Tennessee faces Vandy tonight

A year ago, Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt was changing starting lineups the way some people change socks as she struggled to find a competitive combination. She's doing the same thing this season, but the Lady Vols are sitting in first place in the SEC with a goal to win out the month of February. The next challenge is a steep one – playing at Vanderbilt, a place Tennessee lost at last season.

"We want to go through the rest of this league, and we want to win every SEC game that we've got," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said of the team's goal for the final month of the regular season.

No. 5 Tennessee (20-2, 8-1), takes on No. 22 Vanderbilt (17-6, 6-4) at 9 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2, Lady Vol Radio Network) at Memorial Gym in Nashville.

The Lady Vols claimed their first chance to win in February – and the 20th on the season, nearly a month ahead of last year's pace – with a 74-57 victory over Arkansas.

"It's game by game," Lockwood said. "We don't look ahead, but our thing is we want to win out. That's foremost. Until we hit March 4, that's it."

March 4 is the beginning date of the SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., and at that point the focus shifts to postseason. The top four seeds have an opening day bye, and Tennessee wants to both hold onto to that perk and its place atop the standings.

"For sure," junior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "That's been our goal since day one. It's not going to change. It hasn't changed. We have a great chance of doing that if we go into every game consistent. I think consistency has been our main problem.

"The coaches don't know really what they're going to get. I think if we start doing that from here on out we'll be just fine."

Tennessee plays three games this week – at Vandy tonight, at Ole Miss on Thursday evening and hosting Florida on Sunday afternoon – and for Bjorklund off the court preparation was of utmost importance.

With the Vandy game on Monday night that means an extra day of missed classes this week and an arrival back in Knoxville a few hours before the start of Tuesday morning classes. A Wednesday afternoon departure for Oxford, Miss., means missed classes on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday and another early morning arrival on Friday.

"It is difficult, especially being in classes," Bjorklund said. "That goes to time management, preparing ahead of time to get stuff done early so you don't have that stressful situation. When you do have time to rest, getting great sleep, eating right, we've talked a lot about nutrition the past couple of days.

"It's just the little things like that. It all makes a difference in how well you're going to play. This is the month you've got to fight through. Your body is more fatigued, so you have to do everything you can to take care of it, including treatment and that type of thing."

By February, all players have accumulated aches and pains – teams refer to the last month of the regular season as one to grind out – but perhaps one positive of Pat Summitt's shifting lineups has been that no player has really been overused this season.

Bjorklund is the only player on the roster averaging more than 30 minutes a game – she's at 31.7 – with Shekinna Stricklen the next closest at 29.5 minutes. Alyssia Brewer is averaging 19.1 minutes and was able to log 35 against Arkansas last Thursday. Kelley Cain, whose surgically repaired right knee is finally feeling better after extensive rehab treatments, clocked in with 33 minutes after averaging 24.2 this season.

Bjorklund also is just one of two juniors on the roster and the player with the most experience, especially in the odd configuration of Memorial Gym. She will be on the floor with a freshman, Kamiko Williams, making her second career start and first on the road.

"Communication, bottom line," Bjorklund said. "I think the biggest thing with that gym is going to be communication. We have to warn her that talking and looking at Coach, she's not going to be on the sidelines, she's going to be on the very end, and you won't hear her at times, everyone on the court has to be on the same page. That's going to be key."

Summitt assigned players to be in charge on the floor with Cain and Glory Johnson responsible for post communication. That essentially leaves them to supervise one person, Brewer, the only other true post on the team, though Taber Spani and Alicia Manning can also set up inside.

Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen are in charge of the guards, especially with a freshman on the floor.

The point of floor generals is "them communicating among themselves and also depending on which defense we're running," making sure everyone is in the same one, Summitt said.

For one half of the game, the players are practically at her feet on defense – but their backs are turned to her – and for the other half of the game they are 94 feet away on defense and can't hear Summitt.

The Commodores also are one of the toughest teams to defend in the SEC because they run a wide assortment of offensive sets. Defending Vanderbilt is the football equivalent of facing an option quarterback. Defenders must stay home, be disciplined, let the players commit to a set and then try to shut it down. If one defender gambles or gets out of position, it exposes the rest of the defense.

"They do a great job executing, too," Bjorklund said. "I think they're one of the best. Smart players, smart team, and they're very deliberate in their plays and executing their plays. I think they're going to counter whatever we do, so it's a great test just guarding their sets and knowing personnel. They're basically all shooters, and we have to play them for that.

"At the same time, my sophomore year (there), they were doing more driving than shooting. It's just going to come down to knowing who you're guarding and playing great one-on-one defense and guarding the three point shot, too. It will be a tough game."

Bjorklund's sophomore year at Nashville will likely come up a few times between now and Monday's tipoff. The Lady Vols lost to Vanderbilt, 74-58, and were the first Tennessee team to do so in 16 games. Vandy had previously won at home on Feb. 2, 2002.

Briana Bass said afterwards that the team later realized that losing to the Commodores is not acceptable. Summitt hates to lose, and a defeat at the hands of Vanderbilt boils her blood even more.

"Same as Holly," Bjorklund said of Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, who always prepares the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt games.

Both Summitt and Warlick are native Tennesseans – Warlick from Knoxville and Summitt from Henrietta in Middle Tennessee – and Bjorklund thinks that fact fuels the rivalry more than any other in the SEC.

"Definitely," Bjorklund said. "They are the in-state team to beat. Anytime we play Vandy it's kind of like who's the better team in the state? There is always that rivalry that we'll have."

Warlick laughed when told of Bjorklund's observations. The junior is from Spokane, Washington – about 2,168 driving miles from Nashville – but she understands the rivalry.

"Exactly," Warlick said. "I know Vanderbilt feels that same way. It's an in-state school. It's an SEC team that's very good. You also want to compete and beat the teams in your state. It's a big rivalry for us because it brings you a lot of pride, and you should beat your in-state school and that's how they feel, too."

Even a freshman understands the significance of Monday's matchup.

"It's such a rivalry game and it's always going to be that way," said Spani, who is from Lee's Summit, Mo. "It's a good, healthy rivalry. You're going to get their best shot, and we're going to hopefully bring our best shot."

Spani has already played in one Tennessee-Vanderbilt game, a 64-57 win in Knoxville on Jan. 17. The Lady Vols built a 20-point lead in the first half and had to hold on to win.

"I think we jumped on them early, and we let them back in with the three ball," Spani said. "They're a great team. They're very disciplined, so we have to be very focused."

The coaches will likely remind the players of that slip, and even though the teams have played twice since the loss in Nashville on Jan. 11, 2009 – both wins for Tennessee in Knoxville – Summitt intends to bring up the defeat.

"We'll remind them," Summitt said. "Definitely."

The post-game press conference was memorable afterwards because the Vandy players revealed they had placed a Tennessee doormat outside their locker room and walked over it in the days leading up to the game. Coach Melanie Balcomb had taken the approach in the past that it was just another game, but she switched tactics last season – the male scout team wore orange uniforms, and she piped in "Rocky Top" at practice – and it worked. The Commodores led 31-23 at halftime and never let up.

Alex Fuller scored 12 points. No other Lady Vol scored more than nine points, while Vanderbilt had all five starters in double figures.

Bjorklund said that outcome was in the players' heads when Vandy played in Knoxville last month.

"The last game we kind of had that on our minds but anytime on the road you have to be ready, no matter what team it is," Bjorklund said. "I think we really learned that the past few away games we've played. This is going to be another great test for us."

Still, Bjorklund smiled and said she expected a reminder from the coaches of last year's game in Nashville.

"I think they will mention that," Bjorklund said. "We're going down pretty early (Sunday) just to get used to their gym, have time to practice over there. Their court is different. It's nice that the sophomore class has had a year of experience for something that different."

Warlick said the coaches would definitely bring up the last game in Memorial Gym.

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "I think they've got a lot to prove that this group can win at Vanderbilt. It's a difficult place to play, and they play well there."

Tennessee also will be tossing a freshman point guard into a tough environment. Bjorklund said all the players on the floor have to trust the system and not get caught up in who is at point, whether it's Williams, Bass or Stricklen.

"No matter who it is as long as they're playing within Coach's system it should be consistent with what we're doing," Bjorklund said. "We slice the floor, we push the ball up the court and pass ahead.

"As long as everyone is buying into her system and we execute the offenses it shouldn't be necessarily a problem. Yes, everyone is going to have their own style of play, but as long as we're consistent it shouldn't be a problem."

Bass had some solid minutes against the Commodores in the first game this season, and she was particularly disruptive on defense, even getting a shove from Vandy guard Meredith Marsh at halftime because of her suffocating defense. Bass also was effective during her time on the court against Arkansas. She pushed tempo and when early offense wasn't available before the defense got set, she showed some patience in the half-court offense.

"I thought she had some really good minutes against Arkansas, and I expect us to use her and have some good minutes against Vanderbilt," Warlick said. "She has always played well against Vanderbilt."

Tennessee's guard play was its strongest link earlier this season, but the post game has accelerated past the backcourt in terms of production.

"Our post game has been the best part of our game," Summitt said. "They're defending. They're doing a good job of getting paint points. I think we're doing a better job of getting the ball into them where they can catch it and go straight up to the rim. So I love our post game. I just think our guard play has got to be a lot stronger."

Tennessee has the month of February to improve all aspects of its play. But for the coaches – who describe the regular season as a race against time – it's hard to believe postseason is a little more than three weeks away.

"Blown by," Lockwood said. "Blown by for us. We were talking about it (this week). It's staggering. One month from (Feb. 4) we're in Duluth, Georgia."

Summitt has a clear idea of what she wants to see before March 4.

"I want us to play at a very high intensity level all the time," Summitt said. "When we take the floor, we should have a sense of urgency and that has to happen for us. If it doesn't, we're setting ourselves up to get beat, whether it's in the SEC Tournament or postseason play.

"It's not like every person is thinking every time they take the floor that we have got to have this sense of urgency and got to get things done. No. They pick and choose when they play hard. I'm very disappointed in that. As I tell our staff, we have to hold them accountable, but they also have to hold themselves accountable and that's where you go back to the leadership and who is going to do that."


Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Kamiko Williams, 5'11 freshman guard, No. 4 (4.6 points per game, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 junior guard, No. 5 (14.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.5 apg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 sophomore guard/forward, No. 40 (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.8 apg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 25 (12.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.4 steals per game); and Kelley Cain, 6'6 redshirt sophomore center, No. 52 (9.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.1 blocks per game).

Sophomore forward Alyssia Brewer will come off the bench, because Summitt wants the on-ball defense of Johnson on the floor to start the game. Brewer, a 6'3 sophomore forward, has played very well of late in the paint and is averaging 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds a game in SEC play.

Johnson, Cain, Brewer, Bjorklund and Stricklen are all averaging double-digit scoring in SEC games. Cain is connecting on 66.1 percent of her shots in league play.

Tennessee is expected to have Taber Spani and Alicia Manning off the bench. Manning was able to practice Sunday after suffering a blow to the head against Arkansas on Thursday. Spani, who missed the past two games with turf toe, also practiced Sunday in Nashville. Both players are game-day decisions, but if they don't have any flare-ups Monday, then they should be in uniform and cleared to play.

Vanderbilt Coach Melanie Balcomb is expected to start: Jence Rhoads, 5'11 junior guard, No. 22 (13.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.5 apg), hails from Slippery Rock, Pa., missed the first Tennessee game with a broken hand, she returned to the lineup in the next game at Auburn on Jan. 21, is shooting 48.6 percent from the field, played entire 40 minutes in Vandy's last game against Florida, a 66-58 win, had 14 points, favorite Nashville restaurant is Bricktops; Merideth Marsh, 5'6 senior guard, No. 23 (14.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.3 apg), hails from Louisville, Ky., ran the point spot in the last game against Tennessee, scored 23 points and hit 5-8 from behind the arc, favorite Nashville restaurant is Cinco de Mayo; Lauren Lueders, 5'8 senior guard, No. 5 (8.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg), hails from Frohna, Mo., had five assists against Tennessee, scored a career-high 18 points against Ole Miss, favorite Nashville restaurant is Valentino's; Elan Brown, 6'0 freshman guard, No. 30 (5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Atlanta, Ga., came off the bench in the first game against Tennessee to score 10 points, hit two 3-pointers, scored a career-high 16 points against Arkansas, favorite Nashville restaurant is Noshville; and Hannah Tuomi, 6'0 junior forward, No. 15 (9.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), hails from Thornton, Colo., has started every game this season for Vandy, hitting 54.3 percent from the field, favorite Nashville restaurant is Noshville.

A key player off the bench for Vandy is Tiffany Clarke, a 6'0 freshman forward who has started 10 games this season. Clarke, who is from Duluth, Ga., is averaging 9.2 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. Clarke has twice been named SEC Freshman of the Week.

Another solid player for Vandy is Jessica Mooney, who started against Tennessee. The 5'8 senior guard from Nashville has started 14 of 23 games this season and is averaging 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game. Mooney was the 2008 SEC Co-Sixth Woman of the Year.

TABER TIME: After sitting out the past two games for mandatory rest for her left foot, Taber Spani returned to practice this weekend and should be cleared for Monday's game if there are no major flare-ups with her foot.

Spani has been dealing with a chronic and painful case of turf toe since last June, and it affected Spani during her stint with USA basketball in July.

Spani sat out the past week under orders from Pat Summitt and Jenny Moshak, the chief of sports medicine for the Lady Vols.

"I know she's still limited, but I think the days out have helped her," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "No one has seen Taber at her full capacity, because she has been hindered by this since this summer. We haven't really seen Taber at her best. It's good to see her get some rest and get out there a little bit more healthy."

Spani can fire away from long range, and Angie Bjorklund welcomed the return of another shooter. When Spani is on the floor, defenses can't just collapse on Bjorklund behind the arc.

"That's another great player, and she's such a great competitor," Bjorklund said. "When she's on the court she's going to produce. At the same time we want her back 100 percent. I don't want her fighting with her foot, but at the same time that's her decision, that Jenny's decision. I trust whatever they do."

Spani was sporting some new kneepads at Saturday's practice session. Her previous pair had worn out because of the amount of time she spends on the floor fighting for loose balls.

"The inside of mine are all bloody," Spani said. "I bleed underneath my kneepads."

Prior to taking a full week off from games and practice, Spani had been playing limited minutes in an attempt to lessen the pain.

Turf toe damages both the ligaments and the surface of the bone, which leads to swelling and tremendous pain on the top and bottom of the foot. The injury occurs when the toe gets jammed or bent too far, usually due to some movement such as planting or pushing off the court. The shoe can stick on a hard surface, such as a basketball court, but the foot continues to move forward and the toe upward, thus causing the injury. It got its name from football players hurting their toes on the unforgiving surface of artificial turf. To completely heal the injury, the toe needs to not bend, a difficult situation for a basketball player because of jumping and cutting.

"The last three or four weeks being limited it has kind of calmed down," Spani said. "Obviously the main symptoms aren't going to really heal until a major, major break of rest. But the inflamed, the aggravated part (is better). It's a lot of pain on the top and bottom of my foot and complications with the turf toe. It's pain, it's stiffness, it's soreness, and where I think Pat is most concerned about is inability to cut off of it or explode off of it.

"That's why I think she felt like I needed to take this week off. Physically – rest is just going to help it – I think it was good. I can barely stand to sit out of practice. It was hard that way because I want to be out there helping and doing whatever we can to make our team the best it can be, so it killed me emotionally and stuff but physically it probably helped."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Here is her assessment.

When Vanderbilt has the ball: The Commodores have Jence Rhoads at point guard again – she missed some games with a broken hand – so they have benefited from her presence.

"They've got Rhoads back, which I think helps as far as depth and experience and running the team," Warlick said. "She's a nice player. That's a very good addition for them."

Warlick was actually grateful for the game being on Monday, instead of Sunday, because it gave the team more time to review Vanderbilt's offensive sets, which are extensive. It also has been just three weeks since the teams last faced off in Knoxville.

"It's a lot to prepare for," Warlick said. "They are a well-taught offensive team. We have that extra day, which helps us. They've added a couple of more sets. I'm kind of glad we're playing them closer to when we played them last. We've still got them a little bit fresh on their minds."

Defensively,, the Lady Vols will start Kamiko Williams at point guard, so the Commodores will likely go at her, but Warlick said the freshman plays with a looseness that should benefit her in Nashville.

"She's our most athletic guard, and she's handled the pressure," Warlick said. "She handled South Carolina and they came at her. She handled Arkansas. We've brought her along, and she doesn't have that personality to panic. And that's a good thing about her. Sometimes it drives coaches crazy, but when we're getting pressed it's a good thing."

Vanderbilt is expected to deploy several defenses, especially to try to counter Tennessee's considerable size inside.

"They'll run different zones at us," Warlick said. "They'll run man at us. They're going to try to keep us off guard by running different defenses like they usually do."

When Tennessee has the ball: Junior guard Angie Bjorklund is the only player on Tennessee's roster with extensive experience in Nashville and the odd layout of Memorial Gym.

"We're going down to practice (Sunday) so that will help," Warlick said. "But they have to have an understanding of what we're doing offensively and defensively. That's our job to get them prepared for it."

With 6'6 Kelley Cain inside, Tennessee wants to play through the paint.

"We've got a big size advantage, and we need to take advantage of it," Warlick said.

Defensively, Tennessee expects to use its man and zone schemes, depending on which works the best at various times.

"They're a difficult team for us to defend because they penetrate well and they shoot the three ball," Warlick said. "And they're at home. We've got to make sure we don't have to rotate our defense as much as we did the last time we played them."

ACADEMIC ANGIE: Lady Vol junior guard Angie Bjorklund, who has a 3.8 GPA in psychology, has been named to the CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District IV First Team.

To be eligible for the designation, a student-athlete must be a varsity starter or key reserve, maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.30, have reached sophomore athletic and academic status and be nominated by the sports information director.

"I think she's the type of person that wants to get ‘As,' " Coach Pat Summitt said. "She's working hard all the time in her classroom work. I think she has the discipline that it takes to do both, because she's very academic-minded, and basketball means a lot to her as well. She's got the balance there, which is great."

Bjorklund, who is just 12 points from 1,000 for her career, also was honored last season when she was selected for the All-District IV Second Team.

By earning Academic All-District First Team honors, Bjorklund is now eligible for Academic All-America, which will be announced on Feb. 23.

"My parents love it," Bjorklund said of the academic honors. "Academics have always been a priority for me. I enjoy school, as weird as that sounds. I think a major part of it, too, is the classes I'm taking. I'm a psych major, and I love taking those kind of classes. As long as I enjoy the classes I am going to do well in them."

SEC SITES: The SEC has announced the locations of the conference tournament through 2014.

Nashville will host the tournament in 2011 and 2012. The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga., already set to host the 2010 tourney, will have the event return there in 2013 and 2014.

"I think that's good. It's not that far. Of course I prefer Nashville because all the folks from Henrietta get to come," Pat Summitt said with a smile, referring to her hometown, which is 40 miles northwest of Nashville. "The (Lady Vol) fans went to Duluth when we played there (in 2007), so it's a good site for us."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Vanderbilt, 54-7. The Lady Vols are 21-5 in Nashville, but the Commodores won last season at home, 74-58, on Jan. 11, 2009, for the first time since 2002. Five of Vandy's seven wins have come at home. The other two were in the SEC tourney. … Tennessee is 13-4 in games played on February 8. The last win on this date was against Auburn, 72-62, in 2007. The first win on February 8 was against Chattanooga, 19-4, in 1924. The four losses on this date were to Western Carolina, 60-44, in 1969; Union, 80-67, in 1975; Auburn, 66-60, in 1986; and Florida, 66-57, in 2009. … Only two teams have shot 40 percent or better against Tennessee this season. One was Oklahoma at 44.6 percent. The other was Vanderbilt at 42.9 percent. The Lady Vols reached 20 wins this season on Feb. 4, 2010, nearly a full month ahead of last year's team, which didn't tally the mark until March 1, 2009. The pace tied the seventh-fastest to 20 wins for a Tennessee team coached by Pat Summitt, matching the 20-1 record that the 1998-99 team reached on Feb. 4, 1999. The fastest team to 20 wins was the 1997-98 one, which hit the number on Jan. 20, 1998. The slowest to 20 wins was the 2008-09 one, which didn't reach that milestone until the aforementioned March 1, 2009.

BY THE NUMBERS OVERALL WITH SEC PLAY IN PARENTHESES: Tennessee is averaging 74.7 points a game (67.6 in the SEC) while allowing opponents to score 56.1 (55.0). Vanderbilt averages 72.6 points a game (65.8) while allowing 62.9 (63.8). The Lady Vols are shooting 46.4 percent overall (45.4), 38.1 percent behind the arc (38.5) and 67.3 percent from the free throw line (62.1). The Commodores are shooting 46.4 percent overall (46.0), 37.4 percent from long range (40.0) and 68.5 percent from the line (74.5). Tennessee makes an average of 5.8 three-pointers a game (5.2) while allowing 6.0 (6.7). Vanderbilt makes 6.0 threes a game (6.2) while allowing 5.3 (4.0).

Tennessee averages 43.2 rebounds a game for a +8.9 margin (41.1, +8.2). Vanderbilt averages 36.8 boards for a –0.7 margin (34.9, -0.2). The Lady Vols average 15.6 assists (14.9) and 15.1 turnovers (15.9) a game. Opponents lose the ball an average of 16.7 times a game (16.4). The Commodores average 15.9 assists (13.7) and 16.9 turnovers (18.0) with foes losing the ball 19.0 times a game (15.0). Tennessee averages 7.1 steals (5.9) and 5.9 blocks a game (5.9). Vanderbilt averages 8.1 steals (6.1) and 2.7 blocks (2.0).

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