Friday, November 09, 2007

Lady Vols could be better than last year

KNOXVILLE — With a modest nod of the head, Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt confirmed what women's college basketball teams around the country already might have suspected.

The defending national champion Lady Vols are back for a run at another title and they could be even better than they were last year.

"Are we (better) right now? No," Summitt said. "But I think that we can be."

If so, it will have plenty to do with experience. Four starters, including junior All-American Candace Parker, are back from the team that brought Tennessee its seventh national title, ending a nine-year drought.

And, even with one title already under their belts, they're as hungry as ever.

"I think with winning comes greed," said Parker, who averaged a team-high 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds as a sophomore. "You just want more and more.

"I think we had the same hunger last year. We wanted to win a national championship because we'd never experienced it. But once you experience it, you realize how great of a feeling it is, so you want to do it again."

Tough to repeat

Regardless of desire, Summitt said, it's easier said than done.

Tennessee's 34th-year coach, who ranks as the NCAA's all-time wins leader, speaks from experience. Her teams failed to repeat after four of UT's six previous national championships and the only two times she succeeded came during the Lady Vols' run of three consecutive titles from 1996-98.

"This is one of the hardest things to do in sports, to repeat the performance of a national championship," Summitt said. "You have a big target on you. We have to not look ahead. It's about daily improvement in practice. …

"Last year, we had great chemistry. What I see right now appears to be something that will be special chemistry. But they are not aware of what it's like to carry the big ol' national championship on your back every possession, every game."

Impact freshmen

The addition of a talented freshman class, combined with the losses of only two players from last year's roster, should help.

Sharp-shooting forward Angie Bjorklund headlines the incoming group of freshmen, which also includes 6-foot-6 center Kelley Cain, 6-4 forward Vicki Baugh and guard Sydney Smallbone.

Bjorklund is expected to make the most immediate impact, taking over the starting spot vacated by Sidney Spencer, the second-leading scorer on last year's team.

"I love the girl's game," senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle said of Bjorklund. "I said that from the get-go. If I have an option, I'm going to Angie. I'm driving and kicking to Angie and (starting point guard) Shannon (Bobbitt). That's my first two 3-point threats."

Cain and Baugh, meanwhile, will give the Lady Vols four players 6-foot-4 or taller, counting Parker and senior center Nicky Anosike.

Junior forward Alex Fuller, a former Shelbyville High standout, and senior guard Alberta Auguste will join Cain, Baugh and Smallbone on a bench as deep as any Tennessee has ever had.

"We don't really drop off too much substituting," Hornbuckle said, "and that's hard to say across the board on any NCAA team."

No. Player Class Pos. Height
00 Shannon Bobbitt SR G 5-2
2 Cait McMahan SO G 5-4
3 Candace Parker JR F 6-4
5 Angie Bjorklund FR G/F 6-0
14 Alexis Hornbuckle SR G 5-11
20 Sydney Smallbone FR G 5-10
21 Vicki Baugh FR F/C 6-4
33 Alberta Auguste SR G/F 5-11
44 Alex Fuller JR F 6-3
52 Kelley Cain FR C 6-6
55 Nicky Anosike SR C 6-4

F Angie Bjorklund
F Candace Parker
C Nicky Anosike
G Alexis Hornbuckle
G Shannon Bobbitt
2006-07 RECORD: 34-3 overall, 14-0 SEC

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