Angie Bjorklund happy to be back

Angie Bjorklund waited nearly a month to play basketball while her back healed and on the eve of Sunday's game she estimated she woke up a dozen times during the night. The sophomore debuted to a huge cheer as she walked to the scorer's table. She won't get quite that reception tonight – the Lady Vols are on the road in the nation's capital – but what matters is that she is finally cleared.

"It was exciting," Angie Bjorklund said of officially checking in for the 2008-09 season. "I think I woke up 12 times the night before because I was so excited. I knew I was going to suit up. I was ready to go thanks to Jenny Moshak and all the doctors we have here."

No. 7/12 Tennessee, 5-1, takes on George Washington, 4-2, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network) in Washington, D.C. A pay webcast is available at: George Washington University Athletics.

Bjorklund had a bulging disc in her lower back that was diagnosed in early November with an MRI. Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, pulled Bjorklund from the basketball court and put her on a daily regimen of stretching, weights, rehab, ice, electrical stimulation treatment and medication.

After nearly three weeks of treatment Bjorklund returned to practice and her back held up for the sessions last week. She was cleared for the DePaul game and entered in the first half to a rousing cheer from the crowd of 13,190.

Bjorklund's shots were on line, just a little short, which would indicate her shooters' legs aren't completely under her right now in terms of conditioning – she missed considerable court time – plus she didn't sleep much the night before the game.

The back condition, which she had first experienced in high school, flared up this season and Moshak's theory was that the high volume of practice – this year's team was put through the paces in preseason, especially compared to last year's veteran squad – rekindled the injury.

"You have to keep an eye on it, make sure you're not doing too much and communicating with Jenny," Bjorklund said. "The resources we have here are awesome. They've helped me so much. Before a game or at halftime I have to stay loose, stretch. I always have to be doing core stuff. Treatment, ice, stim. That's what I've been doing a lot."

Bjorklund did drain one three-pointer – which brought another roar from the crowd – when point guard Briana Bass found her on the wing in the second half. The play came right after a media timeout that was preceded by a shot clock violation by DePaul. What stood out in the play was both Bjorklund's shot – the Lady Vols need her to hit from long range this season – and how quickly Bass got the ball down the floor and found Bjorklund.

"Unbelievable," Bjorklund said. "She is one of the fastest players I've ever played with. I think she's really starting to learn when is a good time to push tempo and when it is to set up. In this program as much as we can push it we push it and that's great. If I'm running down the court as fast as I can, she'll find you."

The team had some inkling of how fast Bass was in preseason conditioning workouts in September. The 5'2 guard from Indianapolis had ACL surgery last March so she wasn't allowed to sprint full speed, but her jogging pace was noticeable.

"She's really fast," Kelley Cain said. "When I'm sitting on the sideline watching her go I'm like, ‘Dang.' During preseason when she couldn't fully sprint yet her jogs were still fast."

Bjorklund wasn't the only one excited to play Sunday. Cain, a redshirt freshman center, was cleared after missing nearly two weeks because of a concussion suffered in practice in early November in which a male practice player's elbow caught her flush on the right side of her face on Nov. 10.

Cain had returned in time for the Virginia game Nov. 17 after missing a week of practice but had a reoccurrence of symptoms and missed the next four games.

"It's more frustrating than anything," Cain said. "It affected my concentration in class, but my teachers worked with me and it helped a lot."

Cain also received a loud welcome from the crowd when she checked into the game late in the first half.

"I was so ready to get back, and I'm glad to be back with the team and playing and practicing," Cain said.

Freshman wing Alicia Manning had missed one game after sustaining a concussion and she was also available Sunday. For the first time this season all 12 players on the roster were activated and everyone logged at least 10 minutes in the 88-67 win over DePaul.

"We were so excited," Cain said. "We were talking about that before the game and how it was our first game with everybody healthy. It was a lot of fun, especially the different rotations that Coach put in. It was fun playing with everybody."

Cait McMahan, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season with Cain as both recovered from knee surgery, welcomed a roster full of healthy bodies.

"It was awesome," McMahan said. "It's the first time in my career at Tennessee that we've had a full roster and nobody was hurt. It's a blessing."

"Finally," freshman forward Glory Johnson said of the complete team being in uniform. "It's great to have Kelz back. As you all saw being able to dish the ball to Kelley anytime with whoever is guarding her, it really doesn't matter, Kelley is going to score or she's going to get fouled. It's great to know we have a big down there that is unstoppable. It's good to have her back and finally the whole team being healthy again."

The key for the team now is to build on the momentum from the DePaul game – which left Pat Summitt pleased with how they played on both ends of the floor – especially as they go into a break for final exams. The next game is not until Dec. 11 against Middle Tennessee.

The returning players know that they don't want to take the practice court with Summitt after a loss or poor effort with a significant gap of time between games.

"Oh, no," said Cain, who couldn't practice last season but remembers the sessions after Christmas when the Lady Vols had gone into the break after losing to Stanford.

"Exactly," Bjorklund said. "That's extremely important if we want the practices in-between not to be too out of control. I think it would be good for us if we just have a solid 40-minute game. I think that's what she's really pushing and looking for because we're just a streaky team right now. We're not consistent. I think once we get that we'll be good."

The returning players will remind the freshmen to do their part to make sure Summitt is in a relatively good mood for the next nine days.

"We haven't yet but we'll definitely tell them everyday we need to play our hardest but especially now because we have this big gap in between games, and we need to make it as good as possible," Cain said.

With 12 players getting court time it also means the team has to get used to playing with different combinations. The key is to trust the system, and the offense and defense should flow accordingly.

"I think that's exactly what it is," Bjorklund said. "As long as you commit to the system it doesn't matter who it is. We should be consistent."

George Washington plays in the 5,000-seat Charles E. Smith Athletic Center on campus in the Foggy Bottom area of D.C. and although there are a contingent of Tennessee fans and alumni in the D.C./Northern Virginia/Maryland area this will be an away game for a young team. The only other road trip this season was a bus ride to Chattanooga.

"I'm expecting them to bring their ‘A' game as every team does when they play against Tennessee. It's just what they do," Cain said. "It's our first real away game – out-of-state away game – and we just have to bring our energy and intensity that we bring when we're here there."

A read of the box score would not reveal the progress made by freshmen forwards Alyssia Brewer and Amber Gray, who had their best defensive game of the season against DePaul.

"Their defense was much better," Summitt said. "They were solid. That was the best team defense we've played all year. It makes a difference if everybody is committed to it."

The performance against DePaul – it was the best team defense of the young season – left the players upbeat heading into the game with the Colonials.

"Coming into George Washington I feel like we're ready defensively and offensively," said Johnson, who was honored Monday as the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second time this season after scoring 19 points against both Western Carolina and DePaul.

"George Washington is a great team but I'm confident in the scouting we'll get, so hopefully we'll go in and do what we can," McMahan said.

The team practiced in Pratt Pavilion on Monday afternoon to take advantage of all the available baskets – they hoisted a lot of free throw shots – and went through the scouting report before departing Knoxville by charter flight.

The team will return to Knoxville after the game and should arrive some time in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. It's an important time for the freshmen as they also enter exam week for the first time in college and will balance that with practice sessions.

"Any way, shape or form that we can help we're always there," Cain said. "We tell them you do have to concentrate hard on finishing out strong – Coach Dean (Lockwood) emphasizes that every day – and we also have to bring it in practice, so we don't have a lapse from where we are to where we need to be."

PROBABLE STARTERS: With 12 players available to her Pat Summitt has various combinations she can select from to start a game.

"I do," Summitt said. "I like options."

The team went through its scouting report Monday, but the head coach hasn't yet picked her starters.

"I haven't decided yet," Summitt said. "I haven't talked to my staff."

Summitt indicated she was leaning to changing the lineup from the one used in the last three games in which Cait McMahan (6.7 points per game, 1.5 rebounds per game) and Shekinna Stricklen (11.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) started in the backcourt and Alex Fuller (5.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Glory Johnson (16.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg); and Vicki Baugh (8.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg) comprised the frontcourt.

If Summitt changes her starters the likely candidates to move into the lineup are Angie Bjorklund, a sophomore sharpshooter who made her season debut Sunday, or Kelley Cain, who has returned from a concussion and is a force on the low block.

George Washington Coach Mike Bozeman, who is in his first year at the helm for the Colonials after serving as an assistant, is expected to start: Stefani Munro, 5'7 junior guard, No. 22 (1.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg), started five games last season, had a career-high five boards against Stanford last season; Lisa Steele, 5'11 redshirt senior guard, No. 35 (2.0 ppg, 0.8 rpg), missed freshman season with stress fracture in foot, played in 29 games last season, beat Auburn with a last-second three-pointer, will graduate this December and then pursue a master's degree in epidemiology; Antelia Parrish, 6'0 senior forward, No. 13 (13.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), started 28 games last season, had career-high 24 points, 16 rebounds in win over Kentucky, played all 40 minutes in 2008 NCAA tourney win over Cal with 15 points, 10 boards; Ivy Abiona, 6'2 redshirt sophomore forward, No. 34 (4.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), missed last season because of a knee injury, led rookies the previous year in games played, rebounds, steals and blocks, got her first collegiate point with a free throw against Tennessee in 2006; and Jessica Adair, 6'4 senior center, No. 1 (12.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg), First Team All-Atlantic 10 selection, had a then-career high 23 points against Tennessee on Dec. 7, 2006.

Bozeman took over last June for Joe McKeown, who is now the head coach at Northwestern after spending 19 seasons at George Washington. Bozeman was an assistant for the Colonials for three years.

"I think any time there is a coaching change, there is usually a change in how they do things," Summitt said. "Sometimes for players, I think they respond really well. I've seen situations where it wasn't necessarily a quick turnaround. I think that the change overall for this team will challenge them to step up. I don't know exactly what the system will be for them, but any time you have a change, there is a newness that really requires the student-athletes to be focused and learn the offensive and defensive schemes that are presented to them. That's certainly not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes that can really be a good thing for a team.

"It's a great opportunity for Mike Bozeman, I think, having the opportunity to come in. That's a challenge within itself, but I think that will inspire him to get the team ready. There is a sense of urgency about what they have to do to prepare. To buy into a new system, for players, that can get their attention. It certainly can motivate them because it is new and different. There is a learning curve involved, but I would expect him to have them ready to go and ready to compete. He has to challenge himself as well as the team."

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

When George Washington has the ball: "They run a lot of set plays, a lot of one-four sets. They try to get the ball inside. (Jessica) Adair is a solid player inside, physical, strong, very active, plays hard. She knows what's going on. They have some young kids, but I think they're coming around. They shoot threes, and they shoot midrange shots. They'll try to run when they can, and they're going to try and slow us up."

Defensively, the Colonials will give the Lady Vols a new look, one of the reasons Pat Summitt likes to schedule across various conferences.

"They run a 2-3 matchup," Warlick said. "It's very active, almost looks like a man to man. They're probably going to try and slow us down. They're going to want to keep us in a half-court game."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We're going to try and speed it up by pressing and scoring easy baskets like we did (Sunday) night. That's our game and we're going to go inside. We'll be going against a 2-3 matchup and not many people have done that with us. It's not going to change what we do. We're still going to get the ball inside, look to kick out and go back inside. We want to try to get points in the paint."

With a dozen healthy players on the roster Tennessee is well suited this season to run and press.

"It's nice," Warlick said. "It allows us to play our tempo because we've got people we can sub in and bodies, so if you get tired and need to pull yourself you can. We should be able to press and run and do what we want to do because we've got 12 kids."

The pre-game plan is for the Lady Vols to stick to their man defense.

"We're going to stay man," Warlick said. "We're going to pressure. I don't foresee us playing too much zone. We may if we get in foul trouble. We're going to get after them. We're going to try to score quick."

Pressing on defense and running on offense – which often means beating pressure – means freshman point guard Briana Bass becomes a valuable player for the Lady Vols.

"That's one of the reasons why we signed her because of her quickness and ability to get by people," Warlick said. "I think each day she gets better and in the game she gets better. She's been a good solid player for us at the point.

"We needed her quickness. People try to press us and she just goes right through it. She really picks up on things very quickly and as a point guard that's what you want."

ON TAP: Only two other SEC schools are in action Tuesday in the following matchups: Kentucky at Xavier; and Radford at Vanderbilt.

On Wednesday, seven SEC teams are in action: UCF at Alabama; Arkansas at Memphis; North Carolina A&T at Auburn; Florida at UAB; Tennessee Tech at Georgia; Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State; and South Carolina at Wake Forest.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with George Washington, 8-0. The series began in 1992, and the Lady Vols have 3-0 records at home and away and a 2-0 record at neutral sites. … Tennessee is 6-3 in games played on December 2. The last win on this date came last season in 2007 over North Carolina, 83-79. The three losses were to Montclair State, 87-80, in 1977; Old Dominion, 66-54, in 1981; and Duke, 59-57, in 2004. … Tennessee has played 10 teams in the Atlantic 10 and posted a 23-1 record. The lone loss was to Xavier, 80-65, on March 24, 2001. … George Washington has a 17-game home winning streak at the Charles E. Smith Athletic Center. The team has won 32 of the last 33 games at home with Rutgers getting the win there last season. The Lady Vols have broken winning streaks on opposing courts 19 separate times: Old Dominion, 2-16-81, 76-70 (64-game streak snapped); Virginia, 3-25-96, 52-46 (61); Connecticut, 1-10-99, 92-81 (54); Rutgers, 12-30-88, 93-53 (53); Louisiana Tech, 11-30-98, 92-73 (52); Stanford, 11-29-97, 88-70 (49); Texas, 12-14-86, 85-78 (44); Old Dominion, 1-19-99, 77-61 (33); Texas Tech, 12-18-96, 79-71 (33); South Carolina, 3-7-80, 67-54 (31); Colorado, 12-17-94, 78-72 (30); Arizona State, 11-19-06, 83-74 (26); Portland, 11-30-97, 74-51 (25); Duke, 1-28-08, 67-64 (24); Stanford, 12-4-05, 74-67 (23); Florida, 2-1-95, 76-69 (20); Louisiana Tech, 1-9-95, 62-56 (19); Alabama, 2-9-95, 95-44 (18); and Old Dominion, 1-24-95, 77-54 (17) … When the Lady Vols played at the Smith Center on Nov. 27, 2001 for Kara Lawson's homecoming game – she was from nearly Alexandria, Va. – it was the first sellout crowd for women's hoops at the school. The center was packed with 5,252 on hand for the game. The three previous meetings with Tennessee have drawn 12,786 fans, an average of 4,262 per game. … George Washington hosted the Thanksgiving Classic and took the title with wins over South Alabama (64-59) and Hartford (67-65). Jessica Adair was the tournament MVP. Antelia Parrish was an All-Tourney selection and Jazmine Adair – the twin sister of Jessica Adair – clinched the come-from-behind title game win with a pair of free throws with six seconds left.

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