- Melanie Jackson, Women's Basketball
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ESPN analyst Stacey Dales-Schuman recently questioned Tennessee's defense. Now, with Alexis Hornbuckle hurt, the team's problems are sure to be blamed on a lack of a point guard.
Some Tennessee haters sprinkled throughout women's college message boards blame Candace Parker, saying she isn't as good as advertised. (Perhaps the only thing we can all agree on right now is that Shanna Zolman isn't as good as last season.)
Theories to explain Tennessee's recent underachieving ways have been tossed around as much as the refs' flags anytime the Seahawks reached the red zone in Super Bowl XL.
But the truth of the matter is that one of Tennessee's biggest traditions has gone MIA. Last season, Tennessee put up its worst shooting performance in Pat Summitt's tenure. Now, the Lady Vols' rebounding is reeling, and their 38.5 per-game average currently ranks as -- yep, you guessed it -- the worst in program history.
On Wednesday, it seemed coach Pat Summitt had had enough, and she was looking for Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding, in particular, to step it up.
"The one thing that [Redding] and Spencer have both neglected to put in their packages is a rebounding mind-set at both ends," said Summitt during her weekly teleconference. "Those two are capable of getting on the boards for us and consistently coming up with some big numbers, but they are coming up with goose eggs or maybe one board. That's unacceptable for two juniors.
"Now, if we were playing freshmen, I might say that I need to be patient, that they are not aware of what they need to do and how to anticipate covering boards. These two should know. We expect that to be a point of emphasis for both."
Spencer, who's 6-foot-3 and has started 11 of 25 games to average 22.6 minutes, grabs 2.9 boards per game. The 6-1 Redding, who plays just 11.7 minutes per game, is averaging 1.3 rebounds. She has had seven games with no rebounds, though to her credit, Redding played very limited minutes in several of those contests. Still, Redding averaged 15 minutes over the last three games yet mustered just four total rebounds, and she failed to grab one board in 17 minutes against Vanderbilt, when she logged her first start of the season. Unfortunately, it also was her third zero-rebound performance in Tennessee's last six games.
Now that Hornbuckle -- who ranked second on the team with 5.4 rebounds per game -- is out, Parker (7.7 rpg) is the only player averaging more than 5.0 boards. Nicky Anosike ranks next with 4.9, followed by Tye'sha Fluker's 3.8 average and Sybil Dosty's 3.5 average (in just 11.1 minutes per game).
"For minutes played," Summitt said, "Sybil Dosty is doing an awesome job."
But Tennessee's 38.5 rebounds per game is easily the worst in team history. The all-time low was set 28 years ago, when the 1977-78 Lady Vols averaged 39.7 boards -- and that marked the only sub-40.4 rebounds-per-game average. This season, Tennessee's rebounding numbers have steadily declined, dropping below 40 per game after the Jan. 23 loss to Duke, in which the Blue Devils posted a plus-7 rebounding advantage. Just five opponents have outrebounded Tennessee this season, but three have occurred in the last eight games (Vanderbilt was plus-2 and LSU was plus-5).
Now, Summitt says Tennessee's nine remaining able-bodied players must all do better.
"Fluker could do so much more on the boards. Anosike and Parker can both get more boards. Our guards can rebound more on the defensive end," she said. "Everyone becomes more responsible for the success of each possession."
And yes, the Lady Vols' defense could be better, too.
"This hasn't been what I'd call an eager team to support one other defensively," Summitt said. "And now they have to guard the ball and provide support to each other and to the ball."
The Colonial Athletic Association is one mid-major conference moving up in the world. In the latest RPI, the CAA ranked eighth, above both the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA.
But for as much as everyone automatically thinks of either Old Dominion (the league's perennial NCAA Tournament representative) or Delaware (the 2004-05 regular-season champion), Hofstra is having a breakout year.
With a win Friday afternoon at Virginia Commonwealth, the Pride would notch their 15th win of the season -- their most since 1983-84 -- and ninth road victory, which also would mark their most in 22 years.
Sure, with programs such as Tennessee and UConn making a habit of posting consecutive 30-win seasons, Hofstra's numbers might not be that impressive. And with just five regular-season games remaining, Hofstra (14-8, 9-4 CAA) will be hard-pressed even to equal the program's single-season wins mark (21, set in 1982-83, its first D-I season).
But sometimes success is about baby steps, about wins that offer hope and build confidence. Hofstra -- which can take some solace in the knowledge that five of its eight losses were to top-30 RPI teams -- already was heading in the right direction but got a huge boost Sunday after beating Delaware in overtime.
The Hens had beaten Hofstra -- which ranks No. 69 in the latest RPI -- in 11 straight games, but the Pride snapped the streak by scoring 91 points. Delaware had ranked as the third-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 52.1 points before giving up the season-high 91 -- the most points allowed by the Hens in their last 197 games, dating back to December 1999.
Hofstra, which has four players averaging at least 10.0 points, hadn't beaten Delaware since Jan. 9, 2000, a 72-68 victory in the team's first game at Hofstra Arena.
Now, Delaware and Hofstra sit tied for third place in the CAA standings, behind ODU (12-0) and James Madison (10-3). The Hens and Pride meet again in the regular-season finale, at Delaware.
In the meantime, expect Cigi McCollin (team-high 15.2 ppg) and Vanessa Gidden (14.9 ppg, team-high 8.6 rpg) to keep leading the way. Hopefully for Hofstra, Jeanell Hughes can keep her hand hot, as well. The junior guard has dished out 30 assists and committed just eight turnovers since joining the starting lineup on Feb. 3.
MWC Has New Scoring Leader
Utah senior Kim Smith became the Mountain West Conference's all-time scoring leader in Wednesday's 80-56 win over Colorado State.
Smith finished with 18 points, but her ninth and 10th of the game on a layup just one minute into the second half broke the record of 2,061 points, set by BYU's Erin Thorn from 1999-2003.
The Utes are now in sole possession of second place behind BYU in the league standings. Smith enters her next game with 2,070 points.
Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail the Dish at Melanie.J.Jackson.-ND@espn3.com.
The Dish examines Tennessee's rebounding woes, hot Hofstra and the MWC's new scoring leader.