No. 6/5 Tennessee, 6-0, will be presented Sunday with a team that does all three in No. 17/17 Texas, 5-2. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I think they have good inside play, they shoot the ball well and they have penetrators, so I think this is probably the best all-around team that we're going to have to defend (to date)," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.
Coach Pat Summitt added, "I think taking away paint points is going to be a challenge for us. They've got the size in there. They play off the dribble really well and hopefully we can defend the three ball."
The Lady Vols will counter with their big lineup that would include 6'6 center Kelley Cain, if she is cleared by the team physician after sustaining a concussion last week against UCLA. Cain missed Tuesday's win over George Washington and was held out of practice this week, except for limited non-contact drills on Friday. If Cain isn't released, she would be replaced in the lineup by 6'3 forward Alyssia Brewer, who had a career-high 23 points on Tuesday.
It's that abundance of size that has Summitt deploying her team in a zone defense much more than ever before in 36 years of coaching.
"Look at who we start," Summitt said. "We start a big lineup. And it has been very effective because of our size. If you wanted to go Kelley, Lyssi and Glory across there it would be pretty tough."
Stricklen has range and length on the perimeter, and Bjorklund is the most fundamentally sound perimeter defender and can keep players in front of her. Bjorklund learned man-to-man principles when she played with a veteran team on the 2008 national title team – she even held her own that freshman year – and those lessons translate to a zone.
"Angie is light on her feet," Summitt said. "She gets low. I like the way she's playing defense. I like the bigger lineup."
Summitt had been in the Bobby Knight school of man defense – it was primarily the only defense Tennessee used – but she has a big team, which also means less overall speed, and the zone defense has produced results. In the Lady Vols' six games this season, they opened play in a zone in three of them and have used it in every matchup.
"In terms of defense I'm pleased," Summitt said. "I think our defense is so much better now than it was a year ago and that they've bought into it."
Last season Virginia shot 50 percent against Tennessee in the second game of the season. In six games this season no team has shot better than 38 percent against the Lady Vols.
"They're really talking more and they're helping each other out more," Summitt said. "Our double teams are better. We're doing a good job of crushing (trapping) on the baseline. We're running some traps on the wing.
"I think they understand the schemes. I look at it as four-minute segments. We might change up what we're doing after the first four minutes. Whatever we need to do I like the fact that we can change it up."
Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood has noted that man to man is the "bedrock" of Tennessee's various defensive schemes, but the coaches haven't hesitated to change defenses during a game if the man to man isn't as effective.
"I think you see that because it varies as to who we're playing," Summitt said. "If we're playing someone that plays off the bounce and gets to the paint, that's the hardest thing to defend is dribble penetration. And if we're not doing a good job of sprinting to help and double-teaming on the baseline then that's when we might say, ‘OK, let's look at our zone.' "
Tennessee also will flip out of the zone and back into man. The Lady Vols opened in man against Middle Tennessee and then went to a matchup zone. Jackie Pickel drained a 25-foot three-pointer, and Tennessee was back in man on the next possession.
But the zone has been effective in keeping teams out of the paint and it worked well against Baylor in which it was modified to bring help immediately when Griner received the ball.
"Our size is obviously one reason that we play it," Summitt said. "It's hard for people if we extend and they have a hard time shooting over it, then they're going to put it on the floor. That's when we've got to be talking and communicating and closing out and crushing.
"I'm not married to either one of the two. I like the options that we have. We're a whole lot better because our zone is better and our man to man is better. But in the course of a game I might change two or three times."
Summitt has enough confidence in her players to make those changes. That is both a function of a year to absorb the schemes and their willingness to do so, she said.
"Understanding (how to play defense), yes. More committed, yes," Summitt said. "I think last year it was probably way too much information for them and they thought – I've said this a number of times – they were just going to come here, put on the orange uniform and win. They were not ready to invest in what it takes to win.
"I think we can get better extending our defense and really forcing people to the sideline and taking away the middle. That's one thing we could be a lot better at."
Texas will be the third team from the Big 12 South Division that Tennessee has faced this season – the first two were Baylor and Texas Tech – with Oklahoma set to make a visit to Knoxville on Jan. 3, 2010, after the Lady Vols played in Oklahoma City last season.
"They're willing to play us," Warlick said. "We were playing ACC schools and for some reason or another that hasn't worked out."
Tennessee did play Virginia this season, but Duke opted not to renew the series. North Carolina asked to adjust the series after not wanting to play UConn and Tennessee on the road in the same season, but it has been hard for Tennessee to reconfigure its schedule after a one-year stop because other teams stepped forward that wanted home-and-home series, including Virginia, Louisville and Oklahoma. UCLA also asked to restart its series with Tennessee.
"You know us, we're going to try to play the best competition we can play," Warlick said. "We've put ourselves in some pretty tough situations, and this is one of them. Texas is playing well right now, and this is a tough game for us."
Tennessee has a tough slate in December with Texas at home – the Longhorns beat the Lady Vols, 73-59, a year ago in Austin – and then a trip in a week to play Rutgers in Madison Square Garden on Dec. 13. The Lady Vols return home to play Louisville on Dec. 16 and leave the next day for the West Coast to play Stanford on Dec. 19.
"It's a grind for us, but we wouldn't have it any different," Warlick said. "We just think we will benefit from playing a tough schedule. I think you set the tone for a national championship by who you play throughout the year, and this is a huge challenge for us. If it wasn't we wouldn't be playing the schedule that we play.
"We do it for a reason, outside of us being crazy half the time, we do it for a reason to get prepared for March. This has impact for us on our road to play for a national championship. That's how we treat it. I think (Sunday is) a huge game for both of us. It's a huge game for us. It really is."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (16.0 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.7 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman guard/forward, No. 13 (9.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (14.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.3 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 blocks per game.)
A key player off the bench for Tennessee is Alyssia Brewer – who would start if Cain were to not be cleared – as the 6'3 forward can help counter Texas' size inside. Brewer is averaging 6.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game and leads the team with a 72.7 field goal percentage. Both Cain and Brewer need to shoot better from the free throw line – Cain is 8-19 (42.1 percent) and Brewer is 1-5 (20.0 percent).
Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors is expected to start: Ashleigh Fontenette, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 33 (10.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.6 apg), hails from Pflugerville, Texas, has started all seven games this season, scored 12 points in the win over Rutgers, brother Kenny played football at Houston; Erika Arriaran, 5'10 redshirt senior guard, No. 4 (8.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg), hails from Norco, Calif., had a career-high 23 points Dec. 1 against Oral Roberts after connecting on seven 3-pointers, ranks first in Texas record books with 87.2 percent free throw percentage, missed half of the 2006-07 season and most of the 2007-08 season (redshirt) because of two ACL injuries, sister Samantha is a volleyball player at Connecticut; Kathleen Nash, 6'2 junior guard, No. 5 (14.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), hails from Plano, Texas, shooting 51.7 percent from behind the arc, ranks second in Texas record books with 84.1 percent free throw shooting, studied business in Paris, France, for six weeks over the summer, older sister Kristen Nash is also on the Texas team; Earnesia Williams, 6'1 redshirt senior forward, No. 00 (5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg), hails from Sapulpa, Okla., the same hometown as Lady Vol Lyssi Brewer, went through Senior Day ceremonies last season but then opted to come back for a fifth year, missed the 2005-06 season because of an ACL injury after six games, earned a bachelor's degree in education last May, studying kinesiology as a graduate student; and Ashley Gayle, 6'4 sophomore center, No. 22 (6.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg), hails from Las Vegas, Nevada, started all seven games this season and has tallied 20 blocks, posted first career double-double against North Texas with 12 points, 10 boards.
Texas brings size off the bench in 6'4 freshman center Cokie Reed, who had 10 rebounds in 15 minutes against Oral Roberts on Dec. 1.
Another key player off the bench for the Longhorns is 6'0 senior guard Brittainey Raven, who led all scorers with 21 points against Tennessee last season. Raven, who started against the Lady Vols last season, can get to the paint or shoot from long range. She leads the team with a 55.7 field goal percentage and is the second-leading scorer at 14.1 ppg.
"I don't think we can center in on any one particular person," said Lady Vols Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick. "I think Nash is playing well. Raven is playing well. She is not even starting, which (speaks to Texas' depth).
"We haven't been great defending penetration so that poses a threat to us. With the inside game we're going to have to defend them like we did (Brittney) Griner from Baylor. I think they are a very similar Baylor-type team. They've just got more experience."
SCOUTING REPORT: Holly Warlick prepared the scouting report for the Tennessee-Texas game. Here is her assessment.
When Texas has the ball: "They are (looking to get the ball inside)," Warlick said. "They're going to run the ball. They like to run on steals, they want to score a lot of points in transition, they want to score a lot of threes in transition, and they want to get inside touches. They're pretty committed to doing that, especially when Cokie Reed comes in. They'll post up their guards. We've got our work cut out for us."
Defensively, "They are very aggressive man to man," Warlick said. "They're going to deny us, they are going to get up in our face, a lot of ball pressure. They're using their athleticism. They're going to try and extend the court with us, and we've just got to be ready for it.
"They'll (full court) press us, they'll three-quarter press us, they'll play a little zone, play a lot of man. It will depend on which situation is involved as to what they do. They run the whole gamut of the defensive system that they have and they do it really, really well."
When Tennessee has the ball: The coaches want the game to open with the ball going inside. That can be by way of entry passes to the post or dribble penetration from the guards. What the staff doesn't want to see is a quick three.
"We're not going to start off jump-shooting the basketball," Warlick said. "It's not that we don't want our perimeter people to score because they're our best scorers right now, but we've got to establish an inside game. That doesn't necessarily always mean we're just going to throw it into the post. It means jumpers in the paint or inside the three-point line. That's always what we emphasize and our philosophy.
"We've got to get into a rhythm. The last two games we've quick shot the ball, and it's been threes, and we haven't gotten into a rhythm. You don't want to tell your guards not to shoot the ball because you don't want them to be hesitant, but I think they've got to learn to use a little more time in the possession and what's a good shot and where a good shot is."
Defensively, Tennessee won't hesitate to mix their man and zone looks.
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "We'll press, we'll see how we're doing, the clock situation and the tempo of the game. We're at our best when we press and trap and get aggressive man to man. We've always been a man-to-man team, but it's about winning games, so we've adjusted to who we're playing. We're trying to keep people off guard.
"It doesn't bother us if we play a whole game in a zone defense. The outcome is what we're striving for and that's win ballgames. If we have to use a zone or press more, whatever we have to do when we see the flow of the game, that's what we're going to do."
Pat Summitt was asked if she had to have a defensive stop in a game, what scheme would she commit to late in a game. The disciple of man-to-man just smiled.
"It all depends, game to game, possession to possession," Summitt said. "I don't go into it thinking, ‘Oh, we ought to do this.' It would depend on what I had been seeing on the court.
"I don't go into a game predetermined I'm going to do this the first segment, this the next segment. It is a watch, see, feel."
GLANCE'S ROLE: Stephanie Glance, the special assistant to Pat Summitt, has taken on some recruiting duties with the announcement earlier this week that Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow won't be able to travel at times for personal medical reasons.
"By NCAA rules you can take a coaching staff member's duties, they can split into recruiting, they can be split into coaching, based on medical reasons the NCAA will approve that to be switched with the person not on the coaching staff if it's so designated by the head coach," Glance said. "So I will be doing traveling and recruiting. I'll be doing a lot of the travel for recruiting that she would normally do."
Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood also will continue in their recruiting roles, which include travel.
Glance served as an assistant on the late Kay Yow's staff at North Carolina State and also was the interim head coach for the Wolfpack last season. For that reason Glance has extensive contacts and knows the landscape of recruiting.
"It's what I've done for the last 21 years," Glance said. "The biggest concern is for Daedra's health and if there is any way I can be of assistance and use the experience that I have, that's great. I am glad to do it."
ON TAP: Four other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: Northwestern State at Alabama; Georgia Tech at Georgia (CSS, 2:30 p.m. Eastern); Ole Miss at Old Dominion; and Western Kentucky at Vanderbilt. On Monday, Florida plays at Rutgers (ESPN2, 7 p.m. Eastern).
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with Texas, 18-12. The Lady Vols have an 8-5 record at home. Tennessee won the past two at home in 2005 and 2007, but the Longhorns claimed wins in Knoxville – one of just 10 teams to ever do so – in 2002 and 2003. Tennessee won 13 straight games from 1990 to 2000, but from 2002 to 2008, Texas holds a 5-3 lead in the series. Coach Gail Goestenkors, who is in her third season at Texas, got two wins over Tennessee in Knoxville as the head coach of Duke. … Tennessee is 10-2 in games played on December 6. The last time the Lady Vols played on this date was in 2000, a 72-57 win over Boston College. The first win on this date was in 1981 against Vanderbilt, 99-77. The lone loss on this date was to Southern California, 81-71, in 1982. … Former Lady Vol Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss is now on the bench in the same capacity for Texas. Tennessee faced former Tennessee assistant Nikki Caldwell and former Lady Vol player Tasha Butts when UCLA came to town. Former Tennessee assistant Angel Elderkin is on the staff for Virginia. The Lady Vols also will face former players and/or staff members this season when they play San Francisco, South Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi State. ... Former Lady Vol Kara Lawson will be part of the broadcast team for ESPN2 for today's televised game. Lawson also provided commentary for Tennessee's game against Texas Tech in San Antonio.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 77.5 points per game while allowing 55.5. Texas averages 73.7 points while allowing 65.4. The Lady Vols are shooting 44.9 percent overall, 31.2 percent from behind the arc and 68.0 percent from the free throw line. They make 5.7 threes per game and allow 4.3. The Longhorns are shooting 43.5 percent overall, 33.9 percent from long range and 65.5 percent from the line. They make 6.1 threes per game and allow 4.9.
Tennessee averages 44.8 rebounds per game with a +9.3 margin. Texas averages 42.3 rebounds per game with a +4.1 margin. The Lady Vols average 14.0 assists and 13.8 turnovers a game. Opponents are losing the ball 17.3 times a game. The Longhorns average 14.0 assists and 18.4 turnovers with opponents losing the ball 18.1 times. Tennessee averages 8.3 steals and 3.5 blocks per game. Texas averages 8.0 steals and 6.3 blocks.