Alberta Auguste recalls what Tennessee women's basketball once looked like without Alexis Hornbuckle.
On her recruiting visit two years ago, she had a fourth-row aisle seat to watch the Lady Vols commit 28 turnovers and suffer 20 steals at the greedy hands of Florida in a 95-93 overtime loss. Hornbuckle, then a sophomore, was missing because of a fractured right wrist.
Auguste, who was a standout player at Central Florida Community College, verbally committed to UT before leaving campus. Sympathy played a part in her decision.
"They needed some help from a guard standpoint,'' she said of that day.
No. 2 Tennessee (16-1, 4-0 SEC) faces a similar predicament against SEC rival Arkansas (16-3, 1-3) at 7 tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: MyVLT2). Hornbuckle will miss the game because of a diagnostic test for an undisclosed health issue.
Auguste will start in Hornbuckle's place. Her assignment is to be a big help.
"To me it's not a big deal,'' Auguste said. "It might be a big deal to everyone else. I'm humble about the situation."
First and foremost, UT coach Pat Summitt wants the 5-foot-11 senior, who's averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game as a reserve, to be mindful of the proper mindset.
"Bring intensity on every possession,'' Summitt said, "whether it's on offense or defense."
The coach's checklist of responsibilities includes helping set the tone on defense and rebounding. On offense, Auguste is to look for her shot and otherwise keep the ball moving.
Auguste will not be asked to work a shift at point guard. Hornbuckle has been an extra point guard since last season. She manned the position as a sophomore after Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood transferred.
In this case, Summitt said freshmen Sydney Smallbone and Angie Bjorklund will relieve starter Shannon Bobbitt. If necessary, Candace Parker could help.
"She's not a point guard,'' Summitt said of Auguste. "She doesn't need to be a point guard. I don't know why the head coach would put her in that position but I did.
"Let her play to her strengths. When she's at the point position, she's not thinking score. She's just thinking get someone else the ball. She's not rebounding as well. Her decision-making is a lot better from the wing that it is from the point."
Hornbuckle thinks Auguste will do OK as her stand-in.
"When it's all said and done, you know she's going to give you defense, she's going to hustle,'' Hornbuckle said. "She's knocking down shots now. I think she'll be fine."
Auguste is experienced enough to view her role in the context of team play. She mentioned how the team covered for Parker, who was suspended for the first half of a Jan. 2 game at DePaul because of a curfew violation. Without their leading scorer, the Lady Vols still had 53 points by halftime of their 102-68 victory.
"We didn't let it affect us,'' Auguste said. "We're not going to let this affect us as well. We know everything is going to be all right. We count on each other. We believe in each other."
Auguste isn't the only Lady Vol on the spot. Summitt said Bjorklund needs to be more assertive. The starting forward has scored five points and attempted nine shots in the last two games. After Bjorklund scored zero points and attempted three shots against Vanderbilt on Sunday, Summitt threatened replacing Bjorklund with Auguste if the trend continued.
With Auguste temporarily occupied, it's up to Bjorklund to pull the trigger.
"A player like Angie, who shoots the ball as well as she does, she really has to hunt her shots,'' Summitt said. "We screen for her, but she still has to find open shots."
UT's situation pales in comparison to the plight of Arkansas, which is trying to cover for the loss of Lauren Ervin. The 6-3 center suffered a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 10, depriving the Lady Razorbacks of their top scorer (16 points per game) and rebounder (11.0).