The Lady Vols have a chance to avenge the only other loss of the season. Tennessee eliminated LSU on Sunday, 47-46, and will face the second team responsible for the two blemishes on its record at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday (TV: ESPN) at The St. Pete Forum.
Stanford made it to the title game by taking out Connecticut, 82-73, which had beaten the Cardinal, 66-54, in a holiday tournament in November.
Stanford is clicking offensively. Tennessee has been shutting down opponents. The two juggernauts will collide in the last game of the season with both teams wanting to impose their will on the flow of the game.
Tennessee won the title last year and is trying to repeat for the first time in 10 years. The Lady Vols got to Tuesday's game when Alexis Hornbuckle hit the game-winning basket off a tip-in with .7 seconds left.
"I'm appreciative of what they did to close out the game and put us in the national championship game, the biggest stage for women's basketball," Pat Summitt said. "They at least know now they have a chance to win it. I would be proud for them because they have meant so much to our program."
Summitt had fussed at her team most of the season for failing to play for 40 minutes. But they have shown her in postseason how they can play – the transformation started after the loss at home to LSU – and how they will play.
"This team has changed my opinion of them," Summitt said.
Tennessee senior center Nicky Anosike, sounding like her head coach, said the Lady Vols faltered defensively on too many occasions against LSU.
"I think when some of our shots weren't falling we tended to let that affect our defense so just not having those breakdowns I think will definitely help us be a lot more effective," Anosike said. "I think we got frustrated on offense sometimes and that translated over to defense. I think we could play a lot better defensive game than we did (Sunday). I know we can. So we just have to bring that out."
Anosike didn't limit her assessment to one side of the ball. The Lady Vol players talked to the media right before they practiced, and Anosike had a list of things to work on in their session.
"I think we need to get better in all areas," Anosike said. "Our defense can get better, our rebounding can get better, definitely our offensive execution needs to get better. I think we have a lot of improvement to do in one day. I think we took a lot of shots that we didn't need to take probably. I think we need to try to get better shots out of our plays, because we were settling for a lot of jumpers, and we need to try and get the ball inside.
"I think we can create advantages as the game goes along as we rebound. I think rebounding is going to be key tomorrow because that's going to stop a lot of their transition points and definitely going to stop their second-chance points. We need to create our own advantages as the game goes along."
Both teams agreed that both sides benefited from having played earlier in the season. Tennessee lost to Stanford right before the Christmas break.
"We talked about how it ruined our Christmas ending the year on a loss," Candace Parker said.
Parker had a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds but the Lady Vols fell in overtime, 73-69.
Parker comes into this game with an ailing left shoulder that she dislocated twice against Texas A&M last week. Her right shoulder has been sore since she sustained a subluxation last October.
"My right shoulder was my bad one before this (past) week," Parker said. "Jenny is focusing on both shoulders now. I'm rehabbing both of them and trying to get better."
Summitt said after Parker's desultory shooting performance against LSU that the All-American was wiped out physically and emotionally from trying to rehab the shoulder during every waking hour.
"I haven't had a chance really to get a lot of sleep," Parker said. "I'm a nine-hour, 10-hour sleeper so I plan on going to bed pretty early (Monday night) and being well-rested for (Tuesday)."
A bleary-eyed Jenny Moshak, the assistant athletics director for sports medicine, was in the Lady Vols' locker room Monday catching up on her administrative work.
"I'm not getting my normal sleep time, but I figure I'll sleep on Wednesday," Moshak said.
Moshak said Parker was cleared to play with the brace. She also is wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt under her jersey, which likely has as much psychological effect as anything in the out-of-sight-out-of-mind vein. Parker usually practices in a long-sleeve shirt so she is used to the attire.
"We decided as a staff that if you can't see it then you won't think about it, so that's why we decided I should wear them," Parker said.
Physically, Parker is doing as well as could be expected, under the circumstances.
"She's doing very well," Moshak said.
Parker said she dealt with stiffness Monday morning, but she was in good spirits when she met with the media – she joined her teammates in serenading the writers – and said she had one game to go.
"Just get through it and worry about it later," Parker said.
The state of Parker's shoulder has been noticed by the Stanford players.
"It looked like she was shooting short on all of her left-handed shots, so we'll use that to our advantage," Cardinal forward Kayla Pedersen said. "I think we're going to have to force her more to the left, and I think I'm going to have a lot of help on defense. But just as long as we can stay physical with her and make her use that left hand, then I think that she'll miss more shots than usual."
"I noticed (Sunday) night she likes to shoot with her right hand a lot more," Cardinal center Jayne Appel said. "I don't know if that's just lately because of her shoulder, but she's good at taking it to the hole on the right side.
"I expect nothing less than her best. A lot of athletes on our team and on the other teams have played through a lot of injuries, and they're not getting the national attention that Candace Parker deserves, but I think she will bring nothing but her best game."
The Cardinal players spoke candidly because it was painfully obvious that Parker was affected against LSU by the aching shoulder. But Parker just smiled when she learned of the remarks.
"Glad I got some insight on what they're planning on doing," Parker said. "And obviously I'm just going to continue to try to play my game, and obviously if I step out on the court then all's fair."
Alberta Auguste said Parker, who was still peeved at herself about her poor shooting Sunday, has heard the challenge.
"I think Candace has a lot to prove to (Pedersen) just by saying that she's going to force Candace more to her left side," Auguste said. "You can play Candace anyway you want; she's goes to score regardless."
Pedersen drew confidence from the last matchup against Tennessee in which the freshman had to guard the All-American throughout the game.
"For a freshman to guard Candace Parker, Parker may have scored, but she had to work hard for her points," Stanford guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude said. "That's what we're going for. We know that great players are going to score, but it's more like if she's going to score it's going to have to be a turn-around fadeaway. What can you do?
"Kayla Pedersen is an amazing talent in that she's probably one of the smartest players on our team. As a post player she knows what the guards are doing. She runs a three spot, a four spot and a five spot. She can read defenses like no other. She's always huge in our games."
Wiggins said the freshman maintains an even keel, as opposed to Appel, whom her teammates affectionately call "Bam-Bam," because of her exuberance. The nickname was bestowed by Wiggins because Appel delivered high fives with so much force behind them.
"She's astounding, just her poise," Wiggins said of Pedersen. "It's a dichotomy because she's so poised on the outside but so competitive and so intense on the inside that it's perfect and balances very well."
The Stanford team wore their black uniforms against UConn – it makes them feel tougher, Pedersen said – and will likely don them again as the No. 2 seed going against the No. 1 seed, which will wear the home whites.
"I think we're a lot tougher than past years at Stanford," Pedersen said.
Appel made it clear that tough play meant physical, but within the boundaries of basketball.
"I just think you have to be physical, not necessarily mean," Appel said. "I'm all for physical play and being tough, but not dirty. I just need to be strong so the guards have someone to rely on in the inside. You need to score in the paint at this level, and it also opens up shots for the guards on the outside."
The players on both teams are familiar with each other and, in some cases, have played together. Parker and Candice Wiggins have played USA basketball. Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle played with Appel at the PanAm games.
Pedersen will draw the primary responsibility on Parker. Appel will pick up Anosike.
"Rebounding, rebounding," Appel said of Anosike's game. "She's relentless on the glass. She is very intense. I played with her in Brazil, and she will get on her teammates and tell them to rebound. That is Tennessee's big thing is they're going to rebound and you've got to keep them off the glass if you want to win."
Hornbuckle, Auguste and Shannon Bobbitt will be counted on to bring the defensive pressure on the perimeter, especially against Candice Wiggins, the Wade Trophy winner who has electrified the NCAA tourney with her scoring and board work.
"Basically me, Shannon and Lex every team we play, every opponent we play we have tough offensive players we have to guard," Auguste said. "This is another challenge for us."
Bobbitt watches a lot of basketball on her own, not just scouting tape, and she noticed the fluidity of Stanford's offense.
"I was watching them when Jayne Appel came up on the free throw line, and Candice Wiggins had the back door, and I like, ‘Wow, that's pretty basketball right there.' That was beautiful," Bobbitt said. "Now that we have to play them we have to be the one to stop it.
"It's going to be a war. They're a great team and they definitely have a lot of spark, a lot of energy and a lot of confidence coming into (Tuesday's) game. We have to compete. We usually have a high-scoring game, and (Tuesday) night's game is who has the most points, and that's all that matters."
"They're not even the same team that we played against," Hornbuckle said. "They're a lot better in my opinion. Candice Wiggins is stepping up big every time she hits the court in this tournament, all the supporting cast, even the people coming off the bench they're playing extremely well. They know their role, and they're filling it. Knocking down open shots, getting stops when necessary. They're playing the type of basketball that they want to play, and they're making teams play to their pace."
Tennessee will want to pick up the pace and bring the defensive heat. The players have heard the experts picking against them, and it seemed to provide a low simmer the day before the game.
"Every time you turn on the TV you hear we weren't expected to win so we're the underdogs, and we love it," Hornbuckle said. "We're out here to gain our respect and prove that we're in here for a reason, and we get to do that (Tuesday) night on the court. It's going to be a hard-fought game for 40 minutes, if not more.
"We're ready, and we're excited. We're just ready to get this show on the road and see how it turns out."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (10.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Alberta Auguste, 5'11 senior forward, No. 33 (5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (21.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (8.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg).
Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer is expected to start: Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 21 (5.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg); JJ Hones, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 10 (6.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Candice Wiggins, 5'11 senior guard, No. 11 (20.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Kayla Pedersen, 6'4 freshman forward, No. 14 (12.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg); and Jayne Appel, 6'4 sophomore center, No. 2 (15.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg).
Stanford has Jillian Harmon off the bench, but she has also started 18 games this season. The 6'2 forward averages 6.3 ppg and 4.9 rpg and had nine points against UConn. Jeanette Pohlen, a 6'0 freshman guard, and Morgan Clyburn, a 6'4 junior forward/center, provide some size off the bench for the Cardinal.
Tennessee guard/forward Angie Bjorklund will come off the bench for Tennessee. The 6'0 freshman is averaging 5.4 ppg in the postseason and has hit five three-pointers in the NCAA tourney. Bjorklund has 68 three-pointers on the season.
"I've got to continue to hunt for my shots and come off screens hard and be ready to go defensively," Bjorklund said. "I just have to get my mind right. Tara is known for watching film and getting their team ready so I know they'll be ready for us, but we'll be ready for them."
Bjorklund was wound up in the locker room after Sunday's win over LSU – it was the first Final Four game for the freshman – but she was calm by Monday. She did spent some time back at the team hotel watching the replay of Hornbuckle's shot that won the game and it stayed on repeat even after the lights were out.
"That play kept going through my head," Bjorklund said. "Woke up this morning it's a new day. We need to get ready for Stanford."
"Oh, my gosh, their last game they deserve it," Bjorklund said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes for them to get that."
Smallbone is using her first Final Four to learn from the upperclassmen.
"I think we're just trying to soak it all in," Smallbone said. "This is the first time we've been here. The seniors have been to a championship game so they know what it takes. We're just trying to learn from them and follow what they're doing right now."
Baugh, a 6'4 forward, and Alex Fuller, a 6'3 junior forward, played key minutes against LSU and each scored a basket when points were precious. They also combined for eight rebounds.
"Nicky had gotten in foul trouble and with Candace in her situation, Vicki and I are the other two posts on the bench so we just had to step up and do whatever we could to help the team out, especially last night, because we were kind of struggling offensively," Fuller said.
Baugh had played well in the previous matchup against LSU and she drew on that experience. Her performance Tuesday after struggling in the regional also gave her some confidence.
"Definitely," Baugh said. "I just have to stay consistent and do the same thing I did last night, except stay out of foul trouble. It definitely helps. I try to improve every game to help the team. Every game helps."
Baugh also wants to send the seniors out the door with a national title.
"It means a lot to me," Baugh said. "I want to do it for our seniors, not only myself. It's a big accomplishment. It's something I always dreamed of doing."
Baugh also will miss the five who ushered in her first season and will savor the last game.
"It's going to mean a lot," Baugh said. "We're not going to play with this exact team again. It can be emotional."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Stanford game. Here is his assessment.
When Stanford has the ball: "They're very good offensively, high-low game obviously, which we got burned on in December," Lockwood said. "They all can shoot the ball. They can all flat shoot the ball. When you have that, you're a force, you're a weapon. The high-low game is very, very strong. Their inside players complement each other. You've got a kid like Pedersen who can draw you out and then is so adept at passing in the high post and can make the shot and can also make the three. Then you've got Appel, who is a big body of force in there. Let's talk about Candice Wiggins, who, right now, I call it the hero mentality. She's basically saying to her troops, ‘Hey, follow me. I've got you. I'm leading you.' You've got to handle that.
"That's a formidable offensive trio right there. They're going to get shots. We have to dictate the quality of those shots. We have to do a good job of not letting them get comfortable. When they get comfortable and they're running their stuff they execute as good as anyone in the country. There is no better that is better at executing their offense right now."
Defensively, the Cardinal is expected to play mostly man.
"They play man," Lockwood said. "Now, they do have zone in their arsenal. We have seen zone. I anticipate because man has been so good to them that is what they'll do. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if people tried to zone us because we've seen a lot of that. We're prepared for any of those options."
When Tennessee has the ball: Candace Parker had the single-worst game of her collegiate career when she shot 6-27 against LSU. That is not likely to happen again.
"We hope not," Lockwood said. "One of the things we do is try and establish our inside game and really play from the paint out. We want to play at a pretty good tempo. We like to get up and down. Play in the paint, play inside-out and also play the tempo that we like."
Tennessee plans to do what it does best in the postseason – bring the defensive heat.
"That's something we do no matter who we play," Lockwood said. "We want to pressure you. We don't want you to run your half-court offense. We want to make things hard for you to operate. I don't anticipate us doing anything different against Stanford that way. We are going to try to use our pressure defense and things that enabled us to have LSU have 18 points at halftime. Thank goodness for our defense.
"We're going to try to use our pressure as an asset and do what we've done all year."
In terms of what types of pressure, Lockwood said, "that's going to depend on how the game unfolds."
Pat Summitt intends to underscore what she believes underpins a national title – defense and board play.
"It's very gratifying for our coaching staff to see where they are, how far they've come and what they can potentially accomplish," Summitt said. "They believe that defense and rebounding can win championships. They really believe it, and they've got it in their heart. When you get to that point, you've always got a chance.
"Do we need to be much more efficient offensively? Yes. But we do have the potential to make that game ugly and that would be to our advantage if we can turn them over. We're going to press. We're coming after them. We'll change up our defenses. We'll extend it full court, three quarter, half court. We've got to be able to get some easy looks, and I think we can do that off our defense."
The Lady Vols have just four players on the bench – depth buttresses a pressing attack – but Summitt wants to bring the heat with what she has.
"This team is in great shape," Summitt said. "Postseason we rest in between games. We do very little on our legs."
THE SHOT: Alexis Hornbuckle's last-second tip-in is the reason Tennessee players are still in Tampa on Monday and not back home in class. The team left the Forum shortly after midnight, and Hornbuckle estimated she fell asleep about 2:30 a.m. Monday.
She had been haunted during the game by her missed shots, especially the front end of a one and one late in the game.
"I'm the type of person I don't like letting people down," Hornbuckle said Monday looking somewhat refreshed despite the quick turn-around to the Forum for separate interviews with regular media, ESPN and CBS radio and then practice.
"You can ask my family this, my friends, if I tell you I'm going to do something I expect that I am going to do it. To let my team down offensively in one game I can promise you that it won't happen again. I'm just going to be more focused. I can't worry about that game. That game is over. We were blessed enough to make it out of it and be able to play tomorrow night so I'm focused on tomorrow night."
LSU's Erica White put the Lady Tigers ahead by one with seven seconds left after hitting two free throws following a Hornbuckle foul.
"I was very frustrated, and I got sad when Erica made those free throws," Hornbuckle said. "I didn't feel like the game was over, but I felt like I let my team down as a whole. I can promise them that it won't happen again, but at the same time I made the only basket that mattered at the end. Going one for eight and hitting that one shot at the right time meant a lot more than missing the seven shots prior to that."
Nicky Anosike's perspective on the shot the next day was that Hornbuckle saved her a basketball lifetime of regret. Anosike missed her shot off the Candace Parker feed, but Hornbuckle was there to clean up the glass.
"I am definitely going to remember that layup I blew and Lex saving me," Anosike said. That is something I will always remember. I just thanked her. I don't know what I would have done. That's something that probably would have stuck with me throughout the rest of my career if we would've lost that game. I just said thank you."
Sydney Smallbone and Vicki Baugh had spent the time between timeouts and White's free throws getting the crowd, which seemed almost in a stupor, to come alive.
"We were trying to get the crowd into it and get them as loud as possible," Smallbone said. We're trying to help as much as we can."
When Hornbuckle's shot went through the net, the players on the bench erupted.
"I didn't have time to panic after Nicky missed hers because Lex had tipped it right in after that," Baugh said. "Lex is always all over the floor, and she was in the right place at the right time."
"That's just Lex," Cait McMahan said. "She does all the little things people don't see. She's gets the defensive stops. She always has steals. She kept her head in it. She's our leader, and it showed."
SEVEN SECONDS: When Candace Parker walked out of the timeout and headed to the opposite end of the court to receive the in-bounds pass, Nicky Anosike placed an arm around her waist and talked softly to her teammate.
"Candace came up to me and said that she needed help refocusing," Anosike said. "I think she was having problems throughout the game. I said, ‘Listen, you don't have anything left to prove. I don't care how you played the game. This seven seconds is really what matters. What happens throughout the rest of the game is what everyone is going to remember.' I just told her to forget about what happened the rest of the game and to focus on whatever time we had left."
Cait McMahan also got in a quick word before the timeout ended and Parker got across mid-court.
"I just knew there were seven seconds left, and I knew what play was on, and I knew she was going to go full court. I just told her, ‘Big-timer,' " McMahan said. "That's all I said to her because that's what she is. She's big time."
The play was drawn up just as the Lady Vols had practiced several times since postseason play began. Parker brings the ball up the floor, a trailer guard stays nearby to serve as an outlet in case of a defensive trap and once Parker commits to a play, everyone goes to the boards.
"We drill that a lot," Hornbuckle said. "We start with eight and then we'll go down to like seven, and then we'll do like a five, four-second drill. It definitely helps because it teaches you to keep your composure when everybody else thinks that seven seconds is not enough. Seven seconds to us is like a lifetime. We were very calm and composed and very focused on what we had to do."
Parker said she was surprised she had a clear path coast to coast – an LSU defender was running with her but stayed well off to avoid a foul.
"I was a little surprised I didn't have to turn at all," Parker said. "I was excited that my coaches and my teammates had the confidence in me to put the ball in my hands and trust me to make the decisions. We've done this over and over in practice. I saw her come over and just decided to dish it."
Parker knew she had had a terrible shooting night and the box score confirmed just how much she struggled.
"I knew it was going to be bad. I was like, ‘Oh, six for 27. Great. I picked the national semifinal game to shoot my worst ever in history,' " Parker said. "It's past me. I hope to not shoot any worse."
LSU collapsed on her, though – Parker has been clutch all season and she beat LSU in the SEC tourney as a freshman when she kept the ball on the last play – and that left Anosike wide open under the basket, so Parker decided to pass.
Hornbuckle had time for the tip-in because Parker had gotten the ball down court so quickly.
McMahan, a 5'4 point guard, noted the 6'5 Parker has an advantage over a guard going coast to coast.
"She's got long strides," McMahan said. "That helps a lot."
But McMahan noted that Parker handled the ball like a guard.
"She's real skilled because she kept the ball low," McMahan said. "She's Candace."
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND: Three players will start in Tuesday's title game that hail from New York in Nicky Anosike (Staten Island); Shannon Bobbitt (New York, N.Y.); and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, (Queens).
"I think every team had a player from New York in the Final Four except LSU," Anosike said. "It's just a mentality that you have to have when you play in New York. You have to be strong. You have to be tough or you're a nobody. So transferring that over to college has definitely made it easier and we're able to lead our teams here with the warrior mentality. I don't think it's a coincidence."
"We've just got it," Gold-Onwude said. "We have the X-factor; it's something in the water."
The three players know each other because of their common roots, and they all agreed that surviving the basketball battles in the big city helped formed them as collegiate players.
"Just growing up in New York you're surrounded," Anosike said. "You have to be able to be tough and handle your own. You have to be able to take care of yourself and be able to handle all the tough moments by yourself in New York City. It has to come within you."
Gold-Onwude said the best advice she got from a coach was "you can't let anybody punk you; you can't let anybody thug you." She said that was a street talk reminder to stay tough.
"Especially in New York City park basketball where it's crowded, it's packed," Gold-Onwude said. "People are out there ooohin' and ahhin' when you get crossed or someone makes a crazy move on you and somebody scores on you. You've got to have heart. You've got to have thick skin, too.
Gold-Onwude and Anosike also share a Nigerian heritage. Gold-Onwude's father is a fan of Anosike.
"He's Nigerian so he's always rooting for her," Gold-Onwude said. "But he'll be rooting for Onwude tonight."
"I played against her high school team twice," Anosike said. "I recognized her last name so I knew she was from Nigeria. It's nice to see New York players make it into this level. It's nice to see the players we grew up playing against are here with us, so it's nice to see that, but it's still going to be a healthy competition between us."
Alexis Hornbuckle, who is from a small town in West Virginia, has her own swagger but she noticed the New Yorkers have their own style.
"They have that ‘I can't be stopped, and I refuse to lose attitude.' When you have that you're bound to be successful," Hornbuckle said. "No matter what opponent steps on the court you never see yourself as the underdog, you never see them exploiting your weaknesses, and it's like a New York swagger when you have that.
"You can see it when Shannon plays and she's knocking down big shots she does her little Shannon Bobbitt strut. That's hard to compete with because confidence is a big part of the game."
They also are rather chatty.
"They do talk a lot, Shannon especially," Alberta Auguste said. "She may be the smallest player on the court, but she tends to have a swagger regardless. That's incredible and fun to watch. I enjoyed playing with her these last two years. She's another juco transfer, and I think her attitude is great."
Stanford's JJ Hones said Gold-Onwude and Melanie Murphy, who is from Brooklyn and is out this season to recover from injury, clearly like their home city.
"Mel and Ros are always bragging about New York," Hones said. "I have to remind them we have two Oregon girls, too. Mel is like, ‘New York is better. The pizza is better. The Chinese food is better.' She'll find anything and say it's better in New York. They're very prideful of New York. People on the West Coast are very relaxed."
"They're always talking about swagger," Kayla Pedersen said. "And I'm like, ‘What is this swagger you're talking about?' The New Yorkers are very talkative."
BEST LINE: When Shannon Bobbitt was asked if 47 points would be enough against a team like Stanford, she answered, "If they have 46, yes."
ACE AND ICE: Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins are good friends and have known each other since they were in middle school. Wiggins recalled seeing Parker for the first time when they were at a 13U tournament in Florida.
"And she was like 6'2 at 12," Wiggins said.
They crossed paths in summer leagues and played on the USA team that took them out of the country.
"We love to shop," Parker said. "We've been in a lot of countries together. I feel like she's going to be a friend of mine for life. We always talk about how we're going to one day be moms sitting in the stands yelling at our kids going head to head against each other. I was like, ‘They're going to be on the same team.' She was like, ‘No, they're going to go head to head.' "
They are not confused for each other – Parker is 5 inches taller – but teammates have to figure out what to call them. CP3 didn't work for Parker if Courtney Paris was also around.
"We're so different, but we have the same name," Parker said. "I got called Parker a lot. Ice, Ace works best."
Wiggins also played last summer on the PanAm team with Alexis Hornbuckle and noticed her basketball instincts and ability to get in the passing lanes.
"She's very aggressive and her arms, they just like stretch or something," Wiggins said. "I don't know what it is, but she's tenacious."
TOUCH 'EM ALL: Nicky Anosike came to the Monday press conferences wearing a black T-shirt that read: "Touchin' Third Base."
When asked what it meant, Anosike first cleared the question with Pat Summitt – this is a close-knit and secretive team – and then said, "We all just kind of made promises to each other we would touch third base, which basically means you don't make it to the finish line unless you do what's necessary beforehand to be successful. … You can't get a home run unless you touch third base, which is what we've been focusing on the whole season."
The shirts were provided by Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach, and the players sleep in them "just to remind us that it's the little things that count, and we can't get to our ultimate goal without doing those little things," Anosike said.
The back of the shirt says: "The Tennessee Way."
"The Tennessee Way is doing things that no one else wants to do – working hard, 6 a.m. workouts, weights, sprints – and doing them to the best of your ability," Anosike said. "It's being great by doing the dirty work.
"I think I definitely fit into their system just with the way Pat is always preaching defense and rebounding, and I think that's what I'm good at. I think I definitely made the right decision, and I definitely think I made the right fit."
FITTIN' IN: When Candace Parker arrived at Tennessee by way of Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, she was horrified when she heard Tye'sha Fluker, a California native, say y'all. She vowed to never utter the word.
Parker now says it all the time and sprinkled in a few y'alls during her 30-minute interview with the media that was less question and answer and more conversational.
"Oh, God. I do. I'm a Southerner. I'm a Southern gal," Parker said. "My coaches tell me every day that I'm becoming more and more country. I catch myself saying y'all, but that just comes with the territory. Being in Tennessee for four years will do it to you.
"Tennessee will always be with me whether it's in the way I talk or in my heart. It's always going to be wherever I go."
WELCOME BACK: The Tennessee sections are filled with former Lady Vol players who have come to Tampa wearing orange and cheering for their alma mater. Among those seen in the Forum: Jody Adams, Tanya Haave, Bridgette Gordon, Carla McGhee, Daedra Charles, Kyra Elzy, Niya Butts, Tasha Butts, Semeka Randall, Tamika Catchings and Sidney Spencer. Kara Lawson also in Tampa because of her studio and commentary work for ESPN. Lawson popped into the Lady Vols locker room during the media time Monday and was warmly greeted.
COMMON RECRUITS: Top programs often target the same players, and Tennessee recruited Jayne Appel and Kayla Pedersen. Appel, a California native, made an unofficial visit to Tennessee in January of 2005, and remembers snow and Alexis Hornbuckle being tossed out of practice.
"I remember Alexis got actually kicked out of practice the day that I was there," Appel said with a laugh. "We're good friends now. We went to Brazil this past summer, and I still give her a hard time for it."
"It had to be right before the UConn game," Hornbuckle said. "It was a walk-through. It wasn't even a hard practice really, and Coach didn't like my attitude. If she doesn't like your attitude, you go. You go up, you talk to her, and you make it work for the next day and luckily I was able to play, and I didn't disappoint her. I kind of redeemed myself."
Tennessee won that game at Connecticut and went on to win the next two matchups, too. Hornbuckle will end her career with a perfect 3-0 record against UConn.
JUCO JOINED: Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste held a heartfelt celebration at center court after Sunday's win in which they hugged and laughed.
"She was saying juco players," Auguste said. "We've been here for two years and we feel like we've been through a lot even though we haven't. Being in another championship means a whole lot to us."
"We were excited that we won," Bobbitt said. "We were playing around."
The two came to Tennessee together two years ago after three players transferred.
"I've got Dean (Lockwood) to thank for Shannon, and I've got Nikki (Caldwell) to thank for Alberta," Pat Summitt said. "They found them. They got on the phone and they found us some players."
They were the first juco players that Summitt had added to the roster in 30 years.
"When I found out they were recruiting me I was kind of shocked," Auguste said. "I was like, ‘Tennessee wanted to recruit me?' I'm happy that I'm here. I wanted to play with the best and play against the best, and I knew that this was a great opportunity for me. I knew Pat would get the best out of me and help me to the last level."
The two are proud of what they've accomplished at Tennessee – they will both graduate in May with degrees in psychology, they have one national title and will play for a second one on Tuesday. But they haven't had time to ponder that.
"Not yet," Bobbitt said. "I'm going to sit back and wait until after we play (Tuesday) night. We definitely wanted to come out and set a good example about juco players taking a long route and letting people know that they still have a chance to go D1 at the top level and compete and play. I haven't really reflected back on it, but I will."
"We just live in the moment, just being excited every day," Auguste said. "We're just happy right now."
The players had plenty to adjust, too, starting with their first workouts with Heather Mason.
A series of sprints called the "Magic Six" was a watershed moment for Auguste.
"You have six different types of sprints," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "I'm not talking six sprints like up and back six times. The first sprint might be a double-suicide. The second sprint might be a big five, up and down five times. Everything is timed. Every time you have to turn a certain way, you have to touch the line, you have to run hard through the lines. Very small details.
"We made it all the way through five, we were on six and Alberta turned the wrong way. Guess what? We had to start the entire game all over again. She was frustrated. We were frustrated for being there because we've been here before.
"We're like Bird, ‘Turn the right way!' You've got to realize you can't really yell at somebody who's never been through it for making one mistake. She did a great job the entire workout and made one mistake. But that's how intense it is. She's like, ‘Man, I'm going home. I don't need this!' We looked at her and said, ‘You know what? It's OK. We've all made mistakes. We've all turned the wrong way.' It's just the heat of the moment. I think once that she saw that it's going to be tough love, but it's all love, then she was good.
Bobbitt's indoctrination into the Tennessee way came on a stationary bicycle.
"And then we go to our first bike workout with Shannon Bobbitt," Hornbuckle said. "The whole team is in there. Some of us are on the elliptical and some of us are on the bike doing a bike workout and bike sprints. Her little legs just seemed like they couldn't pedal fast enough for the sprint because it's short sprints and it's long sprints.
"Her little legs, they don't rotate that fast – they do when she's running – so she literally starts getting off the bike. If you decide to leave you'll get in trouble, but, guess what, we've got to start the entire workout all over."
That is when Alex Fuller, who was riding alongside Bobbitt, intervened.
"Alex Fuller actually puts her leg off her bike and is pedaling her bike and Shannon's bike," Hornbuckle said. "She pedaled for her. She said, ‘You're not getting off this bike. Sit down.' She was helping her. I think that was great for our team as far as saying, ‘If you're struggling we're going to pick you up whether it's preseason or on the court. No matter what we're going to pick you up.'
"You talk about tough love. Shannon is like, ‘I can't do this,' but she got through it. Another lesson learned."
Hornbuckle said both players adjusted from that point on to the team and what was expected.
"It was a learning experience for both of them," Hornbuckle said. "They saw that we wanted them here and we need them here. They've just grown tremendously since then."
Hornbuckle said she wouldn't hesitate to recommend Tennessee to a junior college player.
"I would recommend it because you're going to grow as a person as well as a player, and you're going to learn lessons that exceed the basketball court," Hornbuckle said. "It's going to take you into life."
But how did Fuller manage to pedal two bikes at sprint speed?
"Alex is amazing," Hornbuckle said. "I was like, ‘How did you do that?' "
"I don't know," Fuller said. "I just had to do it. I can't really explain. She didn't go anywhere. I was doing twice as much work as I had to, but she wasn't going anywhere."
ANOSIKE ARRIVAL: Nicky Anosike's family missed the pre-game ceremony on Senior Day in Knoxville because of flight delays out of the New Jersey/New York area. They made it to Sunday's game and let Anosike, and ESPN, know they were prompt this time.
"I am definitely going to remember my family being here holding up those signs," Anosike said. "They had two signs. One said, ‘Hey ESPN,' and the other one said, ‘The Anosike family is on time tonight.' I think ESPN said something on TV about my family always being late, but they really focused on trying to be on time this time."
BREAK OUT IN SONG: The players conducted interviews one-on-one with groups of reporters in "breakout rooms" that were bunched together and separated by blue curtains.
As the interviews neared the final minutes, the sounds of singing filtered into the curtained-off area that held Candace Parker. The players had their own mikes on their tables so the sound got louder as the lyrics came one line at a time spaced seconds apart for greater effect.
Parker: "What song are y'all singing? Nicky, quit singing songs. Shannon! Lex. Sorry. Oh my goodness."
Parker was still conducting interviews when the singing started and she started laughing, as did the media.
Anosike: "I believe I can fly."
Parker looked at the media, who were smiling and had stopped asking questions, and took her mike in hand.
Parker: "I believe I can touch the sky."
Anosike: "I think about it every night and day."
Auguste: "I spread my wings and fly away."
Media person: "This brings a whole new dimension to breakout rooms."
"This is us 24/7," Parker said. "We always sing. We get kicked out of restaurants for singing. We love to sing."
The singing stopped as the media wrapped up their questions, and Hornbuckle, who was telling the long war stories about Bobbitt and Auguste's conditioning debut, was the target as her teammates walked out.
Anosike: "Alexis, What you want?"
Bobbitt: "What you want?"
Parker: "You know I got it."
The players then laughed and smiled on the way back to the locker room with a stray lyric here and there as they made their way down the hall.
SOULJA DEAN: The assistant coaches come up with a theme in postseason for the players and put on accompanying skits for them when the tourney starts.
Dean Lockwood became the rapper Soulja Boy, known for the hit, "Crank That," and his fellow assistants, Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell, were the accompanying dancers.
"One time they had on Army jackets doing a little skit," Alexis Hornbuckle said. "We were like, ‘Man, our coaches are willing to do whatever to motivate us. So we have to be willing to do whatever to execute their game plan on the court. I can't go into detail. It's exclusive. I wish you all could be there, but you can't.
"The first time they did the skit this year was in the first round. We were caught off guard. I was cracking up. I was on the floor rolling around cracking up."
The assistants donned camo jackets in West Lafayette before the Purdue game for their skit.
"That was supposed to be under wraps," Lockwood said with a smile. "I don't know where that got out."
"We learned that Dean has no rhythm and Holly Warlick she really gets into the dance moves. Caldwell, she thinks she can do it," Parker said.
"That is so kind," Warlick said. "That makes me feel good if they think I can dance."
"It was a very, very watered-down version of the real deal," Lockwood said. "I can say some things about Candace's rhythm as well. That was a quick study. I had to learn that thing in about five to seven minutes. It was very comparable to my cheerleading debut. Never again. Two words. Never again. Somewhere somehow somebody could have snapped a shot. I've got a lot of former players who will give me grief for years if they ever catch that."
Lockwood as Soulja Boy is an image that should stay with the players for a lifetime.
"It was our idea," Warlick said of herself and Caldwell. "We just sucked Dean into it."
"That's probably one of the best decisions I've ever made was to hire Dean Lockwood," Pat Summitt said. "His enthusiasm, his energy, his positive approach on everything. He sees the good in everything. He brings out the best in our post game. He's been a very special member of our staff, and the kids love them."
"Anything we can do to relax them, and they don't get uptight," Warlick said. "They love our stuff. We'd do anything if they can be at ease. We're not too proud. We'll pull out all the stops."
LAST DANCE: The five starters for Tennessee are savoring these final days together as a team because they know that when the Lady Vol uniforms come off after Tuesday's game that is the last time ever.
Alex Fuller, who could have left with the class but will return for a fifth year, is also holding onto the moments.
"It will be bittersweet," Fuller said. "We all love each other. This is our last game together. This is our last practice together. This is our last dinner together. So we're going to cherish every moment that we spend with each other."
"Enjoying each other's company for the last few days we have together. It's been a roller coaster," Nicky Anosike said of her four postseasons. "A lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity, but you know what? I'm right where I wanted to be. I'm right where I dreamed of being since I started playing."
"We're happy as seniors just trying to win another championship," said Alberta Auguste, whose defensive commitment to guard Candice Wiggins was such that "if I have to I'll follow her to the restroom … if I have to follow her to a timeout, I will follow her. I'm going to do whatever it takes for us to win this championship."
"I'm excited. I'm sad. I'm happy. All of it," Shannon Bobbitt said.
Bobbitt has seemed the most sentimental at times about hanging on to her time at Tennessee.
What will she remember about Alexis Hornbuckle?
"Her intelligence on the game," Bobbitt said. "She's a great teammate. She's always encouraging, and she's always talking to you and trying to teach you things. She taught me a lot whether she knows it or not. Off the court she's just funny. She's down to earth and she's real cool."
About Candace Parker?
"Same thing. Very intelligent on the court and teaches me as much as she knows and off the court real cool and real mellow. She's real humble so I like how she handles herself because she has a lot of pressure and a lot of hype about her and still mellow and humble."
"She's quiet. She doesn't get into the fame and the hype. She handles her business when she's on the court."
"Oh, that's my roll dog. We always hang together. We always go places together. We both came in to Tennessee as jucos so we kind of clicked better and quicker. She's definitely a cool person as well."
About Pat Summitt?
"She's great. A mother figure. A coach. She's everything. Anything you could ask for. She's there to support you. She has great motives in helping you and being honest with you and being real with you. She's a great person and by far the best coach I have had."
Hornbuckle took a deep breath before answering about her time about to be coming to an end.
"Man, it's amazing," Hornbuckle said. "You feel like when you come in as a freshman everything takes forever. The preseason workouts you feel like preseason never ends. You get to practice and you feel like you don't get to that first game for a year. And after that it feels like everything rolls so quick. It's crazy.
"There's really no words to explain how I'm going to feel after the game, no matter the outcome. Just to realize that I won't be playing for Pat Summitt anymore and I won't be around the coaching staff that we have and I won't be around the players that we have, I won't be around a trainer like Jenny Moshak.
"It's crazy because I always joke with them I'm not calling y'all, I'm changing my number, don't call me, don't figure it out.' That's all jokes because as soon as I leave they're getting every number I have, everywhere to contact me because I never want to lose touch with these girls and I never want to lose touch with these coaches. It's going to be real hard. I probably will cry."
Hornbuckle's biggest accomplishment at Tennessee might be taking the steps to get on the same page with Summitt after her sophomore season. The two had their differences to that point.
"It grew as I grew," Hornbuckle said. "And actually Coach has changed over time. She learned to adapt and I think she realized you're dealing with a whole new era of young people. I think our freshmen class made her realize that a lot. We were bad. We were hardheaded, mouthy, can't tell us anything.
"I was close with Loree Moore and seeing her relationship with Coach even as a recruit, just seeing how crazy it was. They were going head to head all the time and obviously my freshman year seeing how she (Moore) was with Coach and how her relationship grew at the very end and I realized I didn't want to wait for four years to let that relationship grow. Because in the end she's trying to help you, and it's all about love. After I broke my wrist (in her sophomore season) I realized I had to take a step back.
"My relationship has grown, and I'm thankful for that, and I am going to let it continue to grow. I will definitely keep in touch with her because I know that she had our best interests at heart. You always have to keep in touch with good people."
Anosike sees Summitt as someone who will now become a close friend.
"After I leave here I think we'll more so take on the role of friendship," Anosike said. "I think there hasn't really been time to be friends because it's always coach-player relationship, but once that relationship is over I think we can step into the role of being friends."
Parker even brought along a camera to try to preserve some of this final Final Four.
"I'm not a big picture-taker, but I brought my camera, but I forgot my charger so I can't take pictures," Parker said. "I've just enjoyed the moment."
It was hard for her to think just yet about the inevitability of the end.
"I don't even want to talk about it," Parker said. "It's been a great four years here. I love these guys and it's tough because no matter the outcome, no matter if we win or lose, that's going to be the last time that we ever play together, all five of us. It's a tough thing to grasp, but I'd rather be doing this than what the alternative is. It's got to end. All stories have got to come to an end sometime and hopefully we can end ours with a national championship.
"Coach Summitt has been everything and more that I expected. She tells me a lot that she's really happy that I decided to come to Tennessee, but I'm really excited that she decided to recruit me to come to Tennessee because it's been the best four years of my entire life. Obviously the decision making process was hard but looking back I couldn't have made a better decision. Coach has been there through a lot of things that have happened to me in my career from my knee injuries to my parents getting divorced, off-the-court things that all coaches don't have to be there for you, have their door open to you.
"She's so much than a coach, and she means the world to me and everything I do I want her approval and just for her to say it's OK."
This class has earned Summitt's respect and trust. She also has genuinely enjoyed them.
"It could be very emotional, but I've got a job to do before I cry," Summitt said. "We always say once a Lady Vol, always a Lady Vol, and they'll come back. They'll be back just like all the others, and a lot of them are here. They'll always be a part of the family."