Tennessee to take on Virginia tonight

Kelley Cain is an unselfish post player but the coaches also want her to become a more aggressive one around the rim. It's a balance because Cain draws double teams and can find the open player with a pass, but a 6'6 center also needs to attack the basket. At any rate, it's a better problem to have than the alternative because getting a big to shoot more is easier than teaching one how to pass.

Pat Summitt watched film with the team Wednesday and will try to schedule a one-on-one session with Kelley Cain before No. 4 Tennessee, 2-0, takes on Virginia, 2-0, at 7 p.m. Eastern tonight (SportSouth, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The players spent a little over an hour on the practice court Wednesday in shooting and defensive drills and then went over the specific scout for the Cavaliers.

Both teams are without players for Thursday's game. Virginia's point guard, China Crosby, sustained a left knee injury in the season opener and is definitely out for the Tennessee game. An MRI has been done, and her prognosis for the season is not yet known. The Lady Vols are likely without one of their backup point guards, Lauren Avant, who sprained her right ankle in Sunday's practice. Avant, who is in a boot and on crutches, did not practice Wednesday.

Vicki Baugh did practice Wednesday, and if her knee feels OK at game time, she is expected to play. Summitt spoke to Baugh at practice and reiterated that there was no rush to get back on the floor.

Summitt emphasized in her weekly teleconference Wednesday that the caution light applies to both Baugh and Avant.

"I told our trainer there is no rush whatsoever for either of those two players right now," Summitt said. "We just want them healthy. We are a better team when they are healthy. We don't want to fast forward anything. We just want them to take their time with their rehab work."

Similarly, Cain, who has had a history of knee issues and concussions and most recently dealt with a sore hip, has been eased into playing minutes. She started against Chattanooga and logged eight minutes in each half. Cain is very efficient in limited court time and logged seven points, four rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals.

Summitt sees that efficiency and wants to witness more shots lofted.

"Kelley has to be more aggressive," Summitt said. "She turned down a lot of shots. With her size and skill around the basket she needs to take some ownership."

Summitt intended to use the film session to show Cain when she needed to turn and go to the rim instead of sending the ball back out to the perimeter.

"We get her the ball and she is in a great position and she kicks out and reposts," Summitt said. "That's something that can be corrected immediately. She has to know she has a significant role as our go-to post. She has help from Glory (Johnson) and when Vicki is back in the mix, as well. The potential depth we can have, I think Kelley has to take a little more pride with getting touches and finishing."

Cain is an excellent passer – as evidenced by the four assists – and will fire the ball to an open shooter when she draws more than one defender. So, she has to balance being unselfish with being aggressive.

"With my shot selection," Cain said with a smile when asked how to do that. "When I get doubled definitely kick it back out and give it to the guards. I trust in my heart that they'll make it or come close so I can rebound it. It's just a matter of my shot selection."

She also expected Summitt to emphasize post touches and baskets.

"No matter how much the guards are working on their shot, it's not always going to be there, but that post play, since it's so close to the board, that's more consistent," Cain said.

Cain expected the film session to show her when she had a better shot than she originally thought.

"Keep watching film to show me when it's open because sometimes I feel like some things aren't open and they really are," Cain said. "My problem is I don't like to take a shot that I know 100 percent that I wouldn't make. That is another reason why I don't have that many shot attempts.

"It's just getting out of that mindset. I know my teammates trust me, I know my coaches trust me, it's just that I don't like to take a shot unless I know like 100 percent that I can make it."

Summitt shook her head with a smile when told of Cain's expected shooting percentage and agreed that there is no shot that ever guarantees that.

"She needs to really establish her low post game," Summitt said after practice Wednesday. "And once she gets it in there, unless she gets double-teamed I don't want her kicking it out. I thought she was a little too unselfish the other night. It's not anything major but I think it's something that can help her be more efficient.

"Because she does a great job of getting in the paint and I think when she felt some pressure, she would throw out and repost, which is not all bad because Dean has worked with her on that a lot. But I think there's times when she's right there in the middle when she's turning (and sending the ball out of the paint)."

Summitt also agreed that it's much easier to get a post player to shoot the ball than teach her how to pass it.

Summitt doesn't have that issue with Meighan Simmons. The freshman guard has launched 36 shots in the first two games and hit 19 of them, a shooting clip of 52.8 percent.

"She's not afraid to shoot obviously," Cain said with a laugh. "But it's turned out well so I'm like, ‘Keep going.' "

The team has embraced Simmons, a process made easier by how hard she works in practice.

"There's no friction between her and the team," Summitt said. "I think they are so excited about what she is bringing to the team. She may shoot that well consistently, but if she doesn't she knows she has to be mindful of playing great defense and rebounding. … As long as she's not trying to do too much – that's just a feel thing from the coaching staff and just really managing with her as she plays each and every game."

Summitt had spoken about her depth throughout the preseason – injuries have kept it from being as deep she would like – and Cain said the players all adopted a team-first attitude.

"It's a team effort," Cain said. "It's not about one person. I think most of us don't want the team to be based off just one person because everybody on this team can score. It's just a matter of whose day it is."

Still, the start of Simmons was startling. She had been steady in preseason practice, eager to learn and had many more good days than bad ones, but she has elevated her play even more when it counted.

"No, to be honest," Cain said when asked if the start was expected. "I didn't know how she would react to playing in college for the first time. She's handled it very way. She's added another way for our guards to score, and speed and quickness to our team."

Angie Bjorklund added, "Definitely pleasantly surprised. Coming in I knew she was a real hard worker, I knew she could score on offense. We saw her skill sets in individuals and early in practice.

"We knew she could shoot, we knew she could take it to the hoop, but I didn't know she could bring the confidence coming in this early right from the start that she's brought this year so far. I am pleasantly surprised at how confident she is and she's not afraid to use what she has."

Bjorklund, a senior guard, can appreciate what it takes to perform as a freshman. She joined a veteran-laden team in 2008 that was coming off a national title season in 2007 and lost just one starter in Sidney Spencer. Bjorklund was asked to take the role of three-point threat and started for nearly the entire season. That team wasn't as deep as this one, and Bjorklund smacked into a freshman wall in February.

She remembers the support she got from the veterans and wants to do the same for Simmons.

"For me as a freshman my upperclassmen continued to encourage me to shoot, continued to encourage me to play my game and not be scared of the environment or how much pressure there is here," Bjorklund said. "I try to do that as much as I can with Meighan – encourage her, when she's hitting shots I tell her to keep shooting. She has her own little swag about her that she brings on the court. It's good. That's what we need."

Cain also remembers what it's like to be a first-year player and wanting to both make an impact and fit in with teammates.

"Just keep encouraging her," Cain said. "I think that's key, because when you're a freshman coming in you're always worried about what the upperclassmen think about you. As long as we keep encouraging her and let her know we have faith in her, then I think she'll be fine."

Tennessee has more depth on the way. Baugh is being eased back onto the court – before she played in the second exhibition game it had been 21 months since her last competitive contest – and Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 post and the 2010 SEC Sixth Woman of the Year, is expected back at some point in December.

That would give Tennessee a post rotation of Cain, Johnson, Baugh and Brewer, a collection of size and skill set in terms of athleticism and shooting ability that is not likely matched by any other team in the country.

"Hopefully, when we get healthy, when Vicki is back and Lyssi is ready to play, we'll have four solid post players that we can rotate and keep players fresh, and that really excites me," Summitt said.

"All I can do is smile because I can't wait until that happens," Cain said.

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (8.0 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (24.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (7.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (7.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

That's the same lineup that started against Chattanooga on Monday.

"I liked it," Summitt said. "You always like it if you get off to a good start. I thought Shekinna Stricklen did a good job; she will have to be mindful of not fouling. I like her at the point because she can see over people. Certainly Meighan Simmons has continued to be very impressive. Angie seemed to relax a little more. Meighan has probably helped that out a little bit. The two of them shot very well.

Bjorklund agreed with that assessment. With Simmons on the perimeter – and Stricklen also can shoot from outside and score off the bounce – opponents' defensive schemes going forward can't center on her.

"It's great for me," Bjorklund said. "It really does take a lot of pressure off of me. If we're both hitting shots it's going to be a plus. And of course Strick can score, too, so just having that solid starting lineup really helps. And then we had a ton of points off the bench the other night."

The veteran guards have embraced the youngster on the perimeter, too. Stricklen hugged Simmons in the post-game press conference after the Louisville win. During the game Bjorklund issued some advice.

"I told Strick when Meighan was hitting at Louisville I looked at her and said, ‘Get her the ball.' She kind of looked at me, ‘Like, duh.' I said, ‘OK, just making sure,' " Bjorklund said. "She understands if someone's hitting we're going to get them the ball, whatever it takes to win. Our main focus is winning a championship and if that's what it takes, that's what it takes."

Bjorklund also knows that Summitt will change the lineup, if needed. She also thinks this team is mature and close enough to handle it.

"Hopefully our team, what I see, is whatever it takes to win," Bjorklund said. "If Meighan is playing well – I think that's what so great about having a deep bench – she deserves to start. I can see Coach switching up the starting lineup a lot, though, depending on matchups and that type of thing. It's good to have and our team understands that. That just goes back to how great a chemistry we have."

Summitt said as much during her teleconference. Taber Spani, a sophomore threat from long range, and Alicia Manning, a junior glue-type player who rebounds and plays defense, started the season opener but are coming off the bench now. Both were the first substitutes in the 103-43 win over Chattanooga.

"This isn't etched in stone – the lineup," Summitt said. "It does speak to our depth and what we can bring off the bench. That's what I like about this team right now. We didn't know a year ago what we know now, how many players have matured and stepped up – those who will take control of their game and really contribute to our team."

Cain, who came off the bench in the first game and started the second one, is on board already.

"It doesn't matter who starts," Cain said. "It just matters who finishes. And what's done in between."

Virginia Coach Debby Ryan is expected to start: Paulisha Kellum, 5'8 redshirt senior guard, No. 3 (3.5 ppg, 3.5 assists per game), hails from Upper Marlboro, Md., scored eight points against Tennessee a year ago, has 712 career points, has appeared in 98 games for the Cavaliers with 36 starts, one of the tri-captains this year for the team, tournament MVP of the Junkanoo Jam last season; Ariana Moorer, 5'7 junior guard, No. 15 (12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Woodbridge, Va., had 12 points last season against Tennessee, appeared in 30 games last season and started 20, led the team last season with 82 assists, scored in double digits 10 times last season; Whitny Edwards, 5'11 junior guard, No. 2 (13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), hails from Charlotte, N.C., scored 16 points in season opener against Hofstra, started 10 games last season, played for Tennessee Flight in AAU ball, twin sister Britny Edwards is a reserve for Virginia, father Theodore "Blue" Edwards played in the NBA; Chelsea Shine, 6'2 junior forward, No. 50 (8.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), hails from Wayne, Pa., had six rebounds against Tennessee last season, career-high 17 rebounds against Mount St. Mary's, one of the team's tri-captains, appeared in 31 games last season, started 29, played AAU ball for the Philadelphia Belles; Simone Egwu, 6'3 sophomore center, No. 4 (9.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg), hails from Odenton, Md., had 10 points and six boards against Tennessee last season, had 14 points, 14 boards in season opener, the only freshman to play in all 31 games last season, started 29, played AAU ball for Boo Williams Elite.

The loss of starting point guard China Crosby to a knee injury suffered in the season opener is a major one for the Cavaliers. Crosby, a sophomore, missed the second half of last season with an ACL injury to the same knee.

"I felt like, not having China, we played a different pace," Ryan said after Virginia's second game, an 81-58 win over Mount St. Mary's. "We played differently. And so you come in and you've got a whole different thing."

An MRI has not conclusively determined Crosby's prognosis just yet, but she is definitely out for the Tennessee game.

"That's a major blow," Tennessee Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "That's a big hit, because that kid was a competitor, just played hard and gave them some energy."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Virginia game. Here is her assessment.

When Virginia has the ball The loss of China Crosby doesn't mean Virginia changes its game plan. The Cavaliers still want to push tempo.

"They do a lot of stuff that we do," Warlick said. "They run the ball. They get after it on the defensive end, which opens up their transition. I think they're going to run the ball. They've got post players that can hit the three, so it spreads the floor out a lot.

"They set a lot of ball screens, do dribble handoffs, they try to spread the floor out because they've got players who can hit threes and who can penetrate, which makes it's a difficult defense for us.

"The thing that impressed me to the most is they're great rebounders. They're out-rebounding their opponents on the offensive end by 25. That's pretty good. They may not be hitting their first shot, but they're getting second and third-chance points, because they're aggressive rebounders and they anticipate. That's a big concern is their ability to get offensive rebounds."

Warlick said the absence of Crosby would likely force two freshmen into the rotation in Kelsey Wolfe, a 5'10 guard from Germantown, Md., and Ataira Franklin, a 5'11 guard from Bowie, Md.

"They're good shooters," Warlick said. "They're a dimension they didn't have consistently last year was a couple of players that can hit the three."

Defensively, Warlick expects Simone Egwu to bang inside with Kelley Cain in the paint.

"She's physical," Warlick said. "They put good pressure on the ball. I think they're going to guard certain people certain ways. They're going to not let Angie have the ball and they're going to make some of our players prove that they can hit from the outside."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols always want to play inside-out. With Cain on the floor at the opening tip that strategy is particularly important.

"We're not just going to be pounding it inside," Warlick said. "We're going to try and open it up for her. Hit some outside shots and open up the inside. We want to get into a rhythm that we did against UTC."

Tennessee also wants to push the pace and score in early offense before the defense gets set.

"It gives us energy, and it starts on the defensive end," Warlick said. "I think makes or misses (by the Virginia team), we've got to know how important it is for us to get the ball out in early offense."

Defensively, Tennessee is better over the past two seasons – especially guarding the arc – but the coaches expect steady improvement across the court.

"We're a little bit more active," Warlick said. "We're helping a little bit better. We've still got a ways to go really, but we've got some people who can get out and pressure the ball. When you can do that it can hide some of your mistakes that you make during a game. When you have great ball pressure sometimes you can get away with not helping as much.

"But we've got some kids that can get out and get after the ball. We've still got to get better on being more consistent on the penetration, but it's getting better. It's a work in progress."

Tennessee also is more multiple now with its traditional man schemes and now its matchup zone.

"Both games we've done both, and we're going to have to use both," Warlick said. "I don't think we mind using both. I think we like the variety."

Pat Summitt said the Lady Vols also could deploy Glory Johnson on the perimeter against Virginia, which has some speed in the backcourt.

"I think we'll definitely take a look at it, because with Lauren (Avant) not in we're a little short there," Summitt said. "I think it would be a good look for us."

The last time Virginia played in Thompson-Boling Arena, the Cavaliers walked out with an 83-82 win on Nov. 17, 2008. It was only the 19th loss on the Lady Vols home court since the arena opened in 1987. The freshmen on the floor that day for Tennessee are now juniors, and they won last season, 77-63, in Charlottesville, Va., before a sold-out crowd.

Monica Wright, a junior for Virginia in the 2008 win, torched Tennessee for 35 points on 14-26 shooting. Wright is now in the WNBA. She was the second pick last spring of the Minnesota Lynx and started 24 games as a pro.

Still, Virginia rolls over the mountains knowing it had success in Knoxville, a rarity in women's college basketball.

"The thing about Virginia and the thing I like about them is they don't have a Monica Wright, just a major go-to player, but they're all steady and consistent, the whole team," Warlick said. "They learned to play with Monica Wright and now they're learning to play with each other, and the last two games I've seen they've done a pretty good job.

"But that's a devastating (loss to graduation). Monica Wright is one of the best players that I've seen play the game."

VIRGINIA QUOTE: "That's a cool experience. You just feel so surrounded by legacies, Hall of Fame coaches coaching against each other. We won my freshman year; I absolutely remember that. It'll be a really cool experience to go back. It's always fun to play, whether you're home or away, in arenas like that with the crowd fueling you."

That's Cavalier junior forward Chelsea Shine talking about the last time Virginia played in Knoxville.

THROWDOWN: Glory Johnson is trying to become the next dunker in Lady Vol history after Michelle Snow and Candace Parker. Her first attempt on a breakaway in Monday's game missed – teammates said she went off the wrong foot – but the 6'3 forward has the green light from Pat Summitt.

Summitt admires a player who has the moxie to try, but she has two primary rules – make it if it's a close game and don't attempt in traffic if there is not a safe landing. She doesn't want to lose a game or a player to injury because of a dunk, but she understands the excitement of the fans when one happens.

Summitt would also prefer that the dunk be successful.

"Absolutely," Summitt said.

Summitt's willingness to turn Johnson loose also indicates she is happier with the junior's overall composure.

"Much better," Summitt said. "Much, much better."

ON TAP: Five other SEC teams are in action Thursday in the following matchups: Duke at Auburn; Arizona at Ole Miss; Alabama A&M at Mississippi State; Clemson at South Carolina; and Samford at Vanderbilt.

On Friday, three SEC teams take the court with Alabama at Georgia Southern; Chattanooga at Georgia and LSU vs. Massachusetts in South Orange, N.J., as part of the Seton Hall Classic. On Sunday, LSU plays Seton Hall in the Classic and Nicholls State is at Ole Miss.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Virginia, 12-2. The Lady Vols are 5-1 in Knoxville with the last loss being in 2008. The second-worst loss of Pat Summitt's career was to Virginia in 1990 when Tennessee lost in a regional final and was denied a chance to play in the Final Four on its home court. In the aftermath of the 2009 loss to Ball State in the first round of the NCAA tourney, Summitt called it the worst of her career. That raised a few eyebrows from media watchers because of that Virginia loss and when asked, Summitt reiterated that it was indeed the worst. That was said within 30 minutes of the Ball State game ending so perhaps the Virginia game has crept back up to the top spot again. Tennessee did avenge the loss by beating Virginia in 1991 to win a national title. The two teams have met nine times in postseason dating to 1981. … Tennessee is 6-0 in games played on November 18. The last win on this date was against Texas, 92-67, in 2007. The first win on November 18 was against the Mexican National Team, 96-63, in an exhibition game in 1991. … Tennessee has an 81-18 record against ACC teams. The most wins recorded against an ACC team are the 14 victories over North Carolina. … The Lady Vols have had two familiar faces serve on the staff for Virginia. Former Lady Vol basketball player Nikki Caldwell, who was a freshman guard on the 1991 team, was on the Cavaliers staff as an assistant in 1999 and spent three seasons in Charlottesville before being hired by Summitt. Caldwell left Knoxville in 2008 to take the head coaching position at UCLA. Angel Elderkin, a graduate assistant for Tennessee in 2006-07, is now an assistant coach for Virginia. … Through two games, Tennessee has out-rebounded its opponents, 51.0 to 30.0 for a +21.0 margin. Virginia has out-rebounded its first two opponents, 57.0 to 33.0 for a +24.0 margin. … Virginia was picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the ACC. But the Cavaliers will be seeking a more successful season as they are a host site for the first rounds of the NCAA tourney next March. A hosting team is guaranteed to be assigned to that site if it makes the NCAA Tournament. Knoxville also is a host site for the early rounds.


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