Lady Vols take on Blue Devils tonight
KNOXVILLE — Try as she might, Nicky Anosike can’t put it out of her mind.
Not the full house, the hype or the horrific performance.
"I tried really hard to forget that game," University of Tennessee forward Anosike said about the Lady Volunteers 75-53 blowout loss at Duke last year. "No, I remember it, I can’t really forget it."
She remembers the Lady Vols waltzing into Cameron Indoor Stadium undefeated and the nation’s top-ranked team. She spent the week before answering questions about a potential perfect season with a win over the Blue Devils.
By the time they left the Durham, NC she was dealing with totally different questions about just how far her Lady Vols were from being a national championship contender.
After missing the Final Four last year and being throttled at No. 2 North Carolina in December those doubts continue to linger.
Tonight, No. 4 Tennessee (17-1, 4-0 SEC) gets its chance to answer, hosting top-ranked Duke (19-0, 5-0 ACC) in front of national television audience and orange-clad house inside Thompson-Boling Arena at 7 p.m.
UT coach Pat Summitt spent the better part of last week hyping up the game to both local and national media, as well as working the streets.
Taking a page from men’s coach Bruce Pearl, seniors Dominique Redding and Sidney Spencer joined their coach on a tour of the university’s cafeterias where Summitt informed students about the game and asked for their support.
"I just jumped up there on the table and told them what we have going on," Summitt said "I really make a lot of noise and can really help out our team."
Alexis Hornbuckle said she felt the wrath of Duke’s student section a year ago, and admits it hurt her game. Now she wants a packed Thompson-Boling Arena to return the favor to the Blue Devils.
"It just makes you want to go so much harder when you play in front a loud crowd that’s cheering for you," Hornbuckle said. "This place is huge and when its full it can really be a great advantage for us."
While the raucous crowd and bitter taste of a year ago will serve as ample motivation, Summitt said that won’t be enough to beat the best team in the country.
Along with being undefeated, the Blue Devils are second in the nation in scoring margin at plus-30 points per game, and crushed defending national champion Maryland by 19. Duke also is second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 47 points per game, thanks in large part to 6-foot-7 center Alison Bales who leads the country at just under five blocks-per-game.
Despite the Blue Devils dominant interior defense, Summitt said she wants her team to take the ball inside early and continue to do so, no matter how many shots Bales sends away.
"The greatest players in basketball get their shots blocked," Tennessee forward and leading scorer Candace Parker said. "It really can’t be a concern of ours. We just need to play our game. If working inside is our best chance to win, then we will keep going back there."