The series between the Lady Vols and the Blue Devils is even at 5-5 with Tennessee holding a 3-2 edge on neutral courts, a 2-1 lead at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., and an 0-2 record in Knoxville.
"It's about time we beat Duke here," Coach Pat Summitt said.
Last year's loss in Durham should be on the minds of the Blue Devils. Tennessee prevailed 67-64 and halted Duke's 24-game winning streak at home. The difference in the game turned out to be a three-pointer from Angie Bjorklund late in the second half that was lofted sideways from somewhere on Tobacco Road because she mistakenly thought the shot clock was winding down thanks to the frisky student section.
The Duke band and the "Cameron Crazies" were counting down the shot clock, except it really had about seven seconds left when they got to one.
"They said five, four, three, and I'm looking at the shot clock and I'm looking at Angie and she's starting to dribble faster, and I'm like, ‘Oh, God,' " Candace Parker said after the game. "But it went in. We had to tell her in the locker room that the shot clock was more than it was, and she was like, ‘Oh.' She still didn't know."
Bjorklund laughed about the shot this week – as did Alicia Manning, now a Tennessee freshman, who watched the game on television a year ago.
"That just talks about the environment we had and I hope we get just as many students coming and just as many fans, because if we pack this gym, especially for the breast cancer (cause), and the pink in this gym is going to be amazing," Bjorklund said. "It's going to be a fun environment, and I'm looking forward to it."
"I remember laughing about it," Manning said. "She did hit it."
Manning will be in the starting lineup tonight in an indication of what a difference a year makes.
"I watched basketball on TV, and it's weird watching Abby Waner or other good players I've watched on TV and now to actually play against them it's a little bit weird, but it's going to be fun," Manning said. "Watching other athletes and then playing against them is really cool."
The freshman-laden team has actually done a good job of protecting its home turf. Tennessee has a 10-game winning streak at Thompson-Boling Arena and has not been defeated at home since Nov. 17 in a last-second loss to Virginia.
Bjorklund wrote a first-person piece for the Lady Vols' website in which she encouraged fans to attend Monday.
"I know we have a young team this year, but playing at home builds our confidence," Bjorklund wrote at Tennessee Lady Vols. "We're 11-1 at home this season and have won 10 straight on our floor."
Summitt isn't mincing words when she talks about the game. Her mind is on postseason seeding, and she reminded her team of that Sunday before practice during the film session.
"I think it's very important," Summitt said. "I think our basketball team needs to understand we need a big win against a team that is ranked as high as Duke is. They are a quality opponent that could definitely have a positive impact on our seeding, not within the league, but we're thinking big picture, NCAA seeding."
The players participated in the scouting report and this time they did it on their own by scheduling their own team film session and then offering their input during Sunday's session with the coaches.
"They did great," said Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, who handled the standard scouting report. "They knew everybody. They knew all their personnel. They knew everything. They watched some tape. They wanted to. It was their idea. I think they're understanding the importance. We told them, ‘We need this win.' "
That is also an indication of the team's still-developing maturity. Such a declaration could put pressure on a young team, but the staff felt like they could handle the challenge.
"I told them in the locker room it's a must win for national seeding," Summitt said.
The team had not yet been told that Duke has won the last two games in Thompson-Boling Arena – the only teams to win three in a row in Knoxville were Texas (1983, 1985 1987) and Louisiana Tech (1982, 1984, 1986) – but Summitt said that message would be delivered, too.
"I haven't mentioned that to the team yet, but I will bring it up," Summitt said. "But I just want us to win this game. We need it. We need a win against a highly ranked opponent. This is our chance."
It's a theme the players had seized upon even before practice Friday.
"Yes, especially for our confidence and just as a team," Bjorklund said. "We've been working all season, especially for the past few weeks, to play a 40-minute game so hopefully we'll pull that out. This game would be huge for us to win for seedings for the tournament. She's always pushing to have a 40-minute game and to compete on every possession so that's going to be key for us going into that game."
"It's going to be a really big game," Manning said. "It's going to test what Coach has been stressing – a 40-minute game. And if won't play a 40-minute game there's not a good chance we're going to win this game and it is a very big game for us, especially since Duke is such a high-class program and a win for us would be really nice."
The youngsters are definitely on message, though Bjorklund, still a sophomore, has had to take on the role of wily veteran on this team. That is likely a relief for Alex Fuller, the lone senior overseeing a squad of freshmen and sophomores.
"They're here now so you have to realize that you're here to do a job and everybody knows when you go to a job you try to do it to the best of your ability and that's what Pat wants," Fuller said.
Summitt has tried different motivational tactics with the team such as having them wash their practice gear for a week – Bjorklund and Manning ended up volunteering for the task.
"Her and Alicia seemed to like it," Fuller said with a smile.
The team also was ordered to do a scouting report for the Georgia game, and it turned out they all enjoyed that process.
After the loss to Florida, Summitt went on a mini-tirade about text messages and iPods and this generation's unwillingness to interact except electronically.
"I think she's just trying to get a point across that we have bigger fish to fry than worrying about iPods and cell phones," Fuller said. "I think she is just trying to get a point across that we need to work on our game more and worry about how we're going to win instead of the social aspects of being here."
Summitt also set up a "buddy system" in which returning players were assigned to the freshmen to help hold them accountable on the court.
"It's good when your buddy is receptive to you," Fuller said. "It kind of helps to keep everybody accountable. I guess even now for freshmen they still don't realize that listening is a little bit more golden than making … talking, I'm going to say talking."
The elder stateswoman for the Lady Vols delivered that sentence with a smile. Fuller is trying to be patient with the young crew, too, but she also wants the team to be successful.
"I definitely didn't expect to have this many losses but as far as the mistakes and the things that some of the younger players do I knew I was going to have to expect it," Fuller said. "As long as they're learning something then the losses (are OK). That's been the worst part of it."
Still, Fuller said, "I still enjoy it," and she is glad she returned for a fifth year.
Fuller is playing on a left knee that is doing "as best as it can," she said, a rare admission from the redshirt senior that she endures any pain with the twice-operated-on knee.
"We all have personal issues within ourselves, but playing on a team you have to deal with your personal issues away from the court and away from the team," Fuller said. "Those two are separate because it can mess with your game."
With just five regular season games remaining Fuller's message to her teammate is blunt: Grow up. The criticism from the coaches is intended only to help the team be better.
"I think sometimes they do still take it to heart and that's something you're just going to have to get over and grow up from," Fuller said. "That's on them to basically grow up."
Fuller is also more of an old soul type. She was quiet as a freshman – didn't challenge the coaches, argue her case or answer rhetorical questions. She just did as she was told.
"I can't (relate)," said Fuller, who was "not at all" like that as a freshman. "I don't know if it's because of where I came from or how I grew up as far as basketball. I don't know what the difference is."
But Fuller also has been patient with her young teammates and mixed her own criticism with praise. She also serves as a buffer between Summitt and the freshmen.
"I know Pat's not getting on them just because, just to make them mad," Fuller said. "She's getting on them to help them. That's my role as a captain and a leader on the team. I kind of have to be soft and then again kind of have to be just straight to the point. I guess I'm a mix."
Fuller prefers for the talking to occur on the court. She has welcomed the improved condition of Kelley Cain's right knee that has allowed the 6'6 center to start and play significant minutes.
"I've always said Kelley is a factor for a team because she's such a big post and not many people can handle her," Fuller said. "She gets a load off of some of the rest of us."
It allows Fuller, who had been starting at the center position, to move to power forward, where her slender 6'3 frame is better suited because of her face-up game and passing ability from the high post. Cain also commands so much attention on the low block that the jump shooters have a tad more breathing room on the perimeter.
"I think more so it opens up Angie and Shekinna on the outside, not necessarily me because at the five or the four Pat gives me the freedom to move around," Fuller said.
With Cain at the five spot – she is the team's only true center – that meant either Fuller or Glory Johnson would start at the four position. Fuller's overall efficiency – she is shooting 50.5 percent in SEC play vs. 41.3 percent for Johnson with their rebounding numbers nearly even at 7.7 per game for Fuller and 7.8 for Johnson – gave her the nod, but Johnson will still play significant minutes.
"Alex, she right now is playing one of the higher levels of efficiency that she has ever played here," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "It's hard to move her out because of that, (plus she is) very vocal and understands the concepts and systems.
"One of the things that Glory does give us – and again, we're splitting hairs, starting or not starting Glory is going to play; Glory is going to play major minutes for us – here's the things that we hope we get: We get physically a bigger post presence early and then we get an injection of major energy coming off the bench."
Johnson's energy and enthusiasm are the equivalent of a human hand grenade off the bench. That same explosiveness sometimes needs to be harnessed on offense.
"If she has an opportunity to see the game unfold a little bit while she's not in it then maybe that will help her be more composed as she goes in the game and thereby makes her more efficient," Lockwood said. "What we're hoping for is that she gives us that infusion of great energy and athleticism, which she brings, and that she is more composed by watching the game unfold a little bit.
"She is going to play major minutes. I can't envision us playing the rest of this season without Glory Johnson playing major minutes."
The coaches put the team through two tough practices this week on Monday and Tuesday. The coaches discussed what the team's threshold might be after Monday's session.
"Like that they might break?" Lockwood said when asked about it. "We talked about it. That was a pretty hard practice. It was a tough film session and yet at the end of that we explained to them there's a reason why today was like it was. There's a reason why it may seem rather harsh to you, and we've got this little edge to us. We talked about how we expect so much of them and we believe in them so much."
The coaches challenged the team again Friday – and liked the response – and then took off Saturday. Sunday was a light session to go over the scouting report and do some extra shooting.
The attitude now is the regular season is drawing to a close and the coaches need to identify who will compete and roll with any criticism. There is no time now to worry about coddling anyone or soothing hurt feelings.
"There's a point it is what it is," Lockwood said. "And with Duke coming into town these guys have to realize this has NCAA bid implications as far as seeding, so this is a big game for us. To tap dance around it, it wouldn't be real, it wouldn't be honest and I think our players would know that. So they're getting a big dose of honesty, but we have followed that up with some reinforcement. We haven't just hammer, hammer, hammer.
"I wouldn't say patience is over, but I would say this the fact that we're so young, we're 24 games into it now so that doesn't wash like it washed 10 games ago. The expectations are high for them in terms of understanding certain things."
Fuller obviously gets it. So do the sophomores, Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, and Cain, a redshirt freshman, watched the process from the sideline a year ago. So do the freshmen understand the method to the madness?
"I couldn't tell you if they do or not," Lockwood said. "Like all messages you throw them out and you don't know how they're being perceived until you see action and that's how we know more. Looks and responses are one thing, but actions are a whole other deal for me.
"You can tell me and profess one thing but as I watch you walk out here and I watch your life unfold for the next five days I know exactly what you have taken in and what you have absorbed and what you believe and don't believe so that's what we're going to look at."
One thing the team has demonstrated is resilience. They have not lost back-to-back games as happened in the 2005-06 season and they always emerge from the locker room in jovial moods. Most were on the floor Sunday at least 30 minutes before practice officially started and spent time cutting up with each other while warming up.
"We've always been a really tight team," Manning said. "I think it's going to be important for us to grow even more going into the postseason and I think we're going to do pretty good. I think we're going to surprise some people."
Tennessee will do so with a depleted roster – point guard Cait McMahan had to stop playing this season because of a balky right knee and budding superstar Vicki Baugh tore an ACL on Feb. 2. In addition to those season-ending cases Tennessee had had players in out of games and practice with an assortment of injuries from concussions to contusions to the latest, a subluxation of the right kneecap for Shekinna Stricklen.
"You know what we feel like at times? Like a CBA team," Lockwood said, referring to the professional minor league that feeds the NBA teams. "Somebody got called up on a 10-day contract, and she's out for 10 days. Kelley was up in the NBA for two and a half weeks and all of sudden she got cut and she's back down in the CBA. Then a guy came in from Greece."
Lockwood joked that Stricklen didn't get a 10-day contract – a common way for NBA teams to sign CBA players before returning them to their outposts – but instead got a shorter one, and Baugh was so good the NBA kept her.
"She's actually on a three-day," Lockwood deadpanned. "We're hoping to have her. Vicki Baugh is gone. She's up in the NBA. She signed a full year. She's gone."
Lockwood and the coaches have to be able to smile. The alternative is curling up in a fetal position, as the full roster of 12 was available for just four games this season.
"We haven't had a lot of continuity," Lockwood said. "We have to be flexible. We have to be adaptable. Like (Friday), Pat says, ‘OK, Dean, get the starters out from last night.' A-Town (Manning) comes up to me, and trying not to let Pat hear her, she goes, ‘Is that the first-half starters or the second-half starters?' I said, ‘Kinna is not here right now; Why don't you go.'
"Honestly, it has been confusing for players and staff sometimes. You look around and who's available. It's been very transient. We've had to be flexible. Players have had to be adaptable."
Stricklen was held out of practice Friday to get treatment on her kneecap with Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine. With Stricklen cleared to play, Summitt decided to start a bigger lineup and bring the 5'2 Briana Bass off the bench.
"Jenny is the very best at what she does," Summitt said. "Obviously it lets us start a big lineup, and I think she makes a big difference for us in a lot of ways, her size defensively. Bree's been fine, but I have a feeling they'll post her up right away if she starts the game. I want to get a flow and see what happens."
The players also were looking forward to the game – both to step out of conference against a top opponent and to support the WBCA's Pink Zone initiative. More than 1,500 schools and organizations are participating this season to raise breast cancer awareness across campuses and throughout communities.
"It has been nothing short of miraculous to watch teams and organizations across the nation rally behind the fight against breast cancer through the WBCA Pink Zone initiative," said WBCA CEO Beth Bass. "As our coaches constantly reiterate the concept of ‘teamwork' to our student-athletes, it is personified and brought to life through this initiative."
ESPN joined the cause by pairing its "February Frenzy" promotion with the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund by showcasing eight regional games on Sunday and then the Tennessee-Duke game tonight.
"We're all looking forward to that and to support the cause," Bjorklund said. "The game is going to be huge, and hopefully we'll get a lot of fans. They're a great team. They're a year older, and they have some great players. Last year was a tough game and this year is going to be just as tough."
Yow, the head coach at North Carolina State, died last month after fighting breast cancer for three decades. She established the foundation before her death, and her efforts single-handedly galvanized women's basketball to get behind the cause.
"Kay Yow was such an influential coach and fighting breast cancer for so long, and she's such a role model for everybody so for us to represent her, even if just wearing the jersey, I feel honored to do it," Manning said.
PRET-A-PORTER Asking the coaching staff what it will be wearing for a basketball game is not usually standard but in this case it's a matter of curiosity.
Pat Summitt said she intends to wear some pink, as will Holly Warlick.
"I don't look good in all pink," Warlick said. "I don't know if I look good in any pink."
Dean Lockwood intends to wear a pink shirt, blue tie with flecks of pink and gray and a navy suit.
"I am definitely doing the pink shirt," Lockwood said.
So what about Daedra Charles-Furlow?
"Is anyone else wearing all pink?" she asked.
When told no, Charles-Furlow's eyes lit up, and she announced her intention to be pink-clad all over.
The Lady Vol basketball players will wear white uniforms with pink trim – and Alex Fuller intends to continue wearing No. 2 in honor of Cait McMahan – and the Duke players will be in blue and pink uniforms.
Some 13,000 white and pink T-shirts will be distributed to fans at the game.
"I think it's going to be a great night," Summitt said. "It's going to be a great night for college basketball and when you think about raising money for cancer research that's a phenomenal thing for us to be a part of and certainly we have a lot of friends affected by cancer.
"Whatever we can do to help raise money we will do it, and I think this place is going to be full of pink and white, so looking forward to that and our players will have on their (special) uniforms as well."
STARTING LINEUPS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard, No. 40 (13.2 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 2.9 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 5 (12.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg. 2.2 apg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 15 (3.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward, No. 2 (7.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt freshman center, No. 52 (6.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie is expected to start: Jasmine Thomas, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 5 (9.3 ppg, 3.1 apg), hails from Fairfax, Va., tied a career high with six assists against Clemson, matched a career high with 22 points against Virginia, hit three 3-pointers against Tennessee last year, played lacrosse in high school, wants to be a pediatrician; Abby Waner, 5'10 senior guard, No. 4 (9.7 ppg, 3.8 apg), hails from Highlands Ranch, Colo., hit her 203rd career three-pointer against Clemson on Friday to become the school record holder, scored 24 points in the last matchup in Knoxville with 21 coming in the first half, is ranked No. 13 in the country in steals with 3.1 per game, father Tim Waner played in the N.Y. Yankees organization, would eliminate the hand-checking rule in college, loves to dance but calls it a "spectacle" to watch her do so; Joy Cheek, 6'1 junior forward, No. 21 (8.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), hails from Charlotte, N.C., father Boris Cheek officiated the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii and played basketball at Morgan State, chose No. 21 because it was his number, best talent off the court is cooking; Carrem Gay, 6'2 senior forward, No. 30 (5.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg), hails from New York, N.Y., leads the team with 11 charges taken this season, would change basketball rules to allow more than five fouls; and Chante Black, 6'5 redshirt senior center/forward, No. 11 (15.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg), hails from Winston-Salem, N.C., has reached double-digit scoring in every ACC game this season, the only league player to do so, majoring in biological anthropology and anatomy, plays the cello.
Blue Devil sophomore Karima Christmas, a 5'11 guard/forward, suffered a concussion in the second half of the North Carolina contest on Feb. 9 and did not play against Clemson. She was expected to return to practice on Sunday and will be a game-time decision for the Tennessee game. Over the last nine games, Christmas has averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds and has hit 55.7 percent from the field.
Sophomore Krystal Thomas, a 6'4 center, came off the bench against Clemson on Friday to tally 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Duke game. Here is her assessment.
When Duke has the ball: "They like to go to (Chante) Black inside and rightfully so. She's just a huge presence for them and very talented. I think Black is their number one priority. They want to go inside to her and they're going to do it through high low, running some sets to her, cross screening for her. They'll do a lot of inside-out. She is very agile and very accurate. She stays, for the most part, on the low block."
Warlick said the Tennessee defenders can't lose Abby Waner on the floor. She hit some long threes against the Lady Vols in Knoxville two years ago and was a big reason the Blue Devils leaped out to a 19-0 lead.
"She loves this gym," Warlick said. "She can go off at any moment. You can never count her out on anything. She's a great defender. She's a competitor. We've got to make sure we know where she is at all times."
Duke is similar to Tennessee in that both teams crash the glass, especially on offense.
"Outstanding," Warlick said, adding that boxing out will be "huge, huge, huge. All five of us. Very athletic, strong, just physical, quick offensive rebounders. That's what makes them good. They may not beat us on their first shot but they want to get a second and third shot on you and they're all crashing the boards, everyone of them."
Tennessee also must be ready to defend dribble penetration.
"They run stuff and when everything else doesn't work they just put their heads down and go to the basket, and they're very good at it," Warlick said.
Defensively, Warlick expects to see Coach Joanne P. McCallie call for more man looks than in the past.
"She's playing more man to man this year and playing really well, really aggressive on the ball, a lot of pressure on the ball, denying in the passing lanes, trying to disrupt," Warlick said. "They're physical inside, they jump out, they run and trap. They do a lot of things that are aggressive. They'll pick up full court. They press full court. They deny full court. They want to get you at an up-tempo game to get you to turn it over so they can get easy layups.
"I think she's going to run some matchup, too, but my feel is she's going to open up man to man and just get after us and rightfully so."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to take advantage of their size inside, especially with Kelley Cain now in the starting lineup.
"We're going to go high-low," Warlick said. "We want to go inside. Kelley, the way she's been playing and a presence like she can be, it's helped all of us, it really has. We want to push tempo, but our main concern is taking care of the basketball and not giving up offensive rebounds. We've got to take care of the basketball. We've got to give ourselves opportunities to get shots. When we turn it over that's a wasted possession for us."
On defense the Lady Vols would like to establish their man tenets, but the zone could be on call, too.
"We're going to go man to man with the zone in our back pocket," Warlick said.
Summitt watched enough film on Duke to decide she wanted to start with her big lineup, but the speedy 5'2 Briana Bass will need to be ready, as she can be key to breaking pressure.
"They're athletic," Summitt said. "They can break you down on offense and they can make it very difficult with their defensive pressure. We haven't been the absolute best at taking care of the basketball and ball security is going to be key."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee and Duke are tied 5-5 in the series. The Lady Vols are 0-2 in Knoxville and will be seeking the first win at home. The average score of a Tennessee-Duke game is 66.6 points for the Lady Vols and 65.0 points for the Blue Devils, a scant 1.6-point differential. When Tennessee defeats Duke, the average score is 73.6 to 63.4, +10.2 for the Lady Vols. When Duke defeats Tennessee, the average score has been 66.6 to 59.6, +7.0 for the Blue Devils. … Tennessee is 16-0 in games played on February 16. The last win on this date was against Georgia, 58-55, in 2006. It was the Lady Vols' first game after Alexis Hornbuckle broke her wrist and few folks gave them any chance to win against the Lady Bulldogs' speedy guards. Tennessee played zone nearly the entire game – until the last Georgia possession – and forced a turnover to secure the win in Athens. … Tennessee is 2-6 in games versus ranked teams, while Duke is 4-2 against ranked teams this season. … Former Lady Vol Assistant Coach Al Brown is an assistant on Duke's staff. ... BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 71.9 points per game while allowing 63.0 points. Duke averages 72.2 points while allowing 56.0 points. The Lady Vols are shooting 41.1 percent overall, 33.2 percent from behind the arc and 66.8 percent from the free throw line. The Blue Devils are shooting 41.0 percent overall, 30.8 percent from long range and 69.2 percent from the line. Tennessee averages 44.3 rebounds per game with a +8.4 margin. Duke averages 45.1 rebounds with a +8.3 margin. The Lady Vols average 13.5 assists and 17.1 turnovers per game while forcing 17.9 turnovers. The Blue Devils average 13.5 assists and 19.9 turnovers while forcing 24.2 turnovers. Tennessee averages 8.5 steals and 4.5 blocks a game. Duke averages 13.8 steals and 5.9 blocks.