Angie Bjorklund to start in postseason

Pat Summitt approached her senior to determine if she wanted to start or come off the bench in the NCAA postseason, and Angie Bjorklund declared she was ready to be on the court at the opening tip, but her performance in relief did give the guard pause. Tennessee will learn Monday evening who the next opponent will be, and the players are ready for a bracket.

"We've been talking about it in the locker room for awhile and in the training room where we're predicting among ourselves," Angie Bjorklund said Sunday after practice at Pratt Pavilion. "It's been an exciting week, and we're just kind of sitting around waiting and practicing. I'm ready to hear it."

That wait will end Monday beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN when the brackets are announced. As usual, the players, staff and media will gather at the home of Coach Pat Summitt for dinner and then a viewing of the Selection Show.

The brackets likely will have been long done by the time they are publicly unveiled – all postseason conference tourneys wrapped up Sunday – and Tennessee, 31-2, and the winner of the SEC regular season and tournament with a perfect run in conference play presumably is a number one seed.

The regionals this year are in Spokane, Dallas, Dayton and Philadelphia, so the NCAA selection committee has perfect geographic placements for the presumed No. 1 seeds with Stanford in Spokane, Baylor in Dallas, Tennessee in Dayton and Connecticut in Philly.

But surprises do happen, and if RPI and SOS are weighed heavily, Duke could rise to a top seed, with Stanford falling to a two. Stanford would still likely be placed in Spokane, so the effect would be negligible. But the media pundits seem to think Duke would be a No. 2 seed, along with UCLA, Texas A&M and Notre Dame.

The Lady Vols have discussed the possible seeds and are anxious to see them Monday. Tennessee does know it will start at home since Knoxville is a host site for the first two rounds with a double-header beginning at 11 a.m. this Saturday, March 19, at Thompson-Boling Arena with the sub-regional final on Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m.

"I'll get into the talks they had, but I'm kind of a wait and see," Bjorklund said. "Let's see where they put us. Because you never know. I think every year there are a few surprises here and there."

Bjorklund will be on the court for the opening tip when Tennessee open plays Saturday – it is not yet known if the Lady Vols will be scheduled for the first or second game – after a conversation she had Sunday with Summitt.

"I asked her today. I said, ‘You're a senior. Do you want to come off the bench or do you want to start?' She said, ‘I definitely want to start.' I thought she would, but you never know," said Summitt, who added the Lady Vols were "totally" better at the start with Bjorklund on the floor.

"She just said, ‘What would you prefer to do? This is your last year. Where do you think you play the best?' I said, ‘I like to start,' " Bjorklund said.

Bjorklund, who missed six games late in regular season with a foot injury, was effective coming off the bench, especially in Nashville during the SEC tourney. The sharpshooter connected on 85.7 percent (12-14) of her treys and 62.5 percent (15-24) of her attempts overall.

"In the back of my head that did kind of go through my head, ‘Well, I've being doing well coming off the bench,' " Bjorklund said. "But I think come tournament time we need a good start and this is my last run, and I want to do everything I can for this team."

It could be a fitting flip of the script for the senior. As a freshman, Bjorklund lost her starting position in the title game of the SEC tourney and throughout the NCAA championship run, because her long-range shot had abandoned her late in a long season for a rookie.

So how does Bjorklund keep her offensive success on track as a starter now?

"I honestly think it's being a senior," Bjorklund said. "Nothing else is on my mind when I go in there but, ‘We've got to win this game.' I think it's just complete focus going into the tournament and going into these last few games. Sitting on that bench, all the energy, I'd get myself fired up and I get pretty antsy.

"I think a lot of it is just tournament time in general, my senior year in general. I came into those games completely focused, completely ready to play, ready to shoot. I think my sense of urgency is the highest it's ever been."

In 2008, Alberta Auguste replaced Bjorklund for defensive reasons, and the Lady Vols used that approach to disrupt the offensive flow of teams, especially Stanford in the title game, and won the national championship.

Ironically, Summitt was upset Sunday with the offensive performance of her team.

"They didn't play well together, a lot of turnovers, just not communicating," Summitt said. "That's why I called them in: ‘I wonder what Duke's doing today. I wonder what Stanford's doing today? What are we doing?'

"I told them (it was) the worst offensive practice of the year. … You've got to be on a mission. They played a lot by themselves. Just not focused. Wasn't important to them today."

After the SEC tourney – in which Tennessee's offense was scorching – the coaching staff was dismayed by the overall defense and board play. A team that allowed 52.2 points a game in SEC play before March surrendered 66.0 a game in Nashville. The Lady Vols averaged 47.9 rebounds in the SEC regular season (+14.8) and just 40.7 in the tourney (+1.7).

The practice sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday emphasized cleaning up those areas. After a day off, the offense was a little stale Sunday.

"We've been working on defense for the past few days," Bjorklund said. "I think it's just executing. Despite our great defense, we need to make plays, and we need to execute our offenses. She talked about we did a lot of one-on-one, all right it's my turn to shoot, instead of just playing together and executing."

Tennessee scrimmaged against each other Sunday – with 13 Lady Vols healthy and on the court they had plenty for five on five plus substitutions – and three officials were brought in to simulate game conditions.

"I like doing that at this time of the year," Summitt said.

It's been a week since Tennessee played a game, and Sunday underscored one lesson.

"Shot selection is huge, especially at this time," Bjorklund said. "You just can't be going in there and throwing up shots. I think shot selection is huge … starting by getting the ball inside and that will open things up for the outside."


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