Tennessee to take on Rutgers

NEW YORK - At halftime of last season's game against Rutgers, Pat Summitt was so mad she could not even speak. That's when Glory Johnson knew exactly how upset her coach was after the Lady Vols managed to score just 13 points in the first half and were down by 20. They somehow came back to win the game and on Sunday they again face off against the Scarlet Knights.

The players and coaches smile now when they talk about the Jan. 3, 2009, game in Piscataway, N.J., in which Tennessee overcame the largest deficit in program history and won, 55-51. The Lady Vols flipped the script in the second half and scored 42 points while holding Rutgers to 18.

No. 4/3 Tennessee, 7-0, will take on Rutgers, 7-4, today at 3:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPNU, Lady Vol Radio Network), at Madison Square Garden as part of the Maggie Dixon Classic. Baylor and Boston College tip off at 1 p.m. in the first game of the doubleheader.

Lady Vols Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said the last matchup between the familiar foes was the oddest game he has ever seen from the sidelines.

"There is no doubt," Lockwood said. "That will stand out. Some day, good Lord willing if I'm still on the Earth, and I can sit back and reflect on all the hundreds, thousands of games, I'll remember that. You talk about two opposite halves. That was really, really bizarre."

Glory Johnson, a sophomore forward, even nearly a year later had total recall about halftime.

"Disappointment, unhappiness, yelling, nothing good," Johnson said. "But there was also at a point silence. She didn't know what to say to us. That was kind of rough knowing that you could put your coach through so much that she doesn't have anything left to say."

Johnson said the silence was more uncomfortable than the screaming, because the players knew the eruption was coming but didn't know where it would be directed.

"It was because she still gave us the look that she gives us," Johnson said. "She just had nothing to say. She could target anybody at that time, and you don't know who."

Alyssia Brewer and Angie Bjorklund bore the brunt of it. Bjorklund had just played in her hometown of Spokane, and TV aired part of that exchange when Summitt told her she had put on a show in Washington and was a no-show in New Jersey.

"I was so mad," Summitt said. "I just stared at them for quite awhile. I said, ‘You don't want to be playing like this and get on an airplane and go home with me. You don't want to do it. I wouldn't advise it.'

"And then I went crazy. I did say something to (TV) before I left, ‘Be kind. I wasn't, but be kind.' "

Brewer smiled when she was asked about what Summitt told her at halftime.

"Luckily they only got Angie on TV," Brewer said. "Right before that it was me. She says, ‘Lyssi, you're in the game for 14 minutes. You have zero points.' I think I had maybe one rebound. I was oh for five. She said, ‘These stats, these are ridiculous. And you know what? You are playing so bad I am going to start you the second half!'

"I was like, ‘What?' It was interesting."

Summitt was angry, but she still wanted to try to win the game. When asked why she started Brewer, Summitt said, "Because we needed her size. Trust me, that stat line didn't tell me enough to get her off the bench."

Brewer's final stat line justified the decision. She finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and an assist.

On Monday, Summitt got the rope out at practice - managers hold the ends and the players have to do defensive slides underneath it - and asked them who remembered the halftime score in the Rutgers game.

"They remember it," Summitt said. "Lyssi is the one who shouted it out. I was all over her in that locker room. That was when I said, ‘You DO NOT want to go home with me tonight if you don't play hard.' They can probably tell you verbatim what I said.

"I went nuts. I was perspiring. I was dripping. I was so mad. Holly (Warlick) wouldn't even look at them. She wouldn't watch what I wrote on the board. She was so mad she couldn't speak. I was mad. Holly was distraught. I didn't think that we would (win). I knew that we could. It was a wait and see."

Johnson remembered that part of the halftime speech, too. After the fury, Summitt expressed faith in them.

"I think she had faith in us (to say) just get out there and do what you can do," Johnson. "And we did. It was rough for our fans, of course, but we pulled it off."

It was rough game for Taber Spani, too, and she was safely back home in Missouri watching the game on television. The freshman forward was a few months away from coming to Knoxville to start her Lady Vol career.

"It was hard to watch because it was such a struggle," Spani said. "Even talking to the girls, talking about that game, it was a big struggle mentally and obviously struggling (to score). I was like, ‘I can see how I can help this team and I want to do that,' but also they needed to learn through that and they did and bounced back and that was a great point in their season to respond to something like that. Because that was quite the adversity. I remember the halftime speech."

Johnson said the team re-took the floor wondering if it could win and knowing it had to at least play much better. A very young team had just absorbed one of Summitt's most-intense halftime speeches.

"Just being down and not only down but being down by 20 it was just something that you don't think you can come back from," Johnson said. "Somebody has to keep motivating you, and you've got to keep motivating yourself. Otherwise we really wouldn't have won, so just knowing that you can always come back. Teams let up sometimes and teams give it their all sometimes. We had to come back strong."

Johnson expects another battle on Sunday, and this time she hopes the Lady Vols are ready from the opening tip.

"We expect them to be quick, a lot of transition plays, a lot of driving for sure," Johnson said. "We've got to prepare for their penetration, and we've got to have help-side defense. It can't be every man for himself. We've got to help our teammates.

"They'll be pretty motivated because they'll know that they were beating us at one point, and they know that they have the ability to beat us. But we can't let them do that. We have to come ready to play. They know they were up at one point during that game and they know what they can do. But we know what we can do."

Spani is looking forward to being on the court for this contest and said high-profile games such as today's are part of the reason to came to Tennessee.

"Of course my draw was Coach Summitt and Tennessee and I felt that I was supposed to be here, but I just love the fact that we play the toughest schedule in the country," Spani said. "When you're a competitor like me and the people on this team you live for those games.

"In a basketball sense this is going to be a get tough, get dirty kind of physical game. Those are the rivalry games that you actually love."

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard, No. 40 (15.7 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, 4.1 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.8 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman forward/guard, No. 13 (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (14.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.0 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (9.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.1 blocks per game).

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer is expected to start: Khadijah Rushdan, 5'9 redshirt sophomore guard, No. 1 (7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg), hails from Wilmington, Del., tore the ACL in her right knee two years ago, had started 25 consecutive games before a bone spur in her left knee pulled her out of the lineup against Georgia, had a career-high nine assists against Stanford this season and a career-high three blocks against Florida on Dec. 7, played club ball for Yolanda Laney, an All-American at Cheyney State when Stringer was the coach there; Nikki Speed, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 11 (3.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.4 apg), hails from Pasadena, Calif., has started the last seven games, has 19 steals, was selected for Sports Illustrated's All-Name team in 2009-10; Brittany Ray, 5'9 senior guard, No. 35 (15.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.2 spg), hails from the Bronx, N.Y., only player to start all 11 games this season, had four of Rutgers' seven three-pointers against Florida, is in fifth place in the school record book with 140 career three-pointers, brother Allen Ray was a standout basketball player at Villanova; Chelsey Lee, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 34 (7.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), hails from Miami, Fla., has started nine games this season, leads the team in rebounding, had 10 boards against Texas, best friend is Tiffany Hayes, a sophomore guard at UConn; and Rashidat Junaid, 6'4 senior center, No. 43 (5.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg), hails from Chesilhurst, N.J., has played in 109 games, the most on the team, with 25 career starts, leads team with 16 blocks, was a champion shot putter in high school at Camden Catholic, only player on the roster from New Jersey.

Stringer held a media teleconference on Friday, the day after her team squeaked past Prairie View A&M, 50-45. She repeatedly remarked on her team's inconsistency and noted that Tennessee seemed to have corrected its issues from a year ago.

"I already know where we stand," Stringer said Friday. "We're inconsistent. We play when we think we need to play. And we come up with excuses. Yesterday (the excuse) was finals."

Stringer has been watching Tennessee on tape and said this year's team reminds her of past teams in that the players seem to understand the system.

"Tennessee has done an excellent job of executing and doing everything more in Tennessee mode," Stringer said. "I can honestly say that it didn't look like a Tennessee team last year but this year they're doing well."

Stringer told the ESPNU representative on the phone line that Summitt likely won't recognize the Rutgers team.

"If you get a chance to talk to her (Summitt) just tell her that Vivian asked you to find one single defense – man or zone – that any one of them can remember," Stringer said. " Tell her that you've been looking at the scores and you noticed that we're No. 14 in the Big East – and that's pathetic – on scoring defense. So the Scarlet Knights teams of old, she will see a different team. We can't score, and we don't play defense.

"Tell her not to worry about it. Just look at the stats and not what she thinks and what has been. But tell her don't worry about. That's part of my frustration. … The problem is that we let everybody in the world score. So we don't have any pride on that side. Tell her we're just faking that. Don't worry about it."

That is not entirely true. Rutgers has played three SEC teams, Georgia (loss), Mississippi State (win); and Florida (win), and held all three to their lowest shooting percentage of the season. The Gators shot just 22 percent against the Scarlet Knights. Mississippi State shot 29 percent and Georgia, 25.9 percent. But Stringer has clearly been frustrated with her team for its lack of overall focus.

Last year's loss was particularly tough for the Scarlet Knights given the huge first-half lead, which stretched to 23 points, and was 33-13 at the break.

"I think we were so shocked that we were up by 20 that we just tried to hold on," Stringer said. "I don't know what to expect from this group. Whatever it is I'll be in for a surprise. We do inconsistent things that don't make a lot of sense."

Summitt felt the same way about her team a year ago. When asked if last year's game was the strangest in the Tennessee-Rutgers series, Summitt said that it was.

"Yes, because our team was strange," Summitt said. "You never knew when they were going to show up, or when they were going to play great or give in to fatigue."

A lot has been at stake in the series. In 2005, the two teams met in a regional final to go to the Final Four, and in 2007 they played for the national title.

"It's been for the marbles most of the time, to get to a Final Four, in a Final Four," Summitt said.

The 2008 regular season game also was memorable because Nicky Anosike shot two free throws with two-tenths of a second showing on the clock. She hit both for the 59-58 win.

"Every year I've been here we've been in a battle with them," Dean Lockwood said. "Final Four for a championship, the game last year, Nicky's free throws. It reminds me of the Pat Riley Knicks' teams, those Knicks-Pacer series for the Eastern Conference. Every possession was like a football play.

"I think both teams' programs are kind of built on the same principles – defensive-oriented, and they're very physical. We pride ourselves on being physical. They defend well. Players who are mentally and physically tough."

THE GARDEN: Some of those NBA Eastern Conference battles referenced by Dean Lockwood were waged in the Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena, the current incarnation of which opened in Manhattan in 1968.

This will be the Lady Vols' third game in the Garden. The other two were in 1999 - the homecoming game for Chamique Holdsclaw - and in 2001 as part of a two-game East Coast swing that began in Hartford, Conn. Rutgers was Tennessee's opponent in the Garden games, and the Lady Vols won both matchups.

Perhaps almost as surprising as the outcome of last year's game was the reaction of the Rutgers' fans to Pat Summitt. After the controversial finish due to the clock in the 2008 game Summitt was expecting a rancorous reception in Piscataway. But the Scarlet Knight fans in Louis Brown Athletic Center applauded Summitt as she walked on the court, and many of them stood up to cheer her. That could have been because of the close relationship between C. Vivian Stringer and Summitt.

"We talk a lot, yet it's not about basketball," Summitt said. "We talk about how she's doing. We talk a little bit about (her) team, our team. She'll ask me how Tyler's doing, how my mom is doing, because she's met my whole family."

Stringer said it's comforting to have Summitt as a rival coach but also a dear friend.

"It helps a lot. It means a lot," Stringer said. "She's a genuine person. At the end of the day I'm upset we lost the game, but it's not personal."

"When it's over it's over," Summitt said.

The friends will square off again Sunday in an historic arena that Summitt remembers for its floor temperature.

"It's freezing in there," Summitt said. "They've got the ice under it. I want to call and see if it's still there so I'll know whether to take my wool socks."

When told that the ice would be in place under the court because the venue is the home of the NHL's New York Rangers, Summitt quipped, "I thought the Rockettes were there."

Summitt made a cameo appearance with the Radio City Music Hall stars when they brought their national tour to Knoxville.

Summitt said her players were excited about the trip to New York and a cross-country one next week to California.

"I think it's going to be great for them," Summitt said. "They're excited to go to New York and go out and have some good food. They're probably thinking more about the food than the Garden. It will be good for them. We go there and we go out to Stanford and play Stanford and San Francisco. We've got a real test for us."

Freshman Taber Spani, who comes from a family of athletes and has a sense of sports history, has been to New York, but she has not been in the Garden.

"I am pumped (to play in) the Garden," Spani said. "It's such an amazing opportunity. You see it on TV. You see the history and the tradition. I am just excited."

Tennessee enters the game with an unblemished record and although the 7-0 start is not much different, numerically speaking, than the 7-1 record at this time a year ago, the Lady Vols are playing much better on both ends of the court. The perfect slate is a source of pride, to an extent.

"I think so, but I think it's also just because we see the improvement, and we see us getting better," Spani said. "Pat says, ‘We have to the best that we can be.' So we're trying to control that and the winning is going to take care of itself, because of our talent and buying into the system of what the coaches are saying.

"But it's one game at a time. We can't overlook things. We've seen that happen in the past, and that never works out. Really one game at a time and keeping that focus."

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Rutgers game. Here is his assessment.

When Rutgers has the ball: "They're a dribble drive team," Lockwood said. "Brittany Ray can shoot threes. April Sykes (who has started seven games this season) is another one that can really shoot it. (Khadijah) Rushdan, she is as good of a driver as they have. She gets to the basket. She reminds me a little in certain ways of (former Scarlet Knight Matee) Ajavon. She's got that in there – where she's got bounce, and then, boom, she's going.

"They are enough multi-dimension that you can't say that's all you've got to (defend), but predominantly what they do is create offense off the dribble. They love to create offense off the dribble. But Brittany Ray can make shots, and April Sykes can make shots, and we have to do a good job of recognizing that. Defend the drive, but right on the heels of that we'd better contest some shots."

A significant part of practice this past week was spent working on dribble penetration, something Pat Summitt says is the hardest offense to stop in basketball, no matter what level.

"They're just athletic, athletic, athletic," Summitt said. "They just push, push, push. They want paint points. They try to get there (middle of lane) every time in every possession and pull up."

Defensively, Lockwood expects Rutgers to be aggressive, as always.

"I think we're going to see a lot of man," Lockwood said. "I think we'll see the vaunted ‘55' press. We've got some clips of them playing 3-2 zone. They may show some zone – it wouldn't surprise me to keep us off balance – but they're going to come at us with man, they're going to try to pressure, do what they do best."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to get Kelley Cain involved and use her efficiently as Cain can either get sealed and score inside or find open players on the perimeter.

"You can make that a pillar," Lockwood said. "As long as Kelley is in the lineup we want to get her touches. We're crazy if we don't play through her. That is something always, always regardless of our opponent. That opens up our perimeter game. I don't know that we've done a great job doing that early in games. I think that's one of the things that's going to be really important in that game that we establish relatively early."

Cain was used efficiently in the win over Texas, but her teammates struggled to get the ball to her against UCLA. (Cain missed the game against George Washington because of a concussion she sustained against UCLA.)

"Their game plan was no secret," Lockwood said of the Bruins. "They had one defending her, another one hovering and often times a third within two steps. They were really keying in on Kelley and not wanting the ball to go in there. If it did go in there, they wanted her to kick it out. At times we have to be more patient in waiting for her to seal and get set up."

As far as the guards in today's game Lockwood said they first need to take care of the ball.

"Number one, they have to have great ball security," Lockwood said. "They have to be strong with the ball. Know that there is going to be contact. Know that they're going to be reaching and grabbing and some of it will get called and some of it won't. It's going to be a physical game.

"I tell our team sometimes, they get a good laugh out of it, ‘It's a game for adults. If you're not an adult woman then don't show up. This is for adults only.' This is going to be that kind of a game."

Lockwood said another key for the guards is where they decide to go with the ball.

"The second thing is decision-making," Lockwood said. "We don't need to force passes in a game like this. We need to make simple passes. A guy I used to work for at Army had a great saying. He used to say, ‘What's the best pass in basketball?' Stop the whole practice. Guys would say bounce pass, one-handed. No, the one that gets there.

"In a game like this we need to have sureness so that we don't try to thread needles. I wouldn't characterize them as a running team but one thing that will make them run is turnovers, and they can turn those into baskets. We have to make simple passes. We have to hit first-open players. We have to space and move the ball. But, again, being strong with it and making good decisions, those two things for me are paramount in this game."

Summitt wants to see her players put together two halves, not just one like a year ago, and she knows Rutgers can discombobulate a team.

"They make you play ugly," Summitt said. "It's going to be interesting to see how they respond, if we're going to be committed to playing both halves or not, because we're going to have to.

"Let's say we go get a lead. We know it's never safe against them. Let's say we are in the hole like we were last year. We were fortunate to come back and win that game. We had to play at the top level of our game, and we did. When I think back I don't know how we won it, but we did. We found a way."

Defensively, Tennessee intends to maintain its flexibility and deploy what works - whether that's man or zone.

"Always," Lockwood said. "And I'll say this again. The object the last time I checked in basketball is when you've got the ball to put it through the little orange thing and when you're on the other end it's to stop them from putting it through the orange thing.

"So, it doesn't matter if it's man, zone, whatever. At the end of the game if you've got 20 stops and 19 of those were zone or 19 of those were man, who cares? The point is that we stop them. I think for us we have to be very flexible in this game and see what works, see what's effective and see what's working at any given time. We have to be aware that that's been good to us."

Lockwood said he has noticed three differences with this team compared to a year ago - better overall effort, the players are following the scouting report, and they can change course, if need be.

"We're pleased with some of the effort that we're seeing," Lockwood said. "I thought effort was very, very good (against Texas). I thought we really worked hard and stuck to a game plan. Holly (Warlick) had a nice game plan put together, and we stuck to it.

"We were able to make a couple of in-game adjustments without short-circuiting the system, where last year we tried to make an in-game adjustment and it was like you were asking me to crawl around on my hands for the rest of the day.

"It was like, who, where, what? We're showing a little more maturity. This is a great test. The next two weeks are going to present some big tests for this team. We'll find out a lot more about us then."

MAGGIE DIXON MEMORY: Rutgers will be playing in its third Maggie Dixon Classic. This will be the first time for Tennessee.

The Classic is held annually in memory of Maggie Dixon, the former women's basketball coach at Army. Dixon died unexpectedly April 6, 2006, from Sudden Cardiac Arrest at the age of 28. That season she had just led Army to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

The Black Knights faced Tennessee in Norfolk, Va. - the coaching staffs ran into each other before the game at a local seafood restaurant in Virginia Beach and spent the evening talking hoops - and Army bowed out to the Lady Vols in the first round, a game in which Candace Parker dunked twice and become the first woman to ever dunk in an NCAA tourney game.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest claims more than 325,000 Americans every year, and Madison Square Garden has teamed with the Dixon family and the Cardiac Arrhythmias Research and Education (C.A.R.E.) Foundation Inc., for the third-annual Heart Health Expo, which will be held in conjunction with Sunday's doubleheader.

Fans can attend the expo, where free heart screenings will be conducted for children and young adults up to age 22 to help raise awareness of heart-related illness. The expo will also include educational heart displays, health demonstrations, player autograph opportunities and an appearance by the Knicks' Groove Truck.

"I thought she was extremely bright as a coach and just a great person," Summitt said of Dixon. "She was very invested in her players. She was a woman of great integrity and great knowledge of the game. I had a lot of respect for her.

"It's amazing that she's no longer here with us. You just can't take life for granted. The rug can be pulled out from under us at any point in time and that is why I always say I want to live each and every day to the fullest. I want to help these young women and obviously she had a great influence on all of her players because she was invested in them."

Stringer lost her husband, Bill, to a heart attack at the age of 47 on Thanksgiving Day in 1992.

"It's a reminder to all of us that tomorrow is not promised," Stringer said.

ON TAP: Four other SEC teams are in action Sunday in the following matchups: Florida A&M at Kentucky; New Orleans at LSU; Ohio State at Ole Miss; and North Carolina State at South Carolina.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Rutgers, 15-3. The Lady Vols are 8-0 at neutral sites. The Scarlet Knights' three victories came at home with the most recent a 65-51 win on Dec. 29, 2004. … Tennessee is 5-4 in games played on December 13. The last time the Lady Vols played on this date was in 2007, an 84-61 win over Middle Tennessee. The first win on December 13 came against UCLA, 80-77, in 1979. The four losses on this date were all in the 1980s to Stephen F. Austin, 72-68, in 1980; Long Beach State, 56-51, in 1983; Louisiana Tech, 73-57, in 1984; and Southern Cal, 85-77, in 1985. … The Tennessee-Rutgers game in 1999 for Chamique Holdsclaw's homecoming - she was from Astoria in Queens, N.Y., with the Manhattan skyline rising across the East River from her home - was the largest crowd, 15,735, to ever see a women's game at the Garden. When Tennessee returned in January 2001, Lady Vol Tamika Catchings had to wear jersey No. 55 because her No. 24 orange jersey had been swiped at the team's hotel in Hartford, Conn., - Tennessee had played Connecticut on Dec. 30, 2000, an 81-76 loss, before heading to New York - after team managers left a laundry bag in a hallway. The jersey was never found. … Tennessee-Rutgers games tend to be delightful for fans who like defense. In the last three games, the Lady Vols have scored 59, 59 and 55 points for a 57.6 ppg average. The Scarlet Knights have tallied 46, 58 and 51 for a 51.6 ppg average. … Both coaches on the sideline are in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Hall of Fame. Pat Summitt and C. Vivian Stringer have combined for 1,844 wins with Summitt at 1,012 and Stringer at 832. … Both Tennessee and Rutgers have 10 players available for this game on the roster. The Lady Vols have no seniors and two juniors in Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone. The Scarlet Knights have no juniors and three seniors in Brittany Ray, Myia McCurdy and Rashidat Junaid.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 77.6 points a game while allowing opponents to score 55.9. Rutgers averages 60.5 points a game while allowing 54.7. The Lady Vols are shooting 46.0 percent overall, 33.6 percent behind the arc and 68.4 percent from the free throw line. The Scarlet Knights are shooting 41.4 percent overall, 31.7 percent from long range and 73.2 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 6.0 three-pointers a game while allowing 4.6. Rutgers makes 3.6 threes a game while allowing 5.8.

Tennessee averages 44.4 rebounds a game for a +8.1 margin. Rutgers averages 37.2 boards with a +1.2 margin. The Lady Vols average 15.3 assists and 14.4 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 17.0 times a game. The Scarlet Knights average 10.5 assists and 18.4 turnovers with foes losing the ball 18.8 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.9 steals and 4.1 blocks a game. Rutgers averages 9.3 steals and 5.7 blocks.


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