Bjorklund was 10-19 overall and 6-10 from behind the arc – she hit all of Tennessee's three-pointers – and the Lady Vols needed every point to claim the lead and hold on against the Lady Monarchs at the Ted Constant Center.
"I've given her the green light," Pat Summitt said on her post-game radio show with Mickey Dearstone, the Voice of the Lady Vols. "She's one of the best in the country."
Bjorklund didn't just settle on long-range shots; she also got to the rim on two occasions and got to the free throw line on one drive to basket. The sophomore sharpshooter read the defense and used her screens to get open, an indication of how her offensive game has evolved since last season.
"Great composure and reads off of her screens," Summitt said.
Tennessee, 8-2, had two other players reach double-figure scoring.
Freshman forward Glory Johnson had 11 points and became the only Lady Vol besides Chamique Holdsclaw to hit double figures in her first 10 games as a rookie. She had tied Candace Parker's mark of nine games against Texas, and Holdsclaw holds the record with 14 games to start a career in double figures.
Freshman forward Alyssia Brewer scored 15 points on 6-10 shooting and also pulled down five rebounds, all on the offensive end. Her first seven points came from cleaning up misses – two teammates and one of her own – plus an and-one.
"Lyssi Brewer had a terrific night," Summitt said.
Brewer was injured in the second half when Johnson was pushed into her by an ODU player while they were under the basket awaiting a rebound. Brewer was taken to the locker room, and she did not return to the game but she did return to the bench and her injury was determined to not be serious, although she was very sore.
Kelley Cain entered the game for Brewer, despite having to leave herself after an ODU player backed into her and collided with her already sore right knee. The mishap caused a hyperextension, and Cain was visibly limping, but she tallied three points, four boards and three blocks in 12 minutes of play.
Freshman forward Amber Gray took a shot to the head in the second half and did not return. Freshman guard/forward Stricklen, who had started all nine games to date, was held out because of illness.
Combine the three injuries and illnesses – Johnson had been sick this week and throwing up at practice, along with Gray – with Vicki Baugh's foul trouble, the unavailability of point guard Cait McMahan and the fact the Lady Monarchs were defending a 29-game home winning streak at a venue that typically has been tough for Tennessee and the coaching staff will take the win and return home.
"This was a really good test for our basketball team, and I'm glad we passed it," Summitt said.
A young Lady Vol team – freshman point guard Briana Bass played 37 minutes with McMahan out because of knee swelling and soreness – pulled out a road win after a road loss to Texas in a game that featured nine ties and 12 lead changes.
Tennessee jumped out to a 6-1 lead on the strength of its offensive board play – 26 offensive boards for the game for the Lady Vols vs. 14 for the Lady Monarchs – but ODU went on a 10-2 run late in the first half to take a 32-28 lead and get the crowd of 6,318 completely into the game.
But a Bjorklund three-pointer and a Johnson free throw knotted the game at 34. The Lady Vols took a 39-36 lead into halftime behind another Bjorklund three and a jumper by Johnson, who struggled from the field but grabbed nine rebounds.
The Lady Vols dominated on the glass, 56-38, led by Alex Fuller and Baugh with 12 each. Bjorklund was one under her career high with six rebounds.
"Very pleased with it," Summitt said.
The momentum swung back and forth in the second half, and Bjorklund took over to not only give Tennessee the lead with less than two minutes remaining, 73-71, but she also extended it with a short jumper.
Bass made four straight free throws to pad the lead to 79-73, and Bjorklund added a pair for the final margin, 81-76. Bass was 6-6 from the free throw line and 0-6 from the field. She had three rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. Despite the uneven offensive stat line, Bass' game management was much improved over the Texas game.
"I think she gained a lot of confidence," Summitt said.
Fuller, a redshirt senior, also struggled from the field at 1-6 – she started at the four with Stricklen out and Johnson moved to small forward – but she had six offensive and six defensive rebounds and five assists to just one turnover. She also hit 3-4 from the free throw line to finish with five points. In the second half Summitt returned Johnson to the inside, where she was more effective, and moved Fuller to the perimeter, where she actively sought to get the ball to the hot hand of Bjorklund.
The box score also had freshman fingerprints all over it, especially the 19 minutes played by Brewer in relief in the post, and Alicia Manning, who spelled Bass at point and Johnson at small forward in a display of versatility. Manning had one of the sweetest moves of the games with a double pivot and up and under for a layup.
Brewer, who has some family members that live in Virginia and attended the game, was selected as Dearstone's player of the game. She answered the bell in a raucous environment, especially for a first-year player who just two weeks ago noticed the pre-game remarks shouted by the band at George Washington.
"You're only in the beginning of the season and you're going to see up and down from us each game … but I think we are progressing, " Brewer said on the radio show.
Summitt preaches defense and board play, especially on the road, but the transition defense was porous and ODU got 11 fast break points compared to two for Tennessee. The Lady Vols tried their matchup zone – especially with the Lady Monarchs hitting from long range – but it wasn't effective because of ODU's ability to drive to the basket.
"When we went to the matchup we gave up too much penetration," Summitt said on the radio show. "Our best defense was our man tonight."
Old Dominion, 5-3, was led by Tiffany Green with 17 points and seven boards. Jasmine Parker had 14 points and was 4-5 from behind the arc in her first career start. Jessica Canady and Jen Nuzzo had 11 each with Nuzzo hitting both three-point attempts. Jazzmin Walters added nine points but was 3-14 from the field, although she accounted for ODU's seventh three-pointer.
Tennessee has now broken ODU's home court win streaks four times. The Lady Vols also stopped the Lady Monarch's 64-game streak in 1981, 33 games in 1999 and 17 games in 1995. The last team to beat ODU at the Ted Constant Center was Tennessee on Dec. 22, 2006, in a game that was much closer, especially in the first half, than the final 75-59 score. Thursday was the 13th straight win for Tennessee over ODU.
ODU shot 38.5 percent overall (25-65), 53.8 percent from behind the arc (7-13), and 79.2 percent from the line (19-24). Tennessee was 38.6 percent overall (27-70), 40.0 percent from behind the arc (6-15) and 70.0 percent from the line (21-30).
The Lady Vols will return to practice Friday to begin preparations for Stanford on Sunday (7 p.m., ESPN2). The health of the post players will be key for that game, but the Lady Vols could have some walking wounded or unavailable, depending on the diagnoses today.
Getting back on "The Gun" will likely be a part of the practice protocol. The Lady Vols used one session this month to do nothing but shoot. Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood noted the importance of repetitions and with a young team it must be emphasized in practice.
"Big time," Lockwood said. "I'm a huge fan of this. We've got a good system. We've got good plays and good schemes. You can have the greatest play sets in the world but if your Os can't make shots your Xs are going to look a lot better. You've got to be able to make the shots that we're drawing up. If you can't make the shots that this scheme presents to you I don't care what you've got. You can have the best offense in the world, and it means nothing.
"I forget who told me the story but Kiki Vandeweghe when he was playing with the Knicks was at the end of his career and I think Coach (Pat) Riley was there and they were really working on stuff and they were tweaking some plays and he said, ‘Coach, do you think it would be a good idea if we practice the shots that we're getting off of these plays?'
"That is such an important component of the game. There is nothing that can replace reps. You can run through your plays; you can watch tape. Nothing replaces getting game-type reps on the court."
Summitt and the coaches have also noted that the 20 hours a week allowed by the NCAA when school is in session isn't enough for individual skill work, especially with the amount of instruction that must be covered in practice with such a young team.
"I think there is so much we had to teach there wasn't enough time in 20 hours to get everything we needed to get in and get the reps we needed to get in in practice," Summitt said this week. "So we really challenged them to get in more shots on their own, take a teammate, a buddy to go with them."
Lockwood has let the post players know that he is available. For the past two years Lockwood and Parker spent a lot of time together in the arena and Pratt, and it was not unusual to be talking to Lockwood and have his phone ring with Parker on the other end setting up a time to work on post play. It also was rare to walk by Pratt or the arena and not see Parker shooting alone long after practice had ended.
"The only way you get habits is through repetition," Lockwood said. "The magic of Candace Parker was she (shot on her own). I said this the other day to our posts. If you are not shooting 50 percent, my cell is always on and if I'm not here we'll get somebody for you."
On Monday, Brewer stayed after practice to work with Lockwood. On Thursday, she was one point shy of her season high and shot 60 percent from the field. Lockwood would not see that as a coincidence.
"You ought to be in Pratt, you ought to be in this arena, you ought to be getting extra shots," Lockwood said. "You can't get the habits you need anywhere else. You can't go home and think about them. You can't sit and watch tape. You can't get them through a two-hour practice. You're going to need to get extra."