The Bulldogs will now return to Spokane to play the first home game of the season against Purdue on Wednesday. The Lady Vols will be playing their first official road game Wednesday against UCLA since the games in Tampa against Oklahoma and in Charleston against West Virginia were considered neutral sites.
Home or away, Gonzaga Coach Kelly Graves saw a team he believes deserves it lofty spot in the polls.
"Well, first of all, I want to congratulate Tennessee," a very gracious Graves said by way of his opening remarks. "That's a great team. They are very deserving of all their accolades and their ranking. I'm proud of our team. I thought we competed to the end. We were a little short-handed tonight, but I thought a couple of our players, especially this one to my left (Jami Bjorklund) stepped up and did a really good job tonight. We're disappointed that we lost, but we lost to a great basketball team. I think we learned some things that are going to help us later on in the season."
The Bjorklund sisters – Jami is 21, Angie is 18 – played against each other for the first time Sunday after playing together at University High School in Spokane Valley, Wash. The good-natured smack talk started on the floor – the two guarded each other while their parents, Jim and Kris Bjorklund, wore TENNZAGA T-shirts in the stands – and continued in the post-game press conferences.
Angie fouled Jami on Gonzaga's first possession but forced a bad shot on another possession. Later in the first half, Jami stuck a shot with her sister right on her.
"Did she?" Angie asked. "I just remember her air-balling one."
Also in the first half, the officials stopped play to review whether or not Jami's foot was behind the arc or toeing it on a long-range shot. It looked like a three-pointer, but the officials declared it was a two-pointer with Angie holding up two fingers to signal the ruling and the crowd yelling to give her three points.
The 14,598 fans in attendance – Tennessee has now drawn 100,675 at home in the 2007 part of the 07-08 season – unleashed a loud cheer for Jami when the starting lineups were announced.
"That was awesome," Jami said. "The fans here clapping for Angie's sister; that was really awesome. I liked that a lot."
Jami wasn't sure how she would react coming into this game. After the game, both sisters declared the matchup to have been a lot of fun.
"I didn't really know what to expect coming into it," Jami said. "I didn't think it would be as fun as it was. … It was kind of like old days, playing one-on-one against each other, especially at the end there, when we had to guard each other the last five minutes of the game. We talked back and forth. It was fun."
"It's been fun just hanging out with her off the court," Angie said. "That was the first time I've ever played against her. It a little different, but we definitely had fun."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt was watching the matchup closely to see how her young freshman would react in an emotional situation.
"I was interested to see, particularly when her defensive assignment was Jami, her sister," Summitt said. "Even the staff said, ‘Do you think that's a good idea?' I talked to Angie about it, and she goes, ‘Sure, it will be just like us playing at home.' I just felt that it would tell about her emotional attitude going into that game and that she would have composure or be a little on edge. I thought she was very composed, shot the ball extremely well."
The sisters traded baskets, smiles and remarks on the floor. Jami was 8-13 from the field and hit her one three-point attempt. Angie now shares a school record with Shanna Zolman – set in 2006 against Alabama – for seven three-pointers in a game. Angie Bjorklund was 8-14 from the field overall and 7-12 from behind the arc. Summitt got Bjorklund back on the floor late in the game to see if she could hit number eight, but she came up short.
"I put her back in to try and help her break the record that Shanna Zolman has," Summitt said. "She said, ‘I got five looks.' The interesting thing is she told Jami, ‘Hey, Jami, I'm only one shot away from breaking the three-point record, and she goes, ‘You're not touching the ball.' Typical sisters. I thought that was really cute."
Angie said it was mistake on her part to mention that to her sister.
"I was like, ‘Jami, I need one more three. Want to cut me some slack?' " Angie said. "She goes, ‘I'm not going to let you touch the ball.' I made that mistake. But my teammates did a good job of running the play and getting me open. I just couldn't knock down the three."
Jami wanted no part of being linked to that record.
"I was like, ‘No way Ang. You are not going to break that record on me. No way,' " Jami said. "And then I heard the crowd getting into it when she shot. They would be like, ‘Ohhhhhh … ' so then that pumped me up even more."
The Bjorklund sisters provided a familial sub-text to what was an important game for Tennessee. The Lady Vols don't play at home again until Jan. 10 and embark Monday on a two-day swing through California. The game situation, the Lady Vols led 53-33 at halftime, allowed Summitt to get plenty of minutes for the other two freshmen, Vicki Baugh and Sydney Smallbone.
The starters opened with a lot of energy on both ends of the floor and quickly got into an offensive rhythm. The first bucket was scored by Candace Parker on a post feed from Alexis Hornbuckle. The baskets them came in an assortment of ways – transition, three-pointers, dribble penetration and paint points.
"I thought our team played with a lot of energy," Summitt said. "I liked the way we started the game. I thought our starters really managed to break things open. I thought defensively we got after it. We only had one spell in the second half that I thought we really let up.
"The challenge is that our bench has to maintain where we are. I'm not asking them to extend the lead significantly but obviously not to give up as many points as we did in a stretch. I think they understand that, and they'll get better, because we're relying a lot on some young players. Vicki Baugh is going to get better. Sydney Smallbone has got to get a lot better, as well."
Baugh had 11 points and seven rebounds. Alex Fuller added six points and five boards off the bench, and Alberta Auguste had five points, three assists and two rebounds. Auguste got one of her assists by driving the lane and dishing out to Fuller, who converted under the basket.
Shannon Bobbitt had 13 assists – eight in the first half – and tied for the No. 3 spot in the Lady Vol record books. The record is held by Dawn Marsh – 18 assists against Georgia in 1988. Holly Warlick, now the associate head coach, had 14 against Memphis State in 1978, and Marsh had 13 against Kentucky in 1987.
Bobbitt also only had one turnover to go with all those assists in 26 minutes of play.
"That's a great ratio right there, 13 to one," Hornbuckle said. "Shannon did a great job of getting us in our sets and seeing the open man and distributing the basketball. That just goes to show you don't have to always score – she didn't shoot the ball as much as she normally does, but she was still doing other things."
Bobbitt scored six points on the strength of two 3-pointers.
"Shannon was very efficient," Summitt said. "I told her at halftime she got everyone involved. And when she does that we have better ball movement, we have better inside-outside play and obviously we're far more efficient offensively. I have to give her a lot of credit in her performance and her offensive unselfishness and leadership."
Bobbitt, despite playing with seven stitches in her forehead and a bandage to cover the wound, which gashed open after she took a shot to the head against Middle Tennessee on Thursday, was all over the floor.
The 5'2 guard skied for a defensive rebound – she seemed to startle the taller Gonzaga player in the paint with her – that brought a roar of approval from the crowd. She hustled from sideline to sideline and on one possession crashed into the front row. She later came up with a loose ball on the other side of the floor and pushed tempo, resulting in an open three-pointer for Angie Bjorklund.
Tennessee was 10-24 from behind the arc and shot 50.7 percent overall for the game. There were 23 assists on 35 baskets for the Lady Vols.
Five players were in double figures: Bjorklund with 23, Parker with 18, Nicky Anosike with 14, Hornbuckle with 13 and Baugh with 11. Anosike had a double-double with 11 rebounds.
"Coach spoke to us at halftime about moving the ball," Anosike said. "She said when we did that at the beginning of the game that was effective for us. So we just tried to continue with that, and it paid off."
Gonzaga was led by Vivian Frierson, who scored 21 points on 9-11 shooting. Courtney Vandersloot added 15 points for the Zags. Gonzaga was without its leading scorer, Heather Bowman, a 6'2 forward who broke her left hand in practice this week.
"I feel so bad for Heather," Graves said. "She's a great player and has been averaging 21 (points) and 11 (rebounds) for us. I didn't know how we'd react. This is the first game that we've been without her. We've only been without her for two days in practice so this was really the first time. I think we will adjust to it and if it's the six or seven weeks that we're thinking it might be, that certainly gives us a lot of opportunities to find someone who can fill that role for us.
"But when you battle the frontline that they have, every weapon that you have is important. There were some times out on the court that 5'10 was our tallest player, and that's just not enough when you're going against players of that ability. We hope that somebody will step up, but we could have used her."
Gonzaga didn't bring much pressure – they showed mostly zone looks in the half-court and a little man-to-man – and Summitt eased off the pressure pedal fairly quickly. The result was just 22 foul calls – 14 for Gonzaga and eight for Tennessee.
The Lady Vols were 16-17 from the free throw line, a statistic that brought a nod of approval from Summitt. Tennessee is shooting 74.3 percent as a team.
"That's a great sign for us because we are a team that can get to the free throw line, because we play up and down and because of our inside attack and our ability to penetrate and create," Summitt said. "Alexis can get to that position, as well as Candace. I think we do a good job of getting to the free throw line."
Graves was happy with how his team performed, considering it could not match up size-wise. Gonzaga shot 46.3 percent and was 31-67 from the field, 5-15 from behind the arc.
"We tried to spread them out as best as we could and take them off the dribble," Graves said. "I thought early on we had a few pretty good looks, and maybe a little intimidation. Those arms are a little longer than the ones that we're used to shooting over. It would have helped if we had knocked down a few, but I liked what we did offensively. Defensively, is where we really struggled."
Tennessee also had its breakdowns on defense, something Summitt will address in film sessions on the way to Los Angeles. The Lady Vols, who have gone seven straight days with either games or practice, will not take the floor Monday and will use it as a travel day.
"Vicki Baugh needs to be committed to the high-low denial and I think she's a freshman still learning the system," Summitt said. "She's got great speed up and down the floor, and she's a great athlete, but she's playing a little bit more conservatively. The one thing that we want to do is we talked a lot about no touches in the high post. She just flattened out in transition, and Sydney Smallbone did the same thing. Both of them are going to have some good footage because they're still learning.
"I think those two in particular, from a defensive standpoint, have the greatest room for improvement. If one or two players break down, the way we run our defensive system, then we have a chance of breaking down. You can identify right away who needs to deny or who needs to give better support, close out better. I think as we look at the tape and we've got a long plane flight, we can learn some things about ourselves."
Tennessee only had six turnovers in the first half but doubled that number in the second half and finished with 18.
"I think sometimes we let the score affect our performance," Summitt said. "The thing that we have to continue to emphasize is it's a game of possessions. When we start turning the ball over sometimes, we turn it over too many consecutive times. I think that's where we're trying to do a little bit too much.
"And we're taking more risks on defense, giving up shots. Lex did that right before halftime. That's the first thing I addressed with her. We can't do that."
The long home stand did allow the young players to get some significant playing time. That is crucial as the Lady Vols now hit the road.
"It definitely works to their advantage that we got to play nine games before we really go on the road," Anosike said. "That works to their advantage instead of just getting thrown into an away game. So I think they'll be fine. I think they're ready."
The team knew it needed a strong start Sunday, in part to make a statement before packing for Monday's trip to take on two Pac-10 foes in UCLA, which nearly beat Maryland at Pauley Pavilion, and Stanford, which always is a tough game, especially at Maples Pavilion.
"It was an important game to get off to a good start," Hornbuckle said. "We've been up and down. Some games we might come out fired up and very energetic and get off to a great start and other games we struggle. We just wanted to make it a point of emphasis before we did go to UCLA and Stanford to come out here and be energetic, start with defense and try to get good ball movement."
Gonzaga headed west Sunday evening to get home to Spokane. Next season Tennessee will play in Washington state for TENNZAGA game two when Angie will be a sophomore and Jami a senior. Graves is thrilled about the home-and-home setup.
"Absolutely," he said. "I'm sure they're used to it, but everywhere they go, they're a huge draw. Even the casual fan knows about Tennessee. Everybody knows Coach Summitt. Everybody knows who Candace Parker is. I think it can only help a program like us.
"Spokane is a basketball-crazy area, and that's something that we're really looking forward to. I'm thankful that Tennessee would want to do that. You can see what it means to Jami, and I'm sure it meant the same to Angie. That's what kind of class that they have here. It's great that that's what they're doing."
Jami had only one unfilled wish from her trip to Knoxville – a victory.
"I wish we could have won," she said. "You always regret that, but I was happy with my performance."
Jim and Kris Bjorklund got what they wanted – both of their daughters did well. The two sisters both liked the split T-shirts.
"Our parents care for both of us the same, and you could see it through that," Jami said.
Gonzaga will now go back to pulling for Angie.
"You've seen a little bit of Jami, and you certainly know a lot about Angie," Graves said. "They are great young women. I think sometimes that's lost. It's a tremendous family and two terrific students, terrific human beings and great basketball players. We're really proud of having Jami as a part of our program, and we're happy for Angie, too. We cheer for her all the time, except for tonight."
"I am really thankful to have the opportunity to come down here and play against Tennessee and my sister," Jami said. "It was a very memorable moment for me in my life."