Saturday, November 17, 2007

One banner for all the memories

After tribute, Lady Vols have business vs. Texas

An unforgettable journey will be remembered today with an official trip down memory lane.

The Tennessee Lady Vols will make the visit before the 3 o'clock women's basketball tipoff against Texas at Thompson-Boling Arena (ESPN2), raising the banner to commemorate last season's national championship, the seventh in team history.

"I'm so proud of the student-athletes that represented us,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "It was a great journey."

The return trip will include departed seniors Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding. A video tribute featuring highlights from last season will be played on the new arena scoreboard. And there will be a pause as the banner is raised to allow for photos.

As well as sweet, the visit will be short. The ceremony is expected to last about five minutes. That's also fitting. It's a new season and there's pressing business that demands attention.

"We can't be in the past once the ball goes up,'' Summitt said.

The top-ranked Lady Vols (2-0) need to look no farther than the opposing bench today for a startling reminder of how much difference a season makes.

After 15 seasons as Duke's head coach, Gail Goestenkors exchanged her Duke blue for Texas burnt orange, replacing retired coaching legend Jody Conradt as the Longhorns' new coach. She has her new team off to a 2-0 start and ranked No. 21.

One of Goestenkors' assistant coaches is former Lady Vols assistant Mickie DeMoss. She was here nine months ago as Kentucky's head coach, when UT celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its first championship team. And now comes this pregame party.

"They certainly haven't missed me, winning another championship,'' DeMoss said. "Maybe that's what they're trying to say."

Another unusual reminder of the new season is the box score from last Thursday's 70-67 victory over No. 9 Oklahoma at the ESPNU Classic in Tampa. Fla.

Although nothing tops winning a national championship in terms of degree of difficulty, beating a top-10 team with essentially two scorers is somewhere high on the list.

After Candace Parker (28 points) and Shannon Bobbitt (career-high 27 points), six other Lady Vols combined for 15 points and 5-for-23 field-goal shooting (21.7 percent).

"We need more balance,'' Summitt said. "From an offensive perspective, we need more balance."

Thursday's game was an extreme example of an early season scoring trend for Tennessee. Including the two exhibitions, the Lady Vols have had just two double-figure scorers in three of their four games. In the two regular-season games, Parker's 25.5 points-per-game scoring average accounts for more than a third of UT's 73-point scoring average.

Tennessee needs more from such veterans as Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike, who shot a combined 2-for-12 against Oklahoma. Summitt rebuked Hornbuckle for picking up two fouls inside the first two minutes and missing 11 minutes in the first half.

"Lex is a senior, you don't do that,'' Summitt said. "She has to have more discipline."

Tennessee's freshmen, who combined for two baskets, received more hands-on attention, meeting with the coaching staff on Friday.

"We just talked about what we expected and then asked them how they felt,'' Summitt said. "They all want to contribute."

Along with her points, Parker's 15 rebounds Thursday reflected another glaring imbalance. She gathered nearly half of Tennessee's 33 rebounds.

Oklahoma's 44-33 rebounding advantage did look like last season. But that's a reminder Tennessee could do without against an athletic, fast-paced Texas team that's averaging 46 rebounds per game.

"I've been talking about boards now for ... well obviously last year, not a good rebounding team,'' Summitt said. "This year is not a great rebounding team. And if they don't become one it could be costly for us."

Notebook: The gates will open at 1:30 today. ... Freshman center Kelley Cain (knee) will miss her third consecutive game.

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