The Lady Vols are coming off a disappointing 53-50 loss at Georgia on Thursday and will try to regroup on the road against the Lady Tigers. It's a formidable task and will be Tennessee's fourth road game in the past five SEC games.
"Their defense is tremendous," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Ball security is going to be everything to us because they just really get up on you, they harass you, they get in the passing lanes. They do a great job of keeping you from getting a lot of quality looks in the paint.
"We've really got to pick and choose and figure out how we can do a better job of getting people open. That's why (Friday) we worked as hard as we did."
Thursday's game was the third consecutive one in which the guard play was spotty, so Summitt shook up her starting lineup and will swap one junior for another with Sydney Smallbone replacing Angie Bjorklund, who is likely to still play extensive minutes.
Shekinna Stricklen will remain at the point position – Summitt reiterated Friday that the sophomore has the reins – and the sophomore knows ball security, a major issue against Georgia, will be critical against LSU if the Lady Vols are going to stay among the leaders in the SEC.
"Controlling the ball," Stricklen said. "I know LSU is watching (the Georgia) game, and they're going to pressure us full court. We're just going to have to control the ball and take care of the ball."
Bjorklund and Stricklen's play has been critical to the success of the team and as they have faltered, so has Tennessee.
"Strick and I, if we don't have a good game, the whole team seems to go that way, which makes sense, with the point guard and the two guard, we play most of the minutes," Bjorklund said. "I think that it's going to be really important for the guards to turn things around, learn from our mistakes and move on."
After playing so well together for the first 15 games, they have struggled in the past three, enough so that Bjorklund was jokingly asked if alien abduction was a plausible explanation.
"OK, I'll give you that. That's for sure," Bjorklund said with a smile.
"I think we can definitely get them back," a smiling Glory Johnson said of the guards.
After the Georgia game, Johnson said communication was the primary problem. At times it seemed like the posts were playing together, and the guards were playing together, and they weren't playing with each other.
"I think we've just got to figure out what the problem is and what's going on in their head when they're controlling the ball," Johnson said. "I know they're not scared of any team and all and I know they know their positions and what they can do against a team, but at the same time they've just got to put the same work that they put in practice in the game. Just play the same way we play against the boys in practice in the games, and then we'll be fine."
The effort, intensity and energy are present at practice – Monday and Friday's sessions provided ample evidence of that – but there has been little carryover to the games of late. When Summitt and her staff are leading a tough practice, the players respond. So what needs to happen in a game?
"Play the same way we do in practice when Pat is upset at us and how hard we (practice) when she's upset after a game, a tough loss, or even a tough win," Johnson said. "We come in to practice knowing that we have to work hard for her to be happy. We need to play the same way, because we know if we go into a game and we don't play the way she expects us to, she's going to be just as mad."
The team was upbeat in practice Friday and Saturday, so somehow that attitude must transfer to the court when it really counts in the win/loss column.
"We've got to build a swagger that we should have and the confidence that we should have," Johnson said. "We've been getting in the gym way more than we used to and knowing that we can knock down shots and knowing that we can take a girl one on one.
"But when your confidence level is down here because you're missing shots you can't let that affect the rest of your game. You have to move on to something else. When you're hot you can hit those shots. If you're not, work on rebounding, work on something else, your defense. But we can't let the fact that we're missing shots and other teams are maybe ahead of us, we can't let that affect how we play for the rest of the game."
Johnson went through her own stint in Summitt's crosshairs and missed two starts, including the South Carolina game on Jan. 7 to open SEC play. Since then, Johnson has started four consecutive games and earned praise from Summitt after each one.
In her last three games, Johnson is shooting 57.7 percent from the field and has five assists to just four turnovers, including zero turnovers against Georgia despite playing 40 minutes and on a night when the team had 23 miscues. In SEC play, she is averaging a double-double – 12.8 points and 10.2 rebounds.
"Just knowing my role and what I can be for my team and just trying to stay at my strengths," Johnson said of the difference. "Whenever I struggle scoring offensively I make sure that I play defense and still rebound. And if I am on offensively I try to score as much as I can while I'm hot, and if I'm not hot I try to kick it to Kelley Cain as much as I can.
"Knowing when it's my turn to go and when it's my turn to whoa."
Johnson said limiting turnovers was a must for Tennessee, because they lead to lowered confidence and tentative play.
"Probably just being close to teams that we know that we should just take over and dominate games," Johnson said of the team's recent overall offensive struggles. We need to stick to 15 (turnovers) or less, and I think that's a goal that we've had set. We've got to stick to our guns and know that we can only let certain teams in so much. When we let those teams in, that's when we start to suffer."
For that reason Johnson wants a solid start at Baton Rouge, a tough venue for Tennessee, even when they fielded veteran teams.
"Take off from the beginning of the game and play a 40-minute game," Johnson said. "I know it's tough. Strick and I had to play 40 minutes last game, and I know it's tough, but it's possible, and it's doable.
"You've got to have a different mindset when you're playing these teams and go in knowing what you can do to a team. When you know that and when you actually play with that confidence then I think you can take over."
Tennessee has just three true post players on the roster that are healthy – Faith Dupree (back), Vicki Baugh (knee), and Amber Gray (shoulder, stroke) are sitting out this season to recover and rehab – and all three will be in the starting lineup Sunday. Alyssia Brewer has replaced freshman forward Taber Spani, who is bothered by turf toe and was pulled from practice this week to rest and get treatment.
In the last three games center Kelley Cain is shooting 73.9 percent and is averaging 13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. Under the same parameters, Brewer is shooting 43.8 percent and is averaging 7.0 points and 6.3 rebounds. After going 0-3 from the line against Vanderbilt, Brewer was 4-5 from the stripe against Georgia.
"Glory has been doing what she needs to do, and she has definitely learned her role, and she knows what it is," Cain said. "You can tell that she's going in there and playing her butt off for her team. She's not selfish. As far as our post game, we emphasize going in there and getting position. That's what Glory does and that's what Lyssi did (against Georgia). I can honestly say I am proud of those two."
Cain's remarks came after the Georgia game. She missed the final four minutes after getting a technical, her fifth foul, and blamed herself for the loss. On Friday, Summitt defended her center, said the technical was incorrect because Cain didn't say what she was accused of saying, and it "point blank" affected the outcome of the game.
Both the coach and Cain also pointed to the turnovers as a deciding factor.
"We just didn't have composure," Cain said. "There is no excuse for 23 turnovers. We've got to take what we can in this game and carry over into the next game. We have to do a 360 if we're going to beat LSU from how we played (Thursday)."
That is what Dean Lockwood hopes will happen in the next game. Tennessee has no seniors, but it does have talent. However, Baugh, a 6'4 forward and one of its best players in terms of athleticism, skill and swagger, is taking a redshirt year. There is very little wiggle room for sub-par efforts, and it caught up with the Lady Vols on Thursday.
The question the coaches will get answered is how does the team bounce back from a tough loss? Do the players have the mindset of wanting revenge – add to it that they lost to LSU in Baton Rouge last season – or will they still be reeling? With a young team that is still coming back from one of the worst seasons in program history, the answer is not always apparent until during the game.
"I don't know that I can tell you that with any facts, intelligence and evidence," Lockwood said of how the team will respond Sunday. "But I would tell you this. It's like any season. A season is full of ups and downs, and I think sometimes with our team we have to be careful because of all this."
Lockwood meant the banners and expectations and the fact every game, every practice and every possession can be dissected. That success and scrutiny also lead to some overreaction after a bad performance.
"There have been so many good years," Lockwood said. "It's very easy to get in a boat and you're in a current and (act like) you're headed right for Niagara Falls. You've got to be careful and say, ‘One game, one thing at a time.' We're a team that last year … look at the distance we've traveled. We were a team that struggled. We were a team that got knocked out of the first round.
"So, all of a sudden, we start the season pretty good, and then we hit that one thing at Stanford but then we win several more games. Some of your (media) cohorts are on the airwaves penciling us in already for the Final Four. We hear that as coaches and I want to say Jim Mora, ‘Playoffs??!!?? Playoffs??!!?? Final Four??!!?? San Antonio??!!??' ( Jim Mora rant.)
"We know our warts and vulnerabilities and the places we need to shore up. Now, do we have a team that's capable? You had better believe we do. We so believe in this team. But a game like (Thursday) night exposes what we still have to do. Even against great pressure we might turn it over 15, 17 times, but (we think) we're never going to turn it over 23, 25. We've had two games now 23 and 25 turnovers. That tells us something.
"I don't see that our team should feel like, ‘Oh, no,' but it brings some things to light that need to be addressed and improved upon. I hope our team knows that we are capable of being a Final Four team but until we hammer those areas out and exorcise those demons and get them out, these kind of thing could happen again. We play in a league that's good enough and it could happen at LSU. It could happen with Kentucky. It could happen at Vanderbilt and Auburn coming. There is a laundry list of games where this could happen to us again.
"I am not so worried about them being as much down, as I want them to take the lesson. Let's not lose the lesson of what a night like (Thursday) night taught us."
Bjorklund and Stricklen watched film of the Georgia game on the flight back to Knoxville. The team also watched with the coaches before Friday's practice.
"After watching film I know that I was rushing a lot, especially at the beginning of the game," Bjorklund said. "Instead of letting the game come to me I was trying to rush things and force things. I think just taking a step back and looking at film has really helped. Strick and I and the guards need to make the adjustment."
The weight of expectations at Tennessee can be tremendous, and this team is loaded with sophomores. Can that be too heavy at times for young players, especially one such as Stricklen, who has learned three positions – point, shooting guard and small forward – and is averaging 32.8 minutes per game in SEC play?
"If you let it, yeah, I think it can," Bjorklund said. "You have to realize and if it takes us telling her more, we have 13 players on this team and it's not all on her. It's the whole team. You have to realize that, and we have to do whatever it takes to help her realize that.
"I know Strick gets down on herself a lot. She has high expectations for herself. The whole program has high expectations. The weight on her shoulders – myself and other teammate need to help lift that off of her and take responsibility for it, too. She just needs to realize it was a team effort in the loss, you could say."
Stricklen, whose natural position is small forward/shooting guard, has been playing mostly point guard, as she did last season. Stricklen said the best thing for her to do is to simplify the process, which satisfies Summitt.
"The main thing is just taking care of the ball and setting up the play and getting the team together," Stricklen said. "That is all she really wants."
Bjorklund will enter this game on a delayed basis – she has struggled for the past three games and Summitt hopes a spot on the bench to start the game will help her refocus – but she seems to be absorbing the lessons that Lockwood cited.
"To win at LSU we have to play defense, we have to rebound, and we have to have composure and take care of the ball," Bjorklund said. "Every team from now on is going to come after us after seeing the past few games. I think our offense and our composure is really going to have to tighten up, along with continuing to play hard defense and rebound well.
"I think one thing that's going to be key, especially on the road, if they're making a run the crowd is loud, sometimes you get a couple of turnovers, you can't let that suck the life out of you. We have to have all five players say, ‘OK, that's over.' We need to move on to the next play and keep the energy high.
"That's something we really need to work on is just having a mentality of we need to go in there and no matter what happens we have to move on from whatever play, keep the energy high and just go in and have the mentality that we're going to go out and beat people, pound people."
Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 25 (13.1 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 4.2 assists per game); Sydney Smallbone, 5'10 junior guard, No. 20 (3.1 ppg, 0.6 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (12.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.4 steals per game); Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 33 (7.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (9.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.7 blocks per game).
Brewer has replaced Taber Spani in the lineup so that has moved Johnson to small forward. Spani, a 6'1 freshman forward, is dealing with turf toe in her left foot. Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, said Spani has been cleared to play, but Summitt said it would be a game-time decision based on her level of pain and mobility. An X-ray on Friday revealed no change in the status of her foot, despite the time off the court, so it's a condition that must be managed day to day.
LSU Coach Van Chancellor is expected to start: Latear Eason, 5'8 junior guard, No. 3 (5.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.8 apg), hails from Chicago, Ill., ranks first in the SEC in assist/turnover ratio at 2.8 with 61 assists and just 22 turnovers, had a career-high eight assists against Ole Miss, wears No. 3 because favorite player is Allen Iverson; Katherine Graham, 5'11 junior guard, No. 1 (7.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg), hails from Birmingham, Ala., scored a career-high 24 points against South Carolina after starting the game 8-8 from the field, hit two free throws with 7.9 seconds left last season to secure the 63-61 win over Tennessee, SEC Honor Roll student last season; Allison Hightower, 5'10 senior guard, No. 23 (16.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg), hails from Arlington, Texas, preseason SEC Player of the Year, has scored in double figures in 15 games this season, had a career-high 32 points against LaTech, won the 4A state title in the high jump in high school; LaSondra Barrett, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 55 (12.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), hails from Jackson, Miss., scored a career-high 30 points against Ole Miss, is averaging 20.8 ppg in SEC games, scored 18 points in the win over the Lady Vols last season, received SEC freshman academic honors last season, nickname is Boogie, cousin is former Auburn and current Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell; and Taylor Turnbow, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 35 (7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), hails from Stone Mountain, Ga., posted double-double with 17 points, 12 rebounds against Middle Tennessee, averages 2.6 offensive boards a game, had a career-high seven blocks against Xavier last season.
If Eason isn't able to start, Destini Hughes, a 5'10 sophomore guard from Fort Worth, Texas, is expected to replace her. Eason missed the South Carolina game because of an injury to her collarbone that she sustained in practice last Tuesday, and Hughes filled in with six assists and two steals. LSU lists Eason as day to day.
A key player for LSU off the bench is Courtney Jones, a 6'2 sophomore forward from Midfield, Ala., who has started six games this season and is averaging 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16.6 minutes of playing time per game.
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-LSU game. Here is his assessment.
When LSU has the ball: "They run motion," Lockwood said. "LaSondra Barrett is one of the most unsung players in the country. Midrange shot, she is money in the bank. She is a very, very good midrange shooter. She has terrific shot selection. (Allison) Hightower is a big catalyst for them. Hightower is a motor. She's got a Glory (Johnson), Lex (Hornbuckle), Shannon (Bobbitt) motor. People that built them built her. She just doesn't stop moving. She moves great without a ball. They are not a team that is going to just bomb you with threes but driving and midrange they're very dangerous.
"They screen per possession more than any other team I've seen all year by far. You might see four or five screens on one possession. That's a lot of screening action. They set forward screens, back screens, ball screens. Once again we're going to be challenged with defending screens, one on one defending penetration and then blocking out because they don't get a ton of offensive rebounds, but what they get they make something happen."
Defensively, "They're a little bit better defensively than what Georgia is in terms of their ability to bring pressure," Lockwood said. "They're opportunistic. They're not up and down but what they do get on the ball they can really get into you. I told our team this will be a great challenge for us for where we are right now for what people are trying to do to us."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to play through their posts and that is especially true with Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer and Glory Johnson across the frontline to start the game.
"You've got the stats," Lockwood said. "You look at the post production so we'd be flaming idiots if we didn't say those kids have got to get touches."
Lockwood said playing through the posts also means that the guards need to get to the paint. They can penetrate to the rim or pull up for a short jumper or draw the defense and dish off to a post player.
"The point is you play through them," he said. "In basketball you've got to have something that draws the attention of the defense. What we want to draw the attention of the defense is our post touches. Now, how are you going to play them? Are you going to one on one? Are you going to double? Are you going to dig? Now, that will involve our other facets of offense. (But) we want to get them touches."
Defensively, With a bigger lineup, Tennessee is more likely to zone defenses.
"You're going to see us play a good portion of zone," Lockwood said. "I would be very surprised (if not). I always tell you it's game to game."
LSU, which was picked by the media to win the SEC in preseason, has struggled at times this season and lost two straight to Auburn and Ole Miss before beating South Carolina on Thursday.
"We commiserate right there with (Van Chancellor)," said Lockwood, who has watched a lot of LSU game film, including the Auburn loss. "It reminded me in some ways of parts of Stanford, where we are right there and then the efficiency wasn't there."
Lockwood said the Ole Miss game gave him flashbacks of Virginia's Monica Wright in Thompson-Boling Arena last season in which she uncorked a career-high 35 points.
"It reminded me of our Virginia game where one kid, Bianca Thomas (of Ole Miss), absolutely just torched them (for 42 points)," Lockwood said. "It looked like a grown adult had walked into a house full of seventh graders and was taking stuff out of the cupboards and all we could do was watch. ‘What do we do guys?' I still commiserate."
Lockwood wants to see Tennessee attack and get to the free throw line in this game to put pressure on LSU inside. It took 30 minutes for the Lady Vols to attempt their first free throw against Georgia.
"We've got to be more aggressive," Lockwood said. "We've got to force things to make them make calls. That's our first time to the line? That's not a Tennessee team. Second half, we missed four layups. I deal in cold, hard facts. Before we become a Final Four team that is what has to be addressed. My boat (in that current to Niagara Falls) isn't sunk. I look at this as Georgia exposed some things in our game that we've gotten better, but we stepped backward.
"We didn't bring all the game intelligence and the savvy that you need for a game like this. And I credit Georgia for being a good team and the ground that they've traveled. But we're still who we are and we've got the talent that we've got and we're very, very capable. Rather than saying, ‘How do we get back there,' I just want to say, ‘How do we learn from this and get better? How do we learn from this and get better and take this and move on?'
"Because we've had some moments where we've played some pretty good basketball. Our big thing now, like a number of young teams, is the level of consistency. What we are not yet – it's like raising the cage on a tiger and all of a sudden you just see (the animal leaping out) – we don't do that. Right now we like to cat and mouse a little bit. We'll play with it.
"That's maturity (when the team is ready to pounce from the opening tip). That's competitive maturity. I just hope our team doesn't get too down, but I hope they take the lessons, move on and are smart enough to apply them. We've got to step up a notch. Everybody that is on this team that is wearing a uniform, we've got to step up a notch."
JERSEY RETIREMENT: The jersey of Seimone Augustus, a former LSU All-American and two-time National Player of the Year, will be retired in a ceremony before the LSU-Tennessee game.
A banner commemorating her No. 33 will be hung in the rafters of the Maravich Center and the first 2,000 fans will receive a free Seimone Augustus mini-banner.
Augustus, who played from 2003 to 2006, will become the first woman in the history of LSU Athletics to have her jersey retired, and the ninth individual. Others honored include Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit and Shaquille O'Neal in basketball and Billy Cannon in football.
"What an honor for LSU to honor a great person and a great player," LSU Coach Van Chancellor said. "Let's not ever forget the fact that she did graduate. Not only is she an outstanding player, but an outstanding person – a person that went to class and did what she was supposed to do."
Tennessee recruited Augustus, but the Louisiana native, who now plays for the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, opted to stay home.
"Seimone was a player that we missed out on," Pat Summitt said. "I thought then that she was a going to be a great, great star wherever she chose to go. She did make a visit here and I really enjoyed getting to know Seimone well, and her family, which came on the recruiting trip here. At the same time, I anticipated that would probably be a long shot.
"She had a great career there and is a great pro player. Very, very skilled, but also just had a toughness about her."
Augustus scored 32 points in Knoxville on Feb. 9, 2006, to break Tennessee's 10-year SEC home winning streak of 64 games with a 72-69 victory for the Lady Tigers. She blocked Shanna Zolman's three-point attempt at the end of the game to seal the win.
ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action Sunday. The other matchups are: Arkansas at Alabama; Auburn at Kentucky; South Carolina at Florida; Ole Miss at Georgia; and Mississippi State at Vanderbilt.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with LSU, 37-12. The Lady Vols' record in Baton Rouge is 11-6, and the Lady Tigers claimed last season's game in the Bayou, 66-63. LSU in the only team in the country that has beaten Tennessee at least once in each of the past five seasons, and the Lady Tigers have won three out of the last five meetings. The two games that Tennessee won in that time period were the SEC tourney title game in 2008 and the semifinal of the Final Four in 2008. LSU won an SEC semifinal game in 2007, and the regular season games in 2008 and 2009. Five of the last 11 games have been decided by three points or less. … Tennessee is 8-3 in games played on January 24. The last win on this date was against Arkansas, 98-55, in 2008. The first win on January 24 was against Kentucky, 70-67, in 1976. The three losses on this date were to Tennessee Tech, 83-61, in 1976; LSU, 85-80 in overtime, in 1979; and Kentucky, 96-82, in 1986. … Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of former North Carolina State Coach Kay Yow. Yow passed away after an extended battle with breast cancer and she left behind a foundation to bring awareness to the disease that works in conjunction with the Jimmy V Foundation and the WNBA. Stephanie Glance, who was a longtime assistant under Yow and served as acting head coach when she was hospitalized, is now on the Lady Vol staff as a special assistant to Pat Summitt. She has filled in on the bench and with recruiting duties while current Tennessee Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow deals with undisclosed medical issues.
BY THE NUMBERS OVERALL WITH SEC PLAY IN PARENTHESES: Tennessee is averaging 76.1 points a game (66.8) while allowing opponents to score 56.8 (56.8). LSU averages 71.4 points a game (67.4) while allowing 49.5 (58.4). The Lady Vols are shooting 46.6 percent overall (45.5), 36.6 percent behind the arc (32.9) and 68.6 percent from the free throw line (63.6). The Lady Tigers are shooting 42.8 percent overall (42.3), 29.2 percent from long range (26.3) and 70.2 percent from the line (74.0). Tennessee makes an average of 5.8 three-pointers a game (5.0) while allowing 6.0 (7.4). LSU makes 3.6 threes a game (3.0) while allowing 3.7 (4.2).
Tennessee averages 43.3 rebounds a game for a +9.3 margin (40.0, +9.0). LSU averages 41.3 boards for a +7.4 margin (36.4, +2.4). The Lady Vols average 16.0 assists (15.6) and 15.1 turnovers (16.4) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.9 times a game (17.0). The Lady Tigers average 15.1 assists (16.8) and 12.8 turnovers (13.6) with foes losing the ball 21.2 times a game (18.6). Tennessee averages 7.4 steals (6.0) and 5.6 blocks a game (4.6). LSU averages 10.3 steals (9.6) and 4.4 blocks (3.8).