New-look teams to clash Thursday
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt sees something in Duke now that she also sees in her own squad: Personnel changes have resulted in not playing quite the same style as the last few years.
"With their halfcourt offense, they've gone more to a high-low game. It's more inside-oriented than in the past with players like (Alana) Beard," Summitt said in a news conference Wednesday, looking ahead to Thursday's game against Duke (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET) against Duke in Knoxville, Tenn.
"They have a different look and we have a different look, so it's interesting to see what this game presents."
Duke, of course, lost All-American guard/forward Beard off last year's team along with mobile post player Iciss Tillis. And junior point guard Lindsey Harding is currently suspended.
Tennessee lost three seniors from last year's team -- Tasha Butts, LaToya Davis and Ashley Robinson -- and that has impacted the way Tennessee is playing now, too, on both ends of the court.
"Offensively, we've had our share of problems," Summitt said "We're not as strong in transition, we've had to score a lot of points in our halfcourt game. And we haven't shot the ball as well as we should.
"Just the athleticism of Butts, Davis and Robinson was huge. Ashley was an intimidator inside, so a lot of people didn't bring it in there. It has really affected our running game and hurt our defense. We're not nearly as explosive as we were a year ago, and that's something we have to work at and figure out how we can get our break going and get quicker transition opportunities."
As for the change in defense for the Blue Devils, Summitt said, "I've never known them to play this much zone defense. They've got size, and with (Alison) Bales, probably want to keep her closer to the basket. Then they're trapping a lot, and I'm accustomed to seeing them pick you up full court and playing you man-to-man."
Tennessee's lone loss so far was at Texas, 74-59, on Thanksgiving. And Tennessee really had to battle in its most recent victory, 52-48 at home Sunday against Temple. In that game, Tennessee shot just 32.3 percent.
The tough schedule Summitt always puts together is looking maybe even tougher than she might have anticipated. Following Duke, the next four games are against DePaul, Louisiana Tech, TCU and Stanford. The advantage for Tennessee, though, is that only the game against Louisiana Tech is on the road.
But after that comes three consecutive road games before the SEC season starts: at Rutgers, at ODU and at Connecticut (in Hartford, Conn).
Summitt obviously was expecting a lot of work this year bringing in six freshmen, but it has turned out that due to injuries, only three are in the mix so far. They're Alexis Hornbuckle, Nicky Anosike and Sybil Dosty.
"Certainly we are a work in progress. We are not where I thought we would be at this point in the season," Summitt said. "Going into the season, anticipating having six freshmen, I thought it would be very challenging to get any type of consistency. But with only three freshmen playing, it has been a little more difficult than I had anticipated. I think this team has learned a lot."Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.