Tennessee to take on Florida

"To whom much is given, much is expected." Those words were scripted on the wrist of former Lady Vol standout Candace Parker. The tattoo is not on the wrist of current Lady Vol Glory Johnson, but the staff would like the sophomore to engrave the words in her game. The gifted forward for Tennessee has the ability to be a difference maker every time she takes the court.

Candace Parker got the tattoo – it's a Bible verse from the Book of Luke and Paul's second letter to the Corinthians – to remind her that her athletic gifts, which were tremendous, meant she would be held to a higher standard by fans, coaches, teammates, family and herself. Glory Johnson has found herself in Pat Summitt's crosshairs – to the point of being removed from the starting lineup twice to get her attention – for transgressions that mortal players would get away with for the most part.

Johnson is expected to be in the starting lineup this evening when No. 4/4 Tennessee (14-1, 2-0) takes on Florida (9-7, 2-1) in Gainesville at 7 p.m. Eastern (CSS, espn360.com, Lady Vol Radio Network).

The 2010 SEC Road Revenge Tour continues for the Lady Vols as the Gators defeated Tennessee in Gainesville last season, 66-57, in a game that was memorable because a miked Summitt threatened during a timeout to make Johnson walk back to Knoxville.

"She was not happy, but I changed her mind a little bit after halftime and I picked it up a little bit," Johnson said. "I started off really slow (in the Florida game) last year."

Johnson wasn't alone in that regard. Sophomore guard Shekinna Stricklen recalled that it was one of her worst games in orange.

"I remember that game," Stricklen said. "We weren't committed to defense. I think that was one of my worst games there, but I feel like we've been playing well, we've got our confidence, and I think we're going to go down there and play hard and really get revenge back.

"We didn't show up to play hard, we didn't play hard on every possession and we just know now going down there we're going to have to play defense and play a 40-minute game."

Summitt thinks her team has enough talent to contend this season for league and national championships – a year early considering the overall youth and loss of Vicki Baugh to a redshirt year – and she knows Johnson will be key to the team's success.

Johnson is the most athletic basketball player to ever suit up for Summitt. She is listed at 6'3 – she probably inches close to 6'2 – but still jumps center instead of the 6'6 Kelley Cain because of her explosive leaping ability. Johnson was a state sprint champion in high school at Tennessee and could have run track at the Division I level.

Her one-and-a-half years on campus have been spent, at times, getting her to play with composure because her athleticism sometimes has her moving too fast.

Johnson was at her best in Sunday's win over Mississippi State with 16 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, an assist, a steal and just one turnover in 31 minutes of play.

So what was the definitive difference for Johnson in that game?

"If I had any answers and I could tell you with definitive truth, I wouldn't be coaching," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "I would be solving world problems."

But Lockwood, who believes the game should be taught more and coached less, took a stab at distilling the difference.

"She was much more composed," Lockwood said. "My college coach sometimes wanted me to take a few more shots, but it's like, ‘I am not going to take a shot unless I can make the shot. I don't shoot just to shoot it. If I shoot, I want to make it. I want to hit something.' So if you take a shot, you shouldn't feel like this is 50-50. When I take a shot it was more like a 75-25.

"Glory took very make-able shots for her, for the most part. There were two I thought were a little bit forced and two that I call OK shots. But other than that she took make-able shots. She got layups. She got things eight feet and in. I am not saying she can't go beyond that because we've seen that, but she has to have her feet set, she has to be open."

Johnson also was relentless on the boards, a place she can use her athleticism to overwhelm opponents. Her jumping ability is tremendous and not just the first leap. She can come down and be airborne again before other players leave the floor.

"I thought she really was focused on rebounding the ball and just going after every rebound," Lockwood said. "That's the Dennis Rodman formula. If I go after 40 balls, I might get 16. If I go after 25 balls, I might get eight. And if I go after 10, I might get two.

"So it doesn't take a real mathematician to say, ‘What do I want to do?' I want to go after 40 balls. She was going after balls. She is a cut above the field. I could name four or five players in the country, maybe, that can play that explosively. Glory has got a gift."

The next evolution of Johnson's game is knowing when and how to change speeds.

"There are times in the game when you have to go 10 speed, sprinting the floor from offense to defense or when you've got a wide-open layup and you know you've got to beat a defender," Lockwood said. "But more often than that you want to play offense at seven speed, maybe some eights, occasionally a six. She's learning to do that now."

Lockwood explains basketball with descriptive analogies – "Glory and Lyssi (Brewer) the other day, said, ‘We need to write some of these down,' " he said – and when Johnson loses composure on the court, it's like a runaway balloon.

"It's like a balloon that you let the air out, and she's all over," Lockwood said. "You don't know what's next. The foot goes this way, the hand goes this way and the body goes that way. But when she's doing that (changing speeds effectively), you can see a sense and feel for the game.

"And that's what you want her to get. She's athletic and if she develops a (steady) sense and feel for the game, oh my goodness."

Johnson has felt the wrath of Summitt last season and this year. As a freshman it seemed to unnerve her. As a sophomore she's better equipped to respond.

"It's rough, but at the same time I know that she's doing it for my betterment, and she's trying to make me a better player and understand her concepts and just know that when she says something she means something," Johnson said. "And whether I understand why she's mad or not, just know that she's mad and I had better be doing everything right until she calms down.

"Make sure you correct yourself. When she tells you to go hard, you go three times as hard as you were before. Don't let her have to tell you to go hard because then she'll be even more upset than before."

Johnson also knows that the athletic gods bestowed her body with incredible gifts. She smiled when reminded of Parker's tattoo and how the same principles could apply to her and how Summitt will perceive her.

"I think she knows what I can do and what I am capable of and how I can help my team," Johnson said. "I don't think she's asking for too much, I just think what I'm good at she wants me to do to the best of my ability. She knows what I can do, and that's what she wants me to do."

There are two parts of Johnson's game that are well suited for Summitt. She enjoys playing defense and has a real passion for rebounding.

"I was going for every single rebound as hard as I could (against Mississippi State)," Johnson said." I love rebounding and going to the board and crashing the boards hard and every time it is giving my team a second chance."

When Summitt has been displeased with Johnson's effort this season in practice, she has removed her from the starting lineup. Johnson, who has matured this season from a year ago, has handled it with aplomb, and although she has been effective off the bench, she clearly wants to be on the floor at the opening tip.

"The starters are basically the people that can start the game off hard and everyone else should be able to impact the game just as much," Johnson said. "They're just not starting. I would love to be a starter because you're starting off the game for your team and if you start off strong, that's great."

Johnson's increased maturity is noticeable this season, along with the other second-year players. Last year the team didn't play a game out of the state of Tennessee until early December when the Lady Vols traveled to the District of Columbia to play George Washington. The environment rattled them during warmups.

"Every time we ran in and out of the locker room we got booed, and the boos were so loud," Johnson said. "The band gave us nicknames. It was funny. I don't remember which ones they were."

Tennessee held on to win the game and Johnson learned that it can be energizing to silence a road crowd.

"When they're quiet, that just makes it that much better," Johnson said. "They're impressed with what you can do."

The majority of last year's team wasn't prepared for life on the road. This year's newcomers also had an adjustment period.

"As freshmen we weren't," Johnson said. "The freshmen (now) were a little iffy when we traveled because of the boos and all that stuff. But I think we're used to it. Having a year under our belt we know that sometimes crowds are going to be rough and sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're supportive and sometimes there's more orange than the other color. So just going and being ready."

Tennessee will be motivated to be ready at Florida. The Gators defeated Tennessee a year ago in the first game after the Lady Vols wiped out Georgia, 73-43, for Summitt's 1,000th career win. It was a letdown on the road after an emotional win at home.

"I think road play is where you learn the most about your team, as opposed to being at home," Summitt said. "I think we're going to continue to learn because we haven't been out there (lately) as much as some others, so we'll find out a lot more, and we'll find out how many players we can play that can go on the road and handle the noise and distractions. That is yet to be determined from this team.

"I've been saying I'd like to have at least eight (in the rotation), and that may be all we have. We'll find out."

Tennessee's schedule this season started with a flurry of road games and then a slate at home. The Lady Vols spent most of December on the road but then played three consecutive games at home after the Christmas break before traveling to Mississippi State.

The lack of travel meant plenty of time to practice between semesters and with no classes the players focused on basketball and had extra time to use Pratt Pavilion for additional work on their games.

"Absolutely," Summitt said. "So being here was to our advantage and then take the road and feel like you're a little more seasoned."

It's something for Tennessee to keep in mind to repeat when possible, but some games on schedules in the future are already being formalized.

"I'll have to look at what we've already committed to," Summitt said.

The Lady Vols took to the road Wednesday to travel to Gainesville – they did not practice in Knoxville and won't take the court until shoot-around Thursday – and are expected to be at full strength, if not completely well. The three players who missed practice because of stomach illness, Sydney Smallbone, Kamiko Williams and Kelley Cain, made the trip.

Last year 8,060 people showed up at the O'Connell Center – the second-largest crowd ever for a Florida women's basketball game – to watch the Gators secure their third program win in the series. Summitt hopes those fans come back this season.

"I'd rather have a lot of people in the gym even if they're cheering against us because I think we respond better in that type of environment," Summitt said. "If we go somewhere and there's 200 people, I feel like I'm motivating all the time.

"I expect to see us invested in the game. I think that was, for a young basketball team, a little overwhelming at times. We should not be overwhelmed."

The Lady Vols will take the court Thursday with players who have been through a season of SEC road games and know what to expect.

"A lot of it is simple maturity," Lockwood said. "I think sometimes we try to make more of it, look for answers, we're doing this better, and we're running this.

"We're older. We're a little tougher. We're a little stronger. We had the advantage of a very good off-season, starting in the spring. Our depth is better. Bottom line, we've got more players on board now."

STARTING LINEUPS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (13.7 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game, 4.4 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (16.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.7 apg); Taber Spani, 6'1 freshman forward, No. 13 (7.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (12.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (8.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.0 blocks per game.

Florida Coach Amanda Butler is expected to start: Lonnika Thompson, 5'4 senior guard, No. 2 (5.6 ppg, 1.5 rpg), hails from New Orleans, La., has started the last 11 games, shooting 54.5 percent from behind the arc in SEC play, had career-high eight assists against Jacksonville, family had to evacuate New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and she played high school basketball in Georgia before returning to New Orleans to complete her senior year at her old school, played one season at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas – she was recruited to replace Shannon Bobbitt, who went to Tennessee – and then enrolled in Florida; Jordan Jones, 5'9 redshirt sophomore guard, No. 33 (11.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.3 apg), hails from Suwanee, Ga., transferred to Florida from South Carolina and sat out last season, leads Florida in scoring, assists, steals and made three-pointers, has hit at least one three-pointer in all 16 games this season for the Gators; Steffi Sorensen, 5'10 senior guard, No. 10 (7.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg), hails from Jacksonville, Fla., only Gator to start every game this season and has started last 47 games, hit three straight 3-pointers Jan. 7 to secure the overtime win over Auburn, had a career-high 20 points against Old Dominion this season, hit at least one 3-pointer in 20 consecutive games last season, was 2006 Miss Florida Basketball in high school; Sharielle Smith, 5'10 senior forward, No. 24 (9.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg), hails from Bradenton, Fla., has started 13 games this season and one of three Gators to have scored in every game this season, has hit 15 of last 18 free throws, her career free throw percentage of 83.3 percent is the highest in program history, played on the same Florida AAU team as Sylvia Fowles, Erica White and Erlana Larkins; and Azania Stewart, 6'4 sophomore center, No. 13 (8.4 ppg, 3.7 apg), hails from Wood Green, England, has started the last 11 games, had 21 points and 11 boards against Auburn, shoots 62.2 percent from the field to lead the SEC, has hit her last 15 free throws, played last summer in the U20 World University Games for Great Britain, has just one kidney, left one was removed in 2008 because it was non-functioning and infected, will be an Olympian candidate for Great Britain – London is host to the 2012 games – and was converted to basketball at the age of 15 after being seen playing netball, went to high school in the United States at Notre Dame Academy in Virginia.

A key player off the bench for the Gators is Jennifer Mossor, a 5'9 senior guard. She missed the first nine games of the season after a lateral meniscus injury in her knee that required surgery but scored 11 points against Georgia. Jennifer George, a 6'0 freshman forward, is the leading scorer off the bench at 6.8 points per game. She had a career-high 10 rebounds against Georgia.

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

When Florida has the ball: A year ago the Gators were a senior-driven team with the inside-out attack of Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson. Those two players have graduated – both are playing professionally overseas, Brooks in Turkey and Dotson in Israel – and Florida is more perimeter-oriented this season.

"(Azania) Stewart is coming on (inside)," Lockwood said. "She's not what they want her to be right now and what she can be, but she's certainly coming on. I think she's enough of a threat but where their bread is going to get buttered is with Jordan Jones, Steffi Sorensen, Lonnika Thompson. Those are the kids that really, really make that team go."

The Gators aren't a running team, but they will push tempo when the opportunity presents itself.

"They like to push some," Lockwood said. "I would not call them a high-octane, up-and-down team, but they will run selectively. They will run on turnovers. They'll run when they have an advantage. Thompson is a very good open-floor player. Trumae Lucas, who comes off the bench, is a very good open floor player. Jones is an offensive weapon. She is a threat. She can shoot from 25, 26 feet comfortably, and Sorensen has great range.

"Jordan Jones can do some things off the dribble. They've got some players who are good open floor players, and they will take open threes. They'll run for layups, but their drivers will also kick to spot-up shooters. Boom, boom, boom, they'll spread you out. They'll run to get good open shots for people they want open shots for."

Defensively, "they're primarily man," Lockwood said. "They've played some 2-3 zone, but they are primarily a man team."

The size of Tennessee always means that an opponent may show zone looks on defense, too, perhaps more so than man.

"I've called that before and once I've been right, and once I've been dead wrong, because I thought Mississippi State we'd see more zone," Lockwood said. "I do think Florida will, but it depends on how the game goes. We started out last game zone. We fully intended to use man. When you open up a 17-point lead and you're in that defense you're a little reluctant to leave it.

"In their game plan I think they will show that, but I think they'll see how things go in their man."

When Tennessee has the ball: In the Lady Vols first possession against Mississippi State several passes were made on the perimeter to move the defense before Angie Bjorklund found Kelley Cain inside for a layup.

"Play through our middle, nice progression instead of a quick jumper," Lockwood said. "You've got to soften a defense. We're playing teams (in the SEC) that are well coached and for the most part there's personnel out there. Florida, they're not Florida from last year, but they still have good personnel. They're not as deep and they don't have a Sha Brooks and a Dotson, but they're good in terms of their starting five and what they do.

"When you play good teams you've got to soften them up. Rarely will you get more than a handful of possessions in a game where you can go, one pass and a shot, two passes and a shot. That's rare, unless you're fast breaking. I hope we're making progress, because that's what we want to do, and included in that is to play through our middle."

Defensively,, Tennessee will be prepared to play man and especially its zone, which has been very effective.

"I think it's the overall level of commitment they've made to play great defense," Pat Summitt said. "The fact we were dealing with late pickup in transition, now we've worked on that. I think that's gotten better. I think our half-court defense is better, man and zone. The zone is big. I think that's what really allows us to have a great deal of success there. It's hard to get by us or shoot over us."

"Our kids are very good in it," Lockwood said. "They're comfortable in it. The thing we don't want is any two of their three kids that could go off on you, we don't want that to happen."

Tennessee intends to bring some pressure to prevent the go-to players from getting into a comfortable rhythm.

"I think at some point, because their guards are so pivotal and they're so perimeter-oriented," Lockwood said. "Where they're getting a lot of their scoring is their perimeter."

ON TAP: Eight other SEC teams are in action tonight in the following matchups: Alabama at Auburn; Mississippi State at Arkansas; Georgia at Vanderbilt; and Kentucky at South Carolina. Ole Miss and LSU are idle.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Florida, 38-3. The Lady Vols record in Gainesville is 15-2 with the two losses coming in 2009 and 1997. … Tennessee is 15-3 in games played on January 14. The last win on this date came against Georgia, 52-41, in 2007. The first win on January 14 was against Maryville, 40-10, in 1925. The three losses on this date were to Western Carolina, 77-72, in 1976; N.C. State, 65-59, in 1984; and Auburn, 75-69, in 1987. … Tennessee is in the midst of an SEC road swing – the Lady Vols go to Georgia and LSU next week – but it is broken briefly by Vanderbilt coming to Knoxville on Sunday. Ticket sales for that game are already over 13,200. Florida will play in Knoxville on Feb. 14. … Tennessee has had four players from the state of Florida. Dominique Redding (Clearwater), Michelle Snow (Pensacola), Bridgette Gordon (DeLand) and Pam Marr (Winter Park) all hailed from the Sunshine State. … The spring semester started Wednesday, and Amber Gray, who suffered a stroke last July, has enrolled full time at Tennessee. Gray, a Lady Vol forward from Ohio, is sitting out this season to recover from brain and shoulder surgery. She won't travel this regular season, so she can channel her energy on her return to school and not miss classes. … Lady Vol guard Shekinna Stricklen is on the midseason Wooden Award watch list. The sophomore, the team's second-leading scorer and leader in assists, is among 21 players in the country who made the January list. Oddly enough, Lady Vol junior guard Angie Bjorklund was on the preseason Wooden Award list but didn't make the January list. Bjorklund is Tennessee's leading scorer at 16.5 points per game and is shooting 48.6 percent from behind the arc. … Florida Coach Amanda Butler is from Mt. Juliet, Tenn., and played for Florida. The 37-year-old Butler is the youngest head coach in the SEC, and has been wearing a walking boot after tearing her Achilles tendon in a flag football game last October. Pat Summitt won her first game in 1975, three years after Butler was born. Summitt's 500th win in 1993 came when Butler was a college senior. Summitt got win No. 1,000 on Feb. 5, 2009. Florida tallied its 1,000th win as a program on Jan. 29, 2009.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee is averaging 79.3 points a game while allowing opponents to score 56.6. Florida averages 66.1 points a game while allowing 59.7. The Lady Vols are shooting 47.0 percent overall, 37.8 percent behind the arc and 69.1 percent from the free throw line. The Gators are shooting 43.2 percent overall, 32.4 percent from long range and 66.8 percent from the line. Tennessee makes an average of 6.4 three-pointers a game while allowing 5.7. Florida makes 7.2 threes a game while allowing 4.8.

Tennessee averages 44.3 rebounds a game for a +8.7 margin. Florida averages 40.1 boards with a +2.3 margin. The Lady Vols average 16.4 assists and 13.8 turnovers a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.7 times a game. The Gators average 15.1 assists and 19.4 turnovers with foes losing the ball 18.9 times a game. Tennessee averages 7.5 steals and 6.3 blocks a game. Florida averages 9.9 steals and 3.8 blocks.


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