Bjorklund sisters square off Sunday

A few minutes after Tennessee's practice ended Saturday afternoon, Jami Bjorklund slipped onto the sideline and was waiting as Angie Bjorklund left the floor. The sisters, who are extremely close, exchanged a huge hug. On Sunday, they will line up against each other.

Jami Bjorklund is a junior guard for Gonzaga. Angie Bjorklund is a freshman forward for Tennessee. The game was set up by Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt and Gonzaga Coach Kelly Graves so that the Bjorklunds could play each other while Jami was still at Gonzaga. The Lady Vols will travel to Spokane, Wash., next season in mid-December for Angie's homecoming game.

"I wanted to be able to allow Angie and Jami to play against each other," Summitt said. "I thought it would be neat if we could make that happen. Both programs and coaches agreed. This is great for the interest of our fans, because very quickly, Angie has won over a lot of people in Big Orange Country with her style of play and what she brings to our basketball team. A lot of people are anxious to see Jami play, and the two of them on the court together."

Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell expects a very warm Tennessee reception for Jami Bjorklund when the Bulldogs' starting lineup is announced Sunday.

"Definitely," Caldwell said. "I think our fans are very, very loyal to us and they know how important Angie is to us so they've got to know how important her sister is to her. They are probably going to be matched up with one another. They know each other's game so why not put them on one another?"

The sisters shot together for a little while in between Tennessee and Gonzaga's practice sessions while their father, Jim Bjorklund, rebounded for them. The sisters' mother, Kris Bjorklund, snapped photos of a moment that clearly was special for the family.

"They're really close," Summitt said. "It's a close family. I think with Angie and with Jami they're close enough in age and grew up together and obviously played basketball. They appear to be absolutely best friends. I felt that just being in the home."

Tipoff between No. 1 Tennessee, 8-0, and Gonzaga, 6-3, is set for 3:06 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: SportSouth; Lady Vol Radio Network). It will be the Lady Vols last home game until Jan. 10 when they open SEC play against Auburn. Tennessee leaves Monday for a two-game West Coast road trip.

"Today's scouting report was entitled ‘self improvement,' " said Caldwell, who handled the report for this game. "To improve the team you must improve yourself. We always are looking for daily improvement. We want to play better than what we did Thursday night against Middle. We want to defend better than we did."

Middle Tennessee opened up Thursday's game by hitting its first four three-point attempts. They went on to make 11 in the game.

"We don't want to have as many breakdowns as what we did because then you know that you're taking the information that we're giving them, post-game information, and they're really applying it in practice and the real test is a game to see if they're really going to execute and carry it over," Caldwell said. "There are some areas that we struggled in on Thursday and actually for the season I think the three-ball has really plagued us as far as allowing other teams to make as many and get as many off as they do.

"You look at Gonzaga, they're right under 20 attempts a game so if we cut those attempts in half then that's obviously going to cut those makes in half. That's something that we definitely want to gauge."

Tennessee also wants to pack some momentum as it heads to California for two games before breaking for Christmas.

"We're getting ready to go on a West Coast swing," Caldwell said. "We really want to work on us. We really want to focus on what it is that Tennessee needs to get better at in order to prepare. You don't want to ever look ahead but you want to always be better, to run certain actions and feel good about it going on the road like we're getting ready to and playing two really tough opponents with UCLA and Stanford."

Gonzaga is clearly on the Lady Vols' minds right now. Friday and Saturday's practice sessions were used both for preparation specific to Gonzaga – the Lady Vols watched film for about 30 minutes prior to Saturday's workout – and to get in shooting repetitions in the paint, on the perimeter and from the line. Defensive drills also were emphasized, particularly getting stops.

The game is being billed as the Battle of the Bjorklunds, but it's not the first time sisters have squared off against each other in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tamika Catchings played against her older sister, Tauja Catchings, when Illinois came to Knoxville on Dec. 12, 1997. The Illini led 41-24 at halftime, but the Lady Vols stormed back to win 78-68 and went on to have a perfect 39-0 record and claim the program's sixth national title.

From 1981 to 1983, when the Lady Vols played in Stokely Athletics Center, Shelia Collins went against her older sister, Cynthia Collins, who played for Georgia, on seven occasions, and posted a 4-3 record. According to game notes by Debby Jennings, the Lady Vols associate athletics director for media relations, the two usually guarded each other, and Cynthia fouled out six times.

Sunday will be the first time that the Bjorklund sisters – Jami is 21 years old; Angie is 18 – have had to line up against each other. Summitt does not expect it to be a distraction for Angie.

"She hasn't given me a reason to feel that she's not focused," Summitt said. "She's probably going to match up on Jami. If she has a problem with that we'll just let her guard someone else."

The family will be wearing T-shirts that have been cut in half and re-stitched with one side in orange with the letters TENN and the other side in blue and the letters ZAGA for a TENNZAGA look. The T-shirts were made by Patty Schaefer, who is Jami's future mother-in-law.

Jim Bjorklund is worried about looking silly in the shirt but will wear it anyway.

"It lines up pretty good," he said. "I told her (his wife) I'm going to feel like a clown. She said, ‘No, you've got to wear it.' OK."

Jim Bjorklund said all he really wants Sunday is for both daughters to have a good game.

"I want my daughters both to do well as a parent," he said. "I want it to be a decent game. I will just enjoy it. … If Angie does extremely well in a game, even playing against each other, there won't be any hard feelings. It's just a true love for each other. It's pretty incredible actually."

The parents and grandparents arrived in Knoxville on Wednesday and attended the Middle Tennessee game.

"I get more nervous against Middle Tennessee, because I knew they were good and I was hoping they didn't knock Tennessee off and starting off, I was like, ‘Oh, no,' " said Jim Bjorklund, who saw Angie play for the first time at Tennessee against Middle Tennessee. "I was more nervous in that."

The Bjorklunds also will follow the team on the California road swing before heading back to Spokane.

"Yes, we're having a little vacation," Jim Bjorklund said. "That will be fun."

The sisters played together at University High School in Spokane Valley and in summer leagues.

"It's a shared love and passion," Jim Bjorklund said. "They've been on a lot of the same teams. Jami is very goal-oriented, and Angie has done that and they've worked together, not only goals in basketball, and they have learned basketball teaches life skills.

"They're absolutely best friends. Even though they live thousands of miles apart I'm sure they talk quite often. They have a lot of the same values. There's no doubt they're best friends."

Tennessee went against Gonzaga in the Virgin Islands when Jami was a freshman. The Lady Vols won that game, 79-65, and it is the only time the two programs have played.

"When we were down in the Virgin Islands, obviously we knew Angie was coming, and we got an opportunity to see Jami when we played them there," said Caldwell, who excused herself briefly from an interview to speak to Jami, whom she got to know during the recruitment of Angie. "It's special to see both of them together like we just did a second ago (when the sisters hugged) because we know how much they really care about each other."

Jami is healthy this season after having off-season surgery on her right shoulder.

"It's helped her," Jim Bjorklund said. "It's probably been torn since she was a sophomore in high school. She got hurt, and it got worse. Finally, they gave her surgery, and the doctor did a wonderful job. Her right shoulder is better than her left shoulder."

When asked who was the better shooter, Angie smiled and deftly deflected the question.

"I haven't seen her shoot (this season)," Angie said. "She said she's been working on her shot."

The sisters will wear their college jerseys and the family will model their TENNZAGA shirts and have a photo taken together. It will become this year's Christmas card.

"It will be fun," Jim Bjorklund said. "Next year it will be a lot of fun, especially when Tennessee comes to Spokane. It (McCarthey Athletic Center) only holds 6,000. The women there average 1,500 to 2,000 a game. A lot of the fans are starting to buy season tickets, which are only 50 bucks for the women, so that they can get in to watch Tennessee next year. It's going to sell more season tickets just for that game."

Jim Bjorklund got choked up when he was asked about Angie starting for Tennessee as a freshman and about seeing both of his daughters take the floor Sunday. He noted that Angie had listed her goals as a child, alongside some Bible verses.

"She had goals on her ceiling above her bed," Bjorklund said. "One was to play for Tennessee. She's reached that goal, and I'm sure she's set other goals in her mind that I am not aware of. I know one was to hopefully start here and so, as a parent, when she got offered a scholarship to go here it was very emotional to me.

"It was like, ‘Angie, you have reached one of your lifetime goals. I guess you had better create another one.' It was really cool (Thursday) night to be here for (my) first Tennessee game. It was really heart-touching just to see her come out on the floor. It will be really cool when both my daughters are coming out."

STARTING LINEUPS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.3 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.5 steals per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman forward, No. 5 (9.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (22.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.3 spg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (8.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg).

Alex Fuller is averaging 8.0 ppg and 3.6 rpg off the bench for Tennessee. Fuller also is a good player to have on the floor in crunch time as she is 12-14 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line this season.

Gonzaga Coach Kelly Graves is expected to start: Courtney Vandersloot, 5'8 freshman guard, No. 21 (7.7 ppg, 5.2 apg), true freshman leads the team in assists; Tiffanie Shives, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 34 (10.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg), transferred from Michigan State; Jami Bjorklund, 5'11 junior guard, No. 32 (8.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg), had 17 points and 10 rebounds against Washington; Janelle Bekkering, 6'0 freshman forward, No. 11 (6.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg), redshirt freshman scored career high 20 points against Washington; and Heather Bowman, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 30 (21.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg), has been in double figures every game this season.

Senior Michelle Elliott, a 5'11 guard, comes off the bench for the Bulldogs. She hit a single-game record nine 3-pointers in Gonzaga's 75-63 win over Sacramento State on Dec. 8. This will be Gonzaga's first game since that road contest.

Elliott was 9-12 from behind the arc in that game with three 3-pointers coming in the first half and six in the second half. Elliott finished with 31 points, and Bowman had 28 so the two accounted for 59 of the Zags' 75 points. Elliott broke the school record of eight 3-pointers that was set in 1994 in a WNIT game by Ivy Safranski. Elliott was named the Co-Player of the Week for the West Coast Conference. Bowman for the WCC Player of the Month for November.

Vivian Frierson, a 6'0 sophomore forward, was projected to be a starter this season for Gonzaga but broke her finger in a preseason practice session. She saw her first action of the season on Dec. 6 against UC-Davis.

This will be Gonzaga's sixth consecutive game on the road. It will be Tennessee's fifth straight in Thompson-Boling Arena and closes out the home stand.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Gonzaga game. Here is her assessment.

When Gonzaga has the ball : "They've obviously a very, very skilled offensive team. All of their players have really made a commitment to be able to make shots. When you look at a team like Gonzaga you've got to be aware that they shoot the three ball very well. That's something that obviously in the Middle game we didn't do a great job of defending, but that's a point of emphasis for us in this game against them. Just looking at them from that standpoint we can't give them those easy looks or open threes."

The Bulldogs are comfortable in half-court sets but will also push tempo on occasion.

"I think they like to do both," Caldwell said. "I think they're selective in their transition game, but I think they do a good job of pushing when they need to. Their half-court offense, they'll run some primary sets with some screening action on the ball, stagger screens. They like the high-low action. As a team they'll get on the offensive boards. They've got a little motion to their game, as well. They're a pretty polished half-court team. I think they put up right at 80 points a game."

When Tennessee has the ball: "Our inside attack needs to be there, establishing Candace early, Anosike being able to get some easy looks at well. Hopefully our perimeter players can play off the bounce, get into the paint. We definitely want to establish paint points early, and obviously you can do that a couple of different ways with either post feeds or dribble drives. That's going to be a point of emphasis and then taking the open jumper when we have it."

Caldwell wants the shooters to fire away when open but not to settle for jumpers without looking first for a chance to penetrate.

"Making sure that we don't get into jump-shooting because I think with Gonzaga they're going to mix up their defense a little bit," Caldwell said. "They're going to show us some three-quarter court stuff to take some time away (from the shot clock), and then they'll run a three-two (zone), a conventional two-three (zone), and they do play some man. It's going to be interesting. Make sure we still execute and run our action no matter what their defensive play call is."

ON TAP: Three other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: LSU at Louisiana Tech; Georgia Tech at Mississippi State; and TCU at Florida. On Monday, four SEC teams are playing: Alabama A&M at Alabama; Auburn at Stephen F. Austin; Mercer at Georgia; and South Carolina at Connecticut.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Gonzaga, 1-0, with the only meeting coming in 2005 in a tournament in the Virgin Islands. Tennessee won that game, but the Zags shot 58.8 percent in the first half. … Tennessee is 8-3 in games played on December 16 with a 1-1 mark at home. The three losses were to Central High School, 21-1, (1909); Louisiana Tech, 64-56, (1978); and Stanford, 90-72, (1995). The last win on this date came in 2001 against Stanford, 68-62. … Wednesday's game against UCLA will be the first official road game of the season for the Lady Vols because Oklahoma in Tampa and West Virginia in Charleston, W.Va., were considered neutral sites. … Tennessee has faced three other teams from the West Coast Conference and is 5-0 all-time versus the WCC: Gonzaga (1-0); Portland (2-0); Santa Clara (1-0); and St. Mary's (Calif.) 1-0. Gonzaga won the WCC Tournament title last season and made its inaugural appearance in the NCAA tourney. … Coach Kelly Graves is in his eighth year at Gonzaga and has led the team to three straight WCC regular season titles. He was the WCC's Co-Coach of the Year last season. He also was honored as COY in 2003 and 2005. His career record is 192-122, putting him eight wins away from 200. … By the per game numbers: Tennessee averages 79.5 points a game, while Gonzaga puts up 76.8. The Bulldogs are a little better on the boards, 43.7, than the Lady Vols, 42.6. Tennessee is averaging more turnovers, 19.6, than assists, 17.5. Gonzaga is nearly even with 20.0 turnovers to 19.4 assists. Tennessee leads in steals, 12.3, and blocks, 7.4, compared to 9.2 steals and 1.2 blocks for Gonzaga. Tennessee's turnover ratio is +2.9 because opponents are averaging 22.5 turnovers. Gonzaga's ratio is –0.6 because opponents are averaging 19.4 turnovers. … Tennessee is already closing in on 100,000 in home attendance. If some 14,000 fans come Sunday, it would be the earliest in program history to hit the mark. So far, Tennessee has tallied a total attendance of 86,077. The Lady Vols lead the nation with an average of 14,346 per game. Connecticut is second with 10,130 fans per game. Iowa State (10,078), Oklahoma (9,058) and Purdue (9,056) round out the top five.


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