Senior Angie Bjorklund's legacy at Tennessee has been cemented. She earned a national title as a freshman and shot her way to the school's all-time three-point record, currently standing at 305.
The jury on the junior class remains out with the group having made it no further than the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament.
"That's rattling around all of our heads, especially my class, " junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen said. "We haven't been to an Elite Eight, and we really want to fight to get there. We take them one game at a time, and we know that this is a good Ohio State team."
The Lady Vols folded in the first round in 2009 and lost in the Sweet 16 in 2010.
"Last year we were kind of excited to be a number one seed and erase the memory from the year before and now we realize that Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are not where we want to be; that's not where our expectations are," sophomore guard/forward Taber Spani said. "We understand that."
The standard for Tennessee is Final Fours and the Lady Vols were last there in 2008. That team won with a short roster because of injury and an even shorter rotation. The 2011 team has depth.
The template for winning in postseason is typically a superstar player and a short bench. Teams ride their All-Americans all the way to the net-cutting ceremony.
Tennessee hasn't had an All-American on the court in postseason since Candace Parker departed in 2008. This year's team has two candidates on the 40-player list - which will be pared to 10 soon - in Stricklen and Glory Johnson.
What the Lady Vols do have is tremendous depth that has been deployed at various times this season, mostly depending on health. It was on display in Nashville for the SEC tourney earlier this month during which Tennessee rolled to the title. Such is the depth that when nine players logged minutes in the second round Monday in a tight game against Marquette, the question afterwards was why two other players didn't.
A rotation of 11 is rather unheard of during the regular season, much less the postseason, and the coaches are trying to find the right combinations, which can depend as much on daily health as anything else.
Will Tennessee be able to spring its size and depth in Dayton?
"I think we would like to do more of them, but again, when we've had this conversation before what's been the big issue? Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood asked.
The answer, of course, is the health of the bigs - 6'6 Kelley Cain (hip/back), 6'4 Vicki Baugh (knee) and 6'3 Alyssia Brewer (Achilles tendon). Neither of the three is 100 percent and their availability can be a tipoff decision, depending on how shoot-around and warm-ups went for them.
Even after that, the coaches watch closely to see how they're moving in the paint. They saw enough - or rather didn't see enough against Marquette - to stay with a smaller lineup for long stretches.
"When they're not moving well - moving well is what we look for; that's the number one thing that is obvious - but when they're not able to perform things like we want done, for example, denying the high post, being able to be able to move well enough to get out there and deny the high post or sprint the floor and get somebody sealed and double-buried and keep that seal (the rotation tightens)," Lockwood said.
Another signal is practice performance leading up to the game and, specifically, execution of the scouting report against the scout team bigs. The coaches indicated that there had been practice slippage leading into the Knoxville sub-regional.
"At the end of the day we tell players so much of what we do is about trust," Lockwood said. "You earn trust by what you do between these four lines (of the practice court) and showing it every day.
"It's a deposit per week. If you just come every so often and you're throwing something in there, I don't trust you. But if you're coming in with a steady paycheck and every week (making a deposit), I've got a lot of trust built up."
The reasons for not playing can be varied from physical issues to mental breakdowns in practice during the preparation phase for the next opponent.
"Your margin of error gets smaller," Lockwood said. "You're playing much better teams. "I think her (Summitt's) thing is about getting it done, performing at this point right now.
"You're not like you are in early December where you say, ‘Well, let's see how they do.' There is no time for that. We're all about performance and productivity. Those two ‘p' words are pretty important for us right now."
The nip-and-tuck nature of the Marquette game, which was a one-point contest with six minutes to play, also caused the coaches to stick primarily with what was working. They decided tossing two players, Lauren Avant and Alyssia Brewer, into the fray late when they had not played in the first half, could backfire.
Tennessee also never lost the lead against Marquette or control of the game and prevailed 79-70.
"We talk a lot about it," Lockwood said. "Even during games we debate different things. You go with who's performing. You give me your money and let me invest it and the minute things (dip), you think you won't be calling me and saying, ‘Hey, what's going on? Where's my money?'
"We want to go with what works. We're doing the same thing. If we put bigs in and we've got a 12-point lead and all of a sudden it goes down to six, we're doing the same thing, ‘Hey, hey, hey, get that group back that was doing it right.' "
Brewer, a 6'3 solid post who didn't want to redshirt, has tried to work her way back into game shape during the latter part of the season and her comfort level around the basket on offense and her defensive mobility remain a work in progress.
Marquette didn't align in a traditional post setup - their posts moved a lot, both out of the paint to the wings and darting from the high post to the rim - and that would have been a difficult guard for Brewer.
Ohio State presents a different challenge with the 6'4 Jantel Lavender, and, if healthy, the Lady Vols will want to use all of their bigs as a counter.
"I think all posts will be utilized in this game," Brewer said. "That's what this game is probably going to be oriented around (whereas Marquette was more guard-centered). It's whatever strategy and game plan the coaches have."
They have a huge post presence just like ours, but we have more," Glory Johnson said during the players' press conference on the dais. "So, try to use that to our advantage. Wear out their posts. Try to push it back on them.
"They can't run with us. I know for sure they can't run with us. We have quick posts and quick guards, and I think if we can push it, we can use that to our advantage."
Avant, arguably the team's best on-ball defender, also could be called upon to try to disrupt Ohio State's guards.
"I am just staying prepared, trying to get the reps in practice, and trust in the coaching staff and knowing that they're making the best decision for the team," Avant said.
Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said Avant's ball pressure is an argument to put her in in postseason, as long as she takes care of the ball.
"She does have the ability to do that," DeMoss said. "She can really disrupt. She's got to do something on the other end as well. She's got to take care of the ball. We can't afford a crucial turnover."
DeMoss said the staff strives to match the pieces to best serve Tennessee and counter what the other team wants to do. That means the shuffle of parts will - and does - vary game to game.
"The Marquette game was hard-fought," DeMoss said. "We never could really separate ourselves. We knew they were not going to go away. We were probably a little bit more conservative with our substitutions in that game, and it worked out. We won.
"When you've been coaching as long as we've been coaching, you watch your kids every day in practice, you know what they can do in certain situations."
Every practice session is filmed, and the coaches review it later. In addition, managers keep stats on every possession, shot, steal, deflection, turnover, rebound, block, etc., on both ends of the court during drills so the coaches have daily performance data.
Coaches tend to shorten the bench in postseason because one or two miscues can mean the difference in a team advancing or ending the season. But this season the coaches are open-minded to taking it game by game in terms of how many players will log minutes.
"I don't think we're going to go in a game intentionally thinking, ‘We're going to shorten our bench,' " DeMoss said. "We're not going to predetermine that. We go in a game, throw some people in the first half, see how they do, and if they don't do the job in the first half then we probably would be more conservative substituting in the second half."
A deep rotation does keep a team engaged as players have to be ready at all times.
"It does," Alicia Manning said. "It's an exciting feeling. We all just want each other to succeed, and we all want each other to play well. You never know when your name is going to get called, but you know if it's not mine I am going to be cheering for my teammate and if it's me I know that they all have my back.
"So it's a good feeling. … We can huge, or we can go small and run the floor. There are a lot of weapons."
Brewer's size is a post weapon, and she also is an excellent passer out of the paint and can find shooters when doubled. Brewer agreed a deep bench keep the players focused, but in postseason that's a given anyway.
"I think everybody is still engaged no matter what," Brewer said.
Manning is one of those weapons that can play inside or out and subsequently has logged minutes in every game this season. The 6'1 junior forward was on the floor in crunch time against Marquette, hit two free throws with a minute late to extend a six-point lead to eight and got a steal to end the game.
"How badly do you want it?" Lockwood said. "It's reflected in how you play and compete. That is one of the things that no one questions about A-Town. She wants it and she shows it every time her two feet hit the hardwood.
"There is no guessing how she feels today. She gets out there and gives, and that is one of the things I think players and coaches respect tremendously about her."
DeMoss will make some substitutions herself and others she first runs by Summitt.
"I've had some freedom with the substitutions," DeMoss said. "There are certain kids I know I need to run it by her first. Some kids I pull in and out. But there are some she gets a little nervous about so I have to run it by her."
DeMoss agreed that using a lot of players does keep a bench alert, but the trick is to avoid game slippage with different combos.
It's more likely to be effective when wanting to bring full court pressure against an opponent - Tennessee has had mixed results with this tactic all season - and letting the defense generate the offense.
"We say, ‘We'll put you in. You go as hard as you can for three minutes, and we'll get you out,' " DeMoss said. "The only downside of that is that it might disrupt some flow offensively."
When a team shows that it can defeat the pressure - Marquette went through it rather easily and got a layup - and a team has to execute its half-court offenses to generate points, a shorter rotation is used for continuity purposes.
"If we can find a comfort zone – and it all depends on game to game – and as long as we're ahead (by deploying pressure) and we're rolling, we can keep doing it," DeMoss said. "It has to be a weapon in our back pocket."
Johnson and Manning are well suited to that style of play, as is Kamiko Williams, as long as she is fully ready to play that game. The sophomore has been a work-in-progress since she arrived on campus, but she has made strides, especially later this season.
Avant also can pressure the ball so if Tennessee unleashes consistent pressure, that opens another door to send her to the scorer's table. The oft-injured freshman tweaked an ankle in practice between the SEC and NCAA tourneys but seems to be OK now.
"She's such a solid defender," Lockwood said. "Again, the key for her has been health. We're really hoping that she can help us here."
Health is always a major factor in how the coaches use the bench, especially the three bigs who are in various stages of rehab and recovery.
"We would like to not go wobbly, but if you can't trust your soldiers to not be wobbly, then you're going to find an alternate route of action," Lockwood said. "We might be more guerilla warfare as opposed to going in right through the frontlines and mowing down Baghdad.
"We would love to be able to say, ‘Hey, here they are. Deal with this. 6'6, 6'4, deal with that. And then we're going throw in 6'3 athletic with 6'6. Deal with that. And then we'll pull a 6'6 out and bring in two 6'3s. Now, deal with that.' But it's all about the health."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt was expected to start:Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (13.7 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (11.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Taber Spani, 7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (12.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg); and Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (12.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg).
Summitt earlier had mentioned possibly inserting one of the three true bigs in the starting lineup, but then said she might stick with the same group. The coaches sometimes decide day of game.
Subsequently, the players have to stay prepared.
"One thing that all of us have to be ready for, you have to be flexible," Spani said. "Change is something that happens, and you have to be ready for it. Whoever starts or whoever doesn't start - I am a starter until I know differently - I don't want it to change my game at all.
"You have to have that mindset. Everybody on our team could start. Whoever is on the court we have to bring what we bring. Every game looks different and it will look different, depending on matchups, and we just have to be ready for it.
"Our mindset is one game at a time. We're ready. We're focused. I always say whenever we play to our potential and not worry about the opponent we're really hard to stop. We just have to play Tennessee basketball, and we'll see what happens."
Alicia Manning, who has starter capability, has been a key player off the bench for Tennessee.
"Right now it's an X factor," Dean Lockwood said. "She hits some teams with such a fury. Most teams by now know her and know about her, but she's on the floor, whipping through there and getting an offensive rebound or guarding you or going for a loose ball and wiping somebody out. She hits the floor with a fury."
"Anybody on this team can start," said Kelley Cain, who has done so 17 times this season. "It really doesn't matter who. All that matters is who finishes and how you play while you're in there."
Ohio State Coach Jim Foster is expected to start: Samantha Prahalis, 5'7 junior guard, No. 21 (14.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg), hails from Commack, N.Y., has 208 assists this season and is second on the team with 48 steals, her 6.9 assists per game is third in the country; Tayler Hill, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 4 (12.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg), hails from Minneapolis, Minn., had a career-high 19 points against Penn State, named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team; Brittany Johnson, 5'11 senior guard, No. 40 (10.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg), hails from Olney, Ill., has connected on 81 three-pointers (44.8 percent) this season, reached 1,000 points for her career in the March 19 win over UCF; Jantel Lavender, 6'4 senior forward/center, No. 42 (22.9 ppg, 10.9 rpg), hails from Cleveland, Ohio, set the NCAA record with her 135th double-digit scoring game against Georgia Tech, passing Oklahoma's Courtney Paris (134); and Ashley Adams, 6'5 freshman center, No. 33 (6.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg), hails from Siloam Springs, Ark., tied an Ohio State NCAA tourney record with five blocks against Georgia Tech.
In Ohio State's last game, two starters, Lavender and Adams, logged 40 minutes each, and three others tallied 38 minutes each. Foster wasn't concerned about Tennessee's depth.
"Five," Foster said when asked how many players were needed to be successful. "Because the timeouts in the NCAA tournament make it seem like 2012, 2013 tournaments. They are very long."
Foster also said he would welcome an up-tempo pace.
"I like a fast tempo," Foster said. "We are comfortable playing fast. We like a fast tempo."
Lavender wasn't concerned about possibly having to go the distance or having assorted post players guard her.
"I think my conditioning is good," Lavender said. "I've played 40 minutes quite a few games this year, and I have had quite a few post players to play against. I think that Kelley Cain is the biggest body they probably have. I think that I can bang with anybody.
"I'm ready. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win the game. If they throw seven different players at me, I'm going to throw seven different defenses at them to play against."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Ohio State game. Here is her assessment.
When Ohio State has the ball: Two key players for the Buckeyes are post Jantel Lavender and point guard Samantha Prahalis.
"They use their strengths, and those two are going to play together, and they play very well together," Warlick said. "When two people play together, a point guard and a post, you run a lot of things through them."
Ohio State also has other scoring contributors in Tayler Hill and Brittany Johnson, who along with Lavender and Prahalis, average double digits.
"They've got all aspects," Warlick said. "They've got an excellent three-point shooter and penetrators, and their post play is really good. He (Jim Foster) uses his strengths, and he plays to his strengths."
Ohio State will selectively push the pace of a game.
"If you're not back, they're going to run," Warlick said. "They'll release somebody and throw long. I think they don't mind playing a half-court game, but they want to run, as well."
Defensively, Warlick expects an assortment of deployments from man to zone to modified looks intended to contain certain players.
"He ran a triangle and two last game," Warlick said. "I think he may do some junk defenses on us, may face guard certain people. I think they primarily do man to man, but they run a 2-3. We have prepared for all aspects."
When Tennessee has the ball: The intention for the Lady Vols is to work the ball through the paint, but Warlick noted that Marquette did a good job of taking away that option at times.
"You can say you're going to pound it, but what the other team is doing defensively has a lot to do with it," Warlick said. "We want to pound it inside, but Marquette was taking it away."
As far as lineups - starting and combos during the game - Tennessee wants to remain flexible.
"At times we may go bigger, and we may go athletic," Warlick said. "I think it's time and score."
Defensively, the Lady Vols want to show an assortment of looks.
"We're going to throw everything out," Warlick said.
Depending on combos on the floor, Tennessee has the personnel to bring full court pressure but hasn't shown much of it yet in postseason. It wasn't needed against overmatched Stetson and wasn't effective initially against Marquette.
"It's going to be selective," Warlick said. "It depends. Marquette was a very well schooled on (breaking pressure). They are a very good team. They are very well coached."
The four teams in the Dayton Region met with the media Friday. Transcripts of those press conferences are available online:
MIND OVER KNEE: Vicki Baugh's thrice-operated left knee doesn't care for cold weather - and Dayton feels especially frigid with highs in the 40s after Knoxville was bathed in the 70s - but the redshirt junior forward said she was ready to go.
"My approach the whole season was I know there are times it's going to be rough, but I want to be ready for the tournament," Baugh said. "I'm here, and I'm completely focused, and I am not going to let my knee get in the way."
WELCOME WEATHER: Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale was in Dayton in 2007 when the temperatures soared to 80 degrees - unusual for Ohio in March - and the thermometer inside hit the 90s since Dayton Arena didn't have air conditioning.
"The first thing I went to check when I was in Charlottesville (for the sub-regional in Virginia) was the weather in Dayton, because the last time I was here, it was a bit toasty in the gym," Coale said. "There was snow when we drove up today. Hallelujah."
Coale's team had the Paris twins at the time and preferred a half-court game, not a track meet. Ole Miss, a team that made it to the Elite Eight with its defense, wanted to run. The Rebels had the Sooners sweating all game and upset Oklahoma to reach the regional final, where their run ended against Tennessee.
"She tells the story that before the first timeout she had her jacket off, her blouse un-tucked," said guard Whitney Hand. "She was dripping sweat."
None of the current Oklahoma players were on the team then, nor were any for Tennessee. The 2007 Tennessee team had practiced all week in Stokely, which had no air conditioning, so the gym felt hot for them, too, but they were used to it.
"I remember ESPN having a thermometer courtside and when I watch the replay of the event how many times they went back to that," Coale said. "We had the Paris twins and we were playing Ole Miss and they were pressing every moment of the game.
"It was the worst possible collection of factors for the type of team that we had at that given time. So my memories of this (venue) aren't very positive, but we have a different locker room, and it's snowing so it's all good."
Whatever snow greeted the Sooners had long disappeared before the day of media/practice ended Friday, but the temperatures remained cold.
DIRTY GIRL: Shekinna Stricklen apparently created the "Dirty Girl" nickname for Alicia Manning on the spot, as it was a new moniker for her teammates.
"I never heard that one. She doesn't shower so I can't understand why she would call her that," Vicki Baugh teased, with Manning well within earshot.
"A-Town does the dirty work," Baugh added. "Until you really watch the tape you don't really know what A-Town does, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than what she gets. I think that kind of falls into the name. She does all the little dirty work and doesn't care to get the credit for it."
PACT PACK: The Lady Vols pact, which was written and signed with the papers stacked together, will be reviewed before each game.
The pact came about in a players' meeting Tuesday after the close call against Marquette.
"In our team meeting we wanted to put on paper what our mission was and what we needed to do to get there and take it one game at a time," senior Sydney Smallbone said. "We wrote it down. Everyone had input into it. That way it's ours. It's not something the coaches gave us. It means more to us."
The seniors and redshirt juniors Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain, spearheaded the effort since they were the ones on the roster for the title run in 2008.
"We decided it was something we needed to do, especially coming off the Marquette game when we didn't play as well as we probably should have," Smallbone said. "We realized we needed to get everyone on the same page."
"It brought us a lot closer," Kamiko Williams said. "We talked to each other, and we talked about our roles. Our teammates filled us in on what they feel like we do good and what we should work on. It brought us a lot closer. It made us trust each other a whole lot more, too, because we do pay attention to each other, and we do see that we need each other."
"I think this week has really helped, especially with our meeting," Taber Spani said. "Vicki really stepped up and Ang and the people who have been there and they're like, ‘Look, we've been there. We know what it takes.'
"They understand that rub-off effect is going to have to happen on us. We understand the NCAA Tournament is a different ballgame."
Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said the players who had not been to a Final Four could not use that as an excuse. He pointed to the 2007 team, which carried the burden of a program drought when it came to national titles.
"It's time to grow up and even if you haven't been through it, so what," Lockwood said. "At some point those kids in '07 went through it. When was it before they won one? 1998? Sooner or later you starting figuring it out. It all boils down to a sense of urgency."
CHILL OUT: Both Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen mentioned after the Marquette game that they had trouble catching their breath in the first five minutes. It's not a conditioning issue - those two are in excellent shape and log extended minutes - and Pat Summitt later wondered if the players were too uptight.
"I think they felt pressure, just the pressure to win that game," Summitt said. "I think now that we're here and we're not in Knoxville they seem a lot more loose. I want them to be focused, but I don't want them to be uptight, and I think they have a good feel right now."
Summitt applauded the players' meeting on Tuesday that they called on their own.
"It means so much more when players invest and take ownership," Summitt said. "I think they are very focused and that's a good thing. I like it when they have those long meetings and come out and say, ‘Coach, we're ready.' "
Summitt was speaking to the Knoxville and Dayton television media before she took the practice court and said, "I think they're a confident group, but it's always a wait and see. But I like their focus. They seem to be loose but also focused."
OVERLOOKED: The Lady Vols haven't been favored to win the national title even if their national title years.
The 2007 team was called by one national pundit perhaps the least talented in Pat Summitt's history, and the players pocketed that remark and pulled it back out in postseason en route to national title number seven.
Despite being the defending national champions and having game changer Candace Parker back, the 2008 team also wasn't picked by the pundits to win after arriving in Tampa. The players rode that outrage to national title number eight, and the coaches later said Nicky Anosike was ready to tear down the locker room door before Tennessee took the court against Stanford.
The 2011 team has to first get past the Sweet 16, something the junior class hasn't done yet.
"We went to the Sweet 16 last year and we don't have experience in the Final Four," senior Angie Bjorklund said. "It's a whole other ballpark. I know that. My nerves went through the roof. Experience is huge, and I am lucky that my seniors had the experience.
"We weren't the pick when I was a freshman either. We weren't the popular team. It got to them (in 2008 and made the veterans angry). We just know where we're at as a team, and we don't really look to the outside sources. As long as we know as a team where we can be and where we want to be, that's all that matters."
Bjorklund and Vicki Baugh were on the court in crunch time in that 2008 title run. Baugh thinks the 2011 team's toughness was forged through difficult circumstances beginning with the 2009 first round loss.
"This team has been through a lot," Baugh said. "But we stay as a family. We know that that's important. We're always going to ride together, and we know that people kind of jump on a bandwagon sometimes and leave and it's always going to be like that."
Alyssia Brewer said the lack of accolades right now is not surprising because Tennessee has missed the past two Final Fours.
"You can't blame them because of the past two years," Brewer said. (But) even with that (2008) team people didn't really pick them. I can't explain why. I don't know what goes through people's heads but I can say overall Tennessee has that target on their back on and off the court."
Kelley Cain watched that title run from the vantage point of the sideline as she recovered from major knee surgery.
"I feel like sometimes that's just something you have to experience to fully grasp and understand what it takes," Cain said. "But I feel like this team has what it takes to get there because, like Vicki said, we've been through so much. We've been put on the burner by so many people. As long as we do what we're supposed to do, we'll be fine.
"Tennessee is known for winning and nobody likes people who win all the time so of course they're going to hate on us."
Glory Johnson said the junior class understands the task at hand.
"I think we know how hard it is," Johnson said. "When people are playing and it's their last game on the line, they're going to go as hard as they can, and that's what we should do. Go hard. Play like it's our last time on the floor because it might be."
Despite the lack of chatter about Tennessee being a favorite, the Lady Vols won't sneak up on anyone. They carry the dual identity of not being favored but being the team everyone wants to knock off, too.
"We have a history, and our coaching staff has a history," Alicia Manning said. "There's a reason why all 13 of us are in this locker room. We were hand-chosen by our coaches and they think with this group we can win it all. That's a telling statement to me.
"They've been right more than any other coaches in the country have. I take it as a challenge, and our team loves challenges."
BUCKEYE COUNTRY: Dayton is about an hour from Columbus, Ohio, the home of Ohio State, and the buses used to bring teams to Dayton Arena say "Buckeye Tours."
Tennessee fans always travel well, but Ohio State should have a solid showing given the proximity of the arena to the campus. Dayton is about a five-hour drive from Knoxville.
"This is going to be like the first time we've not really dominated with the crowd (in postseason)," junior Shekinna Stricklen said. "They may have more, but we will have orange there. We went to Kentucky, and we feel like it's going to be that kind of game and that kind of way with the crowd.
"I think we all know what to expect, and I feel like we're going to be ready. I like playing away games more than a home game. That's just me. You know you have to be ready."
A year ago the Lady Vols were in Memphis - actually farther from Knoxville than Dayton at seven hours but still the home state - when they fell to Baylor in the Sweet 16.
"This is right where we were last year, and we absolutely don't want to feel what we did last year and don't want it to end up that way," sophomore Taber Spani said. "I think this is a different feel, too, because we're confident and we realize when we play like we can and our potential and when we hit on all cylinders we're really hard to stop. I think we're ready for that.
"Ohio State is a great team. We totally respect them, but we're ready for it, and I think we're really excited about it. But those first five minutes it's going to be a feel-out, get used to, ‘Hello, this is regionals.' Hopefully, we'll settle in real quick."
VANDY REDUX: Coach Jim Foster left Vanderbilt for Ohio State nearly a decade ago, but apparently the animosity when it comes to in-state rival Tennessee has remained.
After published remarks by Foster that there "was no love lost" when it came to Tennessee, a tepid endorsement of Pat Summitt as a coach and a lighthearted observation that he doesn't eat orange M&Ms because they don't taste as good as the other ones, the current Lady Vol players, who were in elementary school when Foster was at Vanderbilt, got an understanding of how entrenched the rivalry was with the Commodores.
"People talk," Alyssia Brewer said in short summation.
"That rivalry is not going to go anywhere," Kelley Cain said. "I feel like he still has a little bit of that rivalry left in him, because we're Tennessee, and everybody wants to beat us because of what this name on our jersey says.
"We laughed at it, but our response is going to be on the court."
"No matter where we are and even 10,000 years later, it's still going to be there," Brewer said of the rivalry. "If definitely goes back, and it definitely is going to continue."
"We know the history of Vanderbilt and Tennessee," senior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "If you're a part of one or the other program, you have a little rivalry there. I can see how his competitiveness towards Tennessee, not just because he's playing us but because he coached there, it's definitely increased.
"Once you're in the state of Tennessee and you've felt that rivalry and you're a part of it, when I graduate and move on it will still be with me, too."
Junior Glory Johnson said the players realize early in their Tennessee careers that losing to Vanderbilt is not acceptable, and she laughed about the remarks coming from the other side of the rivalry from a former coach of the Commodores.
"You have to take that as motivation," Johnson said. "You can't take it as any anything negative. Just play and prove people wrong when they make negative remarks."
"I eat orange M&Ms all the time," Johnson added with a laugh. "And last time I checked they taste all the same. I'll have some orange M&Ms later if he would like to try some again and see how they taste."
Kamiko Williams, who played high school basketball in Clarksville, Tenn., said, "When you have rivalries like that, they never go away. Ever.
"But the thing that tripped me out that he said was the whole M&Ms thing. I feel like all M&Ms taste alike. We read it and started laughing. We said, ‘Well, let's just go out there and show them what's up. Every team always has something to say about us."
"It was interesting," Alicia Manning said. "I was laughing. That makes March Madness even more fun, the coaches getting that competitive attitude. It carries down to the team.
"I knew that the Vanderbilt rivalry was already strong enough. I didn't know that it was a continual thing. It makes everything fun."
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The remark that raised Manning's eyebrows was the one by post player Jantel Lavender that the effect of Tennessee was more Summitt and her legacy of great players, not so much the current team.
"Obviously Pat is a legendary coach, but when it comes down to it she picked all those other legendary players just like she picked us," Manning said. "That's a telling statement if you ask me.
"It's OK. Emotions rising. Everyone is just ready for this game and each team to just prove what they're made out of."
"That makes it fun," Taber Spani said. "Two teams are going to battle out there. We know that a lot of teams have rivalries with us, and we understand that. I think that makes it fun. It's a compliment kind of because everyone respects Tennessee."
Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss was at Tennessee while Foster was at Vanderbilt.
"I thought it was just typical Jim Foster," DeMoss said. "He would make little remarks like that when he was at Vanderbilt. There's a little edge there, more on his part than our part.
"Tennessee has not played (him) since he's been at Ohio State. So I think the wound has been opened a little bit for him. I want to let him know that there is a new flavor of orange M&Ms that have come out over the last eight years that he may want to retry."
The rivalry remains for Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, the Lady Vols' point guard from 1976 to 1980 who still gets fired up to play the Commodores.
"Along with a number of other teams but that one definitely," Cain said. "In-state, constantly competing to be the best. That rivalry will never die."
"Never," said freshman point guard Lauren Avant, a native of Memphis whose best game this season was leading the team to a comeback win over Vanderbilt, a performance made especially sweet since it was against the in-state rival. "That is never going to go away, and he took that to Ohio State with his orange M&Ms comment."
Avant said the players were well aware of the remarks.
"That motivated us," Avant said. "And we haven't even heard what Coach (Summitt) has to say about it, so I am sure she will motivate us even more."
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee is 8-1 against Ohio State. The two teams last played in the 1996 NCAA Tournament, a 97-65 win for Tennessee in Knoxville. Tennessee is 23-5 in the Sweet 16 all-time. … Tennessee is 3-2 in games played on March 26. The last win on this date was against Rutgers, 76-69, in 2006. The first win on this date was against Immaculata, 91-71, in 1977. The two losses on March 26 were against Louisiana Tech, 69-46, in 1982; and Western Kentucky, 75-70, in 1992.
Post players Kelley Cain, Lyssi Brewer, Vicki Baugh