Tennessee to tangle with Texas

AUSTIN, Texas - Angie Bjorklund said last August she felt the clock winding down on her college career and with the fall semester completed, she can really hear the tick tock of time. She is poised to claim Tennessee's career three-point record but the senior guard is not the least bit satisfied with how she has been shooting lately.

"No, not at all," Angie Bjorklund said. "Now that it's going to be a lighter load for me there's more time to get in the gym and get up shots and time to relax and focus on basketball."

Bjorklund is just 11 treys away from tying the school record of 266, and her next shot to chip away at the countdown is Sunday when No. 8/7 Tennessee, 8-1, takes on No. 21/24 Texas, 5-2, at 1 p.m. Eastern (Fox Sports Net, Lady Vols Radio Network).

The Lady Vols held a practice and scouting session Saturday evening at the Frank Erwin Center on the campus of Texas and were joined by former Tennessee All-American Candace Parker, who made the trip to Austin with 19-month-old daughter Lailaa while husband Shelden Williams was on the road with the Denver Nuggets.

Parker joined the team in post and shooting drills, bringing a huge smile to the face of Vicki Baugh, who is close friends with Parker. Parker and Meighan Simmons also held a three-point shootout after practice with the youngster barely besting her favorite player.

"Obviously they were excited because they all have so much respect for her," said Coach Pat Summitt, who spent a portion of practice holding Lailaa while mama worked out with the team, including a brief performance on a nearby drum set when the toddler got restless.

"She's pretty good on the drums, too," Summitt said with a smile. "(Parker) being on the court with them jacked them up a little bit, and rightfully so."

It's been a long time since Summitt took on the role of baby sitter at practice - likely going back to when her son Tyler, a Tennessee sophomore now, was an infant.

"I'd do it for her," Summitt said. "She's done a lot for me."

Only three players remain on the roster that Parker played with in Baugh, who graduated early Saturday with a degree in psychology, Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone. Kelley Cain was on the roster during Parker's final year but took a redshirt year to have major knee surgery.

That season ended with a national title in Tampa in 2008, and Bjorklund has mentioned it would be nice to bookend her career with championships. That attempt would be aided by Bjorklund getting in a groove with her shot.

Bjorklund loaded up her fall semester by plan and will take just 12 hours this spring in a class schedule of mostly electives that won't be too taxing for her final semester of work.

"Over the years you learn in the fall, and especially the summer, too, you have more time to get school stuff done," Bjorklund said. "It's time to get all the hard classes over with."

"One semester left," the guard from Spokane Valley, Wash., added. "It seems crazy. It's been fun."

Bjorklund will have family in town for the Texas trip - the Bjorklunds have made at least one extended trip to see their daughter every year while she was at Tennessee - and the next two games at Texas and at Baylor will give the Lady Vols a good gauge on their status as a team right now.

"We know how important every game is for postseason and these are going to be huge games for us," Bjorklund said. "If we come out with Ws these next games it will be a confidence booster. It will be a good test for us, they're going to be tough games, but they'll test where we're at."

The format is not unlike an NCAA regional with a game Sunday, a day off and a game Tuesday. The competition of Big 12 schools are more than worthy opponents for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight-type matchups, too.

"In a way it is kind of like preparation for a regional," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "Those two teams we very well could see again in a regional."

There is one big difference, though. Both games aren't at one neutral site.

"We're on their home floor," DeMoss said. "That's a major factor. It's going to be a tough stretch for us. We come back, and we've got Stanford. It's a tough stretch so hopefully our kids realize the sense of urgency here, and we've got to get better in some areas. We'll see real soon if we've gotten better."

DeMoss will be in very familiar territory Sunday as she just left Texas last spring to take the open assistant coach slot at Tennessee, where she spent 18 years before leaving for Kentucky and then Texas.

"I enjoyed my time at Texas," DeMoss said. "I really did. There are a lot of great people there. I loved the administration. (Athletics Director) Chris Plonsky was great to me and working with Gail (Goestenkors). I wouldn't have left Texas for any other place other than Tennessee, because they were all very good to me. I felt like I was very needed there and valuable to the staff.

"It was a good change for me going to the Big 12, especially since I really hadn't been outside of the SEC. An opportunity to come back here I really couldn't turn that down."

DeMoss helped to recruit the players on the Longhorns' roster, but this won't be her first rodeo in terms of playing against a former team.

"I've had a lot of experience with that lately, leaving Tennessee and knowing the players when we played them and then when I left Kentucky we (Texas) played Kentucky the next year when we were in Hawaii," DeMoss said. "Once the ball is thrown up it's competition, and they feel the same way.

"As far as liking those kids and being a part of their growth period while they were at Texas, sure, there is some emotional attachment there. But once that ball's thrown up it's all about competition."

Goestenkors replaced longtime and now retired Texas Coach Jody Conradt, and the last player from that regime is senior Kathleen Nash.

"All of those players (were recruited) by Gail's staff – I guess I was a part of that, too – except for Kat Nash," DeMoss said. "The freshmen I saw when they were seniors in high school but now how they're fitting into Gail's system is always a learning curve there. I know the (Chassidy) Fussell kid from Tennessee is starting and playing a lot of minutes. The big kid, (freshman) Anne Marie Hartung is playing a lot. Her freshmen are really contributing right now."

DeMoss headed to Texas after a head coaching stint at Kentucky and developed a good working relationship with Goestenkors.

"As we grew more comfortable with each other, my responsibilities increased, particularly on the bench, game situations, teaching in practice," DeMoss said. "Once she got comfortable with me and what I could teach and making sure that we were on the same page and what we believed in and things like that then my responsibilities slowly increased."

DeMoss wants Tennessee to beat Texas - it's her scouting report - but no more so than any other opponent on the schedule.

"I think it's really about the same because I left on good terms," DeMoss said. "It's not like I left in a negative way or ‘I want to show them,' it's just we want to win every game. We have a lot of big games at Tennessee. So sure it would be nice to go down there and get a W but not anymore than I want to beat Baylor. It's the same. I want to win them all."

The coaches will learn a lot about the team's strengths and weaknesses over the next few days.

"There's no question," DeMoss said. "When you play at the University of Tennessee, you're going to play in a lot of big games. You have to maintain that balance. They have to be mindful that this is an important game but then you turn around and you play Baylor. You've got to keep it in perspective. You've got to get up to play, and that's why all these kids came to Tennessee so they can be in this position."

Bjorklund has played in a lot of big games during her career beginning with a national title game as a freshman, a game Tennessee won over Stanford, which comes to Knoxville next week as part of the programs' annual regular season meeting.

Bjorklund acknowledged the next three games as defining moments, to date, of this season, albeit with the recognition that no matter what happens a lot of basketball remains on the calendar, even if those days are rolling over quickly for her.

"This is a Sweet 16, Final Four situation right here going back to back to back with three tough games," Bjorklund said. "I think it's going to be a great test for us. We've prepared all week and it's going to be a good test. I'm excited for it."

Bjorklund's backcourt mate, junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen, agreed.

"We're looking at these games as big games," said Stricklen, who has 970 career points, just 30 away from 1,000. "This is going to really tell us if we're ready to move on to the next level. Are we going to be a Final Four team? These are big games, and we know we really need these two games, and I am just hoping we are all ready."

Summitt wants to see her senior sharpshooter get back to the mentality of firing away if the shot is there.

"Absolutely, that would help us," Summitt said. "Angie over-thinks things. I can tell. When you start second-guessing yourself that's not good. She's just got to pull the trigger and go from there."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (16.8 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 2.8 assists per game); Kamiko Williams, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 4 (8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (10.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 apg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior forward, No. 40 (11.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.2 apg); and Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 ( 9.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.5 steals per game.

That allows Tennessee to open the game with a quick and mobile lineup with considerable size to bring off the bench in Kelley Cain, a 6'6 center, Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 forward, and Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 forward.

Cain and Baugh are on day-to-day status because of hip soreness but both were able to go through drills and the scouting report Saturday. Brewer will be making her season debut after having Achilles tendon surgery last September.

Lauren Avant will be on active status for the first time since the season opener against Louisville following her recovery from a sprained ankle, so for the first time in a game this season the coaches have all 13 players available.

Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors is expected to start: Ashleigh Fontenette, 5'8 junior guard, No. 33 (16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 4.1 spg), hails from Pflugerville, Texas, tallied 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the first triple-double of her career in the last game against Texas-Pan American; Chassidy Fussell, 5'10 freshman guard, No. 24 (15.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.7 apg), hails from Troy, Tennessee, has scored in double digits in last five games, including 17 points against Stanford, first true freshman in Texas history since Cinietra Henderson in 1989 to open career with five straight double-digit scoring performances; Yvonne Anderson, 5'7 junior guard, No. 12 (11.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.0 apg), hails from Columbia, Mo., also has scored in double digits for past five games, daughter of Missouri men's basketball coach Mike Anderson; Kathleen Nash, 6'2 senior guard, No. 5 (16.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg), hails from Plano, Texas, pulled down career-high 20 rebounds against Boston University, becoming the first Longhorn to record 20+ boards since Stacy Stephens grabbed 22 in 2004, has hit at least one three-point basket in each of Texas' last 19 games, a streak that dates back to Feb. 7, 2010, when she made three treys in an 81-51 UT win over Texas Tech, she holds the Texas single-season 3-point percentage record (2009-10; 68-of-144, .472) and finished last season ranked third nationally among all NCAA Division I players; Ashley Gayle, 6'4 junior center, No. 22 (9.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 4.0 blocks per game), hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, set the single-season blocks record during her sophomore year with 103 and has 191 swats for her career, has three double-doubles so far this season.

Texas freshman guard Chelsea Bass started the last game and tallied a career-high 29 points against Texas-Pan American. The scoring output was the most by any Longhorn this season and the most by a Texas freshman since Danielle Viglione had 35 points against Arizona on Dec. 21, 1993.

Texas followed up a 71-57 loss to Michigan State on Dec. 5 with a 112-59 pasting of Texas-Pan American on Dec. 8 and won the rebounding margin, 56-34.

"I think it gives us confidence, and that is what we needed," Goestenkors said. "Anytime you come away with a tough loss, you want to get your confidence back. That is what this game was about, us getting back on track and remembering who we are, and gaining confidence heading into this big game on Sunday."

WEEK OF WORK: The Lady Vols will play their first game in a week Sunday with the interim time used to finish final exams and improve in practice sessions held over four days.

The team focused on ball security, help-side defense, free throw shooting and rebounding, along with cleaning up some of the offensive sets.

In interviews this week both Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson mentioned unprompted the need to improve on defense.

"Help side and rotating, also one-on-one defense, don't let them get to the paint," Stricklen said. "Make them shoot jump shots and contested shots. That's mainly what we've got to work on."

Johnson added the need to talk on the court.

"If we're not communicating, we're on the bench," Johnson said. "And if we don't communicate with each other it makes a lot of things difficult, everything offense and defense. We've got to communicate, and I feel like we've been communicating a lot better in practice."

Johnson and Stricklen were freshmen the last time they were at Texas in 2008 and after playing a tight first half, Tennessee tossed away any chance to win the game by clanking free throws in the second half.

"I didn't forget the game at all," Stricklen said when asked about playing in Austin two years ago. "I know they tore us apart. I remember Brittainey Raven having one of her best games against us. They just ran all over us."

Cait McMahan played point guard in that game but her balky knees kept her out of the second half, and Stricklen, a natural small forward, had to handle those duties.

Ironically, Tennessee freshman guard Meighan Simmons, who is from San Antonio, watched the game in the stands with her father and expressed a desire to play for the Lady Vols but there were no available scholarships. When McMahan had to stop playing because of her knees, she went on medical scholarship, and Pat Summitt went looking for a combo guard.

On Sunday, Simmons, also a converted point guard, is expected to have the ball in her hands at point to start the game, a tremendous responsibility for a freshman on the road.

"I think she's going to be just fine," Angie Bjorklund said. "I think just talking to her, positive reinforcement, everything we can do to be ready."

Mickie DeMoss added, "Just try to keep it as simple as we can and play to her strengths."

Simmons' show of support from family, friends and former high school and AAU teammates will likely fill its own section at the Erwin Center. Stricklen, who is from Morrilton, Ark., also expects to have her uncles and some cousins make the trip from Arkansas.

Since moving off the ball, Stricklen has shown a knack for getting inside and has played multiple possessions at power forward, making her one of the most versatile players in the country.

"I feel like I get more physical when I am in the paint," Stricklen said. "I am more physical in the paint than I am on the wing and I am trying to get more and more physical on the wing, too. I am adjusting to it.

"It's kind of weird not having the ball so much in your hands, but it takes a lot of pressure off of me. I am just getting used to it. We've got some good point guards that are handling it right now."

Junior guard Briana Bass is one of the team's two pure point guards, the other being freshman Lauren Avant, who just recently returned to practice after a severe ankle sprain. She had a solid week of practice and had time to get more comfortable, with Bass' help, with the offenses.

Defense was an emphasis for every player this week at practice.

"Trying to work on a weakness like defense, getting lower," said Stricklen, who has long legs and a high waist and tends to remain upright on defense. "Coach stays on me a lot."

Stricklen also wants to get back in an offensive groove.

"I feel, in certain spots, some things kind of dropped off," Stricklen said. "I usually have my pull-up jumper, which I've been working on trying to get that back. The transition pull-up jumper used to be money for me. My shot is off right now."

But defense remained a primary buzzword.

"Definitely on the defensive end, helping each other, talking a lot," Bjorklund said.

"Defense, just defense, taking charges and being in help," Simmons said when asked what she worked on this week on that side of the ball.

Simmons also will have her hands on the ball, and Summitt, who met with the freshman Saturday to remind her about composure and not trying to do too much, expects to see pressure.

"They're going to get up in our grill," Summitt said. "We know that. Ball security is really key and anytime you're on the road and you don't know how some of the players are going to respond but hopefully …

"I am excited, no matter what happens, I am excited for us to be able to play these two games and really learn. We'll learn a lot."

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Texas game. Here is her assessment.

When Texas has the ball: Tennessee will have to be ready to pick up the ball quickly.

"They would prefer to score out of transition if possible," DeMoss said. "They've got good team speed and good team quickness so they want to utilize that. They've got good three-point shooters that can spot up out of transition. They are very effective when they are in their running game."

The Longhorns lost post Cokie Reed to a foot injury before the season began, but DeMoss said the running game would be deployed regardless.

"I think Gail has always liked an up-tempo style," DeMoss said. "She ran last year when Cokie played."

Defensively, The Longhorns will bring some Texas heat.

"They'll press in both man and zone," DeMoss said. "They'll get out and try to pressure you. They'll get out in the passing lanes, and they want to generate some of their offense from their defense."

Once an opponent is set up in its half-court offense, Texas is likely to mix it up.

"Man to man pressure and they'll do some 2-3 zone as well," DeMoss said.

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols intend to push tempo, regardless of the starting lineup, which can vary depending on the health of the post players, and Kelley Cain, who can start, come off the bench or not play.

"We're still going to push and when we do have to set up in a half court then we'll try to get the ball inside to her, but it's not going to change what we do," DeMoss said.

Tennessee could point to the free throw line as one reason for the loss in 2008 and it's been hit or miss so far this season with both solid and poor performances from the stripe.

"I do know coaching as long as I've been coaching, free throws are contagious," DeMoss said. "If I step up and I make my first two free throws it seems like it's contagious throughout the team. But if I miss my first couple that rim just seems to get smaller and smaller for the next player that steps up there.

"It works either way. It either instills confidence if you knock them down or if the first few players miss them it starts making the other ones go, ‘Oh, gosh, I can't miss my free throws.' So it snowballs both ways."

Tennessee also would like a clean start in that the Lady Vols hold onto the ball, which has been squirting loose too often to open the past three games.

"Our turnovers have really been a concern to us lately," DeMoss said. "We started the Old Dominion game just turning the ball over, which we didn't do at the beginning of the year. … We seem to have started games a little sloppy, a little loose with the ball. When you do that on the road … Old Dominion really couldn't capitalize off of it. We gave them chances to, but a Texas can capitalize off of our mistakes, so that's one of our keys to the game.

"Our turnovers I would say have to be 13 or less. I'll take 15, but we can't be in the 20s with turnovers against Texas and expect to beat them."

Defensively, DeMoss said the team needs to pay attention to the scouting report, which outlined the Longhorn tendencies.

"We always want to keep pressure on the ball, but we've got to know how to guard personnel, if they're a penetrator, if they're a three-point shooter," DeMoss said. "We've got to be smart and how to defend everybody on the floor."

Controlling the glass will also be a priority. Texas averages 47.4 rebounds per game while Tennessee checks in at 43.6.

"Rebounding has always been a staple for us," DeMoss said. "Rebounding, defense, taking care of the basketball, those are things that you have to bring every night, especially when you're on the road, to even have a chance to win. Those are minimal requirements.

"Defense and rebounding, they're a constant, because when you go on the road if you don't defend and you don't rebound, you don't even have a chance to win. Just to give you a chance to win the game you've got to defend and rebound and you've got to take care of the ball."

ON TAP: Only two other SEC teams are in action today in the following matchups: Alabama at Kansas; and North Carolina State at South Carolina.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Texas, 19-12. The Lady Vols record in Austin is 8-6 with the last meeting on the road in 2008, a 73-59 win for Texas. Despite the storied tradition of both schools they have never met in postseason. … Tennessee is 5-0 in games played on December 12. The last win on this date was against DePaul, 78-63, in 2004. The first win on December 12 was against Ohio State, 89-56, in 1977. … Freshman guard Meighan Simmons, who is from Cibolo, is the fifth Lady Vol from the state of Texas. The others are: Olympian and All-American Jill Rankin (Phillips, Texas), transferred from Wayland Baptist to play her senior season in Knoxville in 1979-80; Kim Smallwood (Richmond, Texas), two-sport athlete (hoops and track) in 1995-97, member of the 1996 NCAA championship team; Olympian and All-American Tamika Catchings (Duncanville, Texas) played from 1997-2001, major part of the 39-0 season in 1998; and Ashley Robinson (Grand Prairie, Texas), played from 2000-04, went to three Final Fours in 2002, 2003 and 2004. … Texas will host a "Dads and Daughters" promotion Sunday for the Tennessee game. All fathers and daughters can buy $5 general admission tickets. … Texas has a 27-game home winning streak in non-conference play at the Frank Erwin Center. The streak dates back to a 64-61 victory over then-No. 10 Purdue on Jan. 7, 2007. Texas is a perfect 26-0 at home in non-conference regular-season contests under Gail Goestenkors, including the 2008 win over Tennessee. Goestenkors and Pat Summitt have a 6-6 record head to head with Goestenkors, who was at Duke before Texas, winning five of the last seven.

BY THE NUMBERS

Tennessee is averaging 78.9 points a game while allowing opponents to score 53.8. Texas averages 89.3 points a game while allowing 64.3.

The Lady Vols are shooting 46.2 percent overall, 35.9 percent behind the arc and 61.0 percent from the free throw line. The Longhorns are shooting 45.0 percent overall, 37.6 percent from long range and 71.9 percent from the line.

Tennessee makes an average of 7.3 three-pointers a game while allowing 4.7. Texas makes 6.7 threes a game while allowing 5.9.

Tennessee averages 43.6 rebounds a game for a +10.2 margin. Texas averages 47.4 boards for a +10.0 margin.

The Lady Vols average 15.2 assists and 17.3 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 22.2 times a game. The Longhorns average 16.0 assists and 20.6 turnovers with foes losing the ball 24.4 times a game.

Tennessee averages 10.9 steals and 4.4 blocks a game. Texas averages 14.7 steals and 5.7 blocks.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Video clips of Saturday's practice with Candace Parker working out with the team, plus Pat Summitt and Lailaa, the daughter of Parker and Shelden Williams, playing drums.


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