National title game rematch tonight

The next three games will tell Tennessee a lot about its basketball team – and they are at full strength thanks to weekend rehab sessions with Jenny Moshak – as the Lady Vols play Rutgers, LSU and Vanderbilt in a week. First up tonight is Rutgers, which took out the top team in the country on its home floor last week.

No. 2 Tennessee (21-1, 8-0), which should be No. 1 on Monday when the new AP poll comes out, tips off tonight against No. 7 Rutgers (19-3, 9-1), which also should move up in the polls after knocking UConn from the ranks of the unbeaten on the Huskies home floor. Tipoff is set for 7:02 p.m. Monday (TV: ESPN2; Lady Vols Radio Network).

It will be the second time Tennessee steps out of the SEC since league play started. The Lady Vols defeated Duke, 67-64, in Durham, N.C., on Jan. 28. Rutgers will be the fourth Big East team that Tennessee has faced this season. The Lady Vols defeated West Virginia, DePaul and Notre Dame before conference play began.

"I think you need those out of conference games within the conference schedule," Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle said. "It keeps you grounded, and it keeps you seeing where everybody else is as far as whether it's stepping out for the ACC with the Duke game, stepping out for the Big East with the Rutgers game and then we step right back into the SEC.

"Every game matters. No game is really a rest. With Rutgers beating UConn of course they're going to be fired up. They already took the No. 1 team out. They broke their little perfect season so now they're gunning for us."

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer borrowed a page from Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt and put together a challenging out of conference schedule. The Scarlet Knights have played Stanford, LSU, Maryland, Duke and Cal and now will travel to Knoxville to play in one of the toughest environments in women's basketball. The Lady Vols are 292-17 in games played at Thompson-Boling Arena since the 1987-88 season.

"I think Vivian strategically put together a very demanding schedule, and I think it's helped them," Summitt said. "They're not going to back down from anyone and I think the fact that they have had such a challenging schedule it's challenged her team, and Vivian is going to challenge her team.

"They're as prepared as we are when you look at who they play and the toughness that they have shown in a lot of big games and been able to close out some tight games. They're a team that won't back down at all. They'll come in here with great confidence, and I think we're going to have an awesome basketball game and a great environment."

Summitt certainly has to feel better about her team's position in the game after Sunday's practice. Junior forward Candace Parker, senior wing Alberta Auguste and freshman forward/guard Angie Bjorklund are all cleared to play after suffering injuries last Thursday against Mississippi State.

Parker hurt her left knee after landing awkwardly under the basket, Auguste reinjured her loose left shoulder and Bjorklund broke her nose. All three players spent the weekend in Moshak's care and made it to the practice court Sunday.

Parker found a compression sleeve that fit her knee – the first one she tried was too small – and after a few tentative steps to test the knee was quickly back to form. Auguste is wearing a shoulder brace, and Bjorklund has a splint to cover her nose.

"I'm thankful that we have Jenny Moshak on our staff," Summitt said. "She's the best. Candace and Alberta obviously spent a lot of time with her. I talked to Jenny a couple of times (Saturday), and she felt very optimistic and just seeing them on the floor (Sunday) confirms where they are, and I think they'll both be good to go. Great feeling."

With Moshak medically releasing all three players, Summitt can now decide how to use them Monday.

"As far as minutes that's going to be up to Coach Summitt and how they perform," Moshak said. "They were showing great progress every day. When you see that amount of progress over that short period of time you can't help but feel optimistic."

Tennessee only has nine players available this season – 6'6 center Kelley Cain and 5'4 guard Cait McMahan are recovering from knee surgeries and are taking redshirt years – so the bench will still be key and Summitt expects a much better effort than she got last Thursday from her substitutes – junior forward Alex Fuller, freshman forward Vicki Baugh and freshman guard Sydney Smallbone.

"Right now my focus is getting our bench to be consistent," Summitt said. "Vicki Baugh and Sydney Smallbone, I understand they're freshmen, but they've been through a lot of practices and played in a lot of games. Right now I'm thinking they should be at a different place night in and night out.

"I expect Alex Fuller to come in here and be consistent with her intensity. She was not her aggressive self, and she has to be, particularly defensively, because that's her greatest challenge so she's got to bring the energy there. I expect a lot from Alex because she could really make a difference. My reference for this year is the DePaul game. She goes in there, she's full of energy, she's competitive, she's getting on the boards. She's creating and making shots."

Fuller started for Parker against DePaul on Jan. 2 and scored a career-high 19 points. Auguste performed well off the bench in Thursday's come-from-behind win over Mississippi State, but the others struggled. Summitt said the slate is wiped clean.

"I don't dwell on it," Summitt said. "I'm going to be very disappointed if they aren't all ready to play (Monday) and at a different intensity level and doing what they've got to do and playing to the very best of their abilities to what we want to do offensively and defensively. There was no energy off the bench. They wouldn't need me if I could figure out why. They could just go get it done, and I'd like that."

Baugh was certainly ready in practice Sunday. She was getting back during a drill, didn't see Summitt and knocked her head coach to the floor.

"How about that?" Summitt said with a laugh. "It was like TIMBER! I had nothing to support me. I just fell. She laid me out."

Baugh helped Summitt off the floor, apologized profusely and patted her on the back. Summitt smiled and hoped the practice tape picked up the collision.

There were a lot of smiles Sunday as the Lady Vols went through their scouting report on Rutgers. A healthy team after the bench resembled a triage unit Thursday was a big reason to be happy. Also, the Lady Vols are anticipating the week that lies ahead.

"I think we're going to find out how mentally tough we are," Hornbuckle said. "Obviously we're in great physical condition. We practice so hard and train so hard in the off-season to get in shape physically. Mentally you're going to see where the freshmen are because you're getting tested Monday night, Thursday night, Sunday night.

"You do not have time to rest, and you can't dwell on the last game because you have another big game coming up. It's going to be a test of how mentally prepared we are and how mentally tough we are."

Hornbuckle, for her part, is looking forward to the three-game stretch.

"I don't think we've had it as (tough) as we're about to go through this week, but we've prepared for this since the off-season," Hornbuckle said. "The main goal is at the end of the road in postseason. So this is a great spot for us, a great practice run and hopefully we come through on top through this whole week."

Summitt knows Hornbuckle being ready is a non-issue.

"She loves it," Summitt said. "She loves the competition. And she brings it. She brings it every game."

Hornbuckle gave a nod of approval to senior center Nicky Anosike for consistency this season.

"Nicky Anosike is probably our most consistent player," Hornbuckle said. "She's going to give you the heart and hustle every game and you know exactly what you're going to get out of her."

Hornbuckle also noted that Baugh has been a steady performer, minus one bad game last week.

"Vicki was doing a great job until (Thursday) night; she was doing a great job of coming in and you knew no matter how many minutes she was going to play, she was going to post up hard, get on the boards, look to score, give you some assists," Hornbuckle said. "Everybody has their games where they're not playing up to par, but it's all about how she bounces back."

A bench will be key this week as Tennessee takes on a Rutgers squad that will bring the heat defensively and then battles two SEC teams for control of the league.

"We've got a tough week ahead of us," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "This is the toughest part of our schedule, probably three of the toughest teams we've played all year."

With the three games so close together and two starters coming back from injury the substitutes have to be able to perform when called upon by the staff.

"If I were in their shoes I'd be making sure that I was ready," Summitt said. "When the game starts you've got to be ready to play. You can't go in the game if you're not focused and just dial it up."

Summitt put three substitutes in the game Thursday to see how the team would respond. One new entry worked fine. Two did OK, too. But three bench players with two starters seemed to take the team out of sync, and Mississippi State went on a 21-0 run to take the lead in the first half. It was the first time Tennessee trailed at halftime this season and it was only by seven points because of the big lead provided by the starters to open the game.

"Part of why I did what I did (Thursday) night was to see how they would respond," Summitt said. "We're into February, and I would expect them to understand what they have to do when they come in. At least keep us where we left off. You've got to keep everything working for us. You don't have to build a lead, but we don't want to lose anything."

Summitt doesn't want a similar drop-off against Rutgers or LSU at home or Vanderbilt, especially on the road in Nashville, because those teams could prevent a comeback. No matter the outcome of the games, Summitt wants to see how her team handles this test.

"What I'm anxious to see is how we respond," Summitt said. "We've got three tough games in a row."

Who made the schedule this week?

"The SEC made two of them," Summitt said with a smile, though the addition of Rutgers was her handiwork. "This is not a one-and-done situation. This is great preparation for postseason and what we will be challenged with in these next three games. We will learn a lot about our basketball team.

"This is probably the greatest opportunity for us to evaluate where we are as a basketball team and where we need to be and how we handle big games and back-to-back-to-back big games."

Having the Rutgers game on a Monday initially would seem to not favor Tennessee because it forced three games in one week. But with the injuries to Bjorklund, Auguste and Parker, it turned out to be a godsend because it allowed another 24 hours of healing time.

The players know the coaching staff will be looking for some consistency this week instead of the uneven performances the Lady Vols have sometimes tended to deliver.

"I don't whether it's good or not, but we always do things when we have to, which is not necessarily the best thing to do but sometimes you can turn it on like that," Parker said. "I still think we have time to be consistent and do the things we need to do – defend and rebound.

"I think we become inspired when we play better competition and we play great teams. I think that that's a problem, but we're going to being focused and ready."

In a way, Summitt has created this conundrum that drives her batty with both a short bench – the players have coasted on occasion to conserve energy – and with a schedule that challenges her team. They tend to get bored when not sufficiently challenged.

That bodes well for this week. Big games tend to bring out a big response.

"We know the stretch of games we've got to play," Parker said and quickly rattled them off, whereas usually the players don't know which team follows the other. "We know it's going to be a tough stretch of games. All of us came here to play top, ranked teams and the schedule that we do. We wouldn't change it. I'm really excited about this upcoming week."

Summitt is preaching the one-game-at-a-time mantra.

"You've got Rutgers, who obviously from a national scene, this is a huge game," Summitt said. "You've got LSU from a SEC race. It's key. The team that wins that might very well win the race for the SEC regular season championship.

"We've got to take it one game at a time, keep our focus, understand that we have a big challenge playing Rutgers because of the last time we played them. If you flipped the script, and we're playing them and they beat us for a national championship I can imagine the emotional intensity and level of competitiveness. I expect that from them. We know what we've got to do and then we know LSU and Tennessee understand how big that game will be Thursday night."

Hornbuckle is preaching about protecting the house.

"It's a very emotional game for us as well," Hornbuckle said. "They knocked off the number one seed and if we can come in here on Monday night and take care of business then we would become the number one seed. We have a goal in mind as well.

"We know that they're coming in fired up after a UConn win as well as us knocking them out last year. So we don't want to let them come in our house and beat us."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shannon Bobbitt, 5'2 senior guard, No. 00 (10.2 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game); Alexis Hornbuckle, 5'11 senior guard, No. 14 (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.5 spg); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 freshman guard/forward, No. 5 (10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.5 apg); Candace Parker, 6'5 junior forward, No. 3 (20.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.4 spg, 2.0 blocks per game); and Nicky Anosike, 6'4 senior center, No. 55 (9.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.0 spg, 1.2 bpg).

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer is expected to start: Epiphanny Prince, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (14.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg), her 33 points against UConn were the most by a Scarlet Knight since Cappie Pondexter scored 29 against South Florida in 2006; Matee Ajavon, 5'8 senior guard, No. 22 (12.6 ppg, 4.5 apg), had 13 points and a career-high 10 boards against UConn, has 481 career assists; Essence Carson, 6'0 senior forward, No. 5 (9.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), blocked the 100th shot of her career against UConn, has averaged 38.8 minutes in the last four games; Heather Zurich, 6'1 junior forward, No. 21 (5.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg), had a career-high 16 points against Cincinnati, her uncle, Jim, played football at Rutgers; and Kia Vaughn, 6'4 junior center, No. 15 (9.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg), has 877 career points and 750 career rebounds.

Stringer has used eight different lineups this season with Rashidat Junaid and Brittany Ray also making appearances among the starters. Each player on the 10-member roster has made at least one start this season. Vaughn leads the pack with 13 starts.

Freshman guard Khadijah Rushdan is out for the season after tearing the ACL in her right knee in the Temple game on Dec. 30. Ray had knee surgery in mid-January to repair a meniscus tear in her right knee but is expected to return this season.

Anosike and Bobbitt are from New York and know several members of the Rutgers team, who also hail from the New York and New Jersey areas.

"I know a lot of the girls on the team," Anosike said. "I grew up playing against them."

Bobbitt played with Prince when both went to Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan. They overlapped for two years and led the school to a 39-0 record one year and the national title and a 29-1 record the next year and third in the country. Despite the familiarity with the opponent, Bobbitt said this game is no different for her than any other one on the schedule.

"It's going to be a regular game to me," Bobbitt said. "I don't treat any game differently. I'm playing every game the same way. I let the commentators make the game a big one. I don't get into that. Keeping me humble, keeping me modest. Go out there and play."

A key player off the bench for Tennessee will be Alex Fuller, a 6'3 forward, because she can guard on the inside – Fuller is one of the best defenders in the high post – and shoot from behind the arc.

"I think she does a lot of good things away from the basketball from a defensive standpoint," Summitt said. "Offensively I want her to stay aggressive because she's got great rotation on the ball. She's a great scorer. I think she just needs to work harder for shots and then work harder to get some putbacks for us."

A key player for Rutgers, whether starting or off the bench, is Rashidat Junaid, a 6'4 center who provides more muscle and size for the Scarlet Knights. She can play with Vaughn and create a bigger frontline.

"Last year, a lot of teams focused on me and because of that I would get double-teamed on a box-out," Vaughn said. "Now, you have to box Rah out and myself out because she is going to get an offensive rebound. I like the forward position because I get to see the rebounds, and I am able to grab them."

Tennessee dominated on the boards in the national title game, especially on the offensive glass. The Lady Vols had 42 rebounds, and 24 came on offense. Anosike had 16 total boards for the game and earned a spot on the All-Final Four Team.

The Scarlet Knights took note.

"We know now that rebounding, not only defense, wins championships," Vaughn said. "That was a hurtful loss, and the way we lost was not good and it hurts. So we basically know that that was our weakness after looking at the tape – second-chance points and us not getting rebounds. We were not as calm as we should have been.

"You could see that they wanted it more; it was just that obvious."

Summitt has seen tape of Rutgers this season and sees a more formidable team than the one the Lady Vols faced in Cleveland last April.

"I think they're better because I think their inside game's better," Summitt said. "To me when you improve your inside game, and you've got guards that can break you down off the dribble, which they can, (a team is better).

"I think Vaughn's a much better post player than a year ago. They're deeper, but they're also better, and they've been there. They're very familiar with Tennessee. I don't think they'll come in here and back down by any means. I think they'll come in here with something to prove and a little chip on their shoulder."

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Rutgers game. Here is his assessment.

When Rutgers has the ball: "I don't think they're going to change their game plan very much, because good teams do what they do. They're very good off the dribble. They're real dribble-drive oriented, and they attack and they're aggressive. They're a team that doesn't play high tempo, but when they do go on the attack they're very, very good at what they do.

"They run more stuff in the half-court than anybody we've played against. They run a lot of different sets and entries, but at the end of the day it ends up being isos (isolations) or two-player game where they're trying to take advantage of their great one-on-one skills. That's one thing we have to do – we have to guard dribble drives, not let them get into the paint easily, not let Kia get easy touches, not let them get into a rhythm in terms of attacking us off the dribble drive. This is a game where we want to limit paint points."

Epiphanny Prince is a different player than the one the Lady Vols saw in Cleveland. She didn't attempt a shot in the title game and was 2-4 from the free throw line to account for her two points. She had four turnovers and no steals.

"Epiphanny Prince is stepping up and making big plays for them and last year it was coming and going for her as understanding what shot I can take and when I need to pass the ball," said Alexis Hornbuckle, who knows what it's like to be a young guard on a big stage. "It's like they're on the same page. Obviously they've grown since last April."

Prince scored a career-high 33 points against UConn by taking the ball right at the Huskies. She was 10-20 from the field with two three-pointers and 11-11 from the line and had six steals.

"She's Cappie Pondexter revisited," Lockwood said. "Good offensive players get in a rhythm, they get in a flow and the next thing you know the basket – for some it's a teacup and for others it's a rain barrel – when you get in a rhythm like that it's a rain barrel. They score points in bunches.

"You're not going to keep somebody like that scoreless but what you can do is dictate the type of shots that they're getting, and that's what we hope to do."

Tennessee also must figure out how to guard Matee Ajavon, who can hit jump shots or put the ball on the floor.

"She's as good a driver as there is in college basketball," Lockwood said." You've got to weigh it (whether to play tight or back off). Any one-on-one battle you feel it out. How close can I get to you before I know that I'm beat or you're going to flat go by me? I've got to gauge that."

The Lady Vols will rely on help defenders in this game to protect the interior.

"It's huge," Lockwood said. "This team is so paint-motivated. Getting dribble drives, getting to the free throw line, getting post touches and post scores, pull-up jumpers in the paint."

Defensively, the Scarlet Knights will bring full-court pressure.

"We have two or three different press breaks," Lockwood said.

Rutgers wants the opposing team to in-bound the ball into the deep corner. That immediately brings a double team.

"The real simple answer is don't get the ball in that condensed area," Lockwood said. "There are two or three different things we're looking at and that's one of the concentrations – not to get ourselves buried. They're trapping you until you're well over half-court. They'll even get you on the close side of half-court."

Because of the ability of Shannon Bobbitt to break a press, Tennessee hasn't seen many full-court looks from foes. Pat Summitt predicts a game that will be won in the trenches and will probably be low scoring.

"A lot depends on the tempo of the game, whether it's up-tempo or the half-court," Summitt said. "I think we're a little bit more committed to the up-tempo. They can play up-tempo, but they can also grind it out in the half-court.

"It's going to be war because we're going to try to go inside; they're going to try to go inside. We're going to press; they're going to press. We're going to have to handle their pressure. Not many people press us, but we know they're going to press us, and we have to be ready to handle that. That's probably the one aspect of the game that I think we've really got to be sharp and focused."

Rutgers' defense is stout to say the least. The Scarlet Knights have held opponents to under 80 points in the last 50 matchups. Connecticut got to 71, the highest point total of the season. No team has shot 50 percent or better against Rutgers this season. (North Carolina scored 79 against Tennessee. No team has shot 50 percent or better against the Lady Vols this season.)

Rutgers' full-court pressure is known as its 55 defense, and it has ties to Tennessee.

"We are going to use it more because we are in better shape than we have been," C. Vivian Stringer said. "We have to use it, but keep in mind that I worked with Bruce Pearl, who is now at Tennessee. I got that from Dr. Tom Davis and I added my own flavor to it."

Pearl, now the head coach of the Vols, was a longtime assistant under Davis.

"We all worked at the University of Iowa, and I do believe that Tennessee knows how to break the play and what's going on with it," Stringer said.

When Tennessee has the ball: "Getting the ball inside is big no matter who we're playing against," Lockwood said. "Obviously what we're doing will be determined by the health of who's on the floor and where we are at any given point in time. Regardless of who is on the floor getting the ball inside is still so important to generate what we want to do.

"We can't run our offenses playing catch on the perimeter; we're not solely a drive and kick team. We have to get some touches in here to keep people honest."

The availability of Candace Parker ensures that Tennessee will play inside-out, but Lockwood said that strategy won't change when Alex Fuller and Vicki Baugh are in the game.

Defensively, the Lady Vols might want to mix up their looks. Tennessee is also a team that can bring full-court pressure, but Rutgers can take advantage of 94 feet of space to maneuver.

"We might vary some points of pickup," Lockwood said. "It's going to be personnel driven. We're going to test the waters. When you press a team and a team is athletic you do open up the floor for them, even though you have the chance to get traps and turnovers, you also open up the floor. We want to be careful about doing that."

The game has a sub-plot in the "Think Pink" initiative by the WBCA and Kay Yow, in association with the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, that is raising awareness of breast cancer and the need for research and treatment. Yow, the longtime coach of N.C. State, is battling breast cancer. Both Tennessee and Rutgers' programs are participating, but the coaching staffs also have to make sure they have their teams prepared for what happens when the ball is tossed at center court.

"We don't change a thing in terms of preparation," Lockwood said. "We're doing everything the same. I think that gets players in a rhythm. Also, you're really relying on your players' internal leadership to have the competitors come out.

"Aside from the great cause, because it's a phenomenal cause, and we love to see Tennesseans come together to support the Think Pink game, but people slipping that uniform on on both sides are competitors and once they're in the locker room and the minute that ball goes up out here that cause is temporarily going to be put on the shelf, and I think you're going to see the cream rise to the top.

"People who are competitors are going to rise up. Once the game's over you can click that switch and address those issues," Lockwood said.

Rutgers has shed it scarlet uniforms for one game and will wear pink uniforms with black trim.

"I can't wait to see them," Lockwood said.

THINK PINK: Nike made the uniforms for Rutgers and also provided the special white-and-pink shoes that the Scarlet Knight players and coaches will wear.

"There was an opportunity to really get the awareness out with Coach Yow and breast cancer and that's such a big issue around the world," said Katie Post, the Global Product Line Manager for Nike Basketball in the footwear division. "We were approached about it and people put their minds together and said, ‘Let's join the cause and let's represent Coach Yow.' She's part of the Nike family, and we wanted to show as Nike how we could support her."

The coaches will wear the Air Force 25 Low, which was designed by Tracy Teague. It is a white shoe with pink trim, a pink ribbon and the "Think Pink" logo. Nike has plans to get the shoe to the marketplace in the future.

"We're in the process," Post said. "This was mostly done as a service for our teams. We made it specifically for them, and I think there's been so much energy we really want to be able to get it out to the consumer."

The Rutgers players will wear the Nike Huarache Elite II, also designed by Teague, and also white and pink with the "Think Pink" logo on the back.

"We put all of our teams in that shoe," Post said.

Nike also provided to the team pink shirts and pink headbands.

Post will attend Monday's game.

"It's going to be great – just the energy," Post said. "Both coaches are excited to support Coach Yow and breast cancer awareness. We're really fortunate. This is a special time for women's basketball in general to step up and support this initiative."

The Lady Vols will be in their regular home whites – the crowd has been asked to supply the pink wear – but the Tennessee players will have pink shooting shirts, pink T-shirts and pink shoelaces.

The officials will also be using pink whistles in this game.

Prior to the game, the UT Medical Center Mobile Mammography Unit will be on site providing mammograms from 5 to 7 p.m.

Two cancer patients/survivors will be selected as guest coaches and will receive pre-game makeovers and goodie bags courtesy of Mary Kay Cosmetics. Coach Pat Summitt and her staff, along with Tennessee men's coach Bruce Pearl and C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers, have kissed and autographed "Kiss for the Cure" cards that will be framed and auctioned at halftime.

Auction funds will be donated to local organizations that work with cancer patients. Fans should report to the southeast (Big Orange Country tarp) or southwest (adidas tarp) tunnels with four minutes remaining in the first half to secure a bid number for the auction. The minimum bid is $500. Stringer's card will benefit a Susan G. Komen affiliate in New Jersey.

Miniature Mary Kay "Kiss for a Cure" cards with a lipstick sample attached will be given to different sections. Fans who fill out the information card have the chance to earn prizes and gifts, supplied by Mary Kay, throughout the game.

UT Assistant Coaches Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell left immediately after practice Sunday for a quick flight to Raleigh to present a $10,000 check at halftime of the N.C. State-Boston College game to Kay Yow that was raised during their cross-country motorcycle tour, Volunteers Cruisin' for a Cause.

Prior to tip-off Monday, Warlick and Caldwell will present another check to the Wellness Community of East Tennessee in Tom Cronan's memory. Cronan, the late husband of UT Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan, lost his battle with cancer in August 2006.

Warlick and Caldwell raised more than $50,000 through their 11-day, 3,000-mile cross-country ride from Berkeley, Calif., to Knoxville last September.

BIRD WATCH: Alberta Auguste came of age as a Lady Vol in the postseason last year. After a 2006-07 regular season that was up and down in terms of performance, the wing player put together solid stints on the floor, especially at the Final Four.

She had 10 points and five rebounds in the title game against Rutgers.

"Last year the whole postseason I was comfortable," Auguste said. "I was focused. Everything was just there for me."

Auguste is looking forward to Monday's game and the entire week ahead, especially now that she has been cleared to play. She was the bright spot off the bench against Mississippi State last week with 12 points and four rebounds.

"Just carry it over, come to practice, work hard and look for the challenge this whole week," Auguste said.

A year of experience at Tennessee has also made Auguste much more comfortable this season.

"Last year I was new to the program so I didn't really know what to expect," Auguste said. "This year I know what to expect."

Auguste came to Tennessee from Central Florida Community College, where she scored 23.6 points per game in 2006. Pat Summitt said Auguste needed time to make the adjustment from go-to player to finding her role as a as Lady Vol. Auguste is happy with her decision to wear orange.

"I appreciate everything," Auguste said. "I love this place. It's one in a million. Other people wish they were here, and they wish they were in my shoes. I'm just happy that I made it."

Auguste hopes to play in the WNBA and said her goals for the last months of her college career are to "improve everything in my game. Everything. Be aggressive and you never take a possession off. Bring your ‘A' game every game no matter who you play."

Auguste's offense was a nice addition against Mississippi State. Her specialty is teaming with Alexis Hornbuckle on the perimeter to wreak havoc with the other's team offense.

"It's this sense that we feel," Auguste said. "We've got to get this stop. I'll look at her, or she'll look at me. Nice communication."

The Lady Vols will need that wingspan again Monday with the speed and ability that Rutgers has on the perimeter. The post players also will have to hold their own inside.

"That's why you come to a school like Tennessee," Nicky Anosike said of Monday's matchup.

The Lady Vols are coming off a performance in which they got off to a great start and then squandered it.

"We didn't play our best game against Mississippi State. We were saving it I guess," Candace Parker said with a wry smile. "I hope so. We're going to hopefully come out on Monday and play some basketball."

Rutgers can make any team pay for not being focused for 40 minutes. The Scarlet Knights lost to Stanford and Duke in the final seconds and beat Maryland, Cal and LSU, which, like Tennessee, has not lost an SEC game. Rutgers' third loss was at West Virginia in an upset that seemed to get the Scarlet Knights' attention. A week later they beat UConn.

"Rutgers is a great team," Parker said. "They were a great team last year to make the tournament run that they did. Obviously they're looking to come in our house and avenge the loss from last year and win."

If for some reason Rutgers didn't have the country's attention, the outcome against UConn certainly opened some eyes.

"If you're a women's basketball fan, Rutgers got your attention a lot time ago," Holly Warlick said. "They're talented. They're athletic. They shoot the ball well. Kia Vaughn is playing so well. She's a beast inside. They're Rutgers. They're a great basketball team. I'm not surprised at the outcome because it was two very competitive teams going at each other."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Rutgers, 13-3. The Lady Vols are 4-0 at home, 1-3 in New Jersey and 8-0 at neutral sites. … Tennessee is 9-2 in games played on February 11. The two losses were to Tennessee Tech, 60-48, in 1970; and Eastern Kentucky, 89-68, in 1976. The last win on this date was against Kentucky, 84-62, in 2007. … Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt and Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer have both been inducted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, along with a member of their staff. Lady Vol Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick entered the hall with the Class of 2001 and Rutgers Assistant Coach Marianne Stanley was inducted in 2002. Summitt has 968 career wins, and Stringer has 796. They are the winningest active coaches in the game. … Lady Vols Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike and Scarlet Knight Matee Ajavon played together this past summer on the 2007 Pan American Games team, which won gold in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. … Lady Vols Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike were named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District IV first team announced by the College of Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) on Feb. 7. This marks the second consecutive year that the two have earned a spot on the first team. Parker, an ESPN the Magazine Academic All-America last season, recorded a 3.50 GPA in the fall semester in sport management and has been an SEC All-Academic selection for the past three years. Anosike, who picked up Academic All-District IV third team honors in 2006 and first team honors in 2007, has a 3.78 cumulative GPA in her triple major of sociology/criminal justice, political science and legal studies. She was named Academic All-SEC in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and has earned Lady Vol Honor Roll and UT Dean's List honors every semester of her collegiate career. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 80.5 points per game while allowing 60.0. Rutgers averages 60.8 and allows 50.8. The Lady Vols shoot 46.8 percent overall, 38.9 percent from behind the arc and 71.8 percent from the line. The Scarlet Knights shoot 43.2 percent overall, 32.4 percent from three-point range and 65.4 percent from the line. Tennessee grabs 40.9 rebounds a game with opponents getting 36.6 for a +4.3 margin. Rutgers gets 37.5 boards a game with foes securing 33.2 for a +4.4 margin. The Lady Vols average 16.9 assists and 17.5 turnovers a game while forcing 21.9 miscues by opponents. The Scarlet Knights average 12.9 assists and 15.0 turnovers while forcing 16.1 turnovers. Tennessee averages 12.5 swipes and 6.3 swats a game. Rutgers averages 7.9 steals and 4.2 blocks.


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