STANFORD, Calif. - The whole point of playing top-10 teams is to find out what you need to work on. On Saturday night at Stanford, Tennessee's women's basketball team found out a whole lot.
"I think without question, you learn a lot more from a loss than a win," Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said after top-ranked Tennessee lost in overtime to No. 5 Stanford, 73-69.
Here are some of the lessons that need to be learned before the Lady Vols' next game, Jan. 2 at DePaul:
- Defending the Hi-Lo game. Stanford exploited one of the basic plays in basketball, passing the ball down low to post Jayne Appel again and again in the second half. Appel, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds (six offensive). Her play in the second half helped key Stanford's comeback from an 11-point first half deficit.
- Easing some of the load on Candace Parker. The 6-4 junior scored a game-high 25 points and pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds in the loss. But Parker was beat up enough that Summitt refused to bring her into the postgame media conference. Also, Parker had just six free-throw attempts (she converted three). Summitt said she as a coach has to figure out a way to get Parker to the line more often (translation: Summitt didn't agree with the officiating and plans to work the officials more in the future).
- Protect the ball. Tennessee did do a better job of this as the night went on, finishing with 17 turnovers after committing 11 in the first half. But the Lady Vols kept losing the ball in key situations. Tennessee's penultimate possession ended when Shannon Bobbitt tried to drive and lost the ball to Appel in the last 10 seconds of overtime.
- Putting quality teams away. This one hurt the most. Tennessee held a 33-22 lead with just over a minute to play in the first half before Stanford went on a 5-0 mini-run to close the period. That allowed the Cardinal to go into the locker room with a manageable deficit despite being outplayed to that point.
The defending national champions entered their game at Stanford with a 10-0 record and ranked first in the country. All is certainly not lost - the Cardinal are one of the top teams in the land. Losing by four points in a smaller venue packed with partisans isn't exactly a signal to panic.
Further, Appel and Candice Wiggins figured to bust out at some point after quiet first halves.
"I think it definitely was a missed opportunity, but they're a great team," guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "It's hard to hold them down for an entire half."
Whether the Lady Vols learn their lessons could determine if this is another superb season by Tennessee standards or a subpar affair. The Lady Vols return from holiday break with road games against DePaul and Notre Dame, both in the Top 20. Then, the SECseason begins with a home game against No. 16 Auburn.
For the players, they grudgingly agreed that the loss was a learning experience.
"We just had a lot of breakdowns," Hornbuckle said. "They made the passes they needed to make and hit the shots they needed to hit.
"It's solemn (in the locker room). We don't like losing. We're very competitive."