"This team right now we're starting to flow together without her and when she comes in and keeps doing what she was doing I think this team will be complete."
That does raise the question of how to distribute minutes, especially with a stacked bench whose latest heroine was Alicia Manning and her career-high 22 points in Thursday's 82-60 win over South Carolina.
Stricklen said she thought the team was mature and close enough on and off the court to handle spreading out minutes, even on a game-by-game basis.
"When someone is playing hard and they're having the best night, like A-Town last night, keep her in," Stricklen said. "If you're not having a good game or if it's not your night or whatever and you're not playing good defense and somebody else is, they need to play more and you just sit out.
"We have a full bench. On any given night it can be any person's night. That's one thing I love about this team, and I think other teams are starting to notice that. You don't know who will have their best game at any given night."
When Manning hit her third three-pointer against South Carolina in the second half, the Gamecocks called a timeout and Stricklen wrapped up her fellow junior in a hug at center court before heading to Tennessee's bench.
"I was so happy for her," Stricklen said. "She's been through so much. She was frustrated in practice the other day when we were doing walk-through (before the South Carolina game because) she was messing up on some things and then to come out (Thursday) night shoot the ball like she did, rebound like she did, everything, I was so happy.
"She was so happy, and it was great."
Stricklen wasn't particularly happy in the first half when she was assessed a technical foul – she recalls one other in her Tennessee career – after being face guarded on the free throw line. As a Lady Vol lofted a free throw, Stricklen's defender turned to face her and box her out with an arm bar – a legal move and intended to somehow counteract Tennessee's size.
"I never have seen that," Stricklen said. "That completely threw me off. It was smart, though (but) we got three offensive rebounds off of free throws in a row, so it wasn't working too well."
While Stricklen was lined up awaiting Glory Johnson's attempt, she made a move to get into rebounding position and was elbowed twice in the chest by her defender, who was still facing her and never turned to the rim. Stricklen reacted by pushing off the defender and when the officials checked the monitor, Stricklen was tagged with the technical.
When the scoreboard showed the replay, the 11,849 fans in attendance saw the elbows and howled in disapproval at the technical. A case could have been made for a double foul.
"That's what I was pleading for," said Coach Pat Summitt, who saw that Stricklen had indeed made contact, too.
Rebounder-extraordinaire Dennis Rodman used to be guarded like that at the free throw line, but it's not at all common in the women's game.
"I don't know that I've seen that before," Summitt said.
Stricklen sat out practice Friday to get some treatment for her quad – she stumbled in the second half Thursday and seemed to tweak it – but Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, said the rehab was maintenance only, and Stricklen was good to go.
"She and I talked about it (during the game)," Moshak said. "She wanted to finish out that segment."
Two of Tennessee's bigs, Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh, participated in a portion of Friday's practice. Cain, who had been feeling better earlier this month, appears to be very limited in mobility and lift right now.
Summitt replied "yes" when asked if she was concerned about Cain, and added, "Jenny is on top of the treatment, and it's always a wait and see."
Baugh has been in wait-and-see status all season and will remain that way because of her left knee. Sophomore guard/forward Taber Spani also is dealing with injury, as her left foot has been ailing.
"I think her foot has been bothering her," Summitt said when asked about Spani's offensive struggles of late. "She's been getting some extra (rehab)."
That makes the presence of Alyssia Brewer vital for the post game right now. Brewer is still making her way back from Achilles tendon surgery but is making incremental improvement and moved well Thursday during her game minutes.
Tennessee also has Bjorklund back at practice, and she participated in most of the session, which was heavily skewed to offense Friday with ball and player movement.
"You can't go from doing nothing for three weeks to full bore," Moshak said.
The team is off Saturday and will return to practice Sunday – "the next go-around will be defense," Summitt said – but Bjorklund will meet with Moshak on Saturday for a light workout to test her foot again.
"She and I talked about just set shots and free throws, Sunday a little bit more into practice, then do the scouting on Monday," Moshak said. "I am hopeful for Monday. That's the design right now."
Pat Summitt was happy to see her senior sharpshooter back on the court after a six-game absence.
"It seems like it's been forever since she's been on the floor, but I think patience was probably on our side to wait it out," Summitt said. "I'm just excited that she's going to be able to play."
Bjorklund was a bit uneven with her shot Friday, but the coaches were smiling afterward.
"She'll get in a couple of more shooting opportunities," Summitt said. "I think she'll be fine."
The coaches also were smiling about the offensive output of Manning against South Carolina. The 6'1 guard/forward was 3-4 from behind the arc, a stunning stat considering the fact she had not made a trey this season and had not even attempted one in 12 prior SEC games.
"I think she has really worked on her game," Summitt said. "She has gotten in Pratt quite a bit, and she has worked on her shooting."
"We don't even want to draw attention to it," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said with a smile when asked about the complete turn-around, not wanting to jinx it.
"Defenses just quit guarding her," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "They were helping off of her."
That motivated Manning to get in the gym and force opponents to challenge her.
"She is a tough-minded kid," DeMoss said. "You can tell by how she plays. She always does the dirty work."
Tennessee made six three-pointers against the Gamecocks, and Manning had three of them.
"She was amazing," Stricklen said. "She was about the only person who really was hitting outside. She stepped up big time around this time last year, and I think she's got her confidence.
"She works harder than anyone in practice. She works hard every day. (Thursday) night she really needed that, and I just hope she keeps it up. She's a big help to this team."
The return of Bjorklund also means the Lady Vols will have the program's all-time three-point leader on the court. Stricklen has noticed the effect of her absence.
"She's a great leader for this team, and we've been missing her shooting," Stricklen said. "I think it's been making it a lot easier for other teams when they play us. They've been able to double a lot on our posts because we haven't had our best shooter out there.
"When she comes back it's going to make it a lot harder."
LIVE PINK: Tennessee's breast cancer awareness game will be this Monday evening against Georgia with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern.
The Lady Vols will wear white uniforms trimmed in pink.
"This is a game I look forward to each year and am excited it has become an annual tradition," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Breast cancer affects us all. Everyone knows someone who has had or is currently battling breast cancer, and I am proud to be a part of a program that promotes such an important cause."
The University Breast Center Mobile Mammography Unit will be at the arena from 5 to 7 p.m. for the "Live Pink" event. Fans can call 865-305-9728 to schedule an appointment. Walk-ups are welcome but appointments are preferred.
The words "Live Pink" will be spelled out in the arena seats by way of 12,000 T-shirts, and the Tennessee Army National Guard will distribute pink wristbands. The "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" shirts will also be for sale on the concourse, with proceeds benefiting the UT Cancer Institute. The Knoxville affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Zeta Tau Alpha also will be accepting donations at the game.
"Tennessee Athletics is one of a handful of programs to incorporate breast cancer awareness into multiple women's sports including basketball, volleyball and soccer," Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan said. "Support the Lady Vols and partner with us as we ‘Live Pink' Bleed Orange. When you come to Thompson-Boling Arena Monday night to cheer on the Lady Vols against Georgia, remember to wear your pink."
NAISMITH FINALISTS: Two of Tennessee's signees from the class of 2011 are among the five finalists for the prestigious Naismith Award for the high school player of the year as announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
Cierra Burdick, a forward from Matthews, N.C., and Ariel Massengale, a point guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., were included on the final list with Krystal Forthan of Austin, Texas (LSU); Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis of Santa Anna, Calif. (Connecticut); and Elizabeth Williams of Virginia Beach, Va. (Duke).
The nominees will be recognized and the winner announced at the Tipoff Club's season-ending Naismith Awards Banquet on March 21 in Atlanta.
Seven former Lady Vols were the Naismith High School Player of the Year: Candace Parker (2003, 2004); Shyra Ely (2001); Kara Lawson (1999); Tamika Catchings (1997); Chamique Holdsclaw (1995); Michelle Marciniak (1991); and Lisa Harrison (1989).
Burdick and Massengale also have been selected as McDonald's and WBCA All-Americans.
"I was pleased for both of them," Pat Summitt said. "They have really expanded their game. I can't wait for them to get here."
"That's hard work and dedication and their love for the game, and we're thankful they're on our team," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.
Tennessee's third signee from the class of 2011 is Isabelle Harrison, a forward/center from Nashville.
"We've got three pretty good leaders," Warlick said.
Alicia Manning talks about her big night and playing Georgia next
Friday practice clips
Pat Summitt after practice