Lady Vols take on Georgia tonight

Shekinna Stricklen has vivid memories of last season's loss at Georgia – turnovers, specifically her own late in the game. The Lady Bulldogs were the only SEC team to beat Tennessee a year ago, and that blemish remains on the minds of the Lady Vol players. The rematch is tonight in the "Live Pink … Bleed Orange" game to promote breast cancer awareness, which has special significance for Tennessee.

No. 4 Tennessee (25-2, 13-0) will take on No. 22 Georgia (20-6, 10-3) at 7 p.m. Eastern tonight (ESPN2, Lady Vols Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena as part of a "Big Monday" matchup.

The Lady Vols went 15-1 in the SEC last season and won the postseason tourney in Duluth, Ga., with wins over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The Lady Bulldogs defeated Tennessee in Athens, Ga., in the only matchup between the two in a game that featured 10 ties and 16 lead changes.

"Turnovers, which we still have," Shekinna Stricklen said when asked what she recalled about the 53-50 loss on Jan. 21, 2010. "I remember that game we turned the ball over a lot, weren't hitting shots, and we weren't playing great defense. They were getting a lot of offensive boards and putbacks.

"I know one play I won't ever forget I gave them the lead at the end. That's when I got around (the defender), and she hit the ball from behind, and she got a wide-open layup. I won't ever forget that. That's the only team that beat us last year in this conference, and we have three games left (this regular season), and our mindset is they're not going to beat us here."

Alyssia Brewer has a slightly better recollection of the game.

"I remember I hit my free throws," said Brewer, who was 4-5 from the stripe at Stegeman Coliseum. "It really was (an odd game) now that I think about it. It was physical. I remember Angie (Bjorklund) got kicked. Definitely towards the end of the game we went through some adversity (a technical foul assessed against Kelley Cain).

"We definitely have some redemption to do in that area because we weren't able to see them again."

Brewer also added that if the Lady Vols are going to meander memory lane, they should also remember the 2009 game in Knoxville, a 73-43 win.

"If you want to look in the past in that way, you can go to two years when they were on our home court, and we beat them by 30," Brewer said. "So I think we will try to have that same mentality that we had when we played them here two years ago."

That 2009 win gave Pat Summitt her 1000th career victory, a rather momentous milestone. A win this Monday would let Tennessee claim the regular season SEC crown outright and stay on track for an undefeated league record. If Georgia wins one of its remaining three SEC games, it guarantees itself a bye in the postseason tourney.

"We all know that's our goal every year is to go undefeated in the regular season and hopefully win out through the tournament," Alicia Manning said. "The coaches have mentioned it (for seeding purposes in the NCAA tourney), and we definitely need to finish out to secure that number one seed."

Manning, who had a breakout game Thursday against South Carolina with a career-high 22 points, is from Woodstock, Ga., so she has some extra motivation when facing the Lady Bulldogs, who also recruited her out of Etowah High School.

"Especially after last year that being the only SEC game that we lost that kind of brings back some memories," Manning said. "The goal of going undefeated and beating number two right now in our conference is something we want to do.

"We want to prove a point and make a statement to the rest of the country of what Tennessee has been doing this year."

Brewer said the topic came up among the players Thursday.

"We talked about it before the game," Brewer said. "This is our time to make a statement, especially going up to the SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. We're trying to make a big statement."

Only three regular season games remain on the schedule – Georgia on Monday, at Ole Miss on Thursday and Senior Day at home on Sunday against LSU.

"It went by fast," Stricklen said. "It just seems like the other day we were in there with Heather (Mason) running preseason and running indoor.

"Now it's like, ‘Wow, conference is about over and we're about to hit SEC Tournament and then NCAA.' Do or die."

For Brewer, who has played in just 11 games because of Achilles tendon surgery last fall, it feels like the season just got underway.

"We've got three games left, and it's crazy because to me it feels like, ‘All right, the season's just started. Let's go,' " Brewer said.

With just three games left to end the regular season, it's not hard to players to stick to the one-game-at-a-time mantra. With Georgia up next the players' minds returned to that loss of a year ago.

"Of course," Stricklen said. "We don't want that loss again. We're trying to end our conference undefeated, and we feel like it's going to be a great game, but we're going to have to have a good mindset and just take care of the ball."

PROBABLE STARTERS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (14.3 points per game overall/14.1 SEC, 2.9 rpg/2.7, 2.9 assists per game/3.7); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.4 ppg/7.7, 4.1 rpg/3.5); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (12.2 ppg/14.1, 7.7 rpg/8.6); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (11.3 ppg/13.6, 9.4 rpg/10.0); and Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 junior center/forward, No. 33 (1.5 ppg/2.1, 2.5 rpg/3.1).

The availability of senior sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund off the bench is a relief for the coaches.

"It's helpful that we have another guard," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.

Kelley Cain sat out Sunday's practice while Vicki Baugh was able to go for the entire session. Both posts remain day-to-day in terms of availability, making the presence of Brewer, who expressed a desire to play this season and not take a redshirt year, a godsend at this point.

"It's been a great bonus for us, especially that she's getting in better shape and that she's playing more," Warlick said. "She's got fresh legs."

Lauren Avant, who missed a significant portion of the season because of injury and illness, also has a bounce in her step now.

"You've got two players right there who are outstanding players for us, who have made a difference in a couple of our games," Warlick said.

Despite the calendar saying late February, the Lady Vols, because of the injuries, still have different options and can put an assortment of lineups on the court.

"That's a good problem to have because usually if Angie would be out we would be panicking," Warlick said. "People stepped up."

At this time a year ago both Brewer and Alicia Manning elevated their games. That trend has continued.

"It's their time of year," Warlick said. "It's their part of the season that they enjoy. They seem to thrive this time of year, which is great."

Georgia Coach Andy Landers is expected to start: Khaalidah Miller, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 1 (9.2 ppg/10.1, 2.6 rpg/2.3, 1.7 apg/1.8), hails from Atlanta, Ga., honored three times as SEC Freshman of the Week, became the 67th freshman in program history to start a game during Landers' 32 years as head coach, three-time first-team all-state honoree in Class 5A, Georgia's largest, at Douglass High School, 2010 Miss Georgia Basketball; Jasmine James, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (12.0 ppg/10.8, 3.4 rpg/3.4, 4.0 apg/3.5), hails from Memphis, Tenn., missed one SEC game in early February to rest a sprained right wrist that snapped a streak of 55 consecutive starts, tallied career-high 27 points against Oklahoma State last season in the NCAA tourney, played at Bartlett High School, named Memphis Player of the Year an unprecedented three times; Meredith Mitchell, 6'1 junior guard, No. 11 (7.9 ppg/9.3, 5.0 rpg/5.5), hails from Midfield, Ala., has reached double-digits in scoring in nine SEC games, scored a season-high 16 points in win over Kentucky, grabbed career-high 12 rebounds against Arkansas in January, named to SEC Academic Honor Roll for two consecutive seasons; Porsha Phillips, 6'2 senior forward, No. 21 (11.1 ppg/10.4, 10.5 rpg/10.1), hails from Stone Mountain, Ga., grabbed 18 rebounds against Arkansas, most in an SEC game by a Georgia player since the 23 tallied by Wanda Holloway in 1981, averages a double-double, last Lady Bulldog to do so was Katrina McClain during her 1987 National Player of the Year season, 81 points away from 1,000 for her career, has 127 career blocks, Lady Bulldogs leading rebounder in 20 of 26 games, sat out the 2007-08 season after transferring from LSU; and Jasmine Hassell, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 12 (9.6 ppg/8.6, 4.6 rpg/5.6 rpg), hails from Lebanon, Tenn., recorded first career double-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds in win over Kentucky, has averaged 7.0 rebounds in past seven games, Miss Tennessee Basketball for Class AAA at Wilson Central High School, won state titles in 2006, 2008, mother Gail played at Belmont from 1981-84, career scoring leader with 1,814 points at end of career, now fourth all-time.

A key player off the bench for the Lady Bulldogs is Anne Marie Armstrong, a 6'3 sophomore forward/guard from Norcross, Ga., who has started three SEC games this season. She launched 13 three-pointers– and connected on three – in a non-conference game against TCU in December, won by Georgia by three points, 60-57.

Armstrong averages 6.1 points per game and has connected on 10 treys in league games. She averages nearly 20 minutes a game in SEC play.

Ronika Ransford, a 5'7 freshman guard from Washington, D.C., has started four SEC games this season, and has 10 steals in league games. She averages 15.1 minutes in SEC contests.

BJORKLUND BACK: Angie Bjorklund, who missed six games as she recovered from a right foot injury, was released to practice Friday by Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.

"It's good. It's real good," Bjorklund said of her foot. "JMo is the best. She was going to have me back."

Bjorklund will be available for Monday's game and Pat Summitt indicated she would be deployed if needed, but the staff didn't want to rush her back or load up her minutes.

Bjorklund, a senior who has started since she was a freshman, doesn't expect a month off to be too much of an adjustment.

"I think having four years of experience under my belt will help, especially in postseason, playing with this team, being comfortable with them," Bjorklund said. "I think the biggest thing is just going to get into the flow of my shot. I've been working with a sports psychologist trying to stay mentally in the game. I am just trying to do everything I can.

"It is definitely nice to be back on the court. It is tough on the sidelines. You try to stay as into it as possible but I'm the type of player that likes to get up and walk around and kind of be involved and give each other high fives. Being on the sideline doing treatment was very tough for me."

With just three regular season games left – including next Sunday's Senior Day for Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone – there is little time to recalibrate and get back into form.

"Having three games left it's a quick turn-around, but it's taught me a lot of patience, especially because this is my last year," Bjorklund said. "Being patient with the healing process, but at the same time just kind of having an outside perspective and just trying to help them from a coach's perspective more because from the sideline I've been able to see things.

"So I think it will help me, too."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Georgia game. Here is her assessment.

When Georgia has the ball: The Lady Bulldogs make use of screening action on offense.

"They're going to set screens and go back door," Warlick said. "They're going to set flare screens, ball screens. They're going to try and get their shooters and people who he thinks at that time need to have the ball, they're going to try and get them the ball."

Warlick said the Lady Vols would have to be ready to board on the defensive end.

"They are always great offensive rebounders," Warlick said. "He has his team really rebounding. (Jasmine) Hassell is really a force inside. She's gotten stronger, more physical. She's really their anchor. She's been a beast inside."

Georgia is getting production from Porsha Phillips, who had 14 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks in last week's win over Kentucky.

"Porsha Phillips is doing a lot more," Warlick said. "She's stepping off and facing the basketball more. They're getting a little bit more of a four out, one in look."

Georgia has used freshman Khaalidah Miller for help at the point guard position with Jasmine James. Miller had 10 points and three assists against the Wildcats.

"She's very good," Warlick said. "She's shoots a long-range three, and she's a penetrators so she's a difficult guard. She plays hard, good defender, pushes the ball. She gives them another athletic look. She's an athletic basketball player. She is not just an athlete who goes up and down. She's been taught at a very young age how to play the game."

Defensively, Georgia is likely to show Tennessee an assortment of looks.

"Man-to man, very aggressive," Warlick said. "It's a typical, to me, Andy team. They play hard on the defensive end. They mix it up. They run a zone. They run a man."

Warlick also said the Lady Bulldogs will show pressure looks, especially after made baskets.

"They do a 2-2-1 press, they zone in the half-court," Warlick said. "He's mixing it up a little bit. He's not strictly a man-to-man for 40 minutes. He's not going to do that. I would be shocked if he did that against us."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vol coaches might need a crystal ball to know who will be the offensive breakout player this game. The past three games have seen the emergence of Lauren Avant, Alyssia Brewer and Alicia Manning.

"We just want consistency and to be able to get good looks," Warlick said. "That's our goal. We want to make sure we get good looks, and we continue to get on the offensive boards. We try to play inside-out. We're going to push the ball."

Defensively, the Lady Vols will mix it up and go with what is effective.

"Absolutely," Warlick said.

Tennessee has been willing all season to vary its man and zone looks. In the last game against South Carolina, the Lady Vols started with man and then played zone for nearly all of the second half.

In years past, Tennessee and Georgia have traditionally battled for SEC supremacy – LSU inserted itself into the equation in recent years with Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles – so Monday's game has an old school vibe about it. If Tennessee wins, the Lady Vols would be outright winners of the SEC.

"Absolutely," Warlick said.

THINK PINK … BLEED ORANGE: Monday's game will be Tennessee's breast cancer awareness event for the season, and the players will be in white uniforms with pink trim.

Adidas also provided bright pink shoes – a couple of players were sporting them Sunday at practice – but with several players dealing with chronic knee or foot issues, they likely would not risk a switch to new shoes unless they had time to break them in properly.

Tennessee lost a member of its own orange family to breast cancer when former Lady Vol Melissa McCray Dukes died in late December. Also, Daedra Charles-Furlow, a former Lady Vol player and assistant and current director of character development, was treated for breast cancer last season and spent a year in recovery.

"Just bringing the awareness of breast cancer and what we went through with Melissa," Summitt said of the significance of holding the pink game as part of the WBCA's initiative. "Thank goodness Daedra is in remission now. But there are so many people affected by it."

"It puts a face with breast cancer, and the kids can identify – Melissa, Daedra," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "It's around us and Lady Vols are not exempt from that disease."

Dukes spoke to the team in 2009 about what it meant to be part of the long orange line and how much they have to fight through adversity on and off the court.

"That it was somebody who was so full of life and her spirit was felt throughout the room whenever she talked," Alyssia Brewer said of her memories of that speech. "Everyone was listening. It was like you could barely blink because you wanted to hear and pay attention to everything that she said. Being able to hear from her was special."

The Lady Vols have worn a No. 35 patch on their shorts since Dukes passed away on Dec. 27, 2010, at the age of 43.

"It shows that you have to represent for them and what they've had done," Brewer said. "I think everybody in the Tennessee family and community will feel as if this game has more meaning and more significance because somebody so close to this university has passed because of that."

The players also will have Charles-Furlow on their minds for the Think Pink game.

"Especially for Coach D it means a lot to her, what she had to go through, and she fought through it," Shekinna Stricklen said. "It's going to be in the back of our minds, too, and we're going to dedicate this game to her."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Georgia Coach Andy Landers at SEC Media Days last fall.

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Georgia, 40-15, in a series that began in 1969. The Lady Vols are 16-4 in Knoxville with the Lady Bulldogs last win on the road against Tennessee coming in an overtime game in 1996. Georgia holds a 1-0 streak against the Lady Vols with a 53-50 win in Athens last season. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on February 21. The last win on this date was against Alabama, 85-58, in 2008. The first win on February 21 was against East Tennessee State, 97-41, in 1975. The two losses on this date were to Virginia State, 39-18, in 1925; and LSU, 72-69, in 1999. … Only seven programs have tallied double-digit wins over Tennessee while Pat Summitt has been head coach, and Georgia Coach Andy Landers has been at the helm for all 15 for the Lady Bulldogs. The other schools with the double are Louisiana Tech, 17; Connecticut, 13; LSU, Texas and Tennessee Tech, 12 each; and Auburn, 10. … During the Tennessee-Georgia rivalry, at least one team has been ranked in every game – minus the 1969 one when the polls were not in place – and both teams were ranked 45 times of the 54 other games. This will mark the 44th time the Lady Vols will go into the game as the higher-ranked team. … Both programs have dipped into the other state for players. The Lady Vols have two players on the roster this season from Georgia, Alicia Manning and Kelley Cain, while the Lady Bulldogs plucked two from Tennessee, Jasmine James and Jasmine Hassell. All-time among 158 Lady Vols, Tennessee has had 20 players from the Peach State, second only to the 67 from the Volunteer State.

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

Tennessee is averaging 78.7 points a game (76.8 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 55.3 (53.2). Georgia averages 65.8 points a game (61.9) while allowing 57.0 (55.9).

The Lady Vols are shooting 45.8 percent overall (46.4), 36.5 percent behind the arc (36.9) and 66.8 percent from the free throw line (70.3). The Lady Bulldogs are shooting 41.4 percent overall (39.1), 28.9 percent from long range (29.8) and 62.8 percent from the line (62.9).

Tennessee makes an average of 6.5 three-pointers a game (5.8) while allowing 5.1 (5.1). Georgia makes 4.8 threes a game (4.4) while allowing 5.9 (5.1).

Tennessee averages 46.7 rebounds a game (48.5) for a +12.7 margin (+14.2). Georgia averages 42.3 boards (41.2) for a +6.2 margin (+0.9).

The Lady Vols average 13.9 assists (13.0) and 16.0 turnovers (16.2) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 17.8 times a game (14.9). The Lady Bulldogs average 13.3 assists (11.4) and 16.4 turnovers (16.2) with foes losing the ball 17.4 times a game (17.2).

Tennessee averages 8.0 steals (6.0) and 5.5 blocks a game (6.7). Georgia averages 9.0 steals (7.9) and 4.6 blocks (4.9).


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