Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Lady Vols Have Score To Settle With Texas

The answer is December 22, 2000 and the score was 67-59.

The question you ask? When was the last time the University of Tennessee Lady Vols defeated the University of Texas Longhorns on the basketball court?

It’s not a misprint and is a great sports trivia question. Almost five years have elapsed since the Lady Vols have emerged victorious against the Longhorns. It does seem unbelievable considering that the Lady Vols are customarily the dominators instead of the dominated. That’s how legendary head coach Pat Summitt became the winningest college coach of all time and is on the way to capturing an unfathomable 900th victory later this season. How many programs can only dream of what Texas coach Jody Conradt, who herself is a legend having amassed 755 wins in 29 seasons at Texas (overall, she has 872 wins including 869 entering this season), and her players have accomplished during their last four meetings with Tennessee?

When the Longhorns defeated Tennessee by 16 in Austin on Thanksgiving night 2004, the 74-59 loss was Tennessee’s worst defeat of the season. While four straight losses to the Longhorns was nothing to be proud of, it paled compared to six consecutive setbacks to the enemy opponent of the Big Orange Nation otherwise known as Connecticut. Then January came and so did UConn to Thompson-Boling Arena where Tennessee triumphantly sent the Huskies back to Storrs with a loss much to the ecstasy and relief of Big Orange loyalists.

Let’s do a quick review of how the number one Lady Vols celebrated this past Thanksgiving playing at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. One foe was the Michigan State team that ended Tennessee’s aspirations of a seventh national championship at April’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

Coach Summitt didn’t have to motivate her players for this rematch. Just ask Shanna Zolman, one of two seniors on this year’s squad along with Tye’sha Fluker.

“We were so hyped.” Zolman told reporters following Thursday night’s game. “We wanted Michigan State so bad.”

The Spartans were ready to redefine paradise after losing by 28 to the Lady Vols with Zolman leading the way with 19 points in the 83-55 shellacking.

The Lady Vols returned from the Virgin Islands still unbeaten at 5-0. However, Maryland gave Tennessee its toughest battle before the Lady Vols emerged victorious 80-75 Saturday.

Now Tennessee is preparing for a much awaited visitor on Thursday night at 7pm for a showdown that will be nationally televised on ESPN2 (TalkRadio 102.3 locally).

Texas is coming to Knoxville.

The 18th–ranked Longhorns are 3-1 since losing to New Mexico in the season opener. Texas is led by junior All-American Tiffany Jackson, who along with Zolman is a pre-season candidate for the Wade Trophy, awarded to the national player of the year.

Jackson has averaged 11.3 points and 6.8 points in the Longhorns’ wins over Sam Houston State and future Tennessee opponents George Washington and South Carolina.

The leading scorer for Texas has been freshman Erika Arriaran who has averaged 12.8 points an outing.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s redshirt freshman sensation Candace Parker has lived up to her much publicized credentials. The 6-3 forward whose every move on the court is being photographed in anticipation of her first collegiate dunk, leads Lady Vol scoring with a 15.6 average as well as rebounds with almost nine per game.

On the defensive front, Parker has had 15 blocks and seven steals.

Zolman is averaging 14.6 points while sophomore Alexis Hornbuckle, who scored a career high of 19 against Maryland, is the third Tennessee player averaging double digits with 11.4.

Hornbuckle is also leading the team in steals with 14.

Sidney Spencer is averaging 7.6 points per game but the junior reserve forward has been perfect from the free throw line connecting on all eight attempts.

No Lady Vol has played less than 39 minutes total in the first five games this season, a testimony to the unending Tennessee depth. They have outscored the opponents 417-278.

This Tennessee team is traditionally living up to all of the expectations to which it is so accustomed to season after season.

Come Thursday night, one streak may continue or a new one might start.

If Candace, Shanna, Alexis and their Lady Vol teammates have it their way, it won’t be five losses in a row to the Longhorns.

A new streak will begin at one for Tennessee against Texas.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Paradise visit left message

Lady Vols realize what lies ahead this season

ST. THOMAS, VIRGIN ISLANDS -- In this warm, idyllic setting, Tennessee got a glimpse of the cold, foreboding women's basketball season that lies ahead.

Make that an eyeful.

Maryland, alone, supplied a 40-minute object lesson in the final of the Paradise Jam, leading for nearly 10 minutes of the second half and leading by as many as eight points before UT prevailed, 80-75.

"Maryland gave us a heads-up of what we're walking into,'' sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle said.

UT coach Pat Summitt was more blunt in saying, "We got our cage rattled tonight. It's a good thing for us."

Michigan State and Gonzaga gave Tennessee their best shots here as well. But the performance of No. 10 Maryland (4-1) was worthy of a NCAA regional final or a Final Four.

"They're a good team,'' UT guard Shanna Zolman said. "They played extremely well.''

By comparison, No. 2 Tennessee (5-0) wasn't too shabby either. Redshirt freshman Candace Parker, who averaged 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks for the three games, was the event's most valuable player. Hornbuckle deserved equal consideration, or at least a spot on the all-tournament team. In the final two games, she gathered 31 points and nine steals. While few of the Lady Vols seemed particularly inspired against Gonzaga on Friday, Hornbuckle, by UT's count, was recording 14 deflections.

"She was the best defender in this tournament at the guard position -- in my opinion,'' Summitt said.

The Lady Vols had an idea of what they were getting into this season. Now it should be as clear as the Caribbean waters that UT's bull's-eye has been magnified by the presence of Parker and all of the preseason hype surrounding her and the team.

Afterward, Zolman and Parker already were talking about No. 18 Texas and No. 15 Stanford, the next stops on UT's journey. The Longhorns, who have won four in a row against Tennessee, visit Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night. Tennessee plays at Stanford on Sunday.

"I didn't really realize how tough our schedule was until you step back and look at it,'' Parker said.

Or start wading into it. The season doesn't figure to get any easier, particularly if UT doesn't adjust its response.

The Lady Vols need to become better rebounders. Maryland owned the boards by a 41-32 margin. Michigan State also outrebounded UT on Thursday.

"There's no reason why we didn't rebound," Parker said after the Maryland game. "There's no excuse, in that game, for me to only have eight rebounds.''

Nice thought but Tennessee also needed more from centers Tye'sha Fluker and Nicky Anosike, who combined for six points and four rebounds against the Terrapins. Their production barely exceeded their nine combined fouls. They were eclipsed totally by Maryland's powerful post duo of Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper (32 points, 23 rebounds).

Conversely, UT could've gotten by with a little less from Zolman, who shot 4-for-16 from the floor against Maryland and was 14-for-45 for the three days.

Take away Zolman's numbers and the Lady Vols' team shooting percentage for the Jam was above 46 percent (68-for-147). Of course, they don't want to subtract any of Zolman's contributions. Still, the totals need to change.

"She has forced more this year than she has her entire career,'' Summitt said. "She's a senior. It's the grand finale. But she's a smart player. She'll understand and learn.''

Summitt's tone wasn't one of concern. Zolman tried to echo the sentiment.

"I don't feel any pressure to go out and score double digits every night,'' she said. "I'm not trying to force myself to do that.

"My eyes get so big when I get the ball. I'm getting good looks. I want to knock them down. I need to relax more.''

She had her chance to chill out Sunday. The team was scheduled to visit St. John and the island home of country music star Kenny Chesney.

For the occasion, she and Lady Vols could wear the Paradise Jam championship caps they received Saturday night. The caps were appropriately colored orange. Considering UT's play, they were a good fit as well.

Notebook: Three games in three days didn't adversely impact any of the Lady Vols who had knee injuries last season. Forward Alex Fuller was limited not by a sore knee but by a strained hip flexor.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Maryland Terrapins/Tennessee Lady Volunteers Recap

(2) Tennessee 80, (10) Maryland 75

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle each scored 19 points and No. 2 Tennessee rallied to a 80-75 victory over No. 10 Maryland in the Paradise Jam tournament Saturday.

Sidney Spencer added 13 points and Parker finished with eight rebounds for the Lady Vols (5-0).

Crystal Langhorne had 19 points and 11 rebounds for Maryland (4-1). Marissa Coleman scored 16 and sophomore Laura Harper finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Coleman scored to give Maryland a 42-41 lead in the second half, and the Terps moved out to a 51-46 advantage when Harper made two free throws with 13:10 left. Ashleigh Newman added a foul shot to extend the lead.

Tennessee battled back and regained the lead at 64-63 on Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood's jumper with 6 minutes left.

The Lady Vols led by three points with two minutes left and tried to run down the clock. Coleman was called for an over-and-back violation after a steal, and Wiley-Gatewood was whistled for a foul after a Tennessee miss, putting Kristi Toliver at the line.

Toliver made both free throws, pulling the Terps within 76-75.

Shanna Zolman missed a long field goal attempt and Maryland had possession with 5.3 seconds left.

Spencer stole the inbounds pass and was fouled. She made both free throws and Maryland's ensuing inbounds pass flew into the stands with 2 seconds left.

Parker was fouled on the following inbounds pass and made two free throws to help close out the win.

Tennessee Lady Volunteers/Gonzaga Bulldogs Recap

(2) Tennessee 79, Gonzaga 65

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Unhappy with her team's performance in the first half, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt gave her players a quick history lesson.

Nicky Anoskie scored 15 points to lead No. 2 Tennessee to its fourth straight victory, 79-65 over Gonzaga in the Paradise Jam tournament on Friday night.

Tye'sha Fluker added 13 points and Candace Parker 12 for the Lady Vols, who face No. 10 Maryland on Saturday. The Terps defeated No. 9 Michigan State 75-61.

Anne Bailey scored 22 points and Katy Ridenour had 17 points for Gonzaga, which faces Michigan State on Saturday.

Gonzaga shot 58.8 percent in a first half that included four ties and six lead changes. Tennessee led by seven points at the break.

Summitt wasn't happy with the Lady Vols' first-half effort.

"I told them, 'You just don't understand. It's Tennessee,"' Summitt said. "So, we had a little history lesson at halftime. "I said, 'You have to understand, everyone is going to bring their A game against you.'

"I told them I'm not going to motivate you. You motivate yourself. This is your team. There wasn't any panic. You've got to understand, we started two freshmen, two sophomores and one senior. We are young. We're a young basketball team."

Tennessee started the second half with more energy and extended its lead to 21 points in the first five minutes of the second half.

Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves was pleased with his team's effort.

"I've never been one for moral victories, but I'm really proud of our team," Graves said. "We didn't give in and give up."

Summitt was excited about a matchup against Maryland.

"It will be a whole different game. We're ready," Summitt said. "They're impressive, very talented, and we have to be ready to play.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Michigan State Spartans/Tennessee Lady Volunteers Recap

2) Tennessee 83, (9) Michigan St. 55

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Shanna Zolman scored 19 points and Candice Parker added 14 to lead No. 2 Tennessee to a 93-55 victory over ninth-ranked Michigan State in the Paradise Jam tournament Thursday night.

Parker also had nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks for the Lady Vols (3-0), who will play Gonzaga on Friday.

Lindsay Bowen scored 19 points to lead Michigan State (2-1).

The Lady Vols led the entire game, but the Spartans kept it relatively close in the first half, trailing only 37-27 at the break. Tennessee shot 57 percent from the field in the second half to pull away.

"We calmed down a little bit in the second half and started taking better shots," coach Pat Summit said.

The Spartans committed 20 turnovers and shot 33 percent.

"You move on. You take the lessons from this game and you go after Maryland," said coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose team plays No. 10 Maryland on Friday.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

TV analyst picks Tennessee but says watch for upsets

ST. THOMAS - Ask anyone involved with Paradise Jam who the favorite is in the ultra-competitive St. John Division and you'll get the same answer: Tennessee.

So The Daily News decided to go outside the tournament umbrella for a different perspective, tracking down Fox college basketball analyst Brenda Van Lengen to get the expert's take on who will come out on top.

Her answer?

"Tennessee is definitely the favorite."

So much for a second opinion.

It seems the Lady Vols are a unanimous choice to win a tournament championship in the most prestigious division lineup ever assembled at Paradise Jam, and with good reason.

"They return the core of a team that went to the Final Four, plus some outstanding young players who were injured last year," Van Lengen said.

The Lady Vols finished 30-5 last year and made their 20th NCAA Tournament semifinal appearance in the last 29 years under head coach Pat Summitt. Tennessee returns eight players from a year ago, including three starters, and adds red-shirt freshman phenom Candace Parker after the 6-foot-3 forward sat out all of last season with a knee injury.

Tennessee is ranked No. 1 in the USA Today-ESPN coaches poll and No. 2 in The Associated Press poll.

Van Lengen will do color commentary for the live television broadcast of tonight's games for cable network Fox College Sports, joining play-by-play man Mark Brown. Van Lengen has done plenty of studying on Tennessee's Paradise Jam competition and admits nothing will come easy for the Lady Vols with No. 9 Michigan State and No. 10 Maryland in the mix.

"That division is loaded," she said. "There are three teams ranked in the top 10 in the United States, and add to that Gonzaga, which had a 23-game winning streak last year. Tennessee is the favorite, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Maryland or Michigan State win it either."

Michigan State was the National Championship runner-up last season, advancing to the NCAA title game after defeating Tennessee in a Final Four matchup. Maryland is an up-and-coming team that shot up the rankings last year with an impressive 22-10 record and a second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins did it with a young team featuring five freshman and are expected to improve again this season after welcoming their third consecutive top 10 recruiting class. The Terps could throw a scare into Tennessee and Michigan State.

"I think Maryland is a team that can really pull off some wins," Van Lengen said. "I don't know that I would even call them upsets, but I guess to the average fan it might seem like an upset."

In the bracketed St. Thomas Division, Van Lengen gives the edge to Minnesota over Virginia, Alabama and Nevada. Minnesota was a Sweet 16 team last season and comes to St. Thomas off a big win over then-No. 11 Stanford on Sunday.

"Minnesota is just two years removed from a women's Final Four appearance. They're one of the top teams in the Big Ten and I think they're definitely a favorite," Van Lengen said.

Virginia, who was ousted from the NCAA Tournament last year by Minnesota, could give the Golden Gophers a fight for the division title. The Cavaliers are a perennial Tournament team, making 21 appearances in the NCAAs all-time, and have one of the top coaches in women's college basketball in Debbie Ryan.

Alabama could be a tough out for both those teams. The Crimson Tide plays in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference with the likes of Maryland, North Carolina and top-ranked Duke and is unlikely to be intimidated by a challenge.

From top to bottom, Van Lengen, who is working Paradise Jam for the second time, ranks this year's field among the very best she's seen anywhere.

"It's very exciting to have this level of competition in November," she said. "Normally, you'd have to be at a conference tournament or a Final Four to see this many good teams. It's really like bringing a Final Four, or an Elite Eight, to the Virgin Islands."

Women's tournament promises show-stopper plays

ST. THOMAS - It is said that behind every great men's college basketball tournament there is an even greater women's tournament.

OK, so maybe you've never heard that particular axiom. But now that you have, believe it, because undeniable proof is on the way starting tonight.

On the heels of the most exciting and competitive men's Paradise Jam to date, eight Division I women's college basketball teams descend on St. Thomas for a tournament that has all the ingredients to become the gold standard against which every women's Paradise Jam to come will be measured.

Five NCAA Tournament teams from last season, including four teams ranked among the Top 12 in the nation this season, lead a stacked field for the 2005 Paradise Jam that will take place over the next three days at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center. The teams are divided into two divisions, and a champion will be named from each.

Gonzaga, Maryland, Michigan State and Tennessee will tangle in the round-robin St. John Division. The bracketed St. Thomas Division features Alabama, Minnesota, Nevada and Virginia. The tournament culminates Saturday with consolation and championship games in the St. Thomas Division and the final two matchups of the St. John Division.

"This is the strongest field assembled in the past couple years anywhere, except, of course, in the Final Four," Paradise Jam executive director Nels Hawkinson said. "And we have some teams here that could end up in the Final Four this year."

Hawkinson named Minnesota, Maryland, Tennessee and Michigan State as possible national semifinalists. All four were NCAA Tournament teams in 2004-05, and Tennessee and Michigan State both reached the Final Four.

Historically, Paradise Jam has attracted some of the nations' elite teams since its inception as a four-team women's tournament in 2000. All four teams that first year - LSU, Southwest Missouri State, Penn State and Texas Tech - were ranked in the Top 25. Since then, the tourney has continued to attract some of the most desirable women's programs in college basketball. Of the teams currently ranked by the Associated Press, 11 have now appeared at Paradise Jam, and at least two others - tradition-rich Connecticut and up-and-coming Temple - have committed to attend the tournament within the next two years.

"I think it's the fact the Paradise Jam has a really great reputation," Hawkinson said on the success. "The tournament is extremely efficient, well organized - and coaches love that. Everybody has a secret sauce, and ours isn't really a secret as much as it is just staying consistent."

There is quite a bit of luck involved with assembling a field as prestigious as this year's collection. With schools signing contracts one or two years before they actually appear in the tournament, it is difficult for organizers to know how good a team will be by the time they finally get to the Virgin Islands. But the stars have aligned for Paradise Jam in 2005 with the sort of elite competition that is rarely seen.

Of course, the chances of having an outstanding tournament increase exponentially when you sign a team like Tennessee.

"You know when you bring in a team like Tennessee that they're almost always going to get to the Final Four," Hawkinson said. "There are other teams that you know will challenge to get there. Maryland is one of those teams, Michigan State of course and Virginia's been there forever."

Tennessee and head coach Pat Summit have come to epitomize winning. Summit last season became the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, now standing in first place on the all-time list with 884 coaching victories in 31-plus seasons at the helm.

The Lady Vols are currently ranked No.1 in the USA Today-ESPN Coaches' poll and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. They become only the second team to enter Paradise Jam with a first in the nation in at least one major poll. Duke was the nation's No. 1 team when they won the Paradise Jam title in 2002.

Tennessee has advanced to the Final Four 20 times in the past 29 years and has won six national championships under Summitt, but last year was not one of those championship seasons. The Lady Vols have Michigan State to blame for that. The Spartans knocked off Tennessee in their Final Four matchup, stunning the Lady Vols with a come-from-behind 68-64 win.

The teams meet again at 9:30 tonight in a much-hyped rematch that will be nationally televised. Subplots abound, not the least of which will be the revenge factor for Tennessee. The arena is expected to be packed for that premiere matchup, and a gaggle of decked-out youngsters is guaranteed with tournament organizer Basketball Travelers Inc. donating more than 700 tickets to students at local schools.

And the Virgin Islands fans won't be the only interested party. A long list of VIPs will be on-hand, including legendary U.S. Olympic Team coach Billie Moore and head coaches from several WNBA teams.

Television coverage of the games, originally scheduled to be broadcast only on cable network Fox College Sports, has expanded to include at least five regional markets of Fox Sports Net and an additional pick-up of the preceding Maryland vs. Gonzaga game by Comcast's Mid-Atlantic region - which includes the Baltimore and Washington D.C. markets.

Those additional markets could increase the tournament's television exposure to a potential audience of more than 100 million homes across the country, according to Hawkinson.

Lady Vols tip off tonight in Paradise Jam

The Lady Vols tip off their Paradise Jam tonight. There’s no tournament trophy at stake – it’s sort of like an all-comers meet – but the four teams will get a post-season sensation in November.

Three of the teams are nationally ranked by the Associated Press – Tennessee, No. 2; Michigan State, No. 10; and Maryland, No. 14 – and Gonzaga’s coach, Kelly Graves, thinks his team this year could finish better than last year’s, which made it to the second round of the Women’s NIT in the post-season.

The prime time game on Thanksgiving night is Tennessee-Michigan State (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports Net, Lady Vol Radio Network), a rematch of last year’s Final Four semifinal game in which the Lady Vols squandered a 16-point second half lead and fell 68-64 to the Spartans. In the off-season the players used the loss as motivation during conditioning workouts. Now that the 2005-06 season is officially under way, the players have said it’s behind them. Coach Pat Summitt has adopted the same line.

“Neither of these teams are the same ones that played in Indianapolis,” Summitt said. “We are typically a team that wants to go in and dictate with defense, board play and take good shots. In our last game with Michigan State, the one thing we constantly reminded our team of was that our scouting report defense let us down, and our defensive system also let us down.”

Forward Candace Parker, who didn’t play last year as she rehabbed from knee surgery but who watched the game from a courtside seat on the bench, said she learned a lot in her role as “Coach Parker.” She specifically mentioned how important the scouting report was and what happens when players don’t incorporate it. Assistant coach Holly Warlick did the scouting report for tonight’s game against Michigan State, 2-0. Presumably she had everyone’s attention on the island resort at Wednesday’s practice. The assistant coaches split up tape of the three teams so each could prepare a detailed report. Dean Lockwood has Gonzaga; Nikki Caldwell has Maryland.

“Formidable. All three formidable,” Lockwood said. “We’re responsible for breaking that down and presenting it to the team, coming up with helping Pat with the game plan. It’s a cliché, but it’s a game one by one, game at a time thing. We’re not thinking at all right now about Gonzaga or Maryland. We’re thinking strictly about Michigan State. After that game’s over, we think about the second one. It’s going to be three great tests back to back to back.”

“Everyone has a team they’re watching,” Summitt said. “We’re pulling out things that we might see and have to defend, which gives us a gauge for defensive preparation, offensive preparation. We know we’re going to see man, what kind of zone we’re going to see, pressure. We’re trying to cover all of our bases and what kind of sets – whether we have to defend motion or box sets. There’s a good variety. It’s helped us (in practice) get a lot of looks.”

Sophomore Alexis Hornbuckle played in that Final Four game last season – and played well overall. In the locker room after the game she said the hurt from the loss wouldn’t fully end until she wins a national title. And she also knows that although championships aren’t won in November, the groundwork can be laid for one. With that in mind, she knows tonight’s game is important for the future, but she cautions against getting too caught up in the past.

“You have to put it behind you,” Hornbuckle said. “It’s two different teams. You can’t take it personal. Everybody has to go out there and play their game and play the team game. The media is going to show it, they’re going to hype it up, they’re going to show some recaps, they’re going to talk about the 16-point deficit and them coming back. As long as we don’t listen to the news and the media and people in our ears, I think we’ll be OK.”

For Hornbuckle, who is one of the most-competitive people on the team (she has said she wants to beat somebody in any endeavor, even one as simple as finishing a container of Gatorade the fastest), the bottom line is winning. Tennessee’s intention is to sweep the games on St. Thomas.

“Of course,” she said. “If you don’t go in there trying to win all three games then you won’t bring it every game, every possession. I think you have to have the mentality that you want to win, and you want to send a message.”

Would the team rather play three in a row than have regular gaps in between games with practice sessions?

“Fifty-fifty,” Hornbuckle said. “We have a lot of knee problems so the thing is to stay healthy. It’s going to be more mental than physical I think.”

Hornbuckle has tendonitis in her knees that is manageable. Four players – Parker, Alex Fuller, Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood and Sidney Spencer – are coming off knee surgeries that claimed part or all of their season last year. Freshman Lindsey Moss has missed practice time this month after hyperextending her knee.

Summitt has said depth is a key this season – and will come into play early in the Paradise Jam. Tennessee, 2-0, used all 11 players in the first two games. She would like to be able to go deep into her bench this week, too.

"I think these games will really give us a better indication of who’s ready to play, and who’s ready to play when the game is on the line,” Summitt said. “Our defense I think it’s better. Our decision-making at times it’s been very poor. The same people are making the same mistakes. That concerns me. What that means is in tight games you may shorten your bench. You want to be efficient.”

In terms of minutes played, she will pass them out as they’re earned. Her intent is to distribute the minutes throughout the team, but there are no guarantees.

“I am but not at the expense of efficiency,” Summitt said. “If that has to come into account, maybe instead of going 11 deep, we go nine deep or we go eight deep. They’ll all get their opportunities. I’ll put them on the court, and they’ll have the opportunity to keep themselves there.”

Before the season started Summitt jokingly asked who put together UT’s schedule and said, “We lost our mind with scheduling.” But in her weekly teleconference she acknowledged that although it wasn’t a carefree holiday tournament, all four teams are playing under the same format of three games in three days. The experimental rules will be used in these games – a 10-second backcourt call and the pushing of the 3-point line back from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20 feet, 6 inches.

“St. Thomas is a great place for us to go for a tournament. At the same time, this is not your typical trip to St. Thomas in terms of competition,” Summitt said. “We may have decided at one time that we wanted good competition. Now that you start looking at it you think, ‘Wow, this is going to be tough.’ But it’s no more difficult for Tennessee than it is for anyone else there because we’re all in a situation where we have back-to-back-to-back games. I think we’ll learn a lot about our team and certainly will come back with a better understanding of who has the mental toughness and what we need to work on when we play quality opponents. We will find out a lot about our strengths and weaknesses.”

The level of competition will certainly let Tennessee know if its defense and post play are significantly improved. The Lady Vols’ offensive efficiency has been all the rage so far this season, but the other three teams on the island will provide a much-stiffer test for Tennessee to gauge its progress than Stetson and UTC did, although Chattanooga is a well-coached team that has been picked to win the Southern Conference this season. Stetson, which also is picked to win its conference (Atlantic Sun), had its moments but was overmatched from the beginning.

“What a great test for our basketball team early,” Lockwood said of the Paradise Jam. “Pat knew exactly what she was doing and what she was getting into and that was precisely why she did it. She wanted to see in November what we have.”

POST PLAY: Against Stetson on Sunday the starting post players – Tye'sha Fluker and Nicky Anosike – were 1-9. What a difference 24 hours makes. Against UTC on Monday, Anosike was 4-4 and Fluker was 3-6. Anosike came off the bench; Fluker set the tone early.

“Obviously Sunday we didn’t perform well,” Lockwood said. “We didn’t make shots. It all looks better when the ball goes in. So collectively, we were 1-9 in our two starters … in terms of our interior we just didn’t do a good job. (Monday) was much better. Tye started the game for us and was just solid. She just gave us some solid play in there. That’s what we’re looking for. We just need to be solid. Nicky came in and was just so much more composed and poised. She didn’t look frantic; she didn’t look rushed. I was so proud of both of them for that. We’ve got to keep that going. Now it’s got to become consistent.”

“I thought our post play was a lot better,” Summitt said after the UTC game. “I thought Nicky and had a lot of composure offensively. I thought Tye started the game just really big on the inside. So knowing that we have depth there I think it’s important that we focus on two bigs being in the game and really trying to be productive, play four or five or six minutes and then we can change. I don’t mind rotating two at a time as long as they bring the kind of play that we’re looking for.”

One of the biggest bright spots off the bench was the play of sophomore center Sybil Dosty. She had 11 rebounds and eight points in 16 minutes.

“Eleven rebounds, eight points, she was three of five from the field, she had five offensive rebounds,” said Lockwood, who rattled off Dosty’s stats without looking at a box score. “She came in and just from a sheer energy standpoint – now you’re talking about Nicky-type energy – and this is what we hope Sybil understands from this game, that if she can bring this our team, how much more effective will our frontline be when she contributes that? And from a personal standpoint, it opens the door for her to get more minutes and more playing time. Anytime you get somebody to go out there and be that productive with the minutes that they got, there are going to be more. You can only hope that the light goes on with players. We hope the light goes on with her, and she realizes that is what we’re looking for. That’s how we want her to play.”

Dosty was fully aware of that and said before the season opener that she wanted to use the first two games to show Summitt and the coaching staff what she could do and set herself up for a productive season.

“Before the game (against UTC) he was pushing the energy factor, just come out with a lot of energy,” Dosty said.

Dosty sat out the two exhibition games for missing class so her performance was particularly satisfying.

“When the bench players come in we have to keep the same energy level as when the game started,” Dosty said.

When Anosike was asked if she also was trying to show Summitt what she could do, she gave a thoughtful response. Her situation was much different. Dosty missed games for disciplinary reasons; she had to show Summitt she was committed both on and off the court. Anosike didn’t start for production reasons; she needed to show her teammates they could count on her on the court.

“Obviously what Pat thinks is important, but when I play I think that what my teammates think about me is the most important,” Anosike said. “I’m just trying to prove to them that I want to do it for them.”

DOM’S DEFENSE: The coaching staff knows junior forward Dominique Redding can fill up a box score with offense. She played 11 minutes against Stetson and had eight points, including two three-pointers. She played 15 minutes against Chattanooga and had seven points. But against UTC she displayed some defensive intensity and was often in a lockdown defensive stance that Summitt has implored her to deploy.

“Dom was working,” Lockwood said. “And again that – I hope she understands – pleases us tremendously to have her be in a position where she’s out there working defensively – not just playing the offensive end – but really working and committing to being in a stance and working defensively.”

Monday, November 21, 2005

Chattanooga Lady Mocs/Tennessee Lady Volunteers Recap

(2) Tennessee 92, Chattanooga 50

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Shanna Zolman scored 20 points and second-ranked Tennessee beat Chattanooga 92-50 on Monday night.

Candace Parker added 14 points and nine rebounds for the Lady Vols (2-0), who beat Stetson 83-33 in their opener Sunday night.

They were playing in back-to-back games to prepare for the three-day Paradise Jam in St. Thomas later this week.

The Lady Mocs (1-2) gave Tennessee a little bit more of a challenge than Stetson but not much.

The teams were even in the opening minutes until the Lady Vols broke a tie and went ahead on a 10-0 run that included two 3-pointers by Zolman.

Tennessee pushed its lead to 12 and then put the game away with a 17-2 run to go up 42-17 with three minutes left before halftime. The Lady Vols opened the second half with a 14-2 run to stretch the lead to 35.

The win was Tennessee's 14th straight over its sister school in the university system about 100 miles south.

Chattanooga was led by Katasha Brown 11 points, and Alex Anderson and Tiffani Roberson each had 10 points.

Sybil Dosty added 11 rebounds for the Lady Vols. Zolman shot 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.

The Lady Vols have their first big game of the season Thursday against No. 9 Michigan State. Tennessee lost to the Spartans 68-64 in the national semifinals last season after squandering a 16-point lead.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt used all 11 players in various combinations, and everyone scored at least four points apiece.

Parker, who won a dunk contest for McDonald's high school All-Americans in 2004, sat out last season to recover from two knee surgeries. She had chances to dunk several times in the opener but didn't get as close Monday night.

Parker appeared to hurt her knee in the first half when she was fouled and fell, but she was on the bench for only a short time.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stetson Hatters/Tennessee Lady Volunteers Recap

(2) Tennessee 83, Stetson 33

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Candace Parker's debut at Tennessee resulted in a double-double but no dunks.

She had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the No. 2 Lady Vols' 83-33 win over Stetson on Sunday.

Parker, who won the McDonald's high school dunk contest in 2004, sat out last season as a freshman to recover from knee injuries.

"It was amazing," Parker said of her first game. "It was a great feeling because I've waited so long to play for Tennessee."

Parker teased the crowd with above-the-rim play, but made no dunks. Only three women have dunked in a college game.

Coach Pat Summitt, who has given Parker the green light to dunk, was pleased, particularly with the basics.

"I think overall Candace had a solid game," Summitt said. "I was pleased with her defense."

Summitt's 883rd victory was among the easiest start in her 32-year coaching career. The court at Thompson-Boling Arena was named "The Summitt" after she passed Dean Smith to become the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history during last year's NCAA tournament.

Stetson led 6-1 in the opening minutes before the Lady Vols took over. They outscored the Hatters 48-6 the rest of the first half.

Tennessee started the second half with an 8-0 run to go ahead 57-12, and Stetson finally ended the drought with Sharnesha Smith's 3 with 15:36 remaining.

By then it was too late for the smaller Hatters, who earned a trip to the NCAA tournament last year as the Atlantic Sun champions. They lost 70-36 to LSU in the first round in Knoxville.

"We knew we were going to run into a buzz saw," Stetson coach Dee Romine said.

Parker, listed at 6-foot-3, guarded Stetson's 5-7 Nefertiti Walker, who finished with 15 points.

Parker went to the bench with 12 minutes to go, and the Lady Vols finished the game with mostly reserves.

Alexis Hornbuckle and Sidney Spencer each had 13 points and Shanna Zolman added 11.

Parker, who began dunking in high school, had fans on the edge of their seats several times hoping to witness history.

She had three straight chances to dunk in the final 2 minutes of the first half.

Parker stole the ball and was fouled going to the basket on the break and missed, but made both free throws. Then she jumped to catch a pass from Zolman by the basket, but dumped it off in mid-air to Spencer for an easy two points.

She got another steal and streaked toward the basket. Instead of dunking, she lifted the ball in one hand and placed it in the cylinder.

"I was thinking about it but (the defender) was kind of close. So I didn't want to risk getting hurt," Parker said. "But I think if the opportunity presents itself in the next game, then I'll take it."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Fly Vol: Parker ready to soar

have a JEWEL!!! in Parker!!! Wow!!!''

You'll have to excuse the exclamation points from Tennessee Lady Vols fans. They had waited a year to watch Candace Parker play, after all. And judging from her first two games -- and her popularity on a Tennessee message board, ''The SUmmiTT'' at -- she was worth waiting for.

''Where on campus will 'Candace Parker Drive' be?''

Playing both forward positions and the wing in coach Pat Summitt's offense, Parker did a little bit of everything for the Lady Vols in their first two games, exhibitions played on their home court.

In her debut against Dalhousie University of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which the Lady Vols won 131-40 (yes, women's basketball powers schedule patsies, too), Parker had 20 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and three steals in 19 minutes.

In her second game, a 101-55 victory over Carson-Newman College, Parker scored 19 points and added six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 19 minutes. Her field-goal percentage stands at 84 percent (16-for-19). Oh, and Parker, a 6-3 redshirt freshman, also jumped center.

''Insane!! The girl's a machine!!!''

For Parker, the pregame introduction before her first game was extra special. A home crowd of more than 10,000 at Thompson-Boling Arena cheered wildly when her name was announced.

''It was amazing,'' Parker said after a recent practice. ''I couldn't wait to put on a Tennessee jersey and actually play. I couldn't imagine it. And then at the time, it was just ... I couldn't even describe how I felt.''

Her mom, who was at the game, took a stab at it.

''I could see her face, and I could tell she was so excited she could hardly stand it,'' Sara Parker said.

During her four years at Naperville Central, Parker won just about every award imaginable, including being named national player of the year by USA Today in 2003 and 2004. But two offseason surgeries (in August and September 2004) to repair cartilage in her left knee kept her off the court during her freshman year at Tennessee.

''I came in thinking I was going to play, and having to be sidelined with the injury was tough,'' Parker said. ''But I'm just happy this year is here.''

She spent her freshman year adjusting to life on the Knoxville campus, studying -- she's leaning toward a degree in marketing or finance -- and rehabbing.

''I definitely like being down here,'' she said. ''I wasn't sure how I was going to adjust to the South coming from the Chicago area, but I love it. The Southern hospitality -- I really love it down here.''

''I was impressed with her jump shot in general. That surprised me -- it was such a fluid motion and just went in.''

Parker became the first Illinois girl to dunk in a game as a 15-year-old sophomore, and Lady Vols fans can't wait to see her dunk in a college game. Everyone knows it's only a matter of when. Summitt has given her the green light to dunk.

But after watching Parker take part in a dunking contest with the Tennessee men's team during Halloween weekend, Summitt told the Knoxville News Sentinel: ''My hands were sweating. I told [Candace], 'Don't do that. Coach can't take it. My heart can't take it.'''

During an intrasquad scrimmage that same night, Parker -- who is wearing No. 3 for the Lady Vols as a tribute to her favorite player, Allen Iverson -- treated the crowd of 3,300 to a dunk on a baseline move. The fans went crazy.

''The excitement around women's college basketball in Tennessee is amazing,'' Parker said.

The Lady Vols, ranked No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN poll and No. 2 by the Associated Press, have not won a national championship since 1998. Their season officially opens Sunday at home against Stetson, followed by a home game Monday against Chattanooga.

After that, the team heads to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, for the Paradise Jam tournament, where it will play Michigan State, Gonzaga and Maryland in consecutive days beginning Thursday. National TV viewers will get a look at Parker when Tennessee hosts Texas on Dec. 1.

Although the Lady Vols are stacked with talent, most eyes will be on Parker.

''Her ability to play on the wings allows us to go with a bigger lineup,'' Summitt said during a teleconference Wednesday. ''The thing that has been really encouraging is how well she's rebounded from that position, and her shot selection. She's let the offense come to her. She has not forced the action. She has been in a good rhythm.

"We've allowed Candace and other perimeter players besides our point guards to bring the ball up in transition. She's got great reads and is a solid passer. It allows her to get more involved.''

As a laughing face scrolls across the message window: ''Who is that Parker girl they talk about??? Must be a sleeper since I have never heard of her!''

Despite the mercy wins over Dalhousie and Carson-Newman, Summitt saw ''glaring breakdowns'' on the defensive end.

''The big question,'' Summit said, ''is where is our defense, and can our post game put up consistent numbers for us?''

Parker, who said her defense is ''coming along,'' described Summitt as intense.

''She expects a lot out of her players,'' Parker said. ''She doesn't like to repeat things. When you receive a compliment, it's a big deal.''

Consider it a big deal, then, that Summitt mentioned Parker ''has had a great offseason,'' adding, ''While the injury is not something any of us were excited about a year ago, I think she's stronger both mentally and physically because of it.''

Parker missed 11 games during her senior year at Naperville Central after having surgery to repair a torn left ACL in July 2003. She came back to play that season, leading her team to its second straight Class AA state title, and played for USA Basketball during the summer of 2004.

But when her knee swelled that summer, necessitating two more surgeries, her college career had to be put on hold.

''As a mom, when your kids hurt, you hurt,'' Sara Parker said. ''I knew how badly she wanted to be out there, but she couldn't. But she didn't belabor it. She's not one to wallow in her misery.''

Although Parker considered returning to the court in January, her knee needed more healing time.

''Last year was disappointing,'' she said. ''It was tough.''

But it's behind her now. She is healthy again and is about to make her official debut with the Lady Vols. Finally. Or, as one message-board poster put it, "FINALLY!!!!!!''

Friday, November 18, 2005

Charting rough waters

Lady Vols planning to pace themselves as they play five games in seven days

Shanna Zolman looks ahead to five games in seven days and smiles.

Pat Summitt surveys the same busy beginning to Tennessee's women's basketball season and shakes her head.

"As a player you love that,'' said Zolman, UT's senior guard. "As a coach, you don't.

Either way, the second-ranked Lady Vols must live with a schedule that begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against Stetson at Thompson-Boling Arena and fast breaks through four more games by Nov. 26.

The follow-up to Stetson is the following night versus Chattanooga.

The Lady Vols then depart early Tuesday morning for the Virgin Islands. They will play three games in three days at the Paradise Jam, beginning Thanksgiving night against No. 10 Michigan State in a rematch of last season's national semifinal game. No. 14 Maryland lurks as the final game with Gonzaga sandwiched in between.

On her weekly teleconference Wednesday, Lady Vols coach Summitt said, "We lost our mind with scheduling, but it was by design.''

Opening with games on consecutive days before the Caribbean excursion turned out to be the only workable solution to scheduling Stetson and Chattanooga.

The degree of difficulty for so many games in so little time is in the eye of the beholder. Chattanooga coach Wes Moore doesn't anticipate his team being overlooked in the crowd.

"We're the second one,'' he said. "Maybe the fifth one will have an advantage."

The lineup has forced Tennessee to plan long-term and adjust its practice schedule, working three days and taking a day off. In a rare preseason concession, Summitt said, "I want to make sure we don't overtrain."

Sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle sounded more like her mother than herself in bracing for the busy stretch.

"You have to make sure you get the right amount of rest and eat right,'' she said. "If you handle it right off the court, it can be done.''

The challenge begins with the physical demands of not only back-to-back games but also the traveling and the knee histories of various players. Lady Vols athletic trainer Jenny Moshak said two weeks ago that nothing short of a crystal ball could predict how these games will play out.

Along with the overtraining, Summitt is not inclined to overreact either.

"I'm probably more concerned about our defense and turnovers,'' she said.

At some point, Hornbuckle thinks a strong mind will have to cover for weary legs.

"You body might get tired, but it's also mental,'' she said. "I think the hidden challenge is mental.''

Of the first five games, two present the possibility of potentially draining emotional spikes. The first is the opener, when Tennessee's thoroughbreds are turned loose. Acclaimed redshirt freshman Candace Parker, who missed all of last season while recovering from multiple knee surgeries, has used the word "amazing" more than once in anticipating the moment.

"There's so much talent out there,'' Hornbuckle said. "We want to see where we're at.''

The second spike game is Michigan State, which erased a 16-point second half deficit to upset the Lady Vols last season in Indianapolis.

"You can't get too high,'' Hornbuckle said, "or you'll be overshooting and overrunning the ball.

"You can't take (a game) personal. The second you take it personal, it throws you off.''

Whichever game, whatever the circumstances, Tennessee intends to throw bodies at the challenge.

"We're going to start out playing everyone on the roster and see what happens, see if we can maintain the same efficiency,'' Summitt said.

"There are a lot of talented teams in the country. We're talented and deep. Why have all of this talent if you're not going to use it?''

Moss Update: The MRI exam of Lindsey Moss' left knee showed no structural damage.

The freshman guard, who has sat out the last four practices with soreness in the joint, will continue treatment and work her way back into the workouts.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Lady Vols turn to MRI for Moss

Freshman's knee not responding after rest

With Lindsey Moss' left knee becoming a mystery, Tennessee wants more clues.

Moss, a women's basketball freshman guard, missed her fourth consecutive practice Wednesday. While her Lady Vols teammates were working out, Moss underwent an MRI exam.

Lady Vols athletic trainer Jenny Moshak said that Dr. Rebecca Morgan, the team's physician, made the call on the exam. The results will be known today.

"It's not acting normal,'' Moshak said of Moss' knee. "Dr. Morgan decided it was time to do further investigation."

Moss hyperextended the knee in last Thursday's exhibition game against Carson-Newman. She practiced the next day but has since been sidelined, receiving treatment and doing exercises.

Since Moss underwent surgery on the knee in high school, the Lady Vols are being extra cautious.

UT coach Pat Summitt said she thought Moss would've returned by now but also added, "We're going to err on the side of caution.''

The team is off today and returns to practice Friday in preparation for the season opener against Stetson at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Summitt addressed Moss' progress Wednesday in her weekly teleconference.

"She has benefited tremendously from being here this summer,'' Summitt said. "She spent a lot of time in the weight room and in the gym. Like any true freshman, there are some growing pains, but she's adjusted well."

Notebook: Tennessee is picked No. 1 in the Sports Illustrated preview issue and a small photo of forward Candace Parker adorns the magazine's masthead. She also was a full-page feature in last week's SI on Campus. ... Stetson guard Nefertiti Walker is the preseason pick as the Atlantic Sun Conference's player of the year. .... The Lady Vols will partner with Aramark to collect coats for Knox Area Rescue Ministries on Sunday and at Monday's home game against Chattanooga. Fans will receive a free general admission ticket for every coat donated.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Deaths of her father, mentor affect UT coach

Summitt is dedicating basketball season to her dad

KNOXVILLE -- When she spoke at her father's funeral last month, Pat Summitt took the opportunity to speak directly to Richard Head.

Tennessee's women's basketball coach made a pledge, one that said a mouthful about a dad's influence on a daughter's career.

"I'm going to dedicate the season to you,'' Summitt said of her farewell address to her father. "I'm going to make you proud. I'm going to be a better coach and teacher.''

The Lady Vols open the 2005-06 season at home Sunday against Stetson.

For Summitt to fulfill her vow, she'll do some listening, too. She will hear a voice from a different person and a different part of her life. In Summitt's case, influence has an echo in the memory of Sue Gunter, Summitt's coaching mentor.

"It goes fast,'' Summitt said. " I hear those words all the time.''

Gunter, the former LSU coach and women's basketball pioneer, uttered those words while talking about life at a gathering for her last year in Baton Rouge, La. Summitt said, "You could've heard a pin drop.''

Everyone there knew that Gunter's time was running out. She died in August after a long battle with emphysema.

Summitt is beginning her 32nd season at Tennessee. It will be her first without her father and her colleague. To be a better coach, she will need to hold the memory of both very close.

Summitt's father will resonate in her work ethic and her demanding ways.

"He's her drive,'' UT assistant coach Holly Warlick said. "He's the one who makes Pat accountable in her mind."

It says a lot about him that in the days immediately following his death, Tennessee senior guard Shanna Zolman expected Summitt to still be Summitt.

"It's going to be hard; I know it's going to be hard,'' Zolman said. "But I don't expect her to be any less intense.''

The coach pretty much delivered, spending the preseason discussing defense and the importance of being disciplined against overmatched exhibition opponents.

Her father's death encouraged Summitt to take full inventory of his impact. In preparing for the funeral and one of the most difficult speeches of her life, Summitt did what dad would've done. She went to work.

Summitt had lengthy discussions with family members and friends. She realized how much common ground she and her father shared.

"My dad, he was an incredible teacher,'' Summitt said, "and I didn't realize it because he wasn't a coach.

"Just because he didn't wear a whistle around his neck, I didn't realize what a coach he was.''

Gunter, on the other hand, was Summitt's coach. Gunter was an assistant for the 1976 Olympic team while Summitt was a co-captain. Four years later, Gunter was head coach and Summitt was the assistant.

After the 1997 Final Four, Summitt made a touching reference to Gunter in defending her husband, R.B., who was criticized in a New York Daily News story for his behavior and some things he reportedly was shouting during the national championship game against Old Dominion.

"R.B. is a fan,'' Summitt said. "He yells at officials. He yells at Sue Gunter. She helped raise me.''

Gunter was an SEC rival of Summitt's for 22 years at LSU. Her teams were among the few to inflict any noteworthy damage on Tennessee. The Tigers' only two SEC tourney titles (1991, 2003) were achieved by beating UT in the final.

Lady Vols Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly helped lead UT teams to three national championships, but they never won in Baton Rouge in two tries on Gunter's watch. Their last visit was with a team that was ranked No. 1. No matter, the Lady Tigers prevailed, 72-69.

The LSU team that Gunter began assembling and nurturing before retiring ended UT's seven-year run of SEC regular-season championships last season.

Yet Summitt always considered Gunter a friend.

After two years of harangues, Lady Vols junior Dominique Redding has a better sense for the sound of Summitt.

"My freshman year, you think she's picking on you,'' Redding said. "Once you get to know her as a person and a coach, you know she's trying to get you ready."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

UT Cruises Past Carson-Newman In Final Exhibition Game

KNOXVILLE, TN - The No. 2/1 Tennessee Lady Vols ended their exhibition season with a 101-55 win over Carson-Newman College on Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Redshirt-Freshman Candace Parker led the way for the Big Orange as she netted 19 points while pulling down 6 rebounds. Parker was joined in double figures by Shanna Zolman (16), Tye'sha Fluker (15), Nicky Anosike (12) and Alexis Hornbuckle (10).

Carson-Newman was led by Ashley Tipton's 16 points and three rebounds. Tipton made 4 of 6 from downtown.

The Lady Vols outscored the Lady Eagles 57-24 in the first half as Tennessee shot 71.4% to Carson-Newman's 25.8%. UT also connected on 5-9 three pointers. For the game UT shot 58.3% compared to 35.2% for Carson-Newman.

Every Lady Vol scored at least four points in the game.

Tennessee will open their season on Sunday, November 20th against Stetson at The Summitt in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Near-perfect Lady Vols on exhibit

The No. 2 Tennessee Lady Vols close out their brief exhibition season by hosting neighbor Carson-Newman tonight, 7 p.m., at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Lady Vols are coming off a near-perfect offensive performance against Dalhousie on Sunday and will open the regular season at home against Stetson on Nov. 20.

Tennessee defeated Carson-Newman, 105-47, last year in an exhibition game, but the Lady Eagles went on to post a 25-8 record and win the South Atlantic Conference Tournament. Carson-Newman is currently ranked No. 19 among Division II women's programs in the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll.

Dean Walsh, a familiar face in Blount County during his tenures at Maryville High and Maryville College, is entering his fourth season as Carson-Newman's head coach. Walsh's teams have shown marked improvement in each of his first three years, including last season's dramatic tournament finish and advance to the Division II Sweet 16.

Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt was pleasantly surprised by the offensive showcase produced by her squad on Sunday and will be looking for consistency in tonight's contest.

``Our team is much better offensively this year. They're more comfortable and confident,'' Summitt said. ``We're just a better offensive team.

``You can't say much wrong about our offense. I just wish we could save some for later in the year.''

The Lady Eagles will have to deal with mismatches in size and speed, as well as the Lady Vols' depth in the post. After giving a thumbs up to her team's offensive performance in the opening exhibition game, Summitt is now devoting additional practice time to defense.

``We need to work on the defensive end. We gave up too much penetration. There are things we can work on,'' she said.

And tonight, Carson-Newman will be the focus of those things.

Coach Pat Summitt to Autograph 880 Wins Merchandise at Tennessee Traditions

Summitt will be signing items Saturday, November 12 from 11am-1pm

Tennessee Traditions, the Official Store of Tennessee Athletics, will host a special autograph session with Lady Vol Basketball Head Coach Pat Summitt on Saturday, November 12 from 11am-1pm.

Celebrate the success of Coach Summitt with the exclusive collection of 880 wins merchandise available for sale at Tennessee Traditions. Coach Summitt will be available to autograph Official 880 Wins merchandise, including the Limited Edition 880 Wins Basketballs, posters, caps, and tees.

Tennessee Traditions, the Official Store of Tennessee Athletics, is located in Stokely Athletic Center at 1720 Volunteer Blvd and online at

Don't miss the chance to meet Coach Summitt, the all time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.

Dosty to miss game after missing class

Tennessee sophomore center Sybil Dosty will sit out a second exhibition game tonight for missing a class.

The Lady Vols play Carson-Newman College at 7 at Thompson-Boling Arena.

After tonight, Dosty's slate will be wiped clean for the regular season, which begins Nov. 20 against Stetson.

"She's worked hard in practice,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said of Dosty. "This isn't something you hold over a player's head."

Dosty's practice play, on the other hand, will work in her favor if she maintains her level of effort.

"She understands now what you have to do in practice to be rewarded in games,'' Summitt said. "A year ago, I couldn't seem to bring it out (of her)."

Summitt wasn't sure about tonight's starting lineup, other than to say it will change from Sunday. Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike, Tye'sha Fluker, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shanna Zolman started against Dalhousie.

Scouting Report: Carson-Newman is coming off one of its best seasons with a 25-8 record. The Lady Eagles won the South Atlantic Conference tournament, advanced to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 and finished ranked No. 18 nationally.

A big reason for C-N's success was Brooke Johnson, who left the team this fall for personal and family reasons.

The 6-foot-3 forward from Seymour was named both SAC player and freshman of the year after averaging 16.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. She set a school record for blocks with 128.

Without Johnson, the Lady Eagles top returning starter is Giovanni Booker, who averaged 6.1 points.

C-N lost to Tennessee last season, 105-47.

Ticket Update: Season ticket sales are at approximately 9,500.

The new family plan offered for Section 113 on the east side of the arena is sold out.

Sales of the courtside seats have reached 52, an increase from last season's 46.

Jimmy Delaney, the Lady Vols director of promotions and marketing, said ticket sales for four games -- Texas (Dec. 1), Connecticut (Jan. 7), Alabama (Jan. 29) and Vanderbilt (Feb. 12) -- already have reached five figures.

Delaney said that only 3,000 tickets are left for the UConn game.

All-American Shutout: No Lady Vol received a vote for the Associated Press five-player preseason All-America team.

The honorees are LSU's Seimone Augustus, Duke's Monique Curry, Baylor's Sophia Young. Jessica Davenport of Ohio State and Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter.

Voepel: Powers of Tenn.

After 'frustrating' season, Summitt has high hopes

“ When I retire, I won't be sitting in a rocking chair looking at trophies. I hope I'll be on the phone talking to a former player or sitting around chatting with them. Because that's what it's all about -- those relationships. ”
— Pat Summitt

Shanna Zolman says that while winning a national championship is obviously the ultimate goal as a player, it won't change anything about her as a person. And it's not even the motivation behind her playing basketball.

Right now, what Zolman is most fervent and passionate about is her faith. She might always feel exactly this way, or this might be partially a product of being 22 and full of optimism and energy about how to tackle what seems wrong in the world. She and Sidney Spencer went on Christian mission trips over the past two summers to the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

"As serious as I am about the game, as much as I love it to death and devote a lot of my time and life to it," Zolman says, "it's still just a game. A tool that I can use to share Christ with other people.

"But I build relationships with people every day who may or may not know Christ. Even if it's just smiling at somebody or going out to eat with somebody or seeing a movie together. I don't care who you are or what you believe in, I want to build a relationship with you. Whether people believe in what I do or not, I'm not going to say, 'I'm not going to spend time with you.' "

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- You're at Stokely Athletics Center at the University of Tennessee in late October. Not too far outside this building, you could come across this intersection: Pat Head Summitt Street and Chamique Holdsclaw Drive.

Inside Stokely, you will find the namesake of one of those roadways overseeing practice for the however-many-thousandth time. She's walking around in a boot, the result of a summertime foot injury that has been slow to heal. She's watching what's surely one of the deepest teams, in terms of the talent level first player to last, that she has ever had.

She doesn't really yell. She does definitely raise her voice.

"Get your butt in a stance!" Summitt said to one player. "I know what I see, and I don't like it. So do something about it."

Of course, you can envision Summitt shouting that latter part to herself a few years ago, coming off another loss to Connecticut in the Final Four. Tennessee has six NCAA titles, but the last was in 1998. This program has made going to the Final Four seem like an annual event one can just plan for -- like celebrating Thanksgiving or paying taxes or going on vacation. Last season was the program's 16th Final Four in 24 NCAA Tournaments. But, again … no title in seven years.

Is that a drought? Can you be so good that you can use such a word to describe not winning a title in seven seasons? I guess we all know that answer, when it comes to Tennessee.

***** ***** *****

"I know what I see, and I don't like it. So do something about it."

What Summitt did was hit the recruiting trail with the energy and purpose of a 25-year-old overachiever angling for a big promotion. Well, that times five. It's not as though Summitt had ever taken a break in the recruiting battles, but she was determined that the freshman class that entered Tennessee in the fall of 2004 was going to be an all-timer.

And, at least according to the blue-chip index, it was. Candace Parker, Alex Fuller, Alexis Hornbuckle, Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, Nicky Anosike, Sybil Dosty. Landing any one of these recruits would have been cause for celebration at many -- most -- Division I programs.

To get them all? Tennessee's recruiting for this cycle was like a movie not content with just getting the Oscar for best picture, best director, best actor and actress, best supporting actor and actress, best original screenplay and best music. It just had to have best editing, best set decoration, best sound, best makeup and best costume-design, too.

It was ridiculous.

However, to use another analogy, last season Tennessee resembled a Formula One race car that clearly had the engine to win it all. Unfortunately, parts of the car just kept breaking down. Parker and Fuller redshirted the entire season because of knee injuries. Wiley-Gatewood played just 13 games because of patellar tendinitis. Senior Loree Moore went through tonsillitis and a broken nose. Sophomore Sidney Spencer tore the ACL in her right knee and was lost for the season at the end of February. Also that month, junior Tye'sha Fluker missed two weeks as she dealt with the death of her grandmother, who was like a mother to her.

After all this, the car was still in the race. In fact, Tennessee looked to be streaking toward the finish line … when it was overtaken by the green car out of East Lansing, Mich., before having a shot at the other green car out of Waco, Texas.

Tennessee's loss in the Final Four to Michigan State -- after being up by as much as 16 points -- was the capper to the "Year That Wasn't Quite" for Summitt's gang.

"When you're in it and it's happening, you can never allow anyone on your team or staff to give themselves an out or make an excuse," Summitt said of dealing with the adversities that kept Tennessee from ever being at full-strength last season. "You say, 'Somebody else has to step up.' Usually, somebody does. That's how you handle it.

"However, looking back, I'll tell you: It was one of the most challenging and, at times, the most frustrating years of my career. But I don't think that I knew that until it was over."

***** ***** *****

Summitt says all of this on a Friday afternoon. She does not betray that she knows she's about to suffer a real loss, the most painful and profound kind, the type people always say "puts sports into perspective."

In two days, Summitt's father, Richard Head, will pass away. Summitt realizes his death is coming, but carries the wrenching emotions inside her the way she does pretty much everything else: with a very sustained and controlled dignity.

It's part of how Summitt has won a record 882 games. She understands the intricacies of basketball and works very hard at every element of her job. And, she'll be the first to stress, the support staff at Tennessee is a critical element in everything this program has done.

"I think about the administration that stepped out and supported women's athletics when everyone else maybe wasn't as committed," Summitt said, being diplomatic about the fact that many other places were on another planet -- a very cold and distant one -- in terms of commitment to women's sports in the 1970s.

"So, yes, we got a jump start. However, I also think about all those student-athletes who played without scholarships, who busted their butts every day in practice. That's where the tradition started -- in those early years of my career."

Part of that was here in Stokely. It's now Tennessee's auxiliary practice facility when stuff like the circus or some big music act is booked into Thompson-Boling arena. Stokely was the program's home from 1976-1987. But it's not where it all started for Summitt. In her first two years as coach, the team played in Alumni Memorial Gymnasium.

All of the past players who've "worn the orange with pride" as Summitt says, live on as memories in any building where she's teaching basketball. Sometimes the memory reappears in her actual form, and such is the case this particular Friday, when former guard Tiffany Woosley drops by to watch practice. At one point, Summitt invites her out on the floor as the team gathers together in a circle.

"This is Tiffany Woosley, guys, she played for us in the early 1990s …" Summitt said to her current players. Later, Summitt's eyes will light up when she says, "Did you see how Tiffany immediately went into the circle, just like she was still in practice every day?"

For her part, Woosley laughs and shakes her head in almost astonishment at how good today's players look in practice compared to her time at Tennessee in 1991-95. They seem bigger and stronger and faster and able to do more. The thing that has stayed the same, of course, is Summitt.

Well, no, that's not really true, either. As Summitt stays and talks, after her team has left for the weight room, the Tennessee men's team takes the floor. There is yelling and yelling and yelling and yelling. And some more yelling.

You ask Summitt, "So, did you ever yell this much?"

"I used to. I don't think I do now," she says. "I think I've changed. I think kids have definitely changed, but I've tried to find other ways to motivate. While I want them to hear my voice, there are times that they need to hear their own voice and that of their teammates. To me, that's taking ownership on the floor. And, if you're always on them, eventually, they tune you out.

"If I hadn't changed, we wouldn't be here having this conversation. You'd be talking to someone else."

***** ***** *****

Shanna Zolman and Fluker are the two seniors this season. They've been to the Final Four the past three years.

"There are no excuses, we just didn't win it," Zolman says. "It's frustrating when you know what it's like to be there, you've been through it all, but you can't get that last win."

Hornbuckle said she watched the Michigan State loss almost immediately on tape -- and more than once -- because, "I wanted to see what all went wrong."

But Zolman hasn't seen the tape at all. It's clear enough in her head.

"You learn from it, you move on -- but it's still there in your memory," she said. "I think that's good to have it there as motivation during the summer and coming into this season. But you don't dwell on it; it's not healthy."

Fluker has since fractured a finger on her shooting hand and will be in a splint several weeks but is able to play. But what she went through last season was a fracture no splint could help. It was a break in her heart that she talked about, as she looked ahead to her final college season.

"Basketball definitely keeps me busy, so it's not on my mind as much," she said of her grandmother's death. "More so when I'm by myself, I have time to think about it. I won't say it's easy. Her birthday was this month. It's like that with every holiday or anything: The first time I'm going through it without my grandmother. But I'm to the point now where I'm not on the court always thinking about her. Whereas last year, it was so hard to shake it. It was so fresh and new and unbelievable that she was gone."

Although much of the media and fan attention that Tennessee has already received -- and will continue to get -- is going to the younger players, Summitt still emphasizes that Zolman and Fluker are essential to everything her team hopes to accomplish this year.

"Shanna has always provided great leadership, and Tye has dialed up her leadership and her game, too," Summitt said. "In this program, you welcome the stars from high school. They're accustomed to it. They're excited. They were very instrumental in helping us get a Candace Parker. Your players have to do an awful lot to help you in recruiting. That's a part of it."

***** ***** *****

The court at Thompson-Boling is named "The Summitt" now, a designation announced last season after Summitt's 880th victory -- in the NCAA Tournament's second round against Purdue -- broke Dean Smith's Division I coaching record.

Summitt had gone into that game dreading the added pressure she feared her players might feel because of the "880" number they were trying to achieve. But it all turned out to be, truly, a perfect night.

"For me, it was emotional when it happened. It was more than I thought it would be," Summitt said. "That's why I cried -- knowing how many people had been a part of it. When I retire, I won't be sitting in a rocking chair looking at trophies. I hope I'll be on the phone talking to a former player or sitting around chatting with them. Because that's what it's all about -- those relationships."

Still, Summitt says she looks very pragmatically at the last seven seasons. Five trips to the Final Four, but no titles.

"I just hate losing so much that it eats at me," she said. "But of those years, when did we have the best players and the best team? When did we just flat-out blow it?

"I think the year we blew it was 1999; Duke outplayed us [in the Elite Eight], but we had better players. I thought we had the best team in the country then, talent-wise.

"But beyond that, I don't know that people would say of those years, 'Tennessee had the best players and just couldn't get it done.' But, also, the best players don't always make the best team."

Provided everyone stays relatively healthy, no one's going to say Tennessee doesn't have more than enough good players to win it all this season. But whether it happens or not in 2006, there are still six trophies already in the case, there are those streets named for the coach and her great program's greatest player, and there is the strong sense -- a certainty, really -- that Tennessee will always be in the hunt.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Lady Vols Tune Up By Beating Delhousie 131-40

Zolman leads the way with 28 points; Parker and Fuller earn double-doubles

Knoxville, Tenn. -- The No.1-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols opened the 2005-06 basketball season with a 131-40 thrashing of Dalhousie (Canada) University in an exhibition game on Sunday afternoon. A crowd of 10,436 welcomed the Lady Vols to Thompson-Boling Arena for the inaugural Lady Vol game at "The Summitt," the court named at the end of last season for UT's legendary head coach, Pat Summitt.

Senior guard Shanna Zolman led the way for the Big Orange with a career-high-tying 28 point performance, including 19 points in the first half, as Tennessee took a 63-20 lead into the locker room. The Syracuse, Ind., native connected on six of seven attempts from the field in the first 20 minutes, including four of five from beyond the arc. She would finish the game 10 of 11 from the field, with five treys, four assists and three rebounds.

Fellow senior Tye'sha Fluker played through a broken index finger on her shooting hand for 14 points, three rebounds and two assists. She went six of seven from the field and was perfect (2-2) from the charity stripe.

Redshirt freshmen Candace Parker and Alex Fuller combined for 38 points and 21 boards. In the game for only 19 minutes, Parker finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocks. Fuller went eight of 12 from the field to finish with 18 points in just 21 minutes. The Shelbyville, Tenn., native grabbed ten rebounds and recorded three steals in her collegiate debut.

Dalhousie falls for the third straight game to a U.S. Collegiate squad. The Tigers also suffered setbacks to Kentucky, 90-34, and Morehead State, 72-64. DU was led by Ryan McKay, the only member of the squad to score in double figures (13).

Tennessee saw five players finish in double figures, including two ladies with double-doubles (Parker and Fuller). In addition to the aforementioned quartet, sophomore Nicky Anosike joined the double figures club with 16 points, connecting on all seven attempts from the field and two tries from the free throw line.

The Lady Vols shot a sizzling 69 percent for the game, including 28 of 38 marksmanship in the second half for a rate of 73 percent. UT's defense, meanwhile, held Dalhousie to 19 percent shooting for the game and forced 32 turnovers off 24 steals.

The win marked the 14th straight exhibition victory for the Lady Vols, and the 131 points are the second most tallies ever scored by Tennessee in an exhibition game.

The Lady Vols host Carson-Newman on Thursday evening for the final exhibition game of the year. Tip-off in Thompson-Boling is set for 7 p.m.

Summitt's season will reflect influence of father, Gunter

When she spoke at her father's funeral last month, Pat Summitt took the opportunity to speak directly to Richard Head.

Tennessee's women's basketball coach made a pledge, one that said a mouthful about a dad's influence on a daughter's career.

"I'm going to dedicate the season to you,'' Summitt said of her farewell address to her father. "I'm going to make you proud. I'm going to be a better coach and teacher.''

The Lady Vols' season has its first dress rehearsal against Dalhousie University of Halifax, Nova Scotia, at 3 today at Thompson-Boling Arena.

For Summitt to fulfill her vow, she'll do some listening, too. She will hear a voice from a different person and a different part of her life. In Summitt's case, influence has an echo in the memory of Sue Gunter, Summitt's coaching mentor.

"It goes fast,'' Summitt said while sitting in her office this week. " I hear those words all the time.''

Gunter, the former LSU coach and women's basketball pioneer, uttered those words while talking about life at a gathering for her last year in Baton Rouge, La. Summitt said, "You could've heard a pin drop.''

Everyone there knew that Gunter's time was running out. She died in August after a long battle with emphysema.

Summitt is beginning her 32nd season at Tennessee. It will be her first without her father and her colleague. To be a better coach, she will need to hold the memory of both very close.

Summitt's father will resonate in her work ethic and her demanding ways.

"He's her drive,'' UT assistant coach Holly Warlick said. "He's the one who makes Pat accountable in her mind."

It says a lot about him that in the days immediately following his death, Tennessee senior guard Shanna Zolman expected Summitt to still be Summitt.

"It's going to be hard; I know it's going to be hard,'' Zolman said. "But I don't expect her to be any less intense.''

The coach pretty much delivered, spending the past week discussing defense and the importance of being disciplined against an overmatched exhibition opponent.

Her father's death encouraged Summitt to take full inventory of his impact. In preparing for the funeral and one of the most difficult speeches of her life, Summitt did what dad would've done. She went to work.

Summitt had lengthy discussions with family members and friends. Summitt noted how many different organizations her father was involved with and how many people he touched.

Summitt realized how much common ground she and her father shared.

"My dad, he was an incredible teacher,'' Summitt said, "and I didn't realize it because he wasn't a coach.

"Just because he didn't wear a whistle around his neck, I didn't realize what a coach he was.''

Gunter, on the other hand, was Summitt's coach. Gunter was an assistant for the 1976 Olympic team while Summitt was a co-captain. Four years later, Gunter was head coach and Summitt was the assistant.

After the 1997 Final Four, Summitt made a touching reference to Gunter in defending her husband, R.B., who was criticized in a New York Daily News story for his behavior and some things he reportedly was shouting during the national championship game against Old Dominion.

"R.B. is a fan,'' Summitt said. "He yells at officials. He yells at Sue Gunter. She helped raise me.''

Gunter was an SEC rival of Summitt's for 22 years at LSU. Her teams were among the few to inflict any noteworthy damage on Tennessee. The Tigers' only two SEC tournament championships (1991, 2003) were achieved by beating UT in the final.

Lady Vols Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly helped lead UT teams to three national championships, but they never won in Baton Rouge in two tries on Gunter's watch. Their last visit was with a team that was ranked No. 1. No matter, the Lady Tigers prevailed, 72-69.

The LSU team that Gunter began assembling and nurturing before retiring ended Tennessee's seven-year run of conference regular-season championships last season.

Yet, Summitt always considered Gunter a friend. Many other coaches felt likewise. The LSU media guide contains a page worth of heartfelt tributes gathered in the aftermath of Gunter's death.

Gunter had that sort of an affect on people.

"She taught me the importance of communicating with your student-athletes,'' Summitt said. "It's important to let them know how much you care.

"Sometimes I didn't have fun. I was too serious. She took the edge off me at times.''

After two years of harangues, Lady Vols junior forward Dominique Redding has a better sense for the sound of Summitt.

"My freshman year, you think she's picking on you,'' Redding said. "Once you get to know her as a person and a coach, you know she's trying to get you ready. She talks to me and yells at me to get me ready.

"And maybe sometimes to let the team get a laugh.''

Redding smiled at the thought.

After two years, she might be hearing a little more Gunter and a little less Head in her coach's voice.

Fine, as long as Redding hears both of them.

"People that impact your life,'' Summitt said. "They leave their footprints on you. They live on within you.''

Their lives don't merely go fast, they go on.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Parker warming up with dunks for Lady Vols

Two-time prep player of year finally gets to make college debut

Tennessee’s Candace Parker palmed the ball as she jumped, stretched her long arm above the rim and deposited the ball in the basket.

Hundreds of fans stood and cheered the Lady Vol who could become the fourth woman to dunk in a college game.

The wait for that chance is over.

Parker, one of the most decorated female high school players ever, finally makes her debut in a Lady Vols uniform this month. She had to sit out last season as a freshman to recover from two operations on her left knee.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like the first game, the feeling and how excited I am. I cannot wait,” Parker said.

The Lady Vols open the regular season Nov. 20 against Stetson.

Fans wanting a sneak peek at Parker’s ability gathered at an exhibition last week that culminated in a dunk contest. Parker was the only Lady Vol dunking, and she lost. But she had already dunked one-handed four times during ordinary drills and a scrimmage.

“There’s been a lot of talk about her. She’s an awesome player for us, but I haven’t seen her play in an actual game,” senior Tye’sha Fluker said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do in the games.”

The 6-foot-3 forward from Naperville, Ill., was named national high school player of the year as a junior and senior. By sinking all of her dunks, she became the first woman to win the dunk contest for McDonald’s high school All-Americans in 2004.

But dunking is no big deal to her. She first slammed one as a sophomore in high school after her brother told her he didn’t think she could do it.

“It’s a part of the game, but it’s not THE game. Women’s basketball is so much more than just dunking,” Parker said. “It’s a little higher than a layup. That’s how I look at it.”

Parker dunks almost nonchalantly — no hanging on the rim, fancy moves or celebratory fist pumping.

It’s easier to understand how it looks natural when you see Parker.

“Her body is so amazing because she’s 6-4 or 6-5 with arms as long as I am tall,” said Shanna Zolman, a 5-foot-10 guard. “They’re so long she can disrupt the passing lanes. She can play above the rim. You can box her out and she’ll still get the rebound.”

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has given Parker the green light to dunk whenever it seems appropriate and would not be a risk to injury. Parker tore her left ACL before her senior year in high school.

“I just want her to play the game under control. And for her, it’s much different from any player I’ve ever coached in that she can be flat-footed and go up and dunk. So it’s not like things have to be perfect in her basketball world for her to dunk. If she goes up inside and dunks it, more power to her,” Summitt said.

Lisa Leslie of the Los Angeles Sparks has dunked in a professional game, and players in three different decades have recorded dunks in sanctioned women’s college games.

Georgeann Wells of West Virginia claims the first recorded collegiate dunk, a one-handed slam off a fullcourt pass from a teammate in 1984. She had another a few weeks later.

The next dunk came 10 years later by Charlotte Smith of North Carolina in December 1994.

If Parker dunks, she will be the second Lady Vol to do so. Michelle Snow dunked three times in her Tennessee career.

The first was in November 2000 against Illinois at the Maui Women’s Invitational. She slammed it in with two hands and hung on the rim, a move televised by Oxygen Sports Network and replayed over and over on ESPN.

Snow dunked again at the end of a win at Vanderbilt in 2001, and the final came against South Carolina in 2002. None of Snow’s dunks were in Knoxville.

Parker’s teammates are all for making history.

“It’s going to come in a game,” guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. “It will bring attention not only to her but to Tennessee as a whole. The game is not all about dunking, but it’s going to bring in the fans.”

Parker gives Lady Vols high hopes

These are words - from a player yet to play a college game - that should produce concern among the 323 other Division I women's basketball teams:

"I'm back, 100 percent," Tennessee's Candace Parker says.

The two-time USA TODAY high school player of the year was speaking about the condition of her left knee, which had a ligament reconstructed in 2003 and last year had two cartilage repairs, forcing her to redshirt her freshman season.

Her game, which includes dunking, three-point shooting and ballhandling, also is coming along.

"I was basically out for two years," says Parker, listed at 6-3 but closer to 6-5. "I tore my ACL, came back and played five months, and then was out again. It took a while to get my timing back, to be honest with you. I think now I'm starting to get it back."

In an August pickup game, she dunked on a Tennessee men's player. But Parker, who won a high school all-star game dunk contest against boys, downplayed that moment:

"I definitely felt more confident in my knee after that. But dunking didn't mean my timing was back, my defense was back and everything like that. I honestly didn't feel back until (early October)."

Parker spent most practices last season doing rehabilitation exercises. That work plus time in the weight room has transformed her willowy frame.

"She has a different body from her high school days," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt says. "Her commitment to getting stronger and working on her skills is exactly what you'd want a player to do, particularly a player of her quality."

Parker has been getting to practice early and staying late to work on shooting. "I was able to shoot last year but couldn't jump," Parker says. "To be on the ground for so long and then have to come back and have to move and shoot, it takes a lot of adjustment. I've got to get my legs back into my shot. I think I'm doing better."

A healthy Parker could help the Lady Vols get their first title since 1998.

"The sky is the limit," Parker says. "This team has tremendous potential. But it's just that - potential - until we do something with that.

"A lot of teams had tremendous potential but never reached it. Our job is not to focus on what we could be but on what we can do with ourselves every day in practice."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lady Vols start off at top spot in preseason poll

Tennessee hasn't disappeared from the national scene in the seven seasons since its last national title in 1998. The Lady Vols have been to five Final Fours during the "dry spell."

Coach Pat Summitt, 882-172 entering her 32nd year, likes what she has seen from the No. 1-ranked team in the opening coaches' poll. In the offseason she told the players to get in the gym and shoot to improve last season's 40% field goal shooting, the worst of the Summitt era.

"I think it's been one of our best offseasons because everyone got in the gym," Summitt says. "That hasn't happened the last four years. Some would; others wouldn't."

The Lady Vols will have the services of Candace Parker, a two-time USA TODAY high school player of the year who missed last season with knee problems. "We're counting on her to make a big impact, elevate the team's play," Summitt says.

The returnees include Shanna Zolman, a senior sharpshooter; sophomore Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, whose knee tendinitis has improved but is still bothersome; junior guard-forward Sydney Spencer, who missed much of last year after knee surgery; sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle, nursing a thumb injury; and 6-5 Nicky Anosike, who got valuable summer experience with the U.S. under-19 team.

"This is one of our strongest groups," Summitt says.