Lady Vols host Virginia tonight

The best way to get rid of first-game jitters is – to put it simply – play a second game. Pat Summitt hopes her players have eliminated the case of nerves that plagued them for a half over the weekend, as the ranked Virginia team in Knoxville tonight could also rattle the Lady Vols.

Ball security was on Pat Summitt's mind as she and her staff went through the pre-game practice session Sunday afternoon. No. 7/6 Tennessee, 1-0, will take on No. 15 Virginia, 1-0, at 7 p.m. Eastern on Monday (Lady Vol Radio Network; TV: SportSouth) at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Lady Vols did get a player off the injured list for the walk-through and scouting report, but redshirt freshmen Kelley Cain, who sustained a blow to the head a week ago, must still pass a few tests Monday before she will be cleared to play. Cain took a direct shot to the right side of the head and cheek in a collision with a male practice player last Monday.

The 6'6 center, whose availability could be a difference maker against the Cavaliers, will be examined by team physician Dr. Rebecca Morgan before the game.

"She's getting much closer," said Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols chief of sports medicine. "She passed what we call her cardiac challenge, where she did 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity without any return of symptoms. So now she can go through non-contact practice – shell drilling, shooting, full court layups, fitness, that's all fine, just non-contact (Sunday).

"If she passes all of that without any return of signs or symptoms she will go through shoot-around (Monday) and then Dr. Morgan will look at her to hopefully clear her before the game."

Cain shot free throws and rotated in on in-bounds plays and offensive and defensive shelling of plays on Sunday.

Summitt sees Cain as a freshman in name only. She played in two exhibition games a year ago before getting hurt in practice in early November with a subluxation of her right kneecap. Cain ended up needing surgery to realign the kneecap to correct a congenital condition.

"She got into those exhibition games as a true freshman and she's been on the bench and was there through our championship run," Summitt said. "I think she's been in that environment, that competitive environment. But at the same time her cardio is going to be something that we're going to have to watch because she's got to get in better shape."

Cain has been trying to make up for lost time since workouts began – she was off the basketball court for eight months post-surgery – and now she has lost a week while recovering from the concussion.

It speaks to the overall youth of Tennessee's team that a first-year player who had a front-row seat last season in street clothes is expected to bring some stability to the floor this season.

Tennessee also is missing two key sophomores in Vicki Baugh (knee rehab) and Angie Bjorklund (back treatment).

Summitt and her staff had two true freshmen in the starting lineup, along with a redshirt sophomore point guard who didn't play last season because of knee surgery. The other two spots were filled by a redshirt senior, who started one game last season, and a sophomore making her first career start in an official game.

"I knew going into that opening game it would be a lot of young players trying to work through the jitters and play through some adversity," Summitt said. "We weren't very sharp. That first half, not that I expected it to be like that, but I anticipated that it could be that way just because of our youth overall."

Summitt intends to use the same starters tonight against Virginia. The four reserves, Briana Bass, Alyssia Brewer, Amber Gray and Alicia Manning, are all true freshmen.

Summitt has two steady guards in Bass, who can push tempo, and Manning, who will get on the boards and hit some shots. She also has two skilled post players in Brewer and Gray, who are working to get in game shape. Gray was limited to 10 minutes in Saturday's game.

"For whatever reason she didn't sprint the floor as hard as everybody else," Summitt said. "She and Lyssi, they have got to get to a different gear. They're both so skilled and could bring so much to our team."

Summitt noted that Manning, Bass and fellow freshmen Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen "had a lot of juice" in them.

"They have a history of playing hard," Summitt said. "I loved their intensity. Some of that comes from the environment they were in and the competition they played against. Eventually in this program you have to get that intensity level where it needs to be for you to be up there with everybody else."

But in hindsight Summitt also knew that Thursday's three-hour-plus practice two days before the game sapped some players and she was already thinking about it as she left the gym that night.

"It could definitely have been that," Summitt said. "I'm not going to make that as an excuse but I knew when I left here that day I thought, ‘Well, we may have to rotate more players.'

"But when the game starts if I have to coach effort I'm not a very good coach because I am going to get upset and typically I'm going to bench them. It's the only way to get players' attention."

Summitt and her staff did change their approach on the bench Saturday, but it was because of how shell-shocked the team was after the banner ceremony, the hoopla of the player introductions, the TV lights and a boisterous crowd.

"I think the combination was overwhelming," Summitt said.

Does she think it's a one-and-done situation?

It's a wait and see," Summitt said.

Summitt joked after Saturday's game that her players were nearly hyperventilating in the first half. The staff's approach on the bench was to eschew the fire-and-brimstone reaction to sloppy play and instead focus on keeping the players settled down.

During timeouts Summitt could be seen talking calmly to her team.

"Obviously I felt like there were a number of panic plays, a lot of lapses defensively as well," Summitt said. "I told our staff at halftime we don't need to be trapping because they expected us to trap, and I thought we should have changed up our defense a little sooner. We didn't cover well out of it. A lot of times we were just slow to get there."

Summitt readily acknowledges the youth of her team, but she also has high expectations because of the level of talent. She outlined specific areas of improvement that the staff wants to see from game one to game two.

"We have to commit to our defensive system," Summitt said. "We have to become passionate about board play, and we've done a decent job there. We've done a decent job, but this team could be even better."

Tennessee won the board battle against USF by a margin of 64-41, but there were several occasions when the Lady Vols could have boosted that number, especially on defense, and the team saw those in a film session before practice.

"We had a couple of possessions that we showed on tape where we had two go to the boards, sometimes one and a half. Unacceptable there," Summitt said.

Summitt also wants to see more overall court discipline.

"I think taking more ownership in communicating, coming out of our timeouts and executing from that," she said. "That's a time in which we can gather all five players that are on the court and give them specific things to focus on or to run. That's a place we should see some progress.

"I think it's a lot about your mental approach and toughness."

Last season the staff basically knew what to expect from every player on the floor. There were very few surprises. This year every game has an element of unknown in terms of how players will react to situations.

"You just have to adjust during the course of a game depending on what you get," Summitt said. "Or what you don't get."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pat Summitt is expected to start: Cait McMahan, 5'4 sophomore guard, No. 2 (4.0 points per game, 2.0 rebounds per game); Sydney Smallbone, 5'10 sophomore guard, No. 20 (7.0 ppg, 2.0 ppg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard/forward, No. 40 (12.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (17.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg); and Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward/center, No. 44 (4.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg).

Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan is expected to start: Britnee Millner, 5'10 senior guard, No. 12 (4.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), backup point guard last season, played in 29 games and started one; Ariana Moorer, 5'7 freshman guard, No. 15 (19.0 ppg, 5.0 assists per game), AAU All-American from Woodbridge, Va., averaged 21.8 ppg for C.D. Hylton High School; Monica Wright, 5'11 junior guard, No. 22 (16.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg), Wooden Award candidate, preseason All-ACC selection, went over 1,000 career points last season and was an AP honorable mention All-American, had a career-high 31 points against North Carolina in the ACC tourney; Kelly Hartig, 6'4 sophomore forward, No. 42 (2.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), played in 26 games as a freshman, was a Street & Smith honorable mention All-American in high school out of Thunder Ridge High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., older sister Jayna Hartig is a redshirt sophomore for the Cavaliers; and Aisha Mohammed, 6'3 senior center, No. 33 (11.0 ppg, 14.0 rpg), junior college First Team Kodak All-American at Central Arizona College in 2006 before transferring to Virginia, played for Nigeria in the 2004 Olympics and was part of the first team from Africa to win an Olympic game with eight points and 13 rebounds, started all 34 games for Virginia last season and recorded 14 double-doubles.

A second set of sisters is on the Cavalier team in Britny and Whitny Edwards, fraternal twins from Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C.

Whitny Edwards, who scored 14 points in the season opener, is a 5'11 guard. Britny Edwards is a 6'1 forward who played for Tennessee Flight in AAU competition. Their father, Theodore "Blue" Edwards, played for East Carolina and in the NBA for 10 years after being drafted by the Utah Jazz.

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Virginia game. Here is her assessment:

When Tennessee has the ball "We're going to try to get our transition game going. We want to score early as quickly and as fast as we can. We're going to do what we do. We're going to rely on our offenses and us making shots. We're going to go inside."

The Lady Vols are still shorthanded so the flow of the game depends on the freshmen getting up to speed, which is a challenge with a young team in which every opponent is a new experience. Virginia also will test the young players defensively.

"I think we're young, and we're young in spots and we're going to guard two very good offensive players in Aisha Mohammed and Monica Wright, and they're outstanding" Warlick said. "We're going to have freshmen probably on both those two so we're going to have our work cut out for us."

When Virginia has the ball: The challenge presented by the Cavaliers is that "they're seasoned and experienced," Warlick said. "They're a great team."

Warlick noted the Cavaliers were missing two key players. Junior point guard Paulisha Kellum tore the ACL in her right knee in practice Oct. 25 and senior forward Lyndra Littles will miss the fall semester for academic reasons, according to Virginia.

Even minus two expected starters, "they're still outstanding," Warlick said.

The teams will match up with similar styles, as the Cavaliers also want to push tempo.

"They're like us – they want to run, they want to score early," Warlick said. "They're going to go inside to Mohammed, which they should. She's just a beast inside. She's outstanding. She's strong, she's big, she's quick, she runs the floor, she's physical on defense.

"They're going to go inside to her and then they're going to put the ball in Wright's hands because she makes things happen, and she makes their offense run. She does everything. She's a penetrator. She shoots the three. She's just very good."

Kelley Cain being able for Tennessee is what the coaching staff is hoping for in order to be able to counter Mohammed's presence in the paint on both ends.

"It's huge for us," Warlick said. "They both are the same type of players."

Coach Pat Summitt also had ball security on her mind. Tennessee had 16 turnovers in the 68-39 win over San Francisco. Wright had seven steals in Virginia's 78-48 win over High Point on Friday night in Charlottesville.

"We've got to take care of the basketball," Summitt said. "The second thing would be disrupting them. We want to disrupt them and hopefully not allow them to disrupt us because if we turn it over, they are like us. They can get out and accelerate and score points on you in transition. We're going to have to be mindful of getting ourselves good open looks and not forcing."

INJURY UPDATES: Tennessee shooting guard Angie Bjorklund will not play Monday as she continues to be treated for a lower back injury. An MRI last week revealed a bulging disc. She has been held out of practice for the past 10 days.

"We take a more conservative approach to backs, which I agree with wholehearted philosophically," Jenny Moshak said. "She did have some trouble in high school, so this is not new and there wasn't a particular incident that occurred this time. So my theory, and this is just a guess, is it had to do with somewhat of the (practice) volume that we've been doing, because she didn't have any real back trouble last year so to me that's the only thing that makes sense, especially since she wasn't in the weight room and said, ‘Ow, that hurt,' or ‘I took a charge and that hurt.'

"We're taking this conservatively. She's getting better on a daily basis. She's shooting a little before practice and she's going to try to do more on the elliptical and stride out a little farther. She has no pain walking around now so that's one of the first bigger changes, so we're getting better. The unfortunate thing is this isn't a quick rehab overnight. It's not as if there's some time element involved. It's not as if we can rehab 24 hours a day. The medication needs to work, the core business (muscle strength) needs to work, the rest needs to work. It took awhile to come on; it's not going to be overnight that it goes away."

The quick-turnaround between games is a double-edge sword for Cait McMahan, who is coming back from major knee surgery. It doesn't allow much rest time but it also means a shorter and less intense practice session.

As the games start to roll one after another, McMahan will benefit because practice sessions will be scaled accordingly.

"I think Cait is definitely going to see improvement as our volume decreases, and that's going to happen just because of our game schedule," Moshak said.

McMahan played 14 minutes against USF and her availability is gauged by how her knees hold up on the basketball court.

"When the knee limits her they're going to have to make coaching decisions," Moshak said. "You can tell when she's in pain out there. Her gait changes. Her facial expressions change."

On Tennessee's first defensive possession Saturday, McMahan sprinted down court and got into position to take a charge.

"The way Cait plays it's all or nothing," Moshak said. "You can't exactly tell her, ‘Slow it down and go 50 percent.' That doesn't work."

Sophomore forward Vicki Baugh begins her second week of rehab mode in which Moshak pulled her from the basketball court and restricted her to the weight room and sideline treatments and exercises. But Baugh very much intends to be back at practice.

"She is still in there trying to negotiate," Moshak said with a smile. "She has a desire to play. I think she's still frustrated from this fact but just because the season starts doesn't mean the knee is ready. It isn't over until it's over.

"It's still going to take a full year for everything to be 100 percent, particularly the size of her muscles and things of that nature, but that doesn't mean she can't play before that. We've just got to get it to the point where she doesn't swell or if she does swell that it's manageable and it can go down and that she doesn't have pain.

"I was letting her practice and it was the pain that pulled her out and that's when we said, ‘OK, we'll take two weeks now.' She has been going through some very intense weight room workouts. She is surviving every one of them. They're solely focused on the development of that leg. She has risen to the challenge, and it's working. It's paying off."

Freshman guard Briana Bass also is coming back from ACL surgery – her left knee procedure was in March; Baugh's left knee ACL surgery was in May – so Bass had a two-month head start, a biological advantage in height at 5'2 and prior experience with the arduous process. She tore the ACL in her right knee as a sophomore in high school.

"First of all it's her second one so she has that known experience of having been through it," Moshak said. "She's built very low to the ground, which is a huge advantage for her lever system. Soccer players have a higher incidence of ACLs, but our soccer team generally is on a faster program just because their lever system is so much different.

"When you've got a longer lever, a longer muscle to develop, a longer leg to lift, it makes a difference. It's a different challenge for them; however, the challenge on the court is different. It's harder for a guard and their movements than it is for a post."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Virginia, 11-1. The one loss still haunts Pat Summitt as it came in the1990 regional final and denied the Lady Vols a spot in the Final Four when Knoxville was the host city. … Tennessee is 2-0 in games played on Nov. 17. The last win came against Kansas, 79-60, in 1996. The other was an exhibition win against Athletes in Action, 78-65, in 1994. … The two coaches on the sideline Monday have combined for 1,660 wins. Summitt, in her 35th year at Tennessee, has 984 and Debbie Ryan, in her 32nd year at Virginia, has 676. Both are inductees into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and all of their wins have come at one school. … A familiar face will be on the sideline for Virginia. Assistant Coach Angel Elderkin was the video coordinator for Tennessee in 2007.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories