Lady Vols face Mississippi State tonight

With Angie Bjorklund out for tonight's game against Mississippi State with a right foot injury, Pat Summitt was inclined to start Kamiko Williams at point guard and slide Meighan Simmons to the wing. But Shekinna Stricklen, who has logged time this season at all five positions on the court, needs to keep her point skills handy, too.

"Coach told me I just have to be ready," Shekinna Stricklen said. "I just have to practice every spot. You never know what's going to happen."

When both Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams struggled against South Carolina last week, Stricklen restored order at the point spot. When both Glory Johnson and Kelley Cain got in foul trouble in that game, Stricklen moved to center.

"I played the five with Kelley and Glory both in foul trouble," Stricklen said. "I played the point. Basically I played every position so I've just got to know every spot. It's for the team. It's not about me. Wherever Coach puts me at I am just glad to be on the court to play."

No. 5/6 Tennessee (19-2, 7-0) is next on the court against Mississippi State (8-10, 0-6) Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Eastern (CSS, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Against Auburn last Sunday, Stricklen played four positions – she didn't log time at center with the rotation of bigs that Tennessee had available – and Coach Nell Fortner said after the game that trying to identify where Stricklen would be out of a timeout was difficult.

"I think they were confused, especially (against Auburn)," Stricklen said. "I was in the guard spot and then the post realized it and she's like, ‘Oh my God, she's in the guard spot.' I think it's really confusing because they don't really know if I'm going to be inside or out. Sometimes I don't even know."

Stricklen hit two 3-pointers against Auburn, including a deep one, a part of her game she has worked on lately and which makes her even more of a matchup issue.

"I've been really working on it," Stricklen said. "That was a weakness. That really has been a weakness for me getting my three-point shooting up. I was hitting (against Auburn). Once I get to hitting and they think I'm a shooter, I can still drive or I can go inside. I think it's a big advantage."

The junior forward/guard's shooting partner outside of practice is Briana Bass, a junior guard, who has forced the issue.

"She is like, ‘Strick, let's go. We're going to the gym to shoot,' " Stricklen said. "We are in there and we're talking trash to each other, who can hit the most threes. It's funny, especially hearing Bree. She's so excited and into it. We're just going at it."

Bass is a true point guard but undersized at 5'2 – Stricklen is 6'2 – and doesn't log extensive minutes. It's not easy for a player to settle into that role.

"No, it's not," Stricklen said.

But Bass has been a good teammate.

"Even though you really don't see her, Bree is a big part of this team," Stricklen said. "She bring so much energy, and we love it. When she talks to us we listen to her because she brings a lot to the team."

Since Pat Summitt challenged Stricklen before the Jan. 9th game against Ole Miss to play to her All-American potential, the junior has been on a tear and has averaged a double-double with 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds a game.

"I think she has responded," Summitt said. "There's no doubt about that."

Stricklen is from the small town of Morrilton, Arkansas, and her favorite activity is fishing.

"I've been in her home; I've seen her in practice situations when she was in high school," Summitt said during her Wednesday teleconference. "It wasn't like I was shocked – at times she'd rather go fishing than do just about anything. I told her we're not fishing anymore; we have to fight."

Summitt told Stricklen, "In my mind, I thought you'd be an All-American, but you're not fighting hard and playing hard to be an All-American. That's where I think she has really responded and she has had better games because of it.

"Right now, she's playing with a lot of intensity, but also with a lot of freedom. … I like the fact that she is playing with a lot of freedom, which she hasn't been up until now."

Stricklen moved inside to the power forward spot because of depth issues there and her offensive attack initially stalled. Summitt reminded Stricklen not to abandon her perimeter skills and to use her post-up ability. If Stricklen drifts to the outside, a post player will struggle to guard her that far from the basket. If she heads inside, and a guard stays on her, she can post up or shoot over most defenders.

"It's hard for teams now because they really don't know if I'm going to be the post or the guard," Stricklen said. "Some teams might think I'm on the inside when I'm really on the outside, but the post is guarding me and that's an advantage right there. And then they may think I'm on the wing where I have a guard guarding me but I'm on the inside and I can post up a guard.

"When I go into the game I am just confident. Confident about the team and I am confident we're going to get a win (and) start the game off with a lot of energy."

The benefit of confidence for an athlete is almost incalculable. Stricklen also increased her chances for success as a player of all positions by learning the point.

"When a coach tells me, go to the four, then go to three, then go to the one, as soon as they say it I know every spot," Stricklen said. "I go through every spot in practice, I know every play from every spot, so it really doesn't bother me anymore and especially now that our confidence is really high and my teammates help me out a lot on that."

Stricklen was a reluctant point guard for two seasons when she played the position by necessity, but those repetitions are paying off now.

"It helped a lot," Stricklen said. "At the point you really have to know everybody's position anyway. I played guard a lot my first two years but once I learned the post spot I know every position now."

Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said Stricklen's versatility would make her a very attractive player at the pro level.

"No question," DeMoss said. "Running the point certainly would not have been her choice the past two years but due to the situation she was forced to become a better ball handler. It definitely has paid off."

The pros can wait. For now, the Lady Vol staff is happy to have her in orange.

"She's an opponent's nightmare with the matchup," DeMoss said.

The bulk of the point guard duties this season was turned over to Simmons, a freshman recruited to play wing. Williams, a sophomore who also is better suited on the wing, has been the primary backup at the position. Freshman point guard Lauren Avant, who was under the weather Wednesday and missed practice, dealt with injuries in the first half of the season and fell behind.

Summitt said she would consult with her staff but was leaning Wednesday to start Williams at point to give a break to Simmons, who has been pressing of late.

"Free Meighan up a little bit," Summitt said. "I think sometimes she feels like she's got to do a lot from that spot."

Neither is a true point guard so it's not an ideal situation to have a freshman-sophomore combo at the most important position on the court, but Tennessee is making the most of it until Avant gets healthy and 2011 signee Ariel Massengale gets on campus.

"I think they can still get better (at the position)," DeMoss said of Simmons and Williams. "Meighan is a freshman and she's still learning shot selection, and she's still learning time and score, time and possession. Kamiko has developed from her freshman year to now. She has made some strides, but neither one of them are really true point guards."

Overall, Summitt likes what she has gotten on offense out of the pair.

"I do," Summitt said. "I was really pleased with Kamiko (after Sunday's game). I think she's getting better and better, not playing by herself so much. She's really distributing the ball better. I think we can make this thing work for us."

One positive is the speed of both players.

"We've got quickness there," DeMoss said. "They can both break pressure, and that is so huge with being a point guard. You've got to be able to break pressure. Moving those two to the point and keeping them there and then let Stricklen come in as a backup to those two has been beneficial to us.

"You shuffle people around until you can find who fits in what slot."

Both players need to be ready to handle the pressure of Mississippi State. Neither did to open the South Carolina game, and the first half was a grind for Tennessee.

"Exactly," DeMoss said.

Defensively, Simmons is still learning the assorted schemes. College-level defense usually takes players at least one year to grasp as they process the terminology and responsibilities. The Lady Vols play multiple defenses so the learning curve is steep.

Williams has a better handle on the schemes, but has been inconsistent to date. In some games, she plays lockdown defense. In others, she lets player go by her too easily.

That happened to both players in the South Carolina and Auburn games, and Summitt shuffled them in and out until one settled down. Simmons was better in the second half against South Carolina. Williams elevated her play in the second half against Auburn.

"I think those are two guards that we really need, and they have to understand that they've got to hunker down and play great defense and be passionate about it," Summitt said. "Both of them all they want to do is shoot. We all know that."

Summitt's bench has gotten deeper – though Angie Bjorklund being out is a blow to that depth, and she leads the team in minutes played at 30.1 per game – and she was able to play all 13 on the roster against Auburn.

If players want to stay on the floor for extended minutes they will have to guard someone, because there is another player on the bench eager to take the court.

"Exactly," Summitt said. "I think our depth right now has gotten everybody's attention. "That's a good thing. I don't have a problem with that, because we can keep fresh bodies.

"As long as they understand when they come in they've got to be very efficient. They can't give in to fatigue. If they're feeling that they've got to communicate with us. I tell them if you do get tired then typically I'm going to say, ‘All right, we're going to sub you.' It depends on who it is. Sometimes I just ignore them."

Summitt made the last remark with a smile but there is a degree of truth to it if she thinks a player can give more or just needs to learn how to play through some fatigue. All players feel fatigue on the court, and it's a mental breakthrough when they can play through it and still perform.

Williams is a player that Summitt has identified as capable of giving more to the team but who will sometime surrender to tiredness.

Williams also has been more effective off the bench, to date, than starting. Summitt resisted starting Williams at point last season, finally acquiesced to the wishes of her staff late in the season, and the experience led to a dip in Williams' play – and likely her confidence – that she never fully recovered last season.

Summitt moved Johnson to the bench after determining she played better when she had a few minutes to settle down and watch the game unfold. Johnson had a tendency to be too excitable at the opening tip.

Williams is on the opposite end of that spectrum. She has a very laidback personality, which is not suited for a game's beginning when Tennessee wants to set the tone. She has played well often in her second entry to action when she seems zeroed in on the task at hand. She will have to break that pattern on Thursday as she is likely to start.

"Miko is very goofy," redshirt junior forward Vicki Baugh said. "She has a goofy personality and just very laidback and I think that it follows her on the court. So we just have to let Miko know, because she's very loose and that's not the style of play that fits Pat.

"She is going to want Miko as a guard to be very energetic, get the team involved, which she does, but Miko has a different way of doing that and Miko's facial expressions and how it may seem may not come off correctly to Pat. Basically, I told Miko just give it your all, do that extra little bit, not so laidback and comfortable, since that doesn't fit what Pat wants as a guard."

Former Lady Vol Alexis Hornbuckle had a similar personality – fun loving and impish off the court – but once she stepped on the court she was a player possessed, especially on defense and on the boards.

"Exactly," said Baugh, who noted Williams brings the offbeat personality to the court and that is the disconnect with Summitt.

"It's really in her style of play, but I think she does have to change that a bit," Baugh said. "She may think she's working hard, but it comes off to Pat – and we know her – but it comes off to the coaches that she is not giving it her all."

Williams' skill set is not in question on either side of the ball. It is also why the staff is aggravated by inconsistent play, especially on defense. In the Baylor game last December, Williams stood upright while her player drove past her and then tried to knock the ball free from behind – a move that might work in high school but rarely will in college. It didn't work and Baylor had a five-on-four opportunity with Williams well out of position. Summitt erupted off the bench.

Williams is also capable of playing suffocating defense on anyone.

"When she gets down and she tells herself that she's going to get a stop or whatever, she is unstoppable, like one of the best guards I've ever seen," Baugh said.

Baugh has the players' ears so with Baugh back on the court the freshmen and sophomores could benefit because she will challenge teammates. She has come back from three knee surgeries to take the court again so lackadaisical play doesn't sit well with Baugh.

"Everybody likes Vicki and they have great respect for her and everything she's been through," Summitt said. "I think from that standpoint she can really be a voice to whomever, if it's Kamiko or Meighan. Everybody likes Vicki, and again they respect her."

The loss of Bjorklund hurts the team – and Summitt indicated Wednesday she was inclined to sit Bjorklund again Sunday and give her more time to heal, especially with Tennessee having eight days until the next game against Kentucky on Feb. 7.

As of right now, I just want her to rest her foot," Summitt said during her media teleconference. "We don't want something long range to be a factor. If this team cannot rally for Angie who has obviously been one of the best scorers/players in the program and who has been very dedicated helping her teammates …

"It's time for her teammates to say, ‘Don't worry Angie, we got your back, and we are going to take care of business.' "

Bjorklund was selected Wednesday as one of 10 finalists for the 2011 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award in women's hoops. An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as community leaders.

It can be tough on a team to have a senior starter removed from the court, especially since Bjorklund is one player who will consistently talk on defense. She often is assigned the opposing team's best perimeter player.

"It is," Summitt said. Understand she's not out there and they've got to step up and make sure that things are going to happen the way they need to happen. Whoever is coming in the game has got to be ready to play, ready to play at both ends of the floor."

That also means sticking with Tennessee's up-tempo style – Bjorklund was one beneficiary by getting three-point shots in transition before the defense could get set – and Summitt expects Williams to push tempo at point as Simmons has done so well.

Summitt also noted that Tennessee doesn't rely on its point guard to start the break. Stricklen got a defensive board from the forward spot against Auburn and went coast to coast for the layup.

"(Otherwise,) once you get into the game, whoever gets the outlet pass is going to be the one bringing it up anyway," Summitt said.

Taber Spani, a sophomore who already starts, is a candidate to pick up the scoring loss, especially from long range. Alicia Manning also could log some minutes on the perimeter in Bjorklund's absence, though she doesn't have the shooting range of the senior. Manning has spent more time of late in the paint but with Baugh and Alyssia Brewer back on the court, that will cut into her time there.

"That's probably one situation that it's a wait and see," Summitt said. "If Lyssi's good to go and Vicki's good to go and Kelley's good to go and Glory's good to go those four right there usually are going to take priority. I think A-Town understands – and I know like everybody wants to play more minutes – but it may cut into her minutes just because of the overall size and skills that we have there.

"But we know that A-Town is going to come in and bust her butt and do the dirty work. She gets on the glass. She's a good communicator. This team definitely respects her."

Summitt was looking for more board work against Auburn and although the Lady Vols won with relative ease after holding off a Tigers rally midway through the second half, she saw enough on film to irk her.

"We were getting two and three people to the boards and I know it was more of a one-sided game but this isn't about that game," Summitt said. "This is about us continuing to get better and have great work ethic and great habits."

Mississippi State enters Thursday's game winless in the conference but the Lady Bulldogs won't lack for motivation. Tennessee has won 31 consecutive games, with Mississippi State being the only SEC team to have never defeated the Lady Vols.

"I am sure they are real anxious to play us every time they play us," Johnson said. "They've had opportunities. Games have been close. They've had great games, and we've been lacking and slacking every once in a while so know they're going to come strong and they're going to come hard and they're going to be hungry for a win.

"We have to be confident with ourselves knowing that we won before, we know how to take care of this team, and let's do it again."

Stricklen will have to make sure she is focused on this game. The Lady Vols next go to Arkansas, and Stricklen will have her own fan section in her home state.

"I am not trying to really look too close to that game because we still have Mississippi State, but it's kind of hard not to," Stricklen said. "I'm excited. I have family coming from Kansas City, everywhere, to this game. I am excited about this game."

Several players on the Razorbacks' roster are from Arkansas, and Stricklen has engaged in some friendly smack talk.

"I know some of them," Stricklen said. "A couple of them have been talking. They see my Facebook. People have been writing, ‘Can't wait to see you play Sunday. Hope y'all beat up on them Hogs.' A couple of their players saw it and they wrote on my wall, ‘It will be nice. Tell your fans not to say beat Arkansas. We can read your status.'

"Stuff like that. It's just funny, though. We've been laughing about it."

And while Stricklen may be laidback with a favorite pastime of fishing, the junior does love the game of basketball and her answer when asked what motivates her – besides Summitt's entreaties earlier this month – underscored that passion.

"God giving me the opportunity to play another game, see another day," Stricklen said. "That should motivate everyone. You never know what is going to be your last game. You never know if you're going to get hurt or something.

"You should play every game like it's your last."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Kamiko Williams, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 4 (7.7 points per game overall, 6.3 SEC, 3.5 rebounds per game/4.4, 1.6 assists per game/1.6) Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (15.6 ppg/13.4, 2.9 rpg/2.6, 2.7 assists per game/3.7); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.4 ppg/7.1, 4.4 rpg/3.6, 1.4 apg/1.9); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (11.0 ppg/12.0, 7.5 rpg/8.7, 1.9 apg/1.1); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt junior center, No. 52 (8.3 ppg/9.1, 6.8 rpg/9.7, 2.4 blocks per game/3.6).

Glory Johnson, a key player off the bench, is the leading scorer for Tennessee in SEC games at 14.0 ppg. Her 9.1 rpg in SEC play is second to Cain's 9.7.

Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis is expected to start: Diamber Johnson, 5'7 junior guard, No. 3 (11.3 ppg/9.2, 3.4 rpg/2.5, 3.8 apg/3.2), hails from Pontotoc, Miss., started 16 of 18 games this season, scored career-high 24 points against Utah this season, scored 2,001 points in high school, also participated in track and fast-pitch softball; Porsha Porter, 5'6 junior guard, No. 4 (8,4 ppg/7.8, 5.6 rpg/5.0), hails from Chicago, Ill., first year at Mississippi State after transferring from Jefferson College, which she led to the national title game, logged 32 minutes in her first game for the Lady Bulldogs and tallied 14 points, scored career-high 23 points against Buffalo, grabbed eight boards against Auburn; Mary Kathryn Govero, 5'11 senior guard, No. 33 (11.1 ppg/9.5, 4.0 rpg/3.7), hails from Clinton, Miss., lone senior on the squad, has started all 18 games this season, is just 10 points away from 1,000 for her career, scored career-high 28 points this season against USC Upstate, hit five three-pointers in NCAA tourney win last season over Ohio State; Ashley Brown, 5'11 junior forward, No. 25 (7.1 ppg/4.5, 9.7 rpg/8.3), hails from Chicago, Ill., played at Jefferson College last season with Porter, logged 27 minutes in debut for Mississippi State, scored career-high 17 points against North Texas, grabbed 15 rebounds against Auburn; and Catina Bett, 6'5 redshirt junior center, No. 34 (8.8 ppg/10.3, 5.9 rpg/6.8, 1.6 bpg/2.0 bpg), hails from Gadsden, Ala., sat out last season after transferring from Kentucky, made her debut Dec. 11 in the win over Utah, scored career-high 16 points against Mississippi Valley State, had 12 points, four rebounds and two blocks against Kentucky, grabbed 10 rebounds against Arkansas, was selected 2007 girl's basketball 6A Player of the Year in Alabama, also played volleyball.

A key player off the bench for Mississippi State is Katia May, a 5'2 freshman guard from York, Ala., who has started two SEC games this season, and Darriel Gaynor, a 5'6 sophomore guard from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Judith Tabala, a 6'5 junior center from Kinshasa, Congo, has not played in the past four SEC games.

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

When Mississippi State has the ball: The Lady Bulldogs have always wanted to attack the basket off the dribble and that style of play remains this season, with senior guard Mary Kathryn Govero the team's three-point shooter.

"They still like to go off the dribble, and they have good pull-up jump shooters as well, so they don't necessarily have to get all the way to the rim," DeMoss said. "They can pull up and shoot over you. (Govero) is still their primary three-point shooter. The other kids can shoot wide-open threes, but Govero hunts those threes."

DeMoss identified a "big three" that Tennessee had to find on the floor at all times, Govero, Catina Bett and Diamber Johnson.

"They're all averaging about 10 points in SEC play so they're scoring about 50 points a game, and they're getting 30 of their 50."

Defensively, Mississippi State plays a tenacious style.

"They do," DeMoss said. "They really do. They were leading the league for awhile in field goal percentage defense. They pride themselves a lot on their man-to-man defense. They're aggressive. They play hard. They are really pretty fundamentally sound.

"They are not going to give you any easy shots in the half-court game. They will play some 2-3 zone as well, but I think their man to man is their primary defense."

DeMoss said the Lady Bulldogs also will spring traps at times.

"They'll pick up full court man, not all the time, but they'll randomly trap you in a full court situation," DeMoss said.

Through 18 games this season, Mississippi State has allowed just three teams to surpass 70 points. Eight times this season, Mississippi State has held its opponent to fewer than 60 points. The Lady Bulldogs held Auburn to 45 points, which marked the fifth time this season an opponent was held under 50 points.

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols are missing the program's leading three-point shooter, Angie Bjorklund, to a right foot injury, but it won't change the approach on offense.

"It affects our depth, but we're just going to have to attack their pressure," DeMoss said. "I think they're going to be a lot like South Carolina where they're going to come out and try to get after us, try to establish the tone early on their defensive end.

"We've got to be the aggressor. We've got to come out strong, establish a low post attack early and then we've got to be able to get it off the dribble, as well.

The Lady Vols also hope to be able to rotate their stable of bigs as occurred against Auburn. That kept fresh bodies in the paint.

"With the exception of Bett, we do have a size advantage, but she's got good size, and very mobile," DeMoss said. "I don't know if size will affect them as much as it affected Auburn, but if we can just keep our bigs fresh that will be very helpful."

Defensively, the Lady Vols have been aggressive and active in their man defense of late, but they also have the 2-3 matchup zone handy.

"We're still trying to establish what we do best," DeMoss said. "Right now our switching defense against some teams is effective. Against other teams it's not as effective, so a lot depends on matchups."

The Lady Vols have an assortment of lineups, some stouter on defense than others, so the schemes vary by personnel.

"Where we think we can be the most effective and who's in the lineup at that particular time, things that we can do, if (Shekinna) Stricklen is at the four or at the perimeter," DeMoss said. "We have to shuffle our cards a lot to see what's our best hand."

ON TAP: Eight other SEC schools are in action tonight in the following matchups: Alabama at Florida; Arkansas at LSU; Georgia at South Carolina; and Kentucky at Ole Miss.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Mississippi State, 31-0. The series began in 1986, and the Lady Bulldogs are the only SEC team to have lost every matchup with the Lady Vols. … Tennessee is 5-4 in games played on January 27. The last win on this date was against South Carolina, 68-53, in 2005. The first win on January 27 was against Valdosta State, 93-73, in 1979. The four losses on this date were against Farragut School, 15-2, in 1906; Belmont, 64-61, in 1970; Tennessee Tech, 96-73, in 1975; and Penn State, 79-74, in 1985. … The Lady Vols will reach 20 wins on the season with their next victory. It will be the 35th straight time that Tennessee has reached at least 20 wins during Pat Summitt's tenure. If the win comes Thursday, it will tie the second-fastest Summitt team to reach the milestone. The last time a team reached 20 wins on Jan. 27 was in 2001. The record is the 20 wins reached in 1998 on Jan. 20. The Lady Vols have a 29-game winning streak at Thompson-Boling Arena, and Thursday is the only home game with two road trips bracketed between Thursday's matchup. … Lady Vol sophomore Taber Spani will turn 20 on game day. Her parents, Stacey and Gary Spani, are making the trip to Knoxville from their hometown of Lee's Summit, Mo. Freshman Meighan Simmons turned 19 on Tuesday. … Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis was a graduate assistant at Tennessee during the 1975-76 season. She is one of more than six dozen former players, graduate assistants or assistant coaches who landed head coaching jobs in college after a stint at Tennessee under Pat Summitt. "We've been around each other a long time," Summitt said. "I've learned from her and she's learned from me. She is a really good teacher. The thing about her – it's no-nonsense. We are going to do it this way – this is the way it happens. There is no compromise. I think that is why she has had success." … Fans who buy the 2010-11 Lady Vols Basketball Yearbook at Thursday's game will receive a free copy of "Sweet Repeat," a DVD recap of the Lady Vols' run to their eighth national championship. The Vol Network DVD, which retails for $25, includes Pat Summitt's locker room speeches at the Final Four, features of student-athletes that originally aired on The Pat Summitt Show, game highlights and more.

BY THE NUMBERS: Overall stats with SEC figures in parentheses.

Tennessee is averaging 80.5 points a game (80.6 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 55.4 (51.6). Mississippi State averages 57.7 points a game (52.3) while allowing 57.7 (65.5).

The Lady Vols are shooting 46.0 percent overall (47.5), 36.2 percent behind the arc (36.3) and 67.3 percent from the free throw line (75.4). The Lady Bulldogs are shooting 37.0 percent overall (34.1), 28.0 percent from long range (21.1) and 63.4 percent from the line (68.1).

Tennessee makes an average of 6.9 three-pointers a game (6.4) while allowing 4.9 (4.6). Mississippi State makes 4.9 threes a game (3.8) while allowing 4.7 (5.2).

Tennessee averages 47.1 rebounds a game (51.3) for a +12.3 margin (+15.3). Mississippi State averages 40.9 boards (38.2) for a +1.0 margin (-1.5).

The Lady Vols average 14.1 assists (13.0) and 15.8 turnovers (15.7) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 18.2 times a game (13.9). The Lady Bulldogs average 9.9 assists (7.8) and 16.9 turnovers (19.0) with foes losing the ball 17.7 times a game (16.3).

Tennessee averages 8.4 steals (5.4) and 5.6 blocks a game (8.0). Mississippi State averages 8.2 steals (6.5) and 3.7 blocks (3.3).

SEC Media Days

Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis talks about the loss of eight seniors and the addition of nine newcomers to a team that went to the Sweet 16 in 2009-10 but has just one senior in 2010-11 in Mary Kathryn Govero.

Govero, who did a student internship last semester for grades kindergarten to second and sixth to eighth and wants to be a coach, said the season would be a good chance for a leadership opportunity.

"I've become a lot better communicator," Govero said last fall at SEC Media Days.

Govero said she thought it was important to move past last season's success and start forming this team's identity. She also suggested not paying attention to preseason predictions of the program being picked last in the league.

"We don't talk about that," Govero said. "We just want to come in and work one practice to the next."

Mississippi State has continued its success with acquiring players from the Congo via juco ranks. The latest for the Lady Bulldogs is Judith Tabala, who played at Odessa College before heading to Starkville. One of Mississippi State's assistants, Greg Franklin, had juco coaching experience and established connections for the Lady Bulldogs.

For Mississippi State it has been another way to get solid players.

"You want to recruit your state first and foremost," Fanning-Otis said. "You want to recruit your region first and foremost. Working inside out, sort of like your basketball team."

LADY VOLS VIDEO COVERAGE:

Kelley Cain talks to the media before Monday's practice this week


Inside Tennessee Top Stories