Tennessee to take on Virginia

Sunday is a measuring-stick game for Tennessee as the Lady Vols take on a ranked opponent on the road – and one that beat them last season in Knoxville. "Definitely," said Angie Bjorklund, who didn't play in the Virginia game a year ago because of back issues. She's back for this one and anxious to see how the team responds in what should be a truer test of their improvement from last season.

Nearly 8,200 tickets had been sold by Saturday for today's 4 p.m. Eastern clash (Lady Vol Radio Network) between No. 6/5 Tennessee, 2-0, and No. 12/17 Virginia, 3-0, at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. All reserved seating was sold out with only general admission tickets left for fans.

Both teams will have different personnel on the floor for this game – for one, junior guard Angie Bjorklund will play for the Lady Vols – but Virginia still has senior guard Monica Wright, who torched Tennessee for a career-high 35 points in Knoxville in the 83-82 win.

"Obviously Wright is the go-to," Coach Pat Summitt said. "We didn't have an answer for her last year. Hopefully our defense is a little better. We're counting on it being a lot better.

"She was tremendous. She got a lot of paint points. She pushes tempo. We didn't slow her down at all in transition. She's one of the best guards in the country. What we have to do is we have to defend all five players, but she'll be a priority."

Tennessee will have different personnel on the floor this year to open the game. Bjorklund will be in the starting lineup, as will Kelley Cain at center. Cain came off the bench and played 20 minutes against Virginia a year ago – she had 10 points and seven boards – but it was her first game of the season after sustaining a concussion in practice. Cain had missed practice sessions for a week and was just cleared on game day. She had complications from that head injury the next day at practice and missed the next three games.

The Lady Vols had two freshmen in the starting lineup a year ago – Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson – and both are expected to be there again Sunday. In last season's game, Johnson got a technical foul late in the second half, and Stricklen committed a foul on the sideline with seconds left in the game and with Virginia some 80 feet from its basket and the score tied. Virginia's Britnee Millner hit one of two free throws for the final margin.

Both players are more seasoned and more mature, so much so that Summitt made Stricklen the starter at point instead of a rotation system, and the coach has consistently lauded Johnson's efforts to play effectively and under control.

Tennessee is expected to have one freshman in the starting lineup in Taber Spani, a 6'1 guard/forward from Lee's Summit, Mo., who plays inside on defense and outside on offense, so that Johnson can guard on the perimeter.

Spani was in high school for the last matchup of these two teams, but she's aware of what happened in Knoxville.

"I think for us it's kind of an underlying mindset that everybody knows that this team has beaten us," Spani said. "It's not the revenge factor, but it's us playing to our potential and we know that if we do that then we can compete. We're just trying to get better every day and everything else will hopefully take care of itself."

Summitt is aware that a freshman could be nervous in her first road start in front of a hostile crowd, but she wasn't concerned.

"Wait and see," Summitt said of Spani's reaction to the crowd. "She might be a little bit (nervous), but she'll get over it. She's very mature."

Bjorklund was a starter as a freshman, so she remembers the inevitable jitters from the first road game.

"It is definitely going to be different," Bjorklund said. "If anything, though, I think it should get us hyped up. At the neutral site we had to create our own energy. When we score it's going to be dead quiet, so we have to create our own energy. So I think that's going to be new for the freshmen."

Tennessee has one win at home against Baylor and another at a neutral site against Texas Tech, both Big 12 teams. (On a side note, Tennessee also plays Texas and Oklahoma this season, making the Lady Vols an honorary member of the Big 12 South Division.)

Virginia will be the team's first road test of the season.

"It's like Coach said, the Texas Tech game was a neutral site," Bjorklund said. "We always have great fans wherever we go but at the same time we're on Virginia's home court. It's going to be a hostile crowd, and they are going to be coming after us hard.

"Right now I don't think they respect us in the sense that they're going to come out ready to win. They've already beaten us. We haven't earned any respect at all, so that's what we're looking to do is go there and earn that."

That starts with the defense of Wright, who is averaging 21.7 points per game through three contests this season.

"Monica Wright is a year older, a year better," Bjorklund said. "As a team they're a great team but a girl comes in and scores 35 points on us we've got to have a lot better focus than that and discipline. I think we are a whole year better.

"It's having the discipline to know that she's a no-touch player. I think we really understand that this year. When she's a no-touch player Coach means she does not get the ball. Coach means we're locking and trailing on a screen, whatever it is. I don't want to give the whole scouting report. You just have to have the discipline to make stops if you're guarding her."

The Lady Vols barely edged Virginia last year, 39-38, on the boards. Virginia is averaging an eye-popping 52.3 rebounds a game so far this season, so Tennessee will have to get on the glass.

"It's built into our mentality now," Spani said. "Through practice now it's natural for us to always think, ‘You've got to crash the boards. We have to have four to the boards. You have to box out.' Now that you can stop thinking about it you can just go do it. So I think it has been better.

"Obviously we still need to improve on some stuff with our man and zone and offensive boards, but it's getting better."

After an 11-loss season last year and an exit in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Tennessee program – its player, coaches and fans – are curious to see how the team responds this season. A ranked Cavaliers team on their home floor is a great early gauge.

Tennessee won't be at full strength – freshman forward Faith Dupree is out with back issues – but Bjorklund, the team's most experienced player, is in the lineup, and she said her back has been manageable.

"I constantly stay on my stretches, my back exercises, so I think taking care of it is key and making sure it doesn't come back," said Bjorklund, who missed five games last season with a bulging disc.

The Lady Vols also take a team into Charlottesville that has been through considerable battles. They played last year with one senior, Alex Fuller, and a collection of freshmen and sophomores.

"I think just having a year of experience under Pat's system you've run most of the offenses, you ran the defenses, you know the hand signals," Bjorklund said. "Just the little things like that it's amazing how playing a year under her system really helps and enables us to switch things up in the heat of the moment or the game. She just has to call it, and we'll know exactly.

"We're not looking at each other like last year, looking at Alex like, ‘Wait, where do I go?' Definitely a year under your belt helps."

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, who prepared the scouting report for the game, agreed that it would be a good test for the Lady Vols.

"It's a great team on the road and it's going to be a huge crowd, so it is a measuring stick for us," Warlick said. "We've played at home. We've played at a neutral site. We haven't played on the road."

PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard, No. 40 (20.5 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, 5.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (13.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman guard/forward, No. 13 (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (13.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg).

Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan is expected to start: Ariana Moorer, 5'7 sophomore guard, No. 15 (5.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg), hails from Woodbridge, Va., started 16 games last season and played in 34; Whitny Edwards, 5'11 sophomore guard, No. 2 (8.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg), hails from Charlotte, N.C., scored 13 points against Tennessee last year, twin sister Britny Edwards is also a Cavalier; Monica Wright, 5'11 senior guard, No. 22 (21.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), hails from Woodbridge, Va., Preseason ACC Player of the Year, needs 265 points to break Dawn Staley's all-time career mark of 2,135 points, she is currently in fourth place with 1,871 points, five behind Lyndra Littles (1,876), with Wendy Palmer (1,918, and a current Cavalier assistant coach) and Heather Burge (2,058) holding the third- and second-place slots; Chelsea Shine, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 50 (15.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg), hails from Wayne, Pa., was named team rookie of the year after last season; and Simone Egwu, 6'3 freshman center, No. 4 (11.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg), hails from Odenton, Md., won a Class 4A state championship at Arundel High School.

China Crosby (6.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 spg) had been starting at point guard for the Cavaliers, but the 5'6 freshman injured her tailbone in Wednesday's game. On Saturday, Virginia said that Crosby was expected to play, but Moorer might start to open the game.

Shine had a career-high 27 points on Wednesday against South Carolina Upstate and was 10-13 from the field.

"I think Chelsea really had an epiphany at the end of last year," Ryan said. "She decided that she wanted to be a leader on this team, and I was really pleased with our last meeting before the summer about leadership. She really wants to be the person to step up and help Monica.

"Even though she is not a captain, she is a player who helps a lot verbally on the court because she can see everything. She spent a lot of time studying the game and working on her game all summer long. She's been getting stronger and starting to make an impact on our team."

Ryan was looking forward to Sunday's matchup with Tennessee. The two head coaches have been longtime friends, and former Lady Vol player and assistant coach Nikki Caldwell, now the head coach at UCLA, served on Ryan's staff.

"I'm very excited," Ryan said. "How could you not be excited about a great regional rivalry and a great matchup? I've watched (Tennessee's) last two games, and they look bigger, stronger and faster. They look better than when we played them last year, but we'll be ready."

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

When Virginia has the ball: "Get the ball to Monica Wright," Warlick said. "They are a transition team. They score three-fourths of their points in the paint, and they rely a lot on transition points, and transition starts with rebounds, which they're very good at, and steals, which they're very good at. They are going to overplay us.

When the Cavaliers on defense they are anxious to get the ball back.

"They're pressuring the ball," Warlick said. "They get after it. They're physical. So they create a lot of their points off of their defense and rebounding. I think they want to score in transition, and they want to score in the paint. So we have got to limit our turnovers, and we have got to stop the ball.

"We have got to try and make them play a half-court game. If we don't make them play a half-court game and play outside of the paint, it's going to be a tough night for us I think."

Defensively, "They are going to pick us up full court," Warlick said. "They're going to press us in a zone press and they're going to man press us. That's part of them picking up the tempo and creating turnovers. That is the kind of game they want to play. They are going to try and make us play quick, they're going to be physical and hope that we turn the ball over."

When Tennessee has the ball: "We're going to go inside-out, Warlick said. "We want to score off their turnovers, too, so we're going to press. It always been said you press a pressing team so we're both going to be pressing each other. We need transition points, too. At times our offense can be stale, so we need to pick up our intensity on the defensive end and try to get some easy, quick buckets."

Previously it was safe to say that Tennessee would be in a man defense, but not this season. Defensively, "This group, we're very good at mixing it up. We're going to run man, and we're going to run zone," Warlick said. "We're going to mix it up and we're going to press a bunch. We're going to change up our presses. We got two, three, four presses in (in practice last week). We're going to try and keep them a little bit off guard. They're young, and we're young."

Pat Summitt said the key to the success of the zone is that the team is confident in its execution.

"I think they bought into it, but I think they know we will mix things up and there doesn't seem to be the confusion that we had a year ago," Summitt said. "With that said I am confident that they will commit to defending no matter what we're in. Obviously our freshmen are not up to where our upperclassmen are, but they're getting better."

Tennessee will have to stop, or at least limit, Virginia's forays into the paint to score.

Dribble penetration is "one of the hardest things (to defend) in the game, men or women's," Summitt said. "Angie (Bjorklund) is a good defender, there. Glory (Johnson). I just think we have all got to make a commitment."

Warlick said the same thing that Summitt did – Monica Wright will be the focal point of the defense.

"She's just an incredible athlete," Warlick said. "Can score inside, can score outside, plays hard on both ends. She, to me, is an All-American. (She can score) all over the place. That's what makes her so good. And she plays hard, and she plays on the defensive end. I think she's one of the best players in the country, one of the best guards.

"Her game is just solid. She rebounds. She's their team leader. She leads by example. She plays hard. She's our priority. She kicked our butts last year."

ON TAP: Seven other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: ETSU at Arkansas; Texas A&M at Auburn; Rutgers at Georgia; Chattanooga at Kentucky; Nicholls State at LSU; Maryland at Mississippi State; and Penn State at South Carolina.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Virginia, 11-2. The Lady Vols are 5-1 in Knoxville, 1-0 in Charlottesville and 5-1 at neutral sites. Virginia handed Tennessee one of the worst losses in postseason history by beating the Lady Vols in a 1990 regional final and denying Tennessee a spot in the Final Four when Knoxville was the host city. The last time Tennessee was in Charlottesville was on March 23, 1996, in a regional final and the Lady Vols overcame a 17-point deficit to win and get to the Final Four in Charlotte, where Tennessee went on to win its fourth national title. Last year's win at Rutgers broke the record for greatest comeback in Lady Vols history when Tennessee was down 20 at the break. … Tennessee is 4-3 in games played on November 22. The last time the Lady Vols were in action on this date was an 82-58 loss to the USA National Team in a 1995 exhibition game. The other two losses were to Stephen F. Austin, 80-74, in 1981; and an exhibition loss to Athletes in Action, 70-68, in 1992. The four wins were against West Virginia, 93-70, in 1982; South Carolina State, 85-69, in 1983; Louisiana Tech, 90-70, in 1991; and an exhibition matchup with the Australian Institute of Sport, 106-57, in 1994. … Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen has been added to the preseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy, as announced by the Atlanta Tipoff Club this past week. A midseason list will be released in February. … The win over Baylor was the 600th for Pat Summitt over out-of-conference teams. Her career mark in OOC games is now 601-129 with the win over Texas Tech, which was the 1,100th in program history for Tennessee. It was the 1,200th game that Summitt coached for the Lady Vols. Her overall career record is 1,007-193. … Fans in attendance at Sunday's game will get a coupon for a free Gwaltney hotdog and a 12-ounce Pepsi. The original Hot Dog Night was Feb. 5, 1986, vs. No. 15 North Carolina in University Hall, which drew a standing room-only crowd of 11,174. That mark still stands as the largest home crowd at a Virginia women's basketball game. … Angel Elderkin, an assistant coach at Virginia, spent two seasons at Tennessee, including the Lady Vols' national title run in 2007.


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