Bjorklund, a freshman guard/forward was speaking after she hit seven 3-pointers against Notre Dame. She was one of four players in double figures in a game in which Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw said she would have to look at the film to see what went wrong in the 87-63 loss on Jan. 5.
"Our philosophy was give up two, not three," McGraw said. "Even if somebody is back there I was hoping we would run out and guard the three-point line anyway and give them the two. I think we could have stayed in the game if we could have just given them the two early on. I don't know what the answer is. I'll watch the film and see just why we didn't get out."
The Irish paid a lot of attention to All-American forward Candace Parker, who noted after the game that if she is covered someone else could step up and score on any given possession. That strategy by Notre Dame often left center Nicky Anosike and Bjorklund unattended, and both made the Irish pay for either defensive indifference or lapses.
Against Auburn on Thursday in the SEC opener, Anosike erupted for a career-high 20 points after taking advantage of the focus on Parker, who still had 18 points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes of play.
Alexis Hornbuckle only took five shots but added six assists and Bjorklund scored seven points for a stat line that reveals just how balanced the Lady Vols are right now. Bjorklund had two assists, one of which came from driving the baseline and finding Shannon Bobbitt all alone in the opposite corner for a wide-open three. Overlooked in that play might have been the screen set on the low block by Alex Fuller, who prevented the Auburn defender from getting to the wing. The coaches certainly noticed.
Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell, who spent the Wednesday evening before the game having dinner with Auburn Assistant Coach Daedra Charles, a former Lady Vol player and mentor to Caldwell, noted how Charles took ownership of the team when she was a player.
Has the ownership concept sunk in with the 2007-08 team?
"I think so, and you can tell in our play," Caldwell said. "You can tell in how we're sharing the basketball. That tells you a team is playing together and making the extra pass.
"As a player you've got to take inventory of your game and when you have Angie saying what can I do personally to make this team become better, then ultimately when you have everybody doing that individually and collectively then you're going to have a team that's going to benefit from everybody taking that personal inventory. Because if I'm going to make my game better it's only going to make this team better, and I think that's something that's been revamped.
"We're just going to get better across the board. Look at Anosike's play. Look at Fuller. Angie and the way she's been shooting. Lex has been solid. Candace has been solid. Shannon is coming into her own as far as being that true point guard that knows time, possession and feel of the game."
Hornbuckle said the Lady Vols had better be ready for the first conference road game of the season.
"There is no such thing as an easy road game in the SEC," Hornbuckle said. "It doesn't matter your opponent, it doesn't matter their previous record, because when Tennessee comes to town, they're going to play 100 percent for 40 minutes."
A 40-minute game is what the coaching staff has been seeking from Tennessee, and they got it after the lone loss to Stanford on Dec. 22. That development emerged after the team accepted the tenets of a Pat Summitt program – defense and board play. She was cautiously pleased after the Auburn game – Summitt's philosophy is a team can always get better – because she saw players that had bought into her system and had fun doing it at the same time.
"I think what's happening is they're re-buying into what the pillars are of this program," said Caldwell, who as a former player with a national title in 1991 is very familiar with the tent poles that prop up Tennessee. "Obviously we bought into last year. We ended up cutting down the net.
"I think it got shuffled around a little bit, but I think we're now re-buying in to the foundation of the success of this program. With that said, they are finding that they're having a lot of fun doing it. You can tell by the smiles and the laughter and the enjoyment that they had playing the game (against Auburn) and they're being successful doing it. So obviously they're re-buying into it and making a firm commitment to be better basketball players.
"Sometimes when you've won a championship, you kind of think sometimes you don't have anything you need to get better at. You get that little syndrome going. But I think daily improvement has been a staple for them in whatever area. They know they have not arrived yet. They know there's more work to be done, there're areas they can get better at and they're committed and focused on doing that."
Caldwell carved out some time Wednesday to spend with Charles, now Daedra Charles Furrow, the last Wade Trophy winner at Tennessee before Parker won it last season, an All-American and two-time national champion in 1989 and 1991.
During the conversation Charles noted the multifaceted weapons that the Lady Vols put on the court.
"Daedra Charles and I played together, and we had an opportunity to go out to dinner when she got into town before our game the night before," Caldwell said. "We were just talking about our team playing well and I complimented her team and great start for you guys and she said, ‘It's kind of pick your poison with you guys.'
"And I go, ‘You know, Daedra, you're right. We've got an inside attack and then we've also got an outside attack.' We've been feeling real good about the three-ball of late. Maybe we've been watching the men's team and they're taking on a little bit of their personality. It's kind of like with football. When you've got your running game and your passing game going you're going to be hard to beat. You're just going to be hard to beat."
Tennessee is shooting 47.6 percent as a team. Hornbuckle is hitting an eye-popping 52.9 percent from behind the arc with Bjorklund notching 45.1 percent of her shots from long range. As a team the Lady Vols are averaging 7.1 made threes a game, a number that has been tracking upwards this season.
"I think Angie brings a lot of confidence to our outside game," Summitt said. "I think that's important to have that. Sydney (Smallbone), she's just now getting more quality minutes. I think these two have a lot of composure on the offensive end.
"Candace has expanded her game. She can face up. Alex has been a very efficient player for us. That just gives you a lot of confidence on the offensive end. Defense is just hard work and rebounding is just hard work. If we can take care of the basketball I like the chances of this team being a very efficient offensive team."
Tennessee matched its season low with 14 turnovers against Auburn. There were only five miscues in the first half.
"We have goals and number one was taking care of the basketball," Caldwell said. "They've really made a commitment to look at this as a reward. Play your best basketball 24, 25 seconds and to just throw it away? That's something that they've done a much better job is of making a conscious effort to have ball security."
In the last three games Hornbuckle has had 16 assists to just one turnover. Caldwell said the senior – who can play the one, two and three positions and usually will in the course of a game – is no longer just among the top three guards but is now among the top three players in the country.
"Hornbuckle is in, if not the, definitely top three players in the country as far as all-around," Caldwell said. "When you look at her stat line being a guard – assists, steals, rebounds, points scored and then the other thing that she does for your team that doesn't necessarily show up in the stat sheet is that she gets the deflections. And she comes over and blocks shots.
"She's in my opinion one of those unsung heroes that maybe doesn't get as much publicity because she does the dirty work. The other thing she generates for us is unbelievable energy – her ability to lead the team. She's an ‘X' factor. You cannot not have her on the floor."
STARTING LINEUPS: Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (9.4 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.3 steals per game, 1.4 blocks per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (21.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.6 spg, 2.3 bpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
South Carolina Coach Susan Walvius is expected to start: Ebony Jones, 5'6 senior guard, No. 25 (4.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg), hit a career-high four 3-pointers in a game this season; Jordan Jones, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 33 (13.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg), second in the SEC with 2.88 three-pointers a game; Brionna Dickerson, 5'9 junior guard, No. 23 (12.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg), injured foot slowed her down earlier this season, but she has gotten back to form; Demetress Adams, 6'4 junior forward, No. 24 (12.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg), has six double-doubles this season, her five blocks last season against Auburn ties the record at the Colonial Center; and Ilona Burgrova, 6'6 senior center, No. 15 (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Czech Republic product had a career-high five blocks against Florida last season.
Junior C.J. Pace, who started against Alabama, is a transfer from Chipola College. The 5'10 forward can get on the boards. She had eight against Savannah State and nine against Alabama A&M.
Freshman Samone Kennedy, a 5'4 guard leads the team in assists with 64 and has made three starts this season. She has played in all 16 games for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina will be without senior Lakesha Tolliver, a 6'3 forward who has been ill and has not been cleared yet to play. Tolliver engaged in some jousting with Parker in the last outing, an 81-63 win for Tennessee in the SEC Tournament last March. Parker had five blocks in that game.
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-South Carolina game. Here is her assessment.
When South Carolina has the ball: "They will push tempo in transition, and they will also run a four-out, one-in look looking for some high-low isolation, so we've got to be aware of that and prepared to defend out of transition. They'll run shooters off of staggers. So we have to match up and extend our defense. We can't just run to the paint.
"We have to make sure that we know where their outside shooters are. The other thing that they do a good job of offensively, whether it's isolation to the other side or off the dribble drive, they've got options they run and we're going to have to defend. They do a good job of getting the ball to the person with the hot hand. And they will post. They'll look to post our guards. We've got to defend across the board."
Tennessee will see high screens such as those Auburn liked to use, but South Carolina will do it with two post players.
"They run a lot of action out of the double Philly high screen, which leads to the four-out, one-in high-low action," Caldwell said. "In their half-court sets we have to be aware of that because they do have high post players who can shoot from that area and put it on the floor from there as well.
"The main thing is making sure we're eliminating their transition game and their second and third opportunities and making sure we're also taking away the high post area. They do a lot of post entry. They come down and look for the four-out, one-in isolation so middle of the floor denial will be key for us."
The double Philly screen is set up with two post players – usually Ilona Burgrova and Demetress Adams – side by side.
"They'll be standing next to each like a double screen, and they'll run you off of that," Caldwell said. "They'll even roll one of the posts and the other one pops high – the top one will pop high and the low one will roll low into the high-low action. That's something we have to be ready to defend."
Caldwell expects the Gamecocks to deploy their man-to-man defense and also mix in some zone looks.
"They're going to man up on us," Caldwell said. "I think they're going to really try to take away our post action. If I were them, that's what I would do. Again, you've got to pick your poison with the way that Lex and Shannon and Angie shoot the ball from the perimeter.
"They'll double from the post. They'll run switches on ball screens. I think defensively they're probably going to mix it up, throw some 3-2 at us. They'll run a full court press, a 1-2-1-1, along with running a Charlotte look, which is 2-2-1 back to their zone attack. I think for them it will be key to mix up defensively and try to get us off of a rhythm and not establish paint points."
When Tennessee has the ball: Tennessee's strategy is to get the ball to the paint, but that doesn't just mean pitching it in to Candace Parker. The Lady Vols want to find the interior by different methods.
"That's a staple," Caldwell said. "That's something that's key to victory for us, whether it be a post feed or play off the dribble drive. We vary how we establish our inside attack because we don't do it just by post feeds. They're going to have to be able to defend us off the dribble as well. That's one thing that's going to be key for us no matter who we're playing, whether they're playing us one on one, whether they're playing us in a matchup zone, that's just going to be a key for us from here on out."
The Lady Vols also want to run, especially the way they did against Auburn, which sprang from pressure defense.
"I think when you get your running game going it lets you know that you're getting deflections and steals and you're rebounding the basketball," Caldwell said. "That's something Nicky Anosike did a great job of establishing that high-post denial, which led to easy transition baskets for us. Our defense is the primary way of getting your transition game going."
So far this season teams have fixated on Parker inside and Angie Bjorklund outside. They also have to defend Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle on the perimeter. Hornbuckle can penetrate, too, by putting the ball on the floor and looking a shot or setting up a teammate. That has left Anosike alone sometimes with teams daring her to shoot or drive.
"She's on the receiving end of teams that try to double Parker and also when they double her it puts Nicky in a great position to get offensive boards," Caldwell said. "I think Nicky is being more aggressive off the dribble from the high post and then her ability to score with her back to the basket one on one, I think she's done a great job of doing that."
Caldwell said Tennessee's offensive outburst of late – 102, 87 and 85 points in its last three games – have came about because of ball movement and making better use of court space.
"The thing that we've been able to establish the past three games is great spacing, which has allowed for isolation," Caldwell said. "They've got to be concerned with our perimeter game."
In the last three games the Lady Vols have hit nine, 11 and nine three-pointers, respectively.
"The spacing has been great for Candace and for Nicky to have that one-on-one isolation because they're not able to help off of our perimeter game," Caldwell said.
NIGHT TRAIN: Daedra Charles, who was known as "Night Train" at Tennessee, left lasting impressions on Nikki Caldwell, who has called Charles her mentor. Caldwell was a freshman in 1990-91 when Charles was a senior.
Former LaTech Coach Leon Barmore was responsible for the nickname. He compared her size, strength and athleticism to Dick "Night Train" Lane of the Detroit Lions.
"The one thing that Daedra helped me become was a better teammate and a better leader," Caldwell said. "The one thing that stood out when Daedra was a senior and obviously my first year coming in was that she was a service to others. It didn't matter how many championships she's won, being an All-American, Wade Trophy winner, she still was a service to you whether it was on or off the court.
"That was the biggest quality that I've taken from Daedra and carried with me to this day is being a service – her leadership skills, how she led, how she followed. I think when you talk about being a great leader I think you also have to have some qualities of that as a follower and be able to be OK with at times take the backseat, which she was."
Charles also wouldn't hesitate to call out a teammate. But if Summitt was fussing about something, Charles was the on the frontline of the criticism and acted as a shield for the team.
"When she needed to step up, she was there to do that as well," Caldwell said. "She's a special one. She had a presence about her. She was gracious, but at the same time she was tough as nails. Her being our best player she was also one of our hardest-working players.
"Coach would come down on the team. We may not have rotated our defense or something like that and Daedra would be the one being, ‘My fault, Coach. I've got it.' She would take the brunt of the heat off somebody else. It was her team."
Caldwell said she saw the embodiment of what coaches seek when they want players to take over a team.
"Coaches talk all the time it's about accountability," Caldwell said. "This is y'all's team. It's your identity. You have someone taking ownership of a team like Daedra Charles did. When things didn't go well Daedra was the one to say, ‘Hey that's my fault, and we're going to get it right.' And then she would address whomever.
"That's taking ownership of a team whether it's going good or whether it's going bad and that's a quality that I also learned from her. You've got to take the good with the bad, and she did that. She did it all the time even when it may not have been her fault."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with South Carolina, 38-2. The Lady Vols are 17-0 at home, 15-1 on the road and 6-1 at neutral sites. The Gamecocks last win was Jan. 23, 1980, in Columbia. The other win was in 1973. The 1980 game led to a rule change after the Carolina Pep Band positioned itself behind the Lady Vols' bench and played amplified drums and electronic instruments for all 40 minutes of the game. Pat Summitt had to move her team to nearly the free throw line to hold a huddle. Afterwards, the AIAW – Tennessee didn't fall under NCAA rule until 1982 – banned electronic amplification, and bands were not permitted to play during the game. … Tennessee is 7-0 in games played on January 13 with a 3-0 record on the road. The last win came in 2005 with a 72-54 victory over Arkansas. … Tennessee ran the table in the conference last season. Its last SEC loss on the road was against Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Jan. 26, 2006. Since then the Lady Vols have won 10 consecutive SEC road contests. … South Carolina's last win over a team ranked in the Top 25 was Dec. 13, 2005, a 79-61 victory over No. 14 Minnesota. The last win over a Top 10 team was a 71-52 upset of No. 6 Vanderbilt on Jan. 3, 2002. South Carolina has never beaten a team ranked No. 1 or No. 2. It did defeat No. 3 Auburn on Feb. 27, 1983. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 82.6 points per game and allowing 63.4. South Carolina averages 70.5 and allows 59.6. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.6 percent overall and 41.3 percent behind the arc. The Gamecocks hit on 43.9 percent of their shots and 37.8 percent from long range. Tennessee strokes 7.1 three-pointers a game. South Carolina connects on 5.3 a game. The Lady Vols are averaging 41.6 rebounds per game with opponents grabbing 37.1. The Gamecocks grab 40.9 with foes getting 37.9. Tennessee has 18.3 assists per game with opponents getting 11.3. South Carolina averages 14.9 assists with opponents tallying 11.7. The Lady Vols surrender the ball 18.6 times per game with opponents losing it 21.1 times. The Gamecocks average 19.6 turnovers with foes at a nearly identical 19.4. Tennessee swipes the ball 12.2 times a game while limiting opponents to 10 steals. South Carolina averages 11.1 steals with foes getting the ball 9.1 times. The Lady Vols average 6.6 blocks per game. South Carolina checks in with 6.4 swats.