Tennessee, Rutgers square off today

The next three-point shot that connects for Angie Bjorklund – her first chance comes today against Rutgers – will leave her atop the career treys list for Tennessee, a rather hallowed record for the Lady Vols considering the shooters who have come through the program. Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood noted "the basketball gods are smiling right now" because the senior guard will have earned the spot.

"Fabulous kid," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "It is a great record for her. Here's the thing that is nice. You get a kid like that who is invested in the game and invested in her own improvement and development. You would be happy for any player obviously but one of the things you can always say from this point forward until somebody else will do it is that here is a kid who really put in the time.

"She got in the gym. She was serious about her game. She was serious about her conditioning level."

Angie Bjorklund has 266 career three-pointers – placing her in a first-place tie with Shanna Zolman, a sharpshooter from a town in Indiana that could have been central casting for the movie "Hoosiers" – and will claim the top spot with her next made trey.

No. 5/6 Tennessee, 11-2, takes on Rutgers, 7-5, this afternoon at 3 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena (Lady Vols Radio Network, webcast at: Lady Vols website).

The game originally was intended to tip off at 7 p.m. but with the football Vols kicking off at 6:30 p.m. in the Music City Bowl, the Lady Vols asked Rutgers in early December if the time could be changed to avoid a conflict for Tennessee fans.

"We truly appreciate Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer working with us to make this happen for our fans," Lady Vols Athletics Director Joan Cronan said.

Pre-sales for the game were slightly over 15,000, so a large crowd is expected for the matinee game.

Bjorklund is now aware of the fact she could set the record with her first made three – the senior had to be told after the ETSU game that she had tied it – but she said she won't go into Thursday's game thinking she has to hit a three.

"Absolutely not," Bjorklund said. "I just play my game, clear my mind of all that and focus on what our team needs to do, the Rutgers scouting report and our game plan and go from there. Don't worry about it."

Besides her work ethic and sweet shooting stroke Bjorklund has another necessary trait for a long-range shooter – a short memory. She forgets the misses and is confident the next attempt will find the net.

Coach Pat Summitt responded in typical fashion when asked about the record – she agreed it was a hallowed one and she wants Bjorklund taking a lot more shots before she finishes her career.

"It is and that speaks volumes," Summitt said. "If she would hunt shots all the time it would have happened long before now."

Summitt made the latter remark with a smile and added she wants Bjorklund to put the new mark well out of reach, at least for the foreseeable future.

Bjorklund has 34 made treys this season with her best single season tally set at 102 in 2009-10, one below the 103 made by Zolman in 2005-06. She's not on triple digit pace this season, but with just 34 more makes she'll reach 300 for her career.

The top 10 at Tennessee is a who's who of shooters: Bjorklund, 266; Zolman, 266; Kara Lawson, 256; Brittany Jackson, 161; Shannon Bobbitt, 147 (set in just two seasons); Sidney Spencer (133); Tiffany Woosley (132); Nikki Caldwell (128); Abby Conklin (124); and Tamika Catchings (122).

Lockwood smiled when asked about Bjorklund's penchant to forget the details and get lost in the moment. During her freshman year, Bjorklund played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and she thought the Duke students were being helpful when they counted down the shot clock about 10 seconds too soon. The startled Bjorklund launched a shot from somewhere on Tobacco Road that found nothing but net, much to the anguish of the student section. Her teammates had to explain after the game what had happened.

"A great uncle of mine, whenever someone would ask him something and act surprised like, ‘You should know this,' he would just look at you and say, ‘I don't clutter up my mind with those details,' " Lockwood said.

That's the perfect mindset for a shooter – Bjorklund had to be reminded this week about the clock issue that raged for weeks the last time Rutgers played in Knoxville, also her freshman year – and the senior from Spokane Valley, Wash., has instead centered her focus on the basket.

Lockwood, on the other hand, remembers the 2008 game very well. Tennessee won 59-58 when Nicky Anosike drained two free throws with less than a second on the clock. She was definitely fouled by Rutgers' Kia Vaughn – that was not in question – but the issue was whether or not any time remained. To make matters worse, the clock stopped and restarted and why it happened – scoreboard operator error or a whistle by an official, which is tied to the clock and would have stopped it – was never fully clarified.

The officials looked at the replay and determined the foul came with time left and thus Anosike was sent to the line.

The fallout began after the game with a livid Stringer and lasted for weeks as the Big East launched an investigation and the New Jersey state legislature, despite the crippling economic woes of the state, weighed in on the matter.

"I remember it well," Lockwood said.

Lockwood has coached men's and women's basketball at different levels with an assortment of experiences but nothing like the days after that game.

"Never," Lockwood said. "It amazed me – and I guess it shows you the passion people have for sports and their respective teams – but our voicemails were flooded. There was one guy with a very heavy New Jersey accent – it gave me the area code – and he left four messages. It was a diatribe of profanity and anger.

"I can understand someone being upset but it amazes me that someone would take the time and the expense to make four phone calls and leave lengthy messages. It really spoke to that. I watched it nine or 11 times. Clearly Kia Vaughn fouled Nicky when there was time on the clock. The clock did get stuck, but Kia Vaughn had her hand on Nicky's shoulder and clearly held her down while there was still time on the clock."

Given the fact that Tennessee has won the past six games – which include a regional final, national title game, the clock game and the greatest comeback in Lady Vol program history when a bunch of freshmen on the floor in New Jersey wiped out a 20-point halftime deficit – Rutgers should arrive motivated.

"That is how it is with a lot of teams," Bjorklund said. "We have a huge target on our back. They are going to come out with their best. You always have to be ready. Sometimes players have games of their lives against us. If they're not a shooter on the scouting report they hit all of their shots against us. So it's just being ready for anything.

"They are a very intense, aggressive team, and we have to match that or exceed it and come out ready to play from the start."

Bjorklund has connected on 40.5 percent of her three-pointers this season (34-84) while freshman guard Meighan Simmons, who set the single-game record this season with eight treys against Lamar, has hit at a clip of 34.9 percent (29-83).

As a team, the Lady Vols have attempted 261 threes and made 95 for a shooting percentage of .364. With the lack of depth in the post game because of injuries and the day-to-day status of Kelley Cain, Vicki Baugh and Alyssia Brewer, Tennessee has launched early and often from outside.

"Kelley Cain's screens are unbelievable," Bjorklund said. "Our posts set great screens. When they are committed to that we get great looks. That takes moving the ball, that takes moving without the ball and setting and using good screens. And definitely inside-out. When we go inside to Kelley and Glory (Johnson) a lot of times they'll collapse on our posts. That definitely gets us a lot of open shots, too."

Tennessee has started several games outside-in, almost by necessity, but when the shots don't fall – as happened to open the ETSU game – the results are not what the coaches want. The overmatched Lady Bucs were within three points of Tennessee nearly six minutes into the game, and Summitt got Cain in the game to ensure that the ball got inside.

Having Cain in the game seems to have a calming effect on the team.

"I think that Kelley does bring some calmness to our team," Summitt said in her Wednesday teleconference. "I don't know that she can calm Meighan down as much as we want to. Meighan, every game it's like she's been shot out of a cannon. I love that. I love the way she plays.

"Again, shot selection for (Simmons) is something I have to talk to her about. And she responds very well. I can pull her aside and say, ‘Meighan, I have you at the point and it's not your turn. You've got to get everybody else some touches and then you can get involved.' She's really grown in understanding what's important when we come down, and what we are looking for."

Cain, whose hip was somewhat better this week, is expected to be on the court to start this afternoon. Summitt has made it clear the offense runs through the inside first, because that ultimately will get the shooters better looks.

"I think it's something that in the course of the game if we're not making shots, get the ball inside, and if somebody pulls the three, they're coming out," Summitt said, referring to quick shots. "It's our job as a coaching staff to have the awareness of what we need to do at that given moment."

Summitt also said the "percentage of the shooters and open shot" were the two criteria she wanted met before the threes were launched.

"If Meighan is at the point I tell her, ‘Don't come down and jack the ball up anymore. We've got to get ball movement and player movement when we start out. As we get into our movement, then that's OK,' " Summitt said.

Simmons was already aware that Bjorklund's next three puts her atop the record book, and she nodded in agreement that the mark carries cachet at Tennessee. She also indicated she wanted to get the senior the ball.

"It does and Angie deserves it," Simmons said. "I am going to do my best to get anything to her so she can break that record just like she got it to me for me to hit those eight threes. She could have taken the jump shot right there but instead she gave it to me. She is very unselfish. It's good to receive as well as to give to somebody else. "It's not all about you. It's about who's doing this and who's doing that. With Angie, if she's hot I am going to give it to her. If I'm hot I believe that she is going to give it to me. That comes with being strong and not being selfish, being invested and believing that your teammate is going to make a shot.

"I think with me and Angie that chemistry is going to be there and we just have to work together on offense and defense, communicating with each other. When we talk to each other, everything just flows into place."

Rutgers is a stingy defensive team so Bjorklund has a tough game in which to hunt and make shots, though Tennessee has made at least one three in 421 consecutive games so if Bjorklund or a teammate doesn't make one it would be newsworthy.

"They milk the clock, they get down to late seconds," Summitt said. "What we have to do is try and speed the game up. That will work to our advantage."

Bjorklund has seen Rutgers three times in her career – the freshman clock game in Knoxville, the comeback the next year in New Jersey and last season in Madison Square Garden – and the Scarlet Knights have left some impressions on her.

"Rutgers is a very scrappy team," Bjorklund said. "They are a bunch of hustlers. They are a great defensive team. I think key against them is to stay composed because they're going to try and rush us."

If Bjorklund makes a three today against Rutgers, Lockwood will be smiling.

"She's got a passion for the game," Lockwood said. "She's got a passion to improve. It's for all the right reasons. The basketball gods are smiling right now because everything is how it should be. A kid like that is rewarded for the fruits of her labor, which is great to see."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (17.5 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 senior guard, No. 5 (12.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.8 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior forward, No. 40 (10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (7.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg).

Summitt will be short at least one player off the bench for this game. Freshman guard Lauren Avant is being treated under the program's concussion protocol after hitting the back of her head in practice Tuesday and will be held out Thursday. She did not practice Wednesday.

Alyssia Brewer (Achilles tendon) and Vicki Baugh (knee) were cleared to practice Wednesday but both remain game-day decisions.

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer is expected to start: Nikki Speed, 5'8 junior guard, No. 11 (6.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.3 apg), hails from Pasadena, Calif., started 24 games last season and all 12 this season, leads Rutgers with 52 assists, McDonald's All-American in high school; Khadijah Rushdan, 5'9 redshirt junior guard, No. 1 (14.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.0 apg), hails from Wilmington, Del., missed all but eight games of the 2007-08 season after ACL tear, Parade, McDonald's and WBCA All-American in high school, started 31 of 32 games last season and tallied 116 assists, has had three 20-point games this season in 12 starts, 68 free throw attempts leads team, hits 82.4 percent from stripe; April Sykes, 6'0 junior guard/forward, No. 24 (15.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg), hails from Starkville, Miss., scored career-high 32 points against Boston College this season, Parade, McDonald's and WBCA All-American in high school, played in all 30 games as a freshman and started 11 last season, leads Rutgers in scoring this season, has started all 12 games, leads team with 59 trey attempts and has connected on 45.8 percent from long range, changed number from 12 to 24 this season to honor her late father, Michael Sykes, who wore No. 24 when he played, when Sykes arrived at Rutgers, the number belonged to Myia McCurdy; Chelsey Lee, 6'2 junior forward, No. 52 (7.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.9 blocks per game), hails from Miami, Fla., McDonald's and Parade All-American in high school, started 25 games last season and all 12 games this season, led the team in rebounding in 18 games last season, had 14 boards against Cal this season, changed her jersey number from 34 to 52 this season to honor Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers defensive lineman who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a football game in October; and Monique Oliver, 6'2 sophomore forward/center, No. 44 (9.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), hails from Las Vegas, Nev., played in 32 games as a freshman and started one, has started all 12 games this season, shot 60.8 percent last season, connecting at 50.6 percent this season, McDonald's All-American in high school, 35 blocks this season ranks 11th nationally, tallied 21 points and 17 rebounds in this season's win over Georgetown.

Stringer uses a primary rotation of seven players. Erica Wheeler, a 5'7 sophomore guard, is a backup point guard, has played in all 12 games this season and averages 8.9 ppg. She scored career highs of 16 points this season against Cal and Stanford. Daisha Simmons, a 5'10 freshman guard from Jersey City, N.J., also logs minutes off the bench and has tallied 16 assists on the season.

A juco transfer, Julie Paunovic, becomes eligible to play for Rutgers on the day of the Tennessee game. The native of Cairns, Queensland, Australia, is a 6'0 junior forward who played last season for Casper College in Casper, Wyo., was a second team juco All-American and averaged 15.0 points and 5.4 rebounds while connecting on 46 percent of her shots. The former triathlete also played water polo and field hockey in her homeland.

Brittany Lapidus, a 5'7 sophomore guard from Marlboro, N.J., has played in five games this season. She was a manager last season for the Scarlet Knights – and a ball girl for Rutgers' games for six years starting in third grade – and walked on this year.

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

When Rutgers has the ball: Lockwood said the Lady Vols must identify the shooters and penetrators from the scouting report.

"They are very good off the dribble," Lockwood said. "April Sykes can really shoot the ball well. (Sykes and) Khadijah Rushdan are 42 percent of their team shot attempts. Both of those players are very effective at what they do.

"Khadijah Rushdan gets into the paint as well as any player we've played against. She's strong, she's a good ball handler, so she attacks off the dribble drive. And April Sykes is one of those players she can miss three or four in a row or she can make five or six in a row. She can really get on a run. That's a player we're concerned about. She can't have an easy night against us."

The Scarlet Knights also play aggressively in the paint.

"They are physical kids," Lockwood said. "Chelsey Lee is a little bit more explosive athletically while (Monique) Oliver is a little bit stronger and powerful, so they've got a good balance between the two. If you let those two rummage around in the lane and in the paint and get offensive rebounds, they can inflict some damage."

Defensively, the Scarlet Knights have traditionally been a team to hawk the ball, and Lockwood expects that style of play with a mixture of man and possibly some zone looks.

"They've played some zone," Lockwood said. "I would not be at all surprised to see them zone us some and see if they can keep us in front of them and contain us a little bit and make us take some outside shots.

"I've prepared this team for both things."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols prefer to play inside-out and let the action around the rim loosen up the perimeter for their shooters. With Kelley Cain expected to be on the floor for the opening tip that style often flows better because of her ability in the paint.

"No question," Lockwood said. "You've got a kid that's shooting 60.6 percent. You throw her the ball and she's in her scoring area (the shot is likely to fall). That's pretty productive."

Cain is 40-66 from the field, and the coaches want her shot attempts to significantly increase as the season progresses.

That's 5.5 shot attempts per game, a figure the staff wants to at least double, presuming Cain's ailing hip allows her to get extended minutes on the court.

"Ten or 11 shots a game would be good, and the key is getting healthy minutes out of her," Lockwood said.

Cain settles down the team – Angie Bjorklund has repeatedly mentioned her screens – on both ends of the court.

"I think it does, defensively as well with her shot-blocking ability and her presence," Lockwood said.

Defensively, Tennessee will likely also want to deploy its man and zone schemes, especially against a team that wants to score in the paint by dribble penetration.

"I think we will," Lockwood said. "We game plan to what we think is going to be effective but until you get out there and see what really is clicking and working for us, we'll keep our charts and then we'll take a look and see what's really doing the job for us.

"Like a lot of good teams if they see the same thing over and over again, Rutgers definitely has an ability to get a radar lock on you and start to hurt you."

The Lady Vols have the ability to press and have done so at times this season with success, especially against Old Dominion and ETSU.

"That's who we are and what we want to do some," Lockwood said.

ON TAP: Six other SEC teams are in action today in the following matchups: Jacksonville State at Auburn; Georgia at Florida International; Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky; Mississippi State vs. Lehigh (Buffalo Christmas City Classic in Bethlehem, Pa.); South Carolina State at South Carolina; and Vanderbilt at Virginia Tech (Hilton Garden Classic in Blacksburg, Va.).

Ole Miss had been scheduled to play in a holiday tournament this week in New Jersey, but the snowstorms in the northeast grounded the trip. Ole Miss is next in action Sunday against Vanderbilt when SEC play begins.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Rutgers, 16-3. Thursday will be the 20th matchup between the programs and its Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Hall of Fame coaches, Pat Summitt and C. Vivian Stringer. The series began in 1979. Tennessee is 5-0 in Knoxville and 2-3 in New Jersey with a 9-0 record at neutral sites. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on December 30. The last win on this date came against Old Dominion, 102-62, in 2009. The first win on December 30 was against Penn State, 74-72, in 1978. The two losses on this date were to Maryland, 77-72, in 1992, and Connecticut, 81-76, in 2000. … Tennessee and Rutgers share two common opponents this season in Stanford and Georgetown. The Lady Vols beat Stanford, 82-72 in overtime, in Knoxville while the Scarlet Knights lost on the road, 63-50. Rutgers beat Georgetown, 70-53, at home while the Lady Vols lost to the Hoyas, 69-58, at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. … Academic honors from the fall semester went to seniors Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, redshirt junior Vicki Baugh, who graduated in December with a degree in psychology, juniors Briana Bass, Glory Johnson and Alicia Manning, sophomore Taber Spani and freshman Lauren Avant. Those players earn a "Vol Scholar" patch on their jerseys, a replica of the torch carried by the UT Torchbearer. … The Lady Vols team visited the University of Tennessee's Cancer Institute on Wednesday before practice, a community service event that had been set up before the Monday death of former Lady Vol Melissa McCray-Dukes, whose funeral service is three hours before this afternoon's game. Daedra Charles-Furlow, the team's director of character development who played with McCray-Dukes and was a patient at the institute last season while being treated for breast cancer, set up the visit.

BY THE NUMBERS

Tennessee is averaging 80.0 points a game while allowing opponents to score 57.8. Rutgers averages 66.8 points a game while allowing 58.0.

The Lady Vols are shooting 44.7 percent overall, 36.4 percent behind the arc and 62.9 percent from the free throw line. The Scarlet Knights are shooting 44.0 percent overall, 35.2 percent from long range and 76.5 percent from the line.

Tennessee makes an average of 7.3 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.3. Rutgers makes 4.8 threes a game while allowing 6.3.

Tennessee averages 44.9 rebounds a game for a +10.2 margin. Rutgers averages 35.3 boards for a -0.4 margin.

The Lady Vols average 14.8 assists and 16.1 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 20.8 times a game. The Scarlet Knights average 14.0 assists and 16.4 turnovers with foes losing the ball 18.3 times a game.

Tennessee averages 9.8 steals and 4.5 blocks a game. Rutgers averages 9.2 steals and 6.0 blocks.


Inside Tennessee Top Stories