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UT: Ultimate team (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday April 4, 2007 2:26AM; Updated: Thursday April 5, 2007 10:12AM
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The creation of this team's tight bond started last summer "after we finished pouting" about the Regional Final loss, says Hornbuckle. The returning players and four newcomers, including Bobbitt and Auguste, the first junior college transfers on the squad since 1977, worked out daily and gathered weekly for "Family Night" at the home of seniors Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding. They'd throw something on the grill and then play Spades or Scrabble, or go bowling. On the court, they helped each other with individual weaknesses, becoming more invested in each other's success.

"If Dom came to me and said, 'Look, I want to learn how to defend dribble penetration, I'd help her out," says Hornbuckle. "Likewise, Sid helped me on my jump shot and I helped Bert on her ballhandling."

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The bonding didn't stop there. Summitt brought in team-building experts in the preseason to teach the players to trust one another. On Jan. 5, the eve of the game at Connecticut, Anosike drew up a "Lady Vol Pact" with eight principles each player signed "to hold each other accountable," she says. "For a few games after that, we would stand in the locker room and recite it so it was fresh in our minds before games. But after a while it just became second nature."

Perhaps the most important step in the evolution of this team came after a 63-54 loss to LSU in the SEC tournament. Parker had just four points, about 15 below her average, and her defense was slack. After the game, the team held a three-hour meeting to air out grievances. "Candace said she was tired, that she couldn't get into it, and the other players called her out on it," recalls assistant Holly Warlick. "They were pretty tough on her. The message was, we need you on both ends of the floor."

Parker elevated her game in the tournament, averaging 19.4 points and 10.4 rebounds going into the final. "I think we realized after the LSU game that we were going to have to play defense," she says. "I realized how big of a defensive presence I could be. I really wanted to step it up for my team."

Against Rutgers, Parker was part of a tenacious team defense that harassed the Scarlet Knights into 18 turnovers. The Lady Vols were just as aggressive on the boards, pulling down 42 rebounds -- including a stunning 24 on the offensive end -- to the Scarlet Knights' 34. "They did it with defense and rebounding, " said Summitt. "We've won the majority of our championships that way."

It had been nine years since she had won the sixth of those seven titles. (As a vivid reminder of the passage of time, Summitt's 16-year-old son, Tyler, required a second ladder in order to cut the net next to his mom. "Last time I was small enough to stand on the same ladder with her," said Tyler. "Now I'm too big.")

All these years later, the thrill of victory is still sweet for Summitt. "To win anything you have to be a tight team," she said. "They believed in each other and they had one goal: to be here in Cleveland and cut down the nets. I'm real proud of this team."

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