up, because I want her rested," Summitt said.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Notre Dame game. Here is her assessment.

When Notre Dame has the ball: "Notre Dame is extremely committed to their transition game. They've really done a good job of getting in the passing lanes and creating easier offensive opportunities for themselves through their transition and their primary game. They're a team that is very versatile in a sense that they've got a half-court game, and they run a lot of action through their high post.

"You're going to see handoffs, ball screens, staggers, so they're very creative in their man offenses. They're more of a perimeter-oriented team, not that they shoot a whole lot of threes, they're a team that also gets a lot of paint points, whether it's off dribble drives, post feeds or offensive putbacks. That's an area that we've got to make sure we do a good job of – defending one on one where we're not having to rotate our defense and keeping them off the offensive glass."

In the earlier game Notre Dame focused a lot of attention on Candace Parker and dropped back into a zone to try to contend with her. Caldwell expects some different looks this time.

"I think they're going to mix it up," Caldwell said. "They run a very, very good matchup zone. I think they're going to extend their defense in the full court action. I expect to see a double on Candace here and there and possibly try to make us beat them from the outside. They're going to be creative with their defenses to combat our offensive efficiency."

When Tennessee has the ball: "Primarily put the ball in the hole," Caldwell said with a smile. "That's number one."

The Lady Vols like to set tempo in games and that often means a fast pace.

"We want to dictate the tempo of the game first and foremost with our transition game," Caldwell said. "We love to run, we love to get into primary, and we're pretty efficient in that area.

"When we have the basketball we're going to our sets whether it's man or zone. Our primary offense is to get the ball inside, get post touches, get dribble drives, things of that nature, and then we've got to knock down open shots.

"For the most part when we look at how we've been playing the last couple of games I think everybody has contributed. I think we want to make sure that we have a balanced attack. We want our perimeter game stepping up, as well as our post game, and I think that takes a lot of pressure off of Candace and having to be the go-to player. When you have Anosike scoring and Hornbuckle, and Angie coming off the bench hitting a few shots for us, Bird and Alex, and Vicki being instant offense, it makes us look very, very hard to defend."

When the Lady Vols are on defense they also intend to mix up the deployments in man and zone alignments.

"I think it's going to be the team that really wants to get down and defend in the half-court," Caldwell said of who will prevail in this matchup. "We want to make sure that we negate their transition game so transition defense is going to be a key for us. Point and talk, pick up the ball as quickly as we possibly can and then everybody match up and fan out from there.

"Defensively we're going to mix it up ourselves. Extend our defense full court. Our primary defense is our man to man so we hope to get after it on the defensive end as well."

COACH ANOSIKE: Nicky Anosike plans to teach elementary school students next fall, but she likely could handle a clipboard as well as a blackboard.

The Lady Vols hold a +18.0 rebounding margin in the first two games with an average of 43.0 per game to 25.0 per game for the opponents. That is two more than the Lady Vols averaged during the season – when they had a +6.0 margin – and 10 less for opponents.

"Rebounding is obviously the key to winning," said Anosike, who had 10 boards against Purdue. "We know that from last year. I think if we're in there rebounding that will give us more transition opportunities if we get the quick outlet. Also if we rebound that will take away transition opportunities for the other team, which is always the key whenever we step on the floor.

"If our transition isn't where we want it to be we need to focus on executing our plays and trying to get second-chance shots. If we're not scoring in transition the other team better not be scoring in transition. If we're not scoring in our half-court offense the other team better not be scoring in their half-court offense. So limiting the other teams is really the key at that point if our shots aren't falling or we can't get the transition points that we want."

PLUSH ACCOMMODATIONS: As the number one seed in Oklahoma City, Tennessee got the best locker room at the Ford Center. It's located in the hallway of the tunnel leading to the court – and very close to the team's bench – and it's spacious.

The players' area has wide wooden lockers and comfy couches in an adjoining lounge.

"Nice couches," Angie Bjorklund said.

There is a room for the training staff and a meeting area for the coaches. The locker room was used by the NBA's New Orleans Hornets when they were displaced to Oklahoma City because of the flooding and destruction after Hurricane Katrina.

"And I'm in the locker room," said Alberta Auguste, a native of Louisiana. "Wow. That's pretty cool."

It's a far cry from how the team was treated when Pat Summitt started coaching more than 30 years ago. The team now takes chartered flights, and bus trips are limited to road games to Vanderbilt and Kentucky and the short trips from the hotel to playing venues to the airport.

"I would drive the equipment van because all the other players would run and get in the other van," Summitt said. "At least now they have to ride with me on the bus."

Players stay in top hotels – two to a room – and get per diem money and training table food.

"We'd sleep four to a room and try to go to a cafeteria where you'd get all you can eat to save money," Summitt said. "I remember driving back from a tournament down in Mississippi. We left on Sunday after the game and I drove through the night. It was a nine-hour drive and I remember the last 45 minutes having to have my window rolled down with my head out trying to stay awake."

Conference postseason formats are back-to-back-to-back games and there is just one day between NCAA games but when the team traveled to tourneys in Summitt's early years, the schedule usually included two games a day.

"We could stand our uniforms up on the floor," Summitt said.

Now, the team travels with a rotating cast of managers who make sure the players have clean uniforms, sweats and practice gear waiting in their lockers.

COLOR SCHEME: The NCAA has a uniform color format in regional play in the men's and women's tourneys as play has shifted off of home courts to neutral venues in cities such as Greensboro, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Spokane.

The NCAA logo is at center court. The area along the sidelines and baselines is black with blue lettering to designate the city and the paint or key area is blue.

Duke, which is playing in Oklahoma City, should feel right at home with the color scheme.

THAT ACC TEAM: When Duke guard Abby Waner was asked to compare Texas A&M's style to that of other teams the Blue Devils had played that year, she smiled and said, "Um, I don't want to say a specific team but the ACC, I think, has that style of play, which would be athleticism, outside of me."

The remark brought some chuckles from the players on the dais with her, Chante Black and Wanisha Smith, both because of Waner's refusal to say North Carolina and her lighthearted remark about her own athleticism, or lack thereof.

Waner is long-range shooting threat who has struggled behind the arc this season at 26.3 percent (47-179). But Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie said Waner has other ways to contribute to the team.

"You can look at statistically the rebounding (106 boards) and assists (116) she creates, but I think it's her leadership and poise and her sense of calm and her ability to do so many different parts of the game," McCallie said.

RESTAURANT REVIEWS: Gary Blair, the head coach at Texas A&M, opened his press conference with a tip for out-of-towners and some baseball talk.

"If your per diem is good enough go to Mickey Mantle's to eat," Blair told the assembled media. "It was very good."

The Texas Rangers AAA farm club is in Oklahoma City and the ballpark is located downtown two blocks from the Ford Center.

The park hosted a Major League exhibition game Friday night between the Rangers and the Chicago White Sox. A large crowd bundled in coats and toting blankets watched the game.

"It was a little too cold for me to get over there to see 'em and Chicago beat 'em," said Blair, a Rangers fan. "That's not good."

Blair provided expansive answers mixed with humorous remarks during his session with the media and reminded sportswriters why they missed him in the SEC when Blair coached at Arkansas.

He also paid a compliment to Al Brown, an assistant with Duke and former assistant at Tennessee.

"I've known him since the Tennessee days when he was with Pat for so long," Blair said. "Great tactician of the game and he's like having a Tex Winter on the bench to help you out as the head coach."

Winter was the architect of the triangle offense and assisted Phil Jackson during the championship seasons with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Blair mentioned how much he wanted to win Sunday because that meant he would still be in town Tuesday, his wife's birthday. Dr. Nan Smith-Blair, an assistant professor in nursing at Arkansas, is in town for the game but will return to Fayetteville when the Aggies are done.

"I'm doing a commuter marriage, and it's hard to get to Fayetteville and back, so that's what I'm trying to do is be able to give a birthday present to her in person instead of having to mail it," Blair said. "To do that we need to be playing somehow, some way, and you're at the point now, whatever it takes."

Blair said his Texas A&M team was as good as the one at Arkansas that he took to the Final Four in 1998. To get there the Lady Razorbacks had to beat Duke in a regional final. They lost to Tennessee in the semifinal at the Final Four.

When Blair was asked about any concern that his team would wilt in the presence of the other three teams in Oklahoma City, he looked a tad taken aback.

"I can promise you one thing, they're not going to wilt, OK?" Blair said. "We've been playing and practicing so hard, and the kid just have so much confidence in themselves right now. And maybe our kids haven't been on the grand stage before, but this isn't my first rodeo."

Blair said he told his team "we're not here for the T-shirts," and then he noted how expensive they were at $25 a pop.

"Hey, somebody's making money," he said.

Blair closed the session with his restaurant reminder.

"Remember if you've got per diem get to Mickey Mantle's," he said.

IRISH HUMOR: Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw also had great rapport with media and handled the inevitable question about never beating Tennessee – the Lady Vols lead the series, 19-0 – with aplomb.

"It will be great if I wouldn't have to answer that question anymore," said McGraw, who noted she read the futility number in the paper Saturday. "I feel like it's printed on my forehead, ‘O for Tennessee.' But I think I'm getting Pat at a good time. She's coming off the shoulder injury; she's got bad knees. I think this year, if we get her in a running game, I've got her!"

Summitt dislocated her shoulder knocking a raccoon off her deck in a well-publicized incident, and her knees are creaky from her own playing days.

Summitt smiled when the media asked for her reaction.

"Is she talking about me?" Summitt asked. "She's going to have to take those high heels off to catch me!"

McGraw was also asked if she felt any guilt – how Catholic of the inquisitor – for knocking Oklahoma out of the Oklahoma City Region.

"No, we're combing the state for Catholics right now," McGraw said. "I'm hoping to fill up the arena and get all the Catholic school kids out here."

McGraw even plans to wear red in hopes of luring Sooner fans who might make a game-day decision on who to side with Sunday.

"I figure maybe they'll cheer for us rather than orange," McGraw said.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is 4-0 when playing on March 30. The last win on this date came against Stanford, 62-60, in Norman, Okla., in the Midwest Regional final … Tennessee has played eight of the teams that made the Sweet 16 and posted a 9-2 record. The losses were to LSU and Stanford. Tennessee also recorded a win over LSU. The other victories were Vanderbilt (three times), North Carolina, Duke, Rutgers, Old Dominion and Notre Dame. … The Lady Vols' overall record in the Sweet 16 is 26-4. The last loss at this stage in the tourney was to Xavier in 2001. The other three losses were in 1985, 1992 and 1994. The Lady Vols have never lost to a team seeded lower than No. 4. The No. seed in the Oklahoma City Region, Oklahoma, was defeated by No. 5 seed Notre Dame.

THE BIG THREE: Nicky Anosike, Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle – the "Big Three" as Pat Summitt has called them over their careers – were in fine form with the media Saturday.

They answered the basketball questions seriously enough, but delighted in tackling the more offbeat ones.

All three played in Oklahoma City in 2004 in the McDonald's All-American game when the East team, which Hornbuckle and Anosike played on, beat the West team, which Parker played on, 91-66.

When Hornbuckle was asked about that game, she leaned forward in her chair and smiled.

"Why did you have to bring that up?" Parker said.

"I would love to talk about the McDonald's All-American game," Hornbuckle said. "Nicky and I were on the East and Candace was on the West." "All I gotta say is we won," Hornbuckle said. "By a lot. The West lost."

The game came up in the locker room with the players reminiscing – Alex Fuller also played – about the experience.

"We have fun together as a whole and hopefully we can keep our winning streak alive on the court and she (Parker) can get one, because, you know, it's on her."

The media laughed along with Hornbuckle, whose facial expressions were as humorous as her remarks.

"You think that is funny?" Parker said with mock indignation.

"We're trying to take advantage of the time we do have to spend together on the court and off the court," Fuller said. "It's a special group of seniors. We're all sisters. This whole team is one big family."

Even the serious questions turned funny for Tennessee.

When Anosike was asked about the evolution of Parker's game, Hornbuckle mentioned her hair in a quiet aside to Anosike, who started laughing.

"Candace has definitely gotten her hair done since then," Anosike said as Parker just shook her head. "And now she's fabulous!"

Anosike did give some props to Parker about her willingness to help her teammates and her work ethic.

The big three needs to perform for Tennessee to be successful as their final season winds down.

"I think definitely our team needs all three of us to step up – these last four games definitely," Parker said. "We have to bring what we do best to the table."

It's the final postseason for the three, plus Alberta Auguste and Shannon Bobbitt.

"In terms of savoring the moments, we are," Parker said. "We obviously know that there's not much time left and this is our last run."

Parker then pretended to cry and turned to her teammates, "I just want you guys to know I love you."

"That was so fake," Anosike said as the three players squealed with laughter.

"Are they always like that?" a member of the Oklahoma media asked later.

Yes, especially those three together in a press conference.

OPEN PRACTICE: Tennessee had about 200 people attend its open practice, and they grew a little restless with Candace Parker wasn't on the floor as soon as the rest of the team.

Parker, Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle were the last to finish interviews, and Parker still had to get taped. Anosike and Hornbuckle wear ankle wraps that are quicker to get affixed than a full taping procedure.

When Parker emerged from the tunnel the fans applauded.

The loudest ovation was still for Coach Pat Summitt, who signed autographs for fans after the 50-minute session ended.

LARGEST BRACKET: That on the side of the Cox Convention Center across the street from the Ford Center. The four regional brackets cover a large portion of the side of the building above the entrance and are updated daily by workers on a crane.

BEST SCREEN: That set by Candace Parker and Alberta Auguste for Nicky Anosike so she could beat Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood down the court when the post players switched ends.

Lockwood and Anosike have sprinted against each other throughout the center's career.

"Go, go, go," Alex Fuller yelled in encouragement to Anosike, who beat Lockwood, who got entangled in the screen with Anosike already in the lead.

Lockwood's energy and enthusiasm is often cited by the players.

"Hunt me down!" Lockwood yelled during the practice when directing players to set a tough screen on him during a drill.


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