"Once I can get her to really see that and commit to that I think that's going to help her get more shots when people are trying to deny her the ball."
Angie Bjorklund leads the team in made three-pointers with 34 and attempts at 79. She is shooting 43.0 percent from behind the arc and twice this season has hit seven three-pointers in a game. She shares the single-game record with former Lady Vol Shanna Zolman, who is now in the WNBA.
For a first-year player, Bjorklund already has absorbed a lot on offense and defense. She now has to take a game up one more notch.
"I always use the concept of keep your eyes on the defense," Summitt said. "I may be watching (my defender) so I'm doing a good job of setting her up into your screen, then I look for the ball. It's difficult when you've got a player who in high school probably for all four years ball watched.
"Now we're trying to say, ‘Keep you eyes on the defense, set the defense up so you can take advantage of a hard screen that your teammate is setting up for you.' And that's where I think she can really grow. I think she's got to be more strategic in how she uses screens."
Bjorklund agreed that changing pace is easier said than done.
"Any habit is hard to break," said Bjorklund, who noted she did ball watch in high school. "It's going to be tough in a game situation because it's changing speeds. It's tough to do, but a lot of the veterans have mastered it. Watching them has helped.
"I think in practices just do it over and over and being consistent in practice it will carry on into the game. Especially as a shooter I'm hurrying to get around and get my shot off. I'm excited to get the ball. But I need to watch my defender and really read the defense. Once I learn that it's going to help me a lot. In college they're fighting around the screens 10 times harder than in high school, so that's also a factor."
Summitt made use of some game film to show Bjorklund some spots where hesitation would have helped get her a better look at the basket.
"You change your speed up," Summitt said. "You put your eyes on the defense. Therefore you can read if you've got flare (the shooter moves in and then step backs out) or curl (the shooter curls around the screen, which catches the trailing defender) or pocket (the shooter starts near the top of the key, goes into the lane and follows a U-path back out, thus creating a pocket shape, which obstructs the defender).
"That's what she needs to constantly be aware of because she's going to draw so much defensive attention."
No. 2 Tennessee (14-1, 2-0) takes on Kentucky (8-8, 2-0) tonight at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington at 7 p.m. Eastern (no television; audio broadcast at utladyvols.com; pay video webcast at ukathletics.com).
Bjorklund is benefiting from the number of offensive weapons that Tennessee has – all five starters average double figures led by Candace Parker with 20.9 points per game – but she also has seen teams deny her the ball, such as Stanford did in the Lady Vols lone loss of the season. Bjorklund didn't score in that game and misfired on five shots.
"We have a bunch of people that can score," Bjorklund said. "(But) I guarantee you it's going to come. Stanford, totally, they face guarded me the entire game."
Bjorklund learned from watching film of that game that she could have crashed the boards relatively unimpeded.
"That opens up a lot of opportunities for rebounding because when they're face guarding you they're not going to be able to see a shot go up," Bjorklund said. "I'm going to slide by them so that gives me a good opportunity to rebound more."
Bjorklund also needs to get to the free throw line. She is 8-8 from the stripe this season and knows that she needs to add dribble penetration to her repertoire, as defenders stay close to her on the perimeter.
"I really haven't done it on this team," Bjorklund said. "I did it more in high school. I feel comfortable shooting. I think it's just getting out of my comfort zone and just working on going off the dribble more and going into my defender."
Bjorklund has made quite a leap from high school standout to starter on the defending national title team. The biggest step was learning the Lady Vols system as quickly as possible. The next adjustment was the tempo and speed of the college game.
"That's a huge difference," Bjorklund said.
This week in practice she learned the concepts of the 3-2 matchup zone.
"I've never played the 3-2 matchup," Bjorklund said. "You just commit to it and talk and have lots of energy."
She's a quick study and already has figured out that effort can mitigate mistakes.
"I've learned with this program if you just do the best you can, especially at defense and rebounding, then they can't complain," Bjorklund said. "If I've talking and putting in lots of energy, they'll fix my footwork here and there but other than that you're good."
As the season unfolds the lessons increase and the expectations expand as well. At some point, Summitt will declare the three newcomers, Bjorklund, Vicki Baugh and Sydney Smallbone, to be freshmen in name only.
"It keeps getting higher," Bjorklund said. "They don't throw it all at you. They ease you into it. But the further we get into the season the more she is expecting of me and the better all freshmen get the more she's going to push us and get the most out of us."
A lot has been asked of Bjorklund – start, learn, adjust – but Summitt believes the freshman from Spokane Valley, Wash., has the basketball IQ to handle it.
"She does," Summitt said. "It's just like Candace has learned how to find open teammates out of double teams. She's going to have to learn how to get herself open when she's being denied or she has somebody getting into her coming off those screens."
Bjorklund also has an academic IQ. She made the Dean's List and followed up her 4.0 GPA in summer school with another perfect mark in the fall semester.
"This semester it's going to be a lot harder. We miss more class," Bjorklund said.
The first two months of the fall semester are preseason sessions without games and travel. The spring semester is three straight months of balancing basketball with class work.
Bjorklund did give Tennessee an academic assist for not scheduling games during finals week in December. Media interviews are also not allowed. The school's policy is to enter a dead period and let the student-athletes study without distraction.
"The way they work our schedule towards the end we had time for our finals; we were home during finals week," Bjorklund said. "I thought that was awesome. That helped a lot. We have the Thornton Center to help us. We have so much help."
Summitt credits the long-range shooting of Bjorklund with helping the offense overall because her teammates have faith that she can hit the shots so they feed her the ball.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of our offense," Summitt said. "Also, it's interesting but when you have people who can make shots – you've got someone like her on the outside and Candace on the inside, you've got Shannon, Lex is shooting the ball, Nicky's been more efficient – I have seen this in the past, but with this team I see it even more. They have a lot of offensive confidence because they have a lot of people that can make shots.
"They're also passing the ball better because of it. Our ball movement is so much better because of our offensive efficiency. It doesn't get stuck in any one player's hands. I think early on we were going to Candace a lot, and we still want to run a lot of things through Candace, but I think the fact that our perimeter game has been more solid and more efficient, it has taken pressure off of the offense."
For her part, Bjorklund wants to be more consistent game in and game out in all facets.
"I'm improving on hunting for my shots," Bjorklund said. "I can be a lot more consistent. I'm shooting pretty well, but some games I'm hot and some games I miss it. Not being known as a shooter but also a penetrator. I can always work on defense and not fouling. Rebounding, obviously. I need to get more rebounds."
Bjorklund is in a starting lineup with three seniors – Shannon Bobbitt, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike – and Parker, who is a redshirt junior and thus has been in the program for four years. The first-year player leans on the upperclassmen for support.
"Honestly having four veterans out there with me – they've been through the program, they're seniors, they raised the banner – they've taken control and taken me under their wing and made it a whole lot easier for me to learn the system," Bjorklund said. "Every time if there's something on the court, they'll take me aside and they'll be like, ‘Angie, you need to do this and this and this.' They've been so helpful. It's made it a lot easier than I thought."
Bjorklund has helped herself with her willingness to listen to the coaching staff. The freshmen all come under scrutiny from Summitt in practice – proof that she wants them ready for postseason – and so far they have handled it with aplomb.
"Very coachable, very eager to learn. She wants to get better," Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell said. "You can't ask for anything else. Her teammates have such unbelievable confidence in her. They will feed her. They are going to look for her. She is just going to get better."
Caldwell, who played for Tennessee from 1991-1995 and won a national title as a freshman, knows how steep the learning curve is for newcomers and every time a freshman turns a corner a new challenge awaits.
"Let her log more games; get her more minutes," Caldwell said. "She's going to be ready. We're preparing for March and that's what we've got to keep our eye on. You look at Angie in October, and you look at her in December. Now, let's see her in January and February. She'll be ready."
Bjorklund isn't taking any time to note her accomplishments to date – starting at Tennessee as a freshman is a feat in itself – outside of being happy to have cracked the starting lineup during preseason.
"You don't have a whole lot of room to do that," Bjorklund said. "You're focusing on this game and then the next game. I think when I first got here I got a chance to sit back and look at that, but now that we're in season I'm so into what's happening here now."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (10.1 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.3 spg, 1.4 blocks per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (20.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.7 spg, 2.2 bpg); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (10.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.9 spg).
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell is expected to start: Amber Smith, 5'5 freshman guard, No. 24 (5.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg), had a career-high six boards against Mississippi State, won the 2007 Class 5A state championship at Winter Haven High School in Florida; Samantha Mahoney, 5'11 senior guard, No. 11 (14.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg), started every game last season and was named to All-SEC Second Team; Amani Franklin, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 25 (7.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), had a career high 18 points against Louisville; Eleia Roddy, 6'3 redshirt junior forward, No. 1 (1.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg), has started two of the past three games, missed all of last season and the first 12 games this season after tearing the ACL in her right knee in preseason a year ago, had a second cleanup surgery last November on the same knee, saw her first action on Jan. 1 of this year; and Victoria Dunlap, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 34 (8.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Brentwood Academy (Nashville) product had 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocks against Mississippi State to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors, she will also participate in track (long jump) at Kentucky.
Kentucky has used an assortment of starting lineups this season, and Dunlap and Roddy should get more playing time Thursday if Sarah Elliott, a 6'6 senior center, indeed does not play. Elliott, who is averaging 11.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg, hyperextended her knee in Sunday's game and is listed as doubtful. Another Wildcat who could log more minutes in this game is Catina Bett, a 6'5 freshman center, with a knack for rebounding the ball.
Junior point guard Carly Ormerod has missed the past six games with a left foot injury – sesamoiditis, an irritation of the sesamoid bones and inflammation of the tendons that control flexing of the toes. She is listed as doubtful for the Tennessee game.
Mitchell said Smith, the freshman point guard, has to be ready to play the entire game, and the Wildcats have to handle Tennessee's pressure.
"We have being trying to improve in some fundamental areas that cause us some trouble," Mitchell said. "One of those areas is shooting so we have been focusing on getting better shots and executing our offense better. Playing against the press has caused us some trouble because our players were failing to do some fundamental things. We were being passive in traps and leaving our feet a too many times to be effective.
"Amber's biggest problem in her high turnover games was that she was leaving her feet too much. She would get deep in the lane, then jump up to dish the ball off with no real plan. She could get away with that in high school, but she is at a new level now. We have been working with our team getting fundamentally better at things like passing the basketball. Tennessee is so athletic and sends people in waves. We are short at the point guard position so we have to have Amber play really hard for 40 minutes. We have been working on that in practice and we will have to wait and see how that translates into the game."
Mitchell was a graduate assistant at Tennessee from 1999 to 2000 and quite popular during his time in Knoxville because of his outgoing personality.
"Coach Summitt gave me an unbelievable opportunity," Mitchell said. "I am very appreciative of that. I am working hard to make Kentucky as competitive as possible in this league. To make Kentucky the best team in this league is our goal. You're going to have to overcome what she has built at Tennessee."
Mitchell was grateful for his job at Tennessee and the career path it set him on in college basketball.
"She could have chosen a thousand other people to do it," Mitchell said. "I was very fortunate. It's a special relationship I have with her."
Mitchell, a former Kentucky assistant, replaced Mickie DeMoss, who resigned after last season and is now an assistant at Texas. Former Lady Vol Niya Butts is an assistant on Mitchell's staff.
"I think Matthew is a very positive coach and teacher," said Summitt, who first got to know him when Mitchell worked at her basketball camps. "Probably with the transition he's been even more so. Very positive, high energy, upbeat.
"I think having had some adversity and lost some games early he's the kind of coach that would go in and try and create an environment that was positive and bring a lot of enthusiasm. He's not the type to throw in the towel that's for sure."
After starting the season 6-8, Kentucky evened its record with two wins in SEC play over Florida and Mississippi State. The Wildcats are the epitome of teams getting a restart once conference play begins.
"I think they've got to be feeling pretty good about themselves," said Tennessee Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood.
Mitchell said as much during his press conference this week.
"Our team feels better about themselves now than they did a week ago," Mitchell said. "We really just try to focus on the next game. We have a young team, and we cannot let our players get ahead of themselves. We focused really hard on Florida then Mississippi State and now we have Tennessee. We did not play great against Florida but we played well enough to win. We had a very tough effort against Mississippi State, and I know we feel much better about ourselves now than we did a week ago."
SCOUTING REPORT:Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Kentucky game. Here is his assessment.
"Samantha Mahoney is very key to what they do offensively. They're also very good off the dribble drive. They're playing a lot of players this year, and they can really create shots off one-on-one action. It's not a carbon copy of but it's similar to the Auburn game in the sense that we have to be able to contain dribble drive and dribble penetration.
"They also show you a little bit more in terms of screening action. They run a lot of different looks and sets. We have to be ready to defend offensive concepts because they throw some different concepts at you and if you're not ready for it that can result in an easy basket for them."
With Sarah Elliott's status uncertain for this game, Lockwood prepared the Lady Vols for different looks.
"Obviously they don't have quite the low block presence (if Elliott is out), but Catina Bett is probably going to get a lot more playing time," Lockwood said. "I look for Roddy to get increased minutes and then Victoria Dunlap has really been coming on. She had 17 points in her last SEC outing. She's dangerous because she's big enough that she can contend with size but she's also quick and mobile and athletic enough that she can go by you and get to the offensive boards.
"They're not as big and imposing on the block but they become a little bit more athletic and a little bit more mobile, which I don't know that I like the sound of that."
Lockwood expects Kentucky to use its man defense with some zone for a change of pace.
"They've been playing a lot of man, but I've also seen them in the last game play some 3-2 zone," Lockwood said. "I would not be surprised to see some zone early, but their primary defense up to this point has been man. They're very good at trying to protect the paint, play a little bit of containment and then they'll pressure deny selectively.
"Some of their more athletic players will venture out and try to deny in the wings and deny the high post. But that's really not their philosophy as much as it is to contain and protect and try not to let you get into the paint."
Getting to the paint is Tennessee's first priority.
When Tennessee has the ball: "I can put these in (a scouting report) and staple them: Getting paint touches. I'd like to run them a little bit because they score in the 60s. I'd like to see us get the game in the mid to upper 70s or higher. If we can run and force tempo, great. I want to get to the free throw line and I want to get to the offensive boards."
Tennessee is shorthanded for this game with Alex Fuller, a 6'3 forward, expected to sit out with sore knees.
"When you take one player out of a nine-player rotation, it impacts you," Lockwood said. "I think for us we're still going to try to create up-tempo and transition, but we may pick our spots. One player and especially Alex who's so valuable to the frontline, that's certainly going to impact what we can or can't do in stretches."
SHORT REST: Alex Fuller hasn't practiced this week and Tennessee will likely take off Friday so that would give her a five-day respite from the court. Fuller has undergone treatment on the sideline on both knees, which had sustained some swelling. The redshirt junior had major operations on both knees and missed her freshman year for left knee surgery.
"The bottom line is she was hurting and we needed to take the time right now and we're hopeful that this rest period at this point, utilizing the treatment, the rehabilitation, the medication, etcetera, will get her through the SEC Tournament, where there will be maybe another opportunity after that to rest," said Jenny Moshak, the assistant athletics director for sports medicine. "We had to do something."
There is a break between the SEC tourney and the NCAA tourney – and Summitt usually gives the team several days off in that gap – so another rest period could be built into the season for Fuller.
Moshak said the plan is for Fuller to be cleared to play Sunday in Knoxville against Vanderbilt. She could play Thursday if absolutely necessary, but Moshak prefers that Fuller rest.
"That is our goal," Moshak said.
LEXINGTON 2006: The last time the Lady Vols played in Lexington they were coming off a loss to Duke after starting the season undefeated. They followed that defeat with a 66-63 loss to the Wildcats in Rupp Arena before a sold-out crowd on Jan. 26, 2006. It was Kentucky's first win over Tennessee since 1986.
"Painful experience," Dean Lockwood said. "This is one of the most vivid things I remember. Obviously there's the game itself but then we walk off the floor, we go down the floor to our locker room and how it's set up in Rupp, they're two doors away, and you can hear their celebration.
"They are screaming, they are absolutely going berserk and we had to sit there and just take it. We had to listen to it. I just couldn't wait to get out of there. I couldn't get out of that place fast enough."
Coach Matthew Mitchell would prefer that game be a distant memory for Tennessee.
"If Tennessee comes in here with a little extra something then that would worry me a lot," Mitchell said. "They are really good. When you lose to very few teams then you are always looking for something to get fired up so if Coach Summitt is looking to use the loss a couple of years ago here then she is doing what she needs to do to motivate her team. She always does a great job getting her teams motivated."
Pat Summitt indicated in her media teleconference that the last trip to Lexington was fresh in her mind.
Tennessee practiced at home Wednesday and then took a bus to the bluegrass state later that afternoon.
"When we head that way, we'll definitely remember what happened the last time we played at Kentucky," Summitt said. "That was a game where they played terrific; they found a way to win. We haven't talked about it, because we take it one game at a time. But now, as we prepare to play (Thursday), there is no doubt in my mind it is something the team will talk about, and we will talk about."
NO PACT NEEDED: Last year Nicky Anosike had her teammates sign a Lady Vol pact – its contents were known only to the players – promising to do certain things. Anosike said this year's team already gets it.
"I think last year we had an issue with effort and an issue with people not working hard," Anosike said. "I don't feel it this year."
The Lady Vols have had a tendency to pace themselves in some games, but that is more a function of a short bench than an effort issue. Tennessee's bench consists of two freshmen, junior Alex Fuller and senior Alberta Auguste. Fuller is not expected to play Thursday so Tennessee goes to Lexington with just eight players.
Practice also have been productive this season with players going hard, even in lengthy sessions lasting three hours over the holiday break.
"I feel like we all know what we have to do because we know what it takes to win this year," Anosike said. "We know it's not easy."
Pat Summitt has challenged the team by reminding players that they are the most talented team in the country in her opinion but not the best one yet. Candace Parker practiced for the past three days like she was single-handedly trying to change that perception.
"The thing with her is that she has the rare combination of size and skill that in the game of basketball rarely converge," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "She has the ability to stretch her game out and is now working on her three-point shot. She does not take many shots but she is developing that part of her game. I think earlier in her career you could try to force her to take outside shots, but she is making those shots now. She has really rounded into a complete player. She has a high level of talent and a high level of commitment to make her game better.
"It would have been very easy for her to come in and stay where she was as a player, but she has worked very hard. She may now be the best player in the women's game at the professional or college level. She is clearly the best collegiate player in the nation right now.
"She poses a lot of challenges. I think with her you have to have defenders that have a short memory because she is going to make some spectacular and very athletic plays. You have to play very physical and hard against her and you can't hang your head against her or she will really exploit that. You have to make her earn her points and she is very capable of doing that. We have to play with a high level of intensity and stick within our game plan to try and slow her down. I don't think you can really stop her."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Kentucky, 41-6. The Lady Vols are 18-2 in Knoxville, 17-4 on the road and 6-0 at neutral sites. … Tennessee is 11-4 in games played on January 17. The four losses were to Belmont, 77-45, in 1976; Georgia, 66-63, in 1982; Rutgers, 87-77, in 1994; and Georgia, 78-51, in 2000. The last win on this date was against South Carolina, 80-61, in 2002. … Only three SEC teams started league play undefeated with Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU all 2-0. LSU is off Thursday so the number of undefeated teams will fall to two after Thursday's Tennessee-Kentucky game. … Tennessee's league matchup Sunday is against Vanderbilt, one of three teams the Lady Vols play twice this season in the SEC. The other two are Kentucky and Mississippi State. Vandy is always a home-and-home series, and the other two foes rotate every two years. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 81.9 points per game and allows 62.3. Kentucky scores 65.9 points with opponents getting 64.0. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.1 percent as a team with opponents shooting, on average, 38.8 percent. No team has shot 50 percent or better against Tennessee this season, and Tennessee has not shot under 40 percent in a game. Kentucky is shooting 38.8 percent as a team with opponents shooting 38.5 percent. The Lady Vols average 41.0 rebounds per game with foes getting 37.3 for a +3.7 margin. The Wildcats average 40.5 with opponents at 40.4 for an +0.1 margin. Tennessee averages 18.0 assists and 18.4 turnovers a game. Kentucky averages 11.6 assists and 16.8 turnovers. The Lady Vols swipe the ball 12.6 times a game. The Wildcats get 7.1 steals per game. Tennessee averages 6.7 blocks. Kentucky gets 4.4 rejects a game.