Tennessee, Gonzaga square off

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Lady Vols had a home-cooked meal, a snowball fight – Cait McMahan wisely donned ski goggles – and built a snowman, but the fourth day in Angie Bjorklund's hometown will bring what the city has been waiting for since the Lady Vols arrived – Tennessee vs. Gonzaga in a sold-out game at McCarthey Athletic Center.

Mounds of snow that would obscure the 6'6 Kelley Cain are piled in the parking lot outside the center, as Gonzaga officials have been working to clear traffic lanes and keep the sidewalks clear by pushing the snow hither and yon. Several cars that had been uncovered by the melt from Sunday's sunshine were buried beneath the fresh snowfall Monday.

The early morning hours brought the beginning of more snowfall – 10 inches were measured at the airport – on top of the four-feet-plus already on the ground in a show of snow that has even the locals expressing surprise.

"Snow will be snow," Angie Bjorklund said. "(But) this is crazy. I've never seen this much snow."

No. 8/12 Tennessee, 9-2, will take on Gonzaga, 11-3, at 8 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network; TV: FSN) on Tuesday night. The Lady Vols have been in town since Saturday and will depart early Wednesday morning for the East Coast to get ready for the Jan. 3 matchup with Rutgers.

The team had dinner Sunday evening at the Bjorklund's home in Spokane Valley and the players romped in the yard for a spirited snowball fight. The family shared hats, gloves and boots – some players needed the men's sizes – and Cait McMahan donned the goggles. They also built a small snowman and added a scarf and hat and apparently worked up quite an appetite.

"They always say boys eat a lot but these basketball team women, they eat a lot," said Jim Bjorklund, Angie's father. "They went out in the snow and had a snowball fight and built a snowman. Overall it was a real fun time."

"It meant a lot to have the team and the coaches come to our house for a meal because they give so much to Angie," said Kris Bjorklund, Angie's mother. "It was nice to be able to give something back to them."

The game has meant extended time at home for Angie Bjorklund – although she rejoined the team on Saturday and stayed in the team hotel – in terms of being able to see her family. The Lady Vols went over the scouting report and conducted defensive and shooting drills Monday in a two-hour practice, and the Bjorklund clan was in attendance.

"It's nice," Angie Bjorklund said. "I'm really fortunate that we could play here at this time."

The damper on the occasion was the untimely injury to Jami (Bjorklund) Schaefer, Angie's sister, who is a senior guard for the Gonzaga team. Schaefer tore the PCL in her right knee on Dec. 22 in the win over Wyoming and will be out for six weeks. She also cut her hand in the same mishap while hustling to save the ball – she slammed into a sideline table – and had already received stitches above her eye after taking an elbow earlier in the season.

"Jami's a trouper," Angie said. "She always keep her spirits high. It's definitely hard on her, and she keeps her head up all the time. She's definitely a strong person."

Schaefer, who got married last August, stopped by Sunday's practice to see her extended family in town for the game and said she was at peace with the injury and grateful that her younger sister could play in Spokane.

"Things happen in life that you can't control," Schaefer said. "I just gave it to God, and I know that God has a plan. It all works out. I am glad Angie's here to play in her hometown."

The game against Gonzaga sold out in two hours when tickets went on sale and it will be the first capacity crowd for the Bulldogs, also called the Lady Zags locally, at the 6,000-seat on-campus venue.

"We bought 105 extra tickets, and we have season tickets," Kris Bjorklund said. "We were hoping that it would sell out. That really is neat. The atmosphere is going to be so exciting. It's going to be fun."

The Bjorklund family will, once again, wear "TennZaga" T-shirts and cheer made baskets for both teams.

"My sister-in-law had TennZaga shirts made," Kris Bjorklund said. "Everybody is going to wear them, even the crowd around us, they're wearing them. We're going to cheer for both teams, of course."

Angie was flying home from Tennessee when her sister got hurt, and her parents sent a text message that Jami had cut her hand. Nobody knew then that her knee was seriously hurt.

"She was disappointed big-time," Kris Bjorklund said of Jami's reaction to the diagnosis. "She worked so hard. Jami is a hard worker, just like Angie is a hard worker. She was really looking forward to that – guarding Angie. So now she's got to teach her team from the sidelines how to guard Angie."

Jami laughed and said she would offer advice to her teammates.

"I'll tell them all of her moves," Jami said.

Angie has unveiled more of those moves this season than she did last year. Against Stanford she scored 16 points but attempted and made just one three-pointer. The other 13 points came from the line and getting to the rim, midrange shots and a short jumper in the paint. She also used an effective step-back move to get open.

"She's always had the step-back," Jami said. "I don't think she pulled it out last year, but that was her pet move in high school."

Angie has always had a repertoire of offensive moves, but she was the primary threat last season behind the arc – she hit seven three-pointers in three separate games – and she was content to fire away from long range.

"Last year … I'd be open with the three and I settled for that and I'm going to take that," Angie said. "This year they're really scouting me for that, and I have to look to score other ways."

Bjorklund missed the start of the season because of a bulging disc in her lower back but has been hitting on all cylinders since her return. She is shooting 48.3 percent from the field overall (29-60) and 51.9 percent from behind the arc (14-27). She also has 10 assists, five steals and three blocks in six games after missing the first five while being treated for the back injury, a process that left her sidelined for nearly three weeks, as she strengthened her core muscles and underwent rehab and stretching.

"She's been playing her best basketball this season," Pat Summitt said. "She had some issues with her back and missed some valuable practice time and I think that made her even more focused and really more serious about getting in the gym. She's a gym rat. She takes a lot of shots and wants to make a certain amount of shots.

"I think she's playing with a lot more confidence. How she'll respond (Tuesday) night, I don't know. I will talk to her before the game but not to put added pressure on her, just to tell her to relax and play her game. From what I've seen from her this year she's matured a lot. I think she'll be ready to handle it."

Homecoming games can sometimes overwhelm players who are excited to play before family and friends but also put too much pressure on themselves to perform well.

"Coach does a good job of keeping us focused and I've always been a focused player and coming in it's just another game," Angie Bjorklund said. "It's going to be a really fun environment. I'm competitive and determined to win but I try not to get too nervous and stuff."

The Spokane community is excited to host the game, and it will mean a lot to the Bjorklund family to have Angie play in Tennessee orange in the city that nurtured her interest in hoops.

"It means a lot to the family because not a lot them can go watch her play live, so even though Jami is hurt, which we're really sorry about, it's still going to be exciting and for the community to be able to watch Angie play live," Kris Bjorklund said. "Everybody is excited.

"It is just so exciting, so exciting. We love it. She gets to share Spokane with her team. They'll probably walk away going, ‘I don't want snow anymore.' "

"They got to experience my plane ride," Angie said. "It's a long way."

Jim Bjorklund is, of course, a proud father, but he's still a basketball fan and he wants to see a good game.

"I'm very proud of her as a person and her abilities as basketball player and that she gets to play before her home crowd," Jim Bjorklund said. "I guess I won't really know how I feel until the opening tip when this place gets the first sell-out crowd ever. It will be very exciting. It would have been nice to have Jami playing, too, but things happen like that.

"I love watching basketball, not just my daughters, men's, women's, NBA, all basketball. I just like good basketball. I just hope it's a good basketball game, not an ugly game. Of course, I'd like to see my daughter shoot real well and do real well, but above all I'd like to see a good game."

The family has done its part to ensure Angie is available at tipoff and Angie laughed when she was reminded of curfew times on the road, something her mother had already mentioned, too. Summitt will suspend players for part of a game for missing curfew, and Candace Parker missed the first half of her homecoming game at DePaul last season after missing curfew on New Year's Eve in Chicago.

"Not only did we tell Angie, we told her friends," Jim Bjorklund said.

"We said, ‘You've got to get back,' " Kris Bjorklund said.

Angie was home for the holidays with her family and waited for the team to join her in Spokane on Saturday. That gave her time to visit friends and catch up with her sister.

"It's been great," Jami said. "We've hung out every chance, every moment that we've had. I've been away from my husband so much he's probably like, ‘Where is my wife?' She spent the night a couple of nights. It's been so awesome just seeing her."

That time allowed Angie to reconnect with family and then refocus on basketball when her teammates arrived. At practice Monday the local newspaper and television stations were on hand to interview her on the eve of the game.

"I've never seen this place packed – I've never been to a men's game – and I think being able to play in this kind of environment is going to definitely get me hyped but at the same time it's just another game," Angie Bjorklund said. "I've got to focus on what we need to do and get it done.

"I'm going to know a lot of people in the stands. It's going to be exciting. Being able to come home is awesome and being able to play in the gym I've grown up playing in during the summers and having a homecoming game is an experience I won't forget. I'm excited to pack this gym."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to stick with the starters she has used of late: Briana Bass, 5'2 freshman guard, No. 1 (5.4 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 5 (14.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman forward/guard, No. 40 (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.6 apg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (14.3 pg, 8.0 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 sophomore forward, No. 21 (7.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg. 2.1 blocks per game).

Johnson has shown no ill effects from a thigh contusion suffered near the end of the Stanford game – she leaped to the basket after practice Monday and grabbed the rim with both hands – and is good to go.

"She got a lot of rehab in over the holidays," Summitt said.

Point guard Cait McMahan will be available also – she practiced three consecutive days in Spokane – so the Lady Vols should be at full strength Tuesday evening. McMahan, who rested for two weeks, is wearing a sturdy brace on her right knee.

"I think Cait could probably give us up to 10 minutes," Summitt said. "I don't want to overextend her minutes. A lot depends on how the game unfolds and whether we want to go with size or how Briana's playing. She's been giving us some quality minutes."

Gonzaga Coach Kelly Graves is expected to start: Courtney Vandersloot, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 21 (15.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 7.0 apg), 2008 WCC Newcomer of the Year, had a career-high 32 points against Marquette; Janelle Bekkering, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 11 (6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), replaces Jami Schaefer in the starting lineup, scored a career high 20 points against Washington last season, sister and two brothers all played basketball for the University of Calgary; Kelly Bowen, 6'0 freshmen forward, No. 44 (4.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), tallied 15 points in the upset of Virginia; Kayla Standish, 6'2 freshman forward, No. 33 (5.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg), had 26 points against Eastern Oregon; and Heather Bowman, 6'2 junior forward, No. 30 (19.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg), 2008 WCC Player of the Year, named to Naismith Trophy Early Watch list and was named to the preseason Wooden Award All-American Team, both firsts for a Bulldog player.

A key player for Gonzaga is Vivian Frierson, a 6'0 junior guard who has started 11 games this season. She had a career high 21 points against Tennessee last season in Knoxville. She leads the team in steals with 31 and is averaging 8.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg.

The Bulldogs have dealt with injuries this season – the aforementioned Schaefer and also junior scorer and sharpshooter Tiffanie Shives, who had microfracture surgery on her right knee in mid-December and will miss the rest of the season.

Gonzaga, like Tennessee, is also young with two sophomores and two freshmen in the starting lineup.

Still, the defending regular season West Coast Conference champions, have an impressive win on their record with a 69-62 defeat of Virginia on Nov. 30.

"They didn't something we couldn't do," Summitt said, referring to the Lady Vols loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 17. "Watching them on tape they play with a lot of energy. They really share the basketball. From an offensive standpoint, they do a great job in their high-low and their one-four action. You're going to have to guard the three ball and the dribble drive. They play really well together. They're not Stanford, but they remind me of Stanford in how they share the ball. And they defend. They get after you defensively."

Graves was looking forward to the matchup and welcomed the presence of Tennessee in Spokane.

"It's great for us to be able to showcase women's basketball at its highest level," Graves said.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Gonzaga game. Here is her assessment.

When Gonzaga has the ball: "To their credit they move the ball very, very well," Charles-Furlow said. "They are a very, very disciplined team. They work hard and they pass the ball very well. They run a lot of flex and high ball screen. They do a lot of pick the picker (also called screen the screener) and their high-low game is really good.

"(Heather) Bowman does an excellent job of working in the low post. She can extend her game. She can work inside or face up, shoot the three ball. She's a multitalented player. Vandersloot, who's the second-leading scorer, can stop and pop, she can get to the rack, shoot the three ball. I'm looking for a lot of screening, constant ball movement, ball reversal."

"I think this will be good for our team (to play another West Coast program). This team is a little different. They don't quite have the size that Stanford has, but they're quick and they really understand and believe in their system because they run it very well. Everybody knows what to do. They're moving all the time. It's not like people standing, watching and waiting. They just go to the next phase of their offense."

Charles-Furlow expects Gonzaga to deploy its different defensive looks.

"I think they'll mix it up," she said. "This team can definitely play man to man, but I've seen them do 2-3, 3-2 (zones). They've run a 1-3-1. They've run a 1-2-2 in a press. They've done a lot of things and I think that's why they've been so successful because they have been able to mix it up and do different things to throw off their opponent."

Tennessee can present a size advantage with the 6'6 Kelley Cain and 6'3 Alex Fuller off the bench, but Gonzaga does start four players 6 feet and taller. However, if Tennessee uses its big lineup the Bulldogs could drop into a zone to try to pack the paint.

"Our kids are all big except for Bree," Charles-Furlow said. "They'll probably play us some man but I anticipate more zone. One of our strengths is our dribble penetration, going to the basket, as well as getting the ball on the inside. I think we can definitely throw all of our bigs at them, but I think they'll definitely mix it up on us to throw us out of our rhythm because they don't want us to get into a rhythm. Once we get into a rhythm we can be quite exciting to watch."

When Tennessee has the ball: "Inside, outside, inside," Charles-Furlow said. "Running in transition. We want to score easy offense when we can. If we don't have to set up an offense that's good for us, our primary offense we want to just get out and score. In our secondary the keys for us are being patient and poised and being able to reverse the ball, shifting the defense, which is going to be very key for us."

The Lady Vols' identity is their man defense, but they have used some practice time in Spokane to work on their matchup zone, too.

"That's our staple is our man," Charles-Furlow said. "But I think as time goes on, as we work on our zone defense that's something that needs to be in our back pocket. You need to have a second weapon just in case the first weapon is not working as well. You want to mix it up a little bit.

"If they're hurting us on penetration we may go to a zone, but we have to be careful because they can shoot the three ball. Sometimes when you run a zone they (the Lady Vols) think it's a time to relax. It's not a time to relax. You work even harder working in zone than you work in man. I think we probably will do a little zone. It just depends on what is happening, if they're hurting us, where they're hurting us and not letting them get on a roll."

It will be a road game in which a packed house will be pulling for Gonzaga, but the crowd will be friendly with Angie Bjorklund on the floor for Tennessee. Charles-Furlow noted the injury to Schaefer was a sad blow for the sisters, but the Gonzaga team will want to rally around her.

"It was really heart-breaking," Charles-Furlow said. "One of the reasons for coming back here was to bring Angie back and for them to play against each other. It's sad and I'm sure they're going to be fired up and really want to win this game for her, as well as for Tiffanie Shives.

The McCarthey Athletic Center is a top-notch venue without a bad seat in the house, and the fans should be at full throat.

"I think our kids have really got to bear down and work hard together, listen, watch the bench, really get in their huddles and communicate what needs to be done because it's going to be loud," Charles-Furlow said.

SOUTHERN AMBIANCE: Subtract the snow and Pat Summitt could feel like she was back home – clothes shopping and friendly people.

"I've been to Spokane obviously to recruit Angie, but I've never seen this much snow in my life," Summitt said. "It's been beautiful. Staying at The Davenport has been great. It's just a great place and everyone is so friendly. From that standpoint it's kind of like being in the South because people take time to talk to you. It's been great; the hospitality's been super.

"We went shopping, spent a little money. I helped out the Nordstrom's yesterday. The economy always benefits when we travel."

ON TAP: Nine other SEC teams are in action Tuesday in the following matchups: Ball State at Alabama; Auburn vs. Miami; Miami (Ohio) at Florida; Xavier at Georgia; IUPUI at Kentucky; Rice at Ole Miss; Mississippi State vs. Maryland; Jacksonville at South Carolina; and Notre Dame at Vanderbilt.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Gonzaga, 2-0. The teams played in the Virgin Islands in 2005 and in Knoxville in 2007, a game in which Angie Bjorklund and her sister, Jami, were able to square off. … Tennessee is 7-2 in games played on December 30. The last win on this date came against Notre Dame, 78-54, in 2006. The first win on this date was against Penn State, 74-72, in 1978. The two losses on this date were to Maryland, 77-72, in 1992, and Connecticut, 81-76, in 2000. … Gonzaga came close to a sellout in 2005 when 5,825 were in attendance for the Portland game. The tickets for the Tennessee game went on sale in late October and were snapped up in two hours. … By the numbers: Tennessee is averaging 77.5 points per game and allowing 63.3. Gonzaga scores 74.1 ppg and allows 59.9. The Lady Vols are shooting 40.7 percent overall, 31.9 percent behind the arc and 68.1 percent from the line. The Bulldogs numbers are almost identical from the field – 40.7 percent overall and 31.5 from long range with a 71.8 percent clip from the stripe. Tennessee averages 47.8 rebounds per game with a +7.5 margin. Gonzaga averages 43.2 boards with a +4.3 margin. The Lady Vols average 13.6 assists per game to 16.1 turnovers. The Bulldogs average 15.6 assists with 15.8 turnovers. Tennessee gets 9.9 steals a game and 5.5 swats. Gonzaga averages 11.4 thefts and 3.1 blocks.


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