UT hosts ETSU in last game before break

Angie Bjorklund has heard every version of Pat Summitt's speeches on both sides of the spectrum. She has listened to the coach when she is pleased and when she is peeved. The "roll call" meeting that Summitt had with the team after the loss to Baylor might have been the most beneficial of all, according to the senior guard.

Pat Summitt took the team into the locker room alone – her assistants were still preparing the practice itinerary for that afternoon after a late return the night before from Waco, Texas, an indication that either the day after the game was initially intended to be one of rest or the drills were being quickly changed – and later said it was the hardest she had been on any team in awhile.

That is saying a lot considering the fact that two years ago Summitt took away the players' practice clothes and banished them from the locker room, privileges that were not restored until last season.

Angie Bjorklund said what came out in that meeting – the specifics stayed within the program – had to be said and it seemed to clear some much-needed air.

"I think a lot of what she said we needed to hear," Bjorklund said. "It was definitely criticism. It was definitely calling people out. I think that's exactly what we needed. She called me out. I needed it.

"I think a lot of people needed to hear what was said, especially from Coach Summitt. We all respect her the most and I think hearing it was good and taking what she said, taking the constructive criticism and putting it into action, I thought we were mature about the situation, we were very mature about what she said, and we took it to heart, and we got in the gym and we got better."

The result was a team that came together on the court and on the bench in an 82-72 win over Stanford last Sunday.

"It was a huge sense of urgency," Bjorklund said. "You don't lose two games in a row here. It's pretty tough if you do. We just don't do it. We were all on the same page. We just have to continue to do that."

No. 5/6 Tennessee, 10-2, next faces East Tennessee State University, 3-5, at 7 p.m. Eastern tonight (SportSouth, Lady Vols Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena in the last game before the Christmas break.

The players don't want to undo the goodwill established in the last week and their focus at the practice sessions Monday and Tuesday indicated a condition Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood refers to as hearing "Jingle Bells" hasn't struck yet.

"We've got a job to do," Lockwood said. "This is where you've got to be a professional in the sense that you've got to be savvy enough to put all your holidays plans and your family – this is a great time of year and the spirit is wonderful and we all know that (for some players) this is the last time until April or May (to see family) – and be professional. Put that on the shelf, hit your pause button and say, ‘I've got a job to do, and it had better get done right and well and then I can go enjoy that.'

"Coaches are always nervous about the last game. There are certain things they don't teach you in coaching school. They teach in coaching school, ‘Sweat the last game before Christmas. Sweat it.' You're always nervous about the mindset of your kids."

Lockwood had the team to himself for awhile Tuesday afternoon at Pratt Pavilion. Holly Warlick and Mickie DeMoss were not at practice – presumably they were out recruiting – and Summitt was stuck in traffic because of a mudslide on her main thoroughfare to campus.

Lockwood, who was a head coach at Northwood University and Saginaw Valley State, both in Michigan, ran the practice with his usual enthusiasm.

"I thought practice went really well," Summitt said. "Dean had to take over since I had a little mudslide out there. I thought we had really great focus and got a lot of things in. …

"They've been great. I thought this practice was really, really good. Dean did a great job of getting a lot accomplished in a relatively short period of time. He's got a strong voice. He's got a lot of positive energy and I think they responded."

It could also be motivation enough to not send Summitt into the holiday break to stew over a poor performance. If she has a few days to ponder such, she typically returns to practice without any lingering Christmas cheer.

Summitt certainly didn't feel much holiday spirit last week when she talked to her team in the locker room.

"It was tough, but she always tough," Bjorklund said. "When we come here that's what we expect. When I decided to come here I expected that from her and so did everyone else. It was nothing surprising. If she was easy on us that's when I would be surprised. If she let up a little bit that's when I get kind of worried.

"It really brought us together in a sense. Some people we had to lift them up and encourage them. You know what, ‘You got it. We've got to listen to what she says but we're going to bounce back.' I thought it was good. I was proud of my team."

Bjorklund is on the cusp of claiming Tennessee's all-time record for three-pointers. She has 262, just four away from tying the mark of 266, held by former Lady Vol Shanna Zolman.

Bjorklund took just two trey attempts against Stanford, and made one, because the Cardinal played her tightly on the perimeter, so she mostly got her 16 points by putting the ball on the floor and creating some space for midrange shots.

"I think when they're taking away your three-point shot you've got to go to Plan B and that's the pull-up game, especially when someone is playing that close on you," Bjorklund said. "I just saw the opening and took it.

"We just overall played together as a team way more than Baylor. I think we can get a lot better with playing together and flowing a little better but from Baylor I thought it was a lot better."

That is a typical Bjorklund response. She steers a question about her offensive diversification with an answer that involves the team. Bjorklund did allow that it would be special to set the trey record on her home court. Tennessee plays ETSU on Wednesday and then hosts Rutgers on Dec. 30 at 3 p.m. Eastern.

"Absolutely, two games, hopefully I'll get four threes by then," Bjorklund said with a smile. "It's definitely an honor but at the same time records are meant to be broken so somebody else is going to break it in the future."

Bjorklund's teammate, 6'6 center Kelley Cain, has set her share of screens to get the sharpshooter open for three attempts. Both are seniors and will graduate this spring, but a major knee surgery cost Cain one season, and she's a redshirt junior.

Over three years, Cain has battled knee, hip and lower back pain and also sustained several concussions, limiting her practice time and game minutes. After logging 25 minutes against Baylor last week, Cain had to lie on the floor in the media room while waiting for the players to be summoned to the dais. Given those circumstances Cain taking a seat from the game would not be questioned by anyone. But Cain won't hear of it.

"It's my decision that I want to play," Cain said. "That's what I'm going to do until I literally can't anymore."

Cain is usually smiling on the court and in media interviews, and her teammates have expressed awe over the fact that she never shows any pain during the game.

"Angie said to me, ‘I don't know how you keep going through what you're going through,' " Cain said. "It meant a lot."

Cain is effective when she plays – she hits a high percentage of her post shots, passes well out of double teams and anchors the defense in the paint. But the coaches have to monitor her health during games to determine how long she can play. During timeouts, Cain will often stand at the end of the bench or sit on a stool with her legs extended – if she did that on the bench her feet would be on the playing surface – so that she can stay looser.

"Every game is a feeling-out process," Lockwood said. "How do you feel? How long can you go? I ask her at timeouts (and) she communicates with Jenny (Moshak). You don't know what you're going to be able to count on until that day and see how it is, but you saw what she did against Stanford. You saw what she brings to our team.

"She gives you a completely different dimension."

Cain had to take a rest day at practice Monday after logging 25 tough minutes against Stanford, but she was back Tuesday and should be cleared for tonight's game.

"We'll talk about that as a staff but I think the thinking now is that you give her some minutes and see how it is, because we don't want her just to be rusty and a chance that she can get in the flow a little bit," Lockwood said. "But by the same token we sure hope that this isn't a game where she's got to go and play 25 minutes. We don't want her to play 25, 30 minutes if the need isn't there."

Lockwood keeps a close eye on Cain during the game and relays those observations to Summitt, but he also knows it's not easy to convince the center to take a seat.

"She loves this team," Lockwood said. "I think it speaks to her connection and her feelings for this team and to the program."

Lockwood thinks Cain's resiliency has an affect on the team.

"I would hope they're inspired by the fact that she's doing all she's doing just to get on the court," Lockwood said.

Cain will get some rest after Wednesday with a few days at home in Atlanta with her family. But first the team has to finish what it started with the bounce-back win over Stanford.

"I think they feel good about themselves right now," Summitt said. "If we can beat ETSU and take care of business there I think they'll go home and enjoy the holidays and then come back and we'll have to refocus.

"We've got to remind them. We've got one more game. We've got to take care of business."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (17.8 points per game, 3.4 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game; Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (11.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (7.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (10.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg); and Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (8.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg).

ETSU Coach Karen Kemp is expected to start: Tara Davis, 5'5 senior guard, No. 00 (13.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.2 apg), hails from Murfreesboro, Tenn., team captain for the Lady Buccaneers, scored a game-high 21 points Monday in the 76-61 win over Campbell to halt a five-game losing streak, including losses to Ohio State, Middle Tennessee and North Carolina, went 14-14 from line in win over Richmond; Natalie Pickwell, 5'11 junior guard, No. 3 (10.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), hails from Kingsport, Tenn., has hit 11 threes in last two games, including career-high six against Campbell, scored a career-high 21 points this season against North Carolina and tallied 16 against Ohio State; Destiny Mitchell, 5'11 freshman guard/forward, No. 41 (13.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg), hails from Bluffton, Ga., honored as Atlantic Sun Newcomer of the Week earlier this month, scored 53 points in a high school game for Randolph-Clay; Gwen Washington, 5'11 junior forward, No. 25 (7.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg), hails from Manassas, Va., started 63 consecutive games before coming off the bench against North Carolina; and Latisha Belcher, 6'2 redshirt senior forward/center, No. 45 (8.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg), hails from Martinsville, Va., missed last season with a knee injury, posted a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds in the Nov. 14 win over Richmond and went 11-11 from the line, needs 79 points to tally 1,000 for her career, was the 2009 Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year, has come back from the two ACL surgeries, one on left knee, the other on right knee.

ETSU plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference and finished in first place last season with an 18-2 record in league play. The Lady Bucs joined the league beginning in the 2005-06 season and have gone 77-19 in conference play and won the past three A-Sun tourneys.

Kemp became the head coach at ETSU in 1994. Prior to that she was an assistant and recruiting coordinator at Mississippi State and a coach at Chattanooga.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-ETSU game. Here is his assessment.

When ETSU has the ball: The Lady Bucs have three-point shooters and a slashing scorer in Destiny Mitchell.

"(Tara) Davis shoots the three very well," Lockwood said. "(Natalie) Pickwell can shoot the three. Destiny Mitchell is slashing/lane player. She is one of those prototypical hard guards. She gives you a little bit of everything. She can put it on the floor. She's a good enough shooter from midrange that you've got to guard that. She offensive rebounds."

Lockwood anticipated that ETSU would want to hasten the tempo.

"They're a really good transition team," Lockwood said. "They'll take quick threes. They'll score in transition and they also do a little bit off the dribble drive."

Lockwood said the keys for Tennessee were "no easy open threes and the two drivers, Davis and Mitchell, stay in front of them."

Defensively, ETSU plays primarily man but Lockwood expects a different look at times against Tennessee.

"They do man but they do play a 2-3 zone," Lockwood said. "Do not be surprised at all for them to jump into a 2-3 zone early and see how it goes. I think they are going to play us some zone. I would be surprised if they tried to go man the whole game."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols rely on their outside shooters given the lack of healthy post bodies – Kelley Cain was back at practice Tuesday; Vicki Baugh sat out the session – but they still want to score in the paint by either finding a post player or penetrating inside.

"We do," Lockwood said. "It's like setting up the pass with the run a little bit. I just think you have to be a threat, because if you're not a threat to go into the paint and into the lane I have to cover less ground. I am going stay out on the perimeter as opposed to when the ball goes in I've got to help, I've got to double, I've got to help the helper.

"If you're no threat to score in the lane, I don't have to worry about that. Angie is going to be guarded like this (indicating tight coverage). Meighan is going to get guarded like this."

Angie Bjorklund saw that defense from Stanford and mixed up her game by penetrating past the arc and hitting midrange and short jumpers.

"She did," Lockwood said. "She put it on the floor more than she had in a while, which was good to see."

Tennessee will want some offensive balance on Wednesday, too, with players seeking to score via the perimeter and in the paint.

Defensively, the Lady Vols want to set the tone whether it's man or zone schemes.

"We do," Lockwood said. "We want that team to be uncomfortable for 40 minutes. We want them to come in and feel like they're playing a team that is not going to give you breathing room, boa constrictor defense. Every time you breathe in we squeeze a little tighter."

Pat Summitt has said she hopes to be able to play reserves for significant minutes and let some of her starters and the wounded players get rest. Depending on how her left leg feels, Baugh may play sparingly or not at all, Alyssia Brewer is still using practice to catch up with her conditioning, and Cain should log some minutes, but they don't want those to be extended ones.

"We want to have a mindset where we're attacking for 40 minutes and the key is when we go to our bench getting other personnel to keep that up," Lockwood said.

ON TAP: Only one other SEC team is in action tonight with Georgia at TCU. No SEC school returns to the court until next week.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with East Tennessee State University, 17-2-1. The teams last played in 1986, a 98-39 win for Tennessee. The first meeting was Jan. 31, 1924, a 22-16 loss for the Lady Vols in Knoxville. ETSU was known then as East Tennessee Normal and the Lady Vols as the Volettes. The 25-25 tie occurred Feb. 2, 1925. Tennessee's record on its home court is 10-1. The early games in the series were played at Jefferson Hall. According to the Lady Vols game notes compiled by Media Relations, it is the eighth-earliest recorded game in collegiate women's basketball of teams that still meet in the modern era. Stanford-California leads the list with a recorded game on April 4, 1896. … Tennessee is 5-1 in games played on December 22. The last game on this date was an 89-34 win over San Francisco in 2009. The first win on December 22 was against Southern Cal, 87-53, in 1989. The lone loss on this date was to Stanford, 73-68 in overtime, in 2007. … Tennessee has won 24 consecutive games at home with the victory over Stanford. The last loss in Knoxville was to Duke, 64-62, on Feb. 16, 2009. … ETSU is an excellent free throw shooting team. The Lady Bucs are ranked 25th in the country at 74.3 percent. Tara Davis is ranked eighth at 30-33 from the stripe. ETSU hit 30-34 (88.2 percent) from the line this season against MTSU.

BY THE NUMBERS

Tennessee is averaging 78.2 points a game while allowing opponents to score 58.2. ETSU averages 67.5 points a game while allowing 76.5.

The Lady Vols are shooting 44.1 percent overall, 35.7 percent behind the arc and 62.8 percent from the free throw line. The Lady Bucs are shooting 38.1 percent overall, 33.6 percent from long range and 74.3 percent from the line.

Tennessee makes an average of 7.2 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.3. ETSU makes 5.8 threes a game while allowing 5.5.

Tennessee averages 44.2 rebounds a game for a +9.4 margin. ETSU averages 41.0 boards for a -3.1 margin.

The Lady Vols average 14.4 assists and 16.4 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 20.8 times a game. The Lady Bucs average 12.0 assists and 23.6 turnovers with foes losing the ball 19.9 times a game.

Tennessee averages 10.1 steals and 4.4 blocks a game. ETSU averages 9.1 steals and 2.9 blocks.


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