No. 6/5 Tennessee, 4-0, faces UCLA, 4-1, at 3 p.m. Eastern (TV: SportSouth; Radio: WOKI-FM 98.7) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Bruins flew Thursday to Nashville from Los Angeles and made the 2.5-hour drive to East Tennessee in time for a Thanksgiving dinner that was prepared by Caldwell's grandmother, mother and aunt. The anticipation of that meal was part of the timing of the trip.
"I was thinking about it because of Thanksgiving," Caldwell said. "You get to come home, and I knew we were going to get a great meal. It wasn't about the game. My mom was like, ‘What do you want to eat?'
"I sent her the list, and she wanted to add more stuff. They all cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the entire team, and it was good."
The Bruins practiced Friday morning at the arena and went over game preparations for Tennessee. Lady Vols Associate Coach Holly Warlick, who walked onto the court after practice ended, made a beeline for Caldwell and Tasha Butts, a former Tennessee player and now assistant at UCLA, and greeted them with hugs. Warlick coached both players during their tenure at Tennessee.
"They play hard, and they make things happen when they play hard," Warlick said. "It's almost like their offense is a little bit of a mirror – and their defense – it's like I told our kids, ‘You're playing each other. You're playing Tennessee.' "
Caldwell, a native of nearby Oak Ridge, won a national title at Tennessee as a player in 1991, and won two as an assistant coach under Summitt in 2007 and 2008. She is very familiar with Tennessee's personnel and helped to recruit most of the players on the roster.
"As a player and as a coach the more familiar you are with a team the better you can prepare your team for their game plan," Caldwell said. "So knowing these players and my staff studying tape on them it gives our kids a more in-depth look, if you will, when we do our scouting report. So it's a plus to have known these kids and recruited these kids and to have watched them in high school and now college.
"It's going to be a great environment to be able to see them and then for us on the other end to see if we will take what the coaching staff has stressed as far as to what our game plan is and see if we can execute it."
Caldwell's coaching acumen is certainly not in question. Summitt frequently praised her assistant during her tenure at Tennessee and gave Caldwell credit for a brilliant defensive plan in the postseason title run of 2007.
After taking the UCLA job after the 2008 national championship season, Caldwell approached Summitt and Kathy Harston, the director of basketball operations about renewing the series.
"We were no longer playing Maryland so obviously we wanted to pick up a quality opponent," Caldwell said. "It gives us an opportunity to play in one of the more hostile environments because last year we were not good on the road in Pac-10 play so we tried to put ourselves in tougher situations this year with our non-conference schedule, playing at Tennessee, at Kansas, at UC-Santa Barbara.
"We wanted to beef up our non-conference schedule on the road and what better way to do that when you get the opportunity to play Tennessee. Some of the bigger crowds that UCLA has had in the past have been when Tennessee was there. It also will give us that opportunity."
When Tennessee played at Pauley Pavilion in December of 2007 – Caldwell was on the Lady Vol bench and was hired months later by the Bruins – a crowd of 4,003 was present, nearly 1,000 more people than the previous three home games combined.
The series will skip a year so that Tennessee can time it with the cross-country trip to play Stanford, an annual alternating home-and-away opponent. The Lady Vols play at Stanford this season, so the home game with UCLA won't occur until the 2011-12 season when they would again travel to the West Coast.
"We'll go to UCLA when we go back to Stanford," Summitt said. "Plus, I like to be out there when it's warm (compared to Knoxville in December)."
The UCLA players, most of who are from California, took advantage of being on the East Coast with a trip on Friday afternoon to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
"That will be a good opportunity to see where everything is housed," Caldwell said. "If we didn't come out here I don't how many of my players would get an opportunity to come see the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame."
UCLA is in a fertile recruiting area, but the Bruins have had limited success of late in the Pac-10 and postseason. Caldwell also saw a series with Tennessee as excellent exposure as she tries to take the program to the next level and keep it there.
"Most of Tennessee's games are on TV, so we had a great opportunity of getting this game picked up, so that would give us some exposure as well," Caldwell said.
She also is aware of the storyline – former player comes back to try to knock off the coach. Summitt is acutely aware of it – she raised the issue unprompted during her post-game press conference at Middle Tennessee.
"Whenever you can come back and play your former coach and your alma mater I think it has such an intense ring to it – the student and the teacher," Caldwell said. "I think when you have that ‘never been done,' just like last year with them being putting out (in the first round), I think she's always has that sense of reality that things can happen. On any given day a team can come in and steal a win on the road against her."
Four assistants under Summitt who went on to head coaching helms have beaten the mentor. Carolyn Peck did at Purdue on Nov. 15, 1998 – she was the first – as did Mickie DeMoss at Kentucky on Jan. 26, 2006; Sylvia Hatchell at North Carolina on March 28, 2006, and Dec. 3, 2006; and then Matthew Mitchell at Kentucky on Feb. 19, 2009.
It was that listless loss to Kentucky last season that caused the team to lose its locker room – the players got it back after the win over Virginia – and Caldwell said she would keep her team out of Tennessee's palatial digs.
"I think if our kids saw the locker room they would want some of things that they had," Caldwell said.
Pauley Pavilion is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation so the UCLA program, one with a storied history – the Bruins won the 1978 national title with Ann Meyers, Denise Curry and Anita Ortega as players and Billie Moore as the head coach – will have the facilities to showcase its overall stellar athletics programs.
When Butts walked into the arena on Friday she took a look around and then spoke to her players.
"For me it's exciting just to be back in Tennessee and walking in here and seeing all this orange," Butts said. "I turned around and looked at our team and asked them, ‘Are you guys ready?' They haven't played in front of a crowd that is going to be like this. They haven't played in front of somewhere that is going to play ‘Rocky Top' 80 times.
"For me it's exciting to come back and be able to get them prepared. I've been studying film on Tennessee for a long time and trying to get them as prepared as we can. I am kind of excited to sit opposite of Pat, Holly, Dean and Daedra. It's like Nikki said. The students are coming back and coaching against their teachers, and we're excited about it."
Butts needed about 40 tickets for the game and provided them for former teammates Dominique Redding, Shyra Ely and Shanna Crossley. Former players Alexis Hornbuckle and Loree Moore had initially planned to come but were not able to work it out.
"Dom came to the hotel and said, ‘OK, I'll have on something blue for you but it won't be visible,' " Butts said. "All of us are Tennessee at heart and if I wasn't coaching then I would clearly be all Tennessee. They're my friends, and they support me. I'm glad to see them."
Butts, who is from Milledgeville, Ga., also will have family members and friends from her hometown in town for the game. Butts said she remains a Lady Vol for life, but she also has to pay attention to who signs her paychecks.
"I love Tennessee," Butts said. "Tennessee will always be home. It will always be my alma mater. I love it to death. But I also know who is paying my bills, and I also know where I'm coaching.
"At the end of the day, UCLA is a great opportunity for myself and Nikki and to have an opportunity to come here and play an opponent like Tennessee with the recognition and us trying to recruit nationally and having these kids be able to see us play on TV and come to our game, it's only going to help us. At the end of the day I know where I am. I'm in blue and gold."
That is also the dress code required by Caldwell, who needed about 75 tickets to meet demand. Her mother, Jean, sister, Simone, and niece, Khayla, often attend Lady Vol games wearing orange. They have been longtime fans of the program and remained such after Caldwell left for the West Coast.
"I told them, ‘Don't come to the game if you're not in blue and gold,' " Caldwell said. "I told them, ‘You cannot wear orange and white and especially when I am getting you tickets.' "
Caldwell even thought ahead and packed an extra bag of UCLA clothing in case anyone needed loaner attire for the day.
"Some of them have had stuff because they've been out to UCLA, but I packed a big duffle bag full of things," Caldwell said. "I told them, ‘You can always wear blue and gold. You can find some blue and gold. It may not have UCLA on it, but find some blue and gold.' If my mom comes in with a UT Lady Vol logo I am sending her home.
"I'm looking on Facebook and one of my best friends is coming in from Nashville. She puts on there, ‘I'm headed to Knoxville to watch the Lady Vols.' Well, guess who's getting her tickets? Who's not now?"
Caldwell's remarks were in good humor, and Summitt laughed about them, too, especially the diehard Lady Vol fans in the Caldwell family being told to discard orange for a day.
"That's funny," Summitt said. "That's OK. I'll go over there and give them a hard time. She's got a great family."
Team photos of the national championship teams adorn the back hallways to the locker rooms – Caldwell is with the 1991 group – but Butts said the Bruin players had already used Google to find photos of Caldwell as a Lady Vol. They put up a photo in their locker room at home of Caldwell and teammate Daedra Charles – now Daedra Charles-Furlow and an assistant at Tennessee – with Summitt after the national title game.
"They know exactly how she looked and the bad haircut," Butts said.
Butts wasn't surprised that Summitt was talking about Caldwell minutes after the game ended in Murfreesboro on Wednesday and noting that the former player wanted to beat the coach.
"The type of person Pat is she gives respect where respect is due, and she knows the type of coach that Nikki is from Nikki working with her for six years," Butts said. "She knows that Nikki will have our team as prepared as she possibly can coming here. Anytime that you coach you never want to say never. Anytime that you play you never want to say never.
"There is always a first time for everything, and we are trying to get our girls prepared to the point of them believing that they can come in here and that they can win and that they are working as hard as they can to get that victory. I just think that anything is possible."
Summitt has plenty of experience with exchanging hugs and pleasantries before games and then focusing on the matchup – there have been 72 people with ties to Summitt who went on to coaching jobs, 46 of them former players.
"We're going to try to beat them like we try to beat everybody else," Summitt said. "It's not like we're trying to do them any favors. She knows that, and she's trying to beat us."
Warlick and Caldwell are very close friends and have joined forces to raise money for breast cancer awareness with motorcycle tours in various parts of the United States. The hugs and smiles were genuine on Friday. They will be gone at tipoff Saturday.
"When you cross the lines and get on the court your friendship is out the door," Warlick said.
Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard, No. 40 (18.3 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 5.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (16.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.8 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman forward/guard, No. 13 (8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (15.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.3 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.8 blocks per game).
UCLA Coach Nikki Caldwell was familiar with Tennessee's struggles last season and has watched the Lady Vols on film this season. She sees a team that has gotten better.
"I think so," Caldwell said. "Look at how Stricklen is playing. She is now very comfortable in the role she's having to play for them, which is being a defender on the perimeter, pushing tempo, getting other people great looks. She's being that all-around go-to player. And then Glory has settled into what they need from her, too.
"You know what you're going to get from Angie and Spani, their ability to stretch your defenses. You've got to find them early in transition. But I think they've settled into what their system is this year far more than they did last year."
Caldwell is expected to start: Doreena Campbell, 5'8 junior guard, No. 21 (10.4 ppg, 4.4 apg), hails from Alexandria, Va., preseason All Pac-10 selection, started 30 games last season, would play golf if not a basketball player, would choose to go one on one against Pistol Pete Maravich; Darxia Morris, 5'8 junior guard, No. 3 (10.4 ppg, 3.0 apg), hails from Pasadena, Calif., started 11 games last season, had 18 points vs. Cal and Stanford, starts each day with a prayer and said one thing Caldwell says all the time is, "Ladies …. "; Erica Tukiainen, 6'0 senior guard, No. 13 (14.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Los Angeles and was born in Helsinki, Finland, team captain, shooting 72 percent (18-25) from behind the arc, hit six 3-pointers against Hawai'i on Nov. 19, pre-med major is on the All Pac-10 academic team, chose No. 13 jersey because it's lucky; Nina Earl, 6'1 junior forward, No. 1 (4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), hails from Pomona, Calif., played in all 31 games last season and made four starts, considered to be an excellent defender, cousin is former UCLA football player Kenny Easley, said Caldwell says all the time, "This is non-negotiable!' and if she could be Caldwell for a day she would go shopping and have lunch with Summitt; and Markel Walker, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 23 (12.2 ppg, 9.6 rpg), hails from Philadelphia, Pa., Parade, WBCA and McDonald's All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Pennsylvania in 2008, sister Marcedes played basketball at Pitt, listed the craziest thing she had done in life as moving from Philly to California, said if she could be Caldwell for a day she would use the position to meet actor Denzel Washington.
Four of those Bruin starters got playing time the last time UCLA and Tennessee squared off – an 82-70 win for the Lady Vols in Los Angeles after Tennessee led by just one point, 32-31, at halftime. For Tennessee, only one starter, Bjorklund, played in that game. Fellow juniors Sydney Smallbone and Vicki Baugh saw action in the game, but Baugh remains out of action while she rehabs from ACL surgery.
"We're not overly big as far as size, but we have a lot of grit about us, and we talk about hustle plays and taking charges and not having lazy plays," Caldwell said. "Our team is very versatile. Everybody plays multiple positions so hopefully we can be effective in our mismatches and be able to pull their bigs away from the basket. This team, they are scrappy.
"We go as our guards go. Our guard play is the strength of our team, and we've been good defensively at times and we've been bad defensively at times. I hope (Saturday) we're good a lot of the time."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-UCLA game. Here is her assessment.
When UCLA has the ball: The Bruins will run selectively if they can get early offense.
"I think they rely on scoring off their steals, rebounds," Warlick said. "They try to create things to get them easy baskets, whether it's trapping the ball, ball pressure, denying in the passing lanes, scoring off of their defense. What's unique about them is everybody handles the ball up the floor. They're athletic. They play hard all the time."
Tennessee will be looking at somewhat of a doppelganger of its playing style.
"She's tweaked things like we have and rightfully so, but I think she's taken the same principles of trying to confuse on defense and getting out in the passing lanes and scoring," Warlick said. "To me you're just going to see a Tennessee team."
Defensively,, there are also similarities.
"Nikki is going to mix up her defenses a lot to slow the game down, to try to control the tempo a little bit against them," Warlick said. "They run a 2-3 matchup, she's going to press, she'll sag off of people who are penetrators, she'll get up on people who are shooters. It's going to be scouting report defense."
When Tennessee has the ball: With the size advantage inside Tennessee will want to get Kelley Cain involved early.
"We've got to play inside-out like we always do," Warlick said. "And she's going to know that. She's going to double down on the posts. She's going to make Angie Bjorklund put the ball down. We're still going to play inside-out. Angie is going to have to work to get her shot."
Defensively, "We'll mix it," Warlick said. "We'll play man and zone."
Will Tennessee bring full court pressure?
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "We'd better. We want our game to be a little more up-tempo. She wants to control the tempo a little bit. We want up-tempo and I don't think Nikki wants it up-tempo."
Pat Summitt said the team should recognize UCLA's offensive sets.
"She's running everything we're running," said Summitt, who added the Lady Vols must be ready to defend penetration and the high-low action and pick up players early in transition.
When Tennessee crashes the boards, especially on offense, the players should expect company.
"One and done. They battle on the boards," Summitt said. "She will demand that they play hard. She's taken a lot of what she's learned here and running a lot of the same offensive sets, running the same defensive schemes. She was here when we had a lot of success with our system. And she'll throw in some wrinkles."
ON TAP: Four other SEC teams are in action Saturday in the following matchups: Auburn at Florida State; McNeese State at Kentucky; Mississippi State at Southern Cal; and South Carolina vs. San Diego State.
COURT WORK: "The Summitt" court at Thompson-Boling Arena got a lot of work Friday.
First, the UCLA women's team held a morning practice, and then the College of Charleston men's team had its shoot-around in advance of the evening game against the Vols. The Lady Vols followed the College of Charleston, and the Vols took the court when the women finished their session.
The College of Charleston, which is coached by Bobby Cremins, finished its shoot-around shortly before noon and sat on the sidelines as the Lady Vols began to file out of the locker room to warm up and stretch before their session, which was set to begin about 12:15 p.m.
They stayed put until Coach Pat Summitt walked onto the court, and then Cremins asked her to come over and said his team had been waiting to meet her. Summitt smiled, and greeted the players, who stood up to speak with her and shake her hand before departing the arena.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the UCLA series, 17-1. The Bruins sole win came in Knoxville, 65-62, on Jan. 3, 1981, when the Lady Vols were ranked No. 7 and UCLA was No. 8. Billie Moore was the Bruins' coach at that time. … Tennessee is 10-0 in games played on November 28. The last time the Lady Vols played on this date was in 2006, a 71-50 win over Louisiana Tech. The first game played on this date was in 1977, an 88-70 win over Clemson. One of the 10 wins came against UCLA, 88-77, in 1999. … UCLA Assistant Tony Perotti is a 1999 graduate of Tennessee. Perotti was a practice player for the Lady Vols during his time in Knoxville. He was the associate head coach at Northern Arizona prior to joining the UCLA staff. Tasha Butts, who played at Tennessee from 2000 to 2004, got tickets for Saturday's game for some of the former practice players. … UCLA was picked to finish fourth in both the league's coaches' and media polls. Stanford was picked first in both polls. The Lady Vols play the Cardinal in Palo Alto on Dec. 19… Nikki Caldwell will have a 2008 McDonald's All-American available in mid-December after the fall quarter ends. Jasmine Dixon, a 5'11 sophomore guard/forward from Long Beach, Calif., transferred mid-season a year ago from Rutgers.