Tennessee to take on Arkansas tonight

When Kamiko Williams walked into Pratt Pavilion this week, her T-shirt was soaked in sweat. It was worth noting because the freshman had worked out already before practice – another indicator of raising her level of commitment – and she will be in the starting lineup tonight when Tennessee squares off against Arkansas.

While Kamiko Williams and Alicia Manning were getting in a pre-practice workout on the arena floor Tuesday with a pair of coaches, Holly Warlick and Stephanie Glance, sophomore guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen was taking wing jumpers at Pratt Pavilion using "The Tennessee Gun," an automatic ball feeder for shooters. With Williams starting at the point guard spot, Stricklen will get more time on the perimeter.

Coach Pat Summitt will still rely on several players to handle point duties, including Stricklen, Williams, Briana Bass and perhaps Manning, too.

If the committee system works, Stricklen won't have to play point for "extended minutes," Summitt said. The coaches have felt as if Stricklen were putting too much pressure on herself, and they hope playing more without the ball in her hands will relieve some of that anxiety.

"I'd like to get Alicia Manning involved, too, in the ball handling," Summitt said. "It's not that difficult if you just make a pass and then go play. As I told Stricklen all you've got to do is get the ball out of your hands and then just go. You're a player."

Williams won't be the only change to the starting lineup Thursday when No. 5 Tennessee (19-2, 7-1) takes on Arkansas (9-12, 1-7) at 7 p.m. Eastern (FSN, Lady Vol Radio Network).

Alyssia Brewer, a 6'3 sophomore forward, will start in the paint for the fifth time this season and for the fourth SEC game. Summitt was both particularly pleased with Brewer's effort against South Carolina and especially peeved with Glory Johnson's shot selection in the same game.

"As I told her, you pretty much played by yourself," Summitt said during her Wednesday morning media teleconference. "I hadn't seen her do that with that many shots outside the paint. I know Dean (Lockwood) has been working with her with the high post shot, but she needs to focus on her midrange game. That's where she can really thrive.

"That's why I told Dean, I want to watch with her, because she has got to get the discipline in her game to know what shots to take."

A year ago it was a season-long struggle to get Brewer to stay in the paint – she kept drifting onto the perimeter and away from her strengths, which are moves and countermoves on the blocks. Brewer also struggled last season with the pace of the game, but she is in better condition now after an off-season with Heather Mason.

"She is in better shape, but Lyssi also has been really very coachable when it comes to her post position," Summitt said. "I'm really pleased with her. The only thing she does at times that can be really be disruptive is she'll over pass.

"She's one of our best scorers. I told her, ‘I don't want you looking to pass, I want you looking to score first.' I think she'll do that. Occasionally, she's going to over pass, but for the most part, she's been a real bright spot for our post game."

Summitt is referring to those times when Brewer has her defender sealed and is deep in the paint but chooses to flip the ball outside to a shooter. That led to a turnover Sunday against South Carolina. Brewer's high-low game passes are a welcome sight for the coaches, and she has worked well this season with Kelley Cain, the 6'6 center who needs no encouragement to stay in the paint.

Cain, whose right knee was feeling better Wednesday at practice, was able to sprint the floor. She also made a power move on the baseline that brought a huge cheer from Vicki Baugh, who is sidelined this season to recover from knee surgery.

Wednesday's practice was a little under two hours and included some full court work, especially scoring in early offense and getting back in transition on defense. With the calendar having flipped to February and postseason just a month away, Summitt's intensity level just ratcheted up another notch.

"We've got to be consistent," said Summitt, who gathered her players at one point during practice Wednesday to emphatically emphasize that point. "We can't pick and choose when we want to play hard. We've got to play hard all the time.

"I don't think we can just do walk-throughs (the day before a game) and get them to be focused at the highest level. I think we've got to tell them, here's the sets, here's how we have to guard them, now go guard them. We have to go live action."

Summitt shook her head when asked if the same approach would apply on game day. Shoot-arounds will continue to be half court and refresher points to save players' legs.

During her media teleconference Summitt noted that she needed a competitive and effective team across the board, and she hasn't hesitated to change her lineup this season to try different combinations. Thursday's starting lineup will be the 10th one of the 2009-10 season – there have been steady changes since freshman Taber Spani went down with turf toe and had to come out of the starting lineup after four SEC games – but one constant has been the presence of Stricklen, the lone player to start all 21 games this season.

But Summitt said Wednesday that spot still had to be earned each day, and Stricklen sat for 14 minutes in the first half against South Carolina because she wasn't sprinting the floor on defense to start the game.

"Right now, it's not so much about who has had the most experience, it's who is the most invested and the most competitive," Summitt said. "We need competitive players. To be honest with you, not everybody competes the way they should compete all the time. Kinna has got to do that to keep herself in the lineup."

Stricklen will be in the lineup Thursday, and she will move to the wing with Williams having sufficiently earned the coach's trust to start at point.

"I had to wait until Kamiko was ready, until she understood our sets and was ready to run our team," Summitt said. "It took time for her as a freshman, and I'm pleased with where she is now."

The entire staff saw Williams' potential when individual workouts began last August, but the first-year player had major adjustments to make on both sides of the ball. She also practiced like the sophomores did a season ago – erratically from one day to the next and often giving in to fatigue.

Williams also had to grasp the fact that she was expected to contribute this season. She said she thought she was perhaps a year away from really being a factor for the team, and it was not until the West Coast trip in late December that she realized her time could come sooner. But Williams still had to practice to Summitt's daily expectations, and she had a steep learning curve when it came to the offensive systems used by Tennessee.

In the past two weeks Williams learned the plays – it took a two-day cram session with a DVD, a paper test in Summitt's office and then an on-court practice quiz – and then entered Sunday's game against South Carolina in relief of Stricklen and passed the live exam.

"I kind of shocked myself," Williams said. "Honestly, I didn't think I was going to start until my sophomore year, if I did begin to start. But it's happened. I'm going to embrace it. I am going to take it as an opportunity to do my part, and see where it goes from there."

Williams played overseas in Germany until high school, where she played in Clarksville, Tenn. Her father taught her to play basketball, and she was a combo guard at Northeast High School and usually had the ball in her hands.

"My dad's always had me in a role to play the point," Williams said. "I actually feel more comfortable playing the one now that I know all the plays and stuff like that. I am the type of person I like to give the ball to other people to score. So just go out there and do what I can and get the ball to who I need to get it to and please the coaches.

"(Summitt) expects leadership. She expects discipline. She expects me to go out there and know what I'm doing. We had a little meeting where she made me draw up the plays and explain it to her. I am comfortable with it. I am glad they have confidence in me. It will help me build my confidence as well. My team has been backing me up so I feel good about it."

Getting Williams ready to start at point has been a season-long process, and the coaches decided to pull the trigger on the move in February to give her a month at the spot before postseason.

"You've got to have some momentum," Dean Lockwood said.

The notion of Williams at the point spot was circulating in Lockwood's mind last November, but he knew she had to get ready first, and if a player who hasn't earned the spot in practice leapfrogs other players, then team dynamics break down "no question," he said.

"I also recognize the lack of competitive maturity," Lockwood said. "It's like sending a guy out into battle. You can have the toughest guy but until he's battle skilled, then he's not a Marine yet. I saw the makings of a Marine early. I saw that in November."

Williams sought the counsel of other coaches and her teammates as Summitt's demands began to grow. Williams went from playing in relief on the wing to running the point in a three-out, two-in formation that doesn't require a set play to be called to being told she had to learn the plays.

"I felt like it was a test and talking to Coach Train (Daedra Charles-Furlow), she told me that maybe she's testing you," Williams said. "I took it to heart. These past couple of practices, past couple of games I've taken it as a test, proven myself and now I'm where I am."

Williams also got some words of wisdom from junior Angie Bjorklund.

"I am still learning to understand Coach but talking to Angie, Angie said, ‘Maybe this is a test for you to see if she can put you in the starting lineup,' " Williams said. "I said, ‘Maybe you're right, maybe not.' "

Bjorklund, a third-year player, knows how to read Summitt and can see the bigger picture at play in the coaches' minds. She also knows how much Summitt values work – Summitt stopped practice Wednesday to tell the other guards to watch Bjorklund in every drill, especially how hard she works to set and use screens – and how practice effort is both demanded and rewarded.

Bjorklund and Stricklen also will benefit if Williams can be successful on a regular basis.

"They can cut," Williams said. "I can find them easily. I can penetrate, people come up on me and I can kick it back out. I am the type of person I love to pass anyway and so if you get open I'll give you the ball."

Williams said on the post-game radio show after the South Carolina game that she felt a sense of obligation to help Stricklen and Bjorklund.

"I do," Williams said. "Coach looks at me to do it, so I feel like it's my responsibility. If they're not producing or they're having a hard time producing then that's when I have to step up and become one of the people to do it."

Williams has shown that she can get to the rim at will and finish in the paint and since she's a lefty, teams have been taken off guard by her ability to go in that direction. But as scouting film gets in circulation, teams will try to take away her strengths. Thus, Williams and Manning spent time before practice with Warlick and Glance working on midrange jumpers.

"Talking to Stephanie they told me I do have a midrange jumper, and I know I can knock them down, but I have to shape it up a little bit," Williams said. "I have a tendency to fade. I have a tendency to jerk my hand a little bit. She's working with me to be more consistent on it.

"Once they stop me from penetrating I'll go back to what she showed me and my dad showed me and start knocking shots down."

Williams also has a clear idea of how she should start Thursday's game.

"One will be handling the ball, taking care of the ball," Williams said. "Coach preaches that to me all the time, ball security, ball security, because we have had a lot of turnovers lately, and I know she's looking to me and my ball handling skills to keep the ball in my hands.

"First and foremost would be to look inside to Kelley Cain, look inside to Glory, look for Angie and Strick. If none of them are open I will have to penetrate myself and look to score. If they stop me from penetrating I'll have to shoot and make them play honest defense. I am going to have to adjust."

Williams knew she had reached a new level with Summitt when the head coach asked her during the South Carolina game what she thought would work on the offensive end.

"She gave me the opportunity to go out there and show her, and she asked me (what to run)," Williams said. "I said, ‘We could try this.' Since the coaches have a lot of confidence in me that builds up my confidence. I talk to my dad every day, and he helps me keep my mind straight, too."

Williams should handle starting just fine – she has shown that she is rather unflappable on the court.

"I wouldn't expect her to be nervous," Summitt said. "I don't think a whole lot bothers her, which is not a bad thing."

Summitt allowed Williams to play through some mistakes Sunday, and she doesn't have any preconceived notion in her head about how long Williams' leash will be from here on out.

"It's a wait and see," Summitt said. "It's a feel thing. It's not something you can predict. I think that's part of coaching."

Summitt has proven that she will shake up the lineup when needed, and she has repeatedly said that too much emphasis is placed on who starts.

"Obviously we've had a lot of different combinations, but ultimately when we play through the games you see players step up," Summitt said. "Like Lyssi Brewer. Lyssi Brewer right now is really our best post player and our most efficient. We've got to get Kelley more touches and hopefully her knee will allow us to play her longer. And Glory (needs to) get more composure in the paint.

"That (multiple lineups) doesn't bother me. Doesn't bother me at all. You can put somebody in and take them out three seconds into the game if you don't like what you see."

Lockwood said during his coaching years in the early 1980s, he put a lot of emphasis on who started, but his point of view has changed over the past decade-plus.

"As a player everyone wants to start," Lockwood said. "As a coach, early on, it was a bigger deal to me than it is now. It's about playing crucial minutes. I am so not wrapped up in that. I am in to who plays, who's in the playing group and who's in at key situations. If you're a player, you're a player. As coaches you don't hold anybody in less esteem or less regard because they're not a starter. I think it means much less today, even across the (entire basketball) landscape than it used to.

"You want to know what you're going to get. That's the goal for every kid. Consistency and performance. Because where do you gauge it? Obviously practice is where you're going to see it the most, but game performance is where you see what's most magnified. What do you do this for? It's for the games. So, what we want to see is consistency in a game performance."

Williams may be a freshman, but she's aware of the tenuous nature of a starting spot at Tennessee this season.

"I am going to have to come out here do my part and play my role, work hard every day," Williams said. "I've still got to go out there and work hard because that position can be taken from me at any moment. If anything it will make me want to work harder to keep it."

STARTING LINEUPS

Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Kamiko Williams, 5'11 freshman guard, No. 4 (4.7 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game, 2.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.5 apg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.9 apg); Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 33 (8.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore, center, No. 52 (9.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.9 blocks per game).

Glory Johnson, a 6'3 sophomore forward who has started 19 games this season, will come off the bench. Johnson is averaging 12.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

"They've been the two most efficient post players," Summitt said of her decision to open inside with Cain and Brewer. "I like the size. Glory has given us quality minutes and production. Obviously the South Carolina game was not a very good game for Glory. I want to go big right now."

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen is expected to start: C'eira Ricketts, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 22 (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg), hails from Louisville, Ky., one of four players in the Razorbacks lineup to start all 21 games this season, had five assists against Vandy last Sunday, scored 22 points against Tennessee last season, 2009 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year: Charity Ford, 5'8 senior guard, No. 32 (11.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg), hails from Arlington, Texas, has 11 steals in SEC play, 2009 SEC Sixth Woman of the Year; Lyndsay Harris, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 33 (12.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.2 apg), hails from Hoover, Ala., same hometown as former Lady Vol Sidney Spencer, scored 20 points against Vanderbilt, has hit 51 three-pointers this season; Ashley Daniels, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 12 (7.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), hails from Coldwater, Miss., leads the team in rebounds, has 23 offensive boards in SEC games; and Skye Rees, 6'3 junior post, No. 15 (3.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg), hails from Drouin, Victoria, in Australia, has started one game this season, has hit 11 three-pointers this season, seven of which came in SEC games, played last season at Northeast Oklahoma A&M.

"We got better against Vanderbilt," Ford said. "I feel like we can play with anyone in the league. We're confident, and we know our hard work is going to pay off. It doesn't matter whose name is on the other jersey, we're going in ready to play."

Arkansas had a 10-point lead in the second half against Vanderbilt last Sunday but lost it late and fell, 67-61.

"Tennessee is a tough place to play," Collen said. "It's a challenge for everyone who goes in there but we have to view this as an opportunity and go in and see what we can do. We were a better basketball team at the end of the Vanderbilt game.

"This team continues to improve. I really believe we are capable of playing with the majority of teams in the SEC – we just don't have the wins to show for it."

Arkansas is missing senior post player Ashley McCray, who wasn't in uniform for the Vandy game because of a separated shoulder. McCray had started 17 games this season.

Two key players off the bench for the Razorbacks are Sarah Watkins, a 6'3 freshman center, and Dominique Robinson, a 6'0 freshman forward. Watkins, who has started twice this season, averages 6.2 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Robinson averages 5.9 points and 4.4 boards a game.

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for Tennessee-Arkansas.

When Arkansas has the ball: "Very dribble-drive oriented," Lockwood said. "They run a version of the Memphis dribble-drive, drive and kick. You're going to see a lot of ball screens. You're going to see a lot of spread floor, open lanes. They drive the living (daylights) out of the ball. C'eira Ricketts. Lyndsay Harris. Charity Ford. And then they come in with players (off the bench), and they're drive, drive, drive, drive, drive.

"(Skye) Rees is probably the most pure three and then they've got other players who have been streaky from three. But, number one, they need to dribble to score, and they need to get points in the paint."

Defensively,, "Mostly man," Lockwood said. "They have played very, very small snippets of zone. The games I have seen more recently have all been man. The guards will pick up (the ball). I haven't seen a lot of really full court, get into you. They've done that in small parts of games, but that's not their style. Guards will pick up and after that they're going to play more of a half-court game."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols want to score inside and play through the paint via the posts and the guards.

"Go back to your template," Lockwood said.

A new wrinkle will be freshman Kamiko Williams making her first career start at point guard, but the Tennessee system is the same.

"There is not a lot of difference in terms of our strategy and our game-planning and our tactics," Lockwood said. "I think what Miko does is bring a different skill set, a different look. I think Miko is somebody that has been showing a comfort level with the point position. We want Kinna (Shekinna Stricklen) to be very comfortable and I think she is most comfortable when she's off the ball and not having to worry and have the stress and pressure of creating all the time and bringing other people into it all the time. She can kind of play her game.

"Kamiko is somebody who's got a very good feel for the game. She's got a feel for getting in the gaps, for drawing defenders, for kicking to people when they're open. That's what we're looking for."

Defensively, "we're going to mix," Lockwood said. "This is a great challenge for us. This is a very dribble drive-oriented team and what have we had trouble with? We want to be able to show that we can guard guards."

Tennessee has occasionally taken teams too lightly this season – Lockwood calls it a lack of "competitive maturity" – and Arkansas is struggling in the SEC this season with just one win over Alabama.

The Razorbacks have mostly been competitive in SEC play, and teams see Tennessee orange and usually play more inspired than they do in other games in the season.

"You don't want to make them into something they're not – players will see through that – but at the same time we're going to tell them what Arkansas can do and what they're capable of," Lockwood said. "They're going to see film clips of that. And then at that point, honestly, it's on players.

"And especially at this point in the season. You've got eight games left. You've been through enough wars now that if you don't know that a man isn't handcuffed and he's got a weapon in his hand, I don't care if he's 5'6 or 6'6, he can hurt you.

"A team in an environment like we've been in, they've got to know that a team that has players that can dribble drive can hurt us."

ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action Thursday. The other matchups are: Alabama at Mississippi State; South Carolina at Auburn; Vanderbilt at Florida; LSU at Georgia; and Ole Miss at Kentucky.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Arkansas, 20-1. The Lady Vols are 10-0 in Knoxville. The Razorbacks one win in the series came in Arkansas, 77-75, on Dec. 29, 1996. … Tennessee is 9-4 in games played on February 4. The last win on this date was against Alabama, 97-75, in 2001. The first win on February 4 came against Central High School, 28-8, in 1909. The four losses on this date were to Chattanooga, 60-52, in 1971; Tennessee Tech, 76-74, in 1975; Vanderbilt, 77-76, in 1987; and Ole Miss, 78-72, in 1996. … Tennessee will play in Knoxville tonight before heading back on the road next week. The Lady Vols record in SEC play at home is 173-12. Tennessee is on the road next week to play Vanderbilt on Monday and Ole Miss on Thursday. The Commodores beat the Lady Vols in Nashville last season, and it took a leaning three-pointer from Angie Bjorklund in the final seconds to stave off an upset bid by Ole Miss in Knoxville a year ago. … Tennessee is 19-1 this season, just one win away from 20 on the season. A year ago, Tennessee had 16 wins on the season at this point before finishing 22-11. The next victory will mark the 34th consecutive time that a Lady Vol team coached by Pat Summitt reached at least 20 wins. Summitt didn't reach the mark in her first two seasons at the helm – 1974-75 and 1975-76. … Kamiko Williams will be the second freshman to start this season for Pat Summitt. Fellow rookie Taber Spani has started 16 games this season but has been sidelined this week with turf toe. A year ago, a record five freshman started for Summitt at some point in the season. Spani was the 13th freshman to start her first career game for the Lady Vols.

BY THE NUMBERS OVERALL WITH SEC PLAY IN PARENTHESES: Tennessee is averaging 74.8 points a game (66.8 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 56.0 (54.8). Arkansas averages 66.6 points a game (58.0) while allowing 67.5 (69.9). The Lady Vols are shooting 46.4 percent overall (45.3), 37.8 percent behind the arc (37.7) and 68.0 percent from the free throw line (63.6). The Razorbacks are shooting 40.7 percent overall (34.9), 29.4 percent from long range (24.8) and 67.5 percent from the line (67.1). Tennessee makes an average of 5.9 three-pointers a game (5.4) while allowing 5.8 (6.4). Arkansas makes 5.2 threes a game (4.5) while allowing 5.5 (5.6).

Tennessee averages 42.8 rebounds a game for a +8.9 margin (39.9, +8.0). Arkansas averages 40.0 boards for a –0.4 margin (38.0, -3.6). The Lady Vols average 15.6 assists (14.8) and 15.2 turnovers (16.3) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.9 times a game (16.9). The Razorbacks average 13.2 assists (11.5) and 19.4 turnovers (18.4) with foes losing the ball 17.8 times a game (16.0). Tennessee averages 7.3 steals (6.3) and 5.7 blocks a game (5.4). Arkansas averages 9.6 steals (7.8) and 4.2 blocks (3.8).


Inside Tennessee Top Stories