Lady Vols receive SEC honors

The Lady Vols' first practice of the postseason portion of the year was loud and energetic, earning a nod of approval afterwards from the team's toughest taskmaster, Pat Summitt. Following a day off Monday – Angie Bjorklund said that was crucial for the team – Tennessee was ready to work on both sides of the ball Tuesday to get prepared for the SEC Tournament.

Maybe it was the shoes, too. A new shipment arrived from adidas, and it was the light blue Candace Parker "Ace" model with starbursts on the top and blue-and-white marbling on the edges.

Most of the players had them on Tuesday – the ones who tend to change shoes whenever a new model and color arrives to break them in right away – while a few wanted the comfort fit of the shoes already softened up during the regular season.

When asked if maybe there was some postseason magic in the shoes of one of the Lady Vols most storied players in program history, Angie Bjorklund smiled.

"They're pretty comfortable so we'll see," Bjorklund said. "I like the light blue. It's nice."

Alyssia Brewer joked that Parker must have contacted the coaches about the team's footwear.

"These are Candace's shoes, so maybe she called the coaches and told them to hook us up," Brewer said.

Brewer and Bjorklund were among the Lady Vols honored when SEC accolades were announced Tuesday, along with Kelley Cain and Shekinna Stricklen. The post-season honors were released right before practice started, so the players found out as media members arrived at Pratt for interviews.

Bjorklund and Cain were selected for First Team All-SEC, and Bjorklund was a unanimous choice by the league's coaches. Stricklen was selected Second Team All-SEC.

"Awesome, that's great," Bjorklund said. "That's a huge honor just to be named in the top players in the SEC. I know the SEC is one of the toughest leagues, if not the toughest. Kelley Cain has been through so much with her knees and her (head) injuries. I have so much respect for how she has been able to come back and dominate this year. She's our go-to player inside, and she has really stepped up this year. I am proud of what she's done.

"You can't say enough about Shekinna, and she's had to play so many different roles on this team, and she's stepped up and filled every single role. So, I am proud of her, too."

Bjorklund, a junior guard, also was selected SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

"Academics are important. That's always been a priority," Bjorklund said.

Cain was named to the All-Defensive Team.

"Oh my, gosh," Bjorklund said when asked to comment on yet another teammate being lauded by the league. "We're starting to win. From individual awards to team awards, it's been great this year so far, but we've got a long ways to go."

Cain and Brewer also were pleasantly surprised by the news.

"That's exciting, especially two people from Tennessee on the First Team, that's huge," Cain said. "I don't really think about (individual awards). The only reason we're in this position is because of our team and our coaches. It's basically a tribute to them that we got it."

Cain, a redshirt sophomore center who set the single-season blocks record on Sunday with 101 to date – she passed the 99 swats set by Parker in the 2006-07 season – did smile about the defensive nod.

"I love being on defense," Cain said. "The most exciting part of my game is blocking shots. That's because of my teammates. They run their girl into me and I just go straight up and hopefully the ball lands in my hands.

"I didn't even know I was close to breaking the record. I just like to block shots."

Brewer came off the bench for 10 games in SEC play and started six for assorted reasons, including at Alabama on Feb. 18 when Cain needed to stay in Knoxville to fulfill academic obligations after missing the majority of her Wednesday evening classes for four weeks because of so many road games for Tennessee. The coaches selected the sophomore forward as 6th Woman of the Year.

"That's an amazing honor out of all the teams that are in the SEC and every person that comes off the bench," Brewer said. "Start or come off the bench I am going to try to be as productive either way for my team. That's a big honor for me."

Pat Summitt had learned of the selections by the time practice ended and addressed each accomplishment one by one.

"From last year to this year huge difference in Lyssi's game," Summitt said. "I think she's been invested. She could make such a big difference for us (in postseason). I am proud for her to get that recognition and does she deserve it? Absolutely."

As far as Cain and Bjorklund, "That's a one-two punch if you're talking outside-inside game," Summitt said. "Angie has done a great job for us on the perimeter. Kelley, she plays within herself, she understands where she needs to be in the paint, and her shot-blocking ability is much better. Those two have done a tremendous job.

"I think (Stricklen) could have been First or Second Team. But maybe this will motivate her a little bit. She is going to be key for us on the perimeter and with her leadership."

As far as Cain's selection to the defensive team, "I totally agree with that," Summitt said. "She has made an incredible difference in defending the paint and also scoring in the paint. She is playing on both sides of the ball very well."

Summitt also saluted Bjorklund's recognition for performing on and off the court.

"She gets her business done," Summitt said. "She knows when she's got to be in the classroom, and she's got to be very invested there and then she comes in here and gets in as many shots as anybody, maybe more. It's paying off for her, but it's also helping our basketball team be successful."

The selections are made by the coaches, who make their choices based on SEC games, not the overall season.

Kentucky swept the top of the awards with Victoria Dunlap being named Player of the Year, Matthew Mitchell getting Coach of the Year and A'dia Mathies picking up Freshman of the Year.

Joining Bjorklund and Cain on the eight-member First Team were: Dunlap, Kentucky; Ashley Houts, Georgia; Allison Hightower, unanimous, LSU; Bianca Thomas, Ole Miss; Alexis Rack, Mississippi State; and Jence Rhoads, Vanderbilt.

Joining Stricklen on the eight-member Second Team were: Mathies, Kentucky; Alli Smalley, Auburn; LaSondra Barrett, LSU; Armelie Lumanu, Mississippi State; Kelsey Bone, South Carolina; Valerie Nainima, South Carolina; and Merideth Marsh, Vanderbilt.

The eight-member All-Freshman Team selections were: Mathies, unanimous choice, Kentucky; Bone, unanimous choice, South Carolina; Morgan Toles, Auburn; Jennifer George, Florida; Jasmine Hassell, Georgia; Jasmine James, unanimous, Georgia; Elan Brown, Vanderbilt; and Tiffany Clarke, unanimous, Vanderbilt.

Joining Cain on the five-member All-Defensive Team were: Dunlap; Hightower; Lumanu; and Chanel Mokango, Mississippi State. Lumanu also was selected Defensive Player of the Year.

The Lady Vols were back on the practice court after a day off Monday following the conclusion of the regular season Sunday.

Summitt wasn't particularly pleased after the 75-63 win over Ole Miss – she felt the team sort of coasted through the regular season finale – but she was happy with the effort she got Tuesday at Pratt Pavilion.

"I think they came back in very, very focused," Summitt said. "It was just one of those situations where we had really sealed the deal (by clinching the SEC title in the previous game against Kentucky) and I think it was good enough for them just to get by. For our coaching staff we want to get better.

"With that said they came in here today, and most of them just really invested and that's what you want. You want to leave practice feeling really good about it, and we want to get better (Wednesday)."

The team practiced a little more than two hours Tuesday and worked full court on both sides of the ball for portions of the session. The coaches also implemented some new offensive wrinkles to have available, if needed, at the SEC Tournament, because of the high level of familiarity among the teams.

"As we all know we've been on TV probably more than anybody else, only two games (of 29) that were not on, and so we're starting to put some (new) stuff in," Summitt said. "Will we use it in this next round? I don't know. If we got in a bind, we've got it. We have thrown in about four good wrinkles in our offense."

The players learned and executed the new plays quickly, something a team full of freshmen would have needed a lot more time to do a year ago.

"I like it," Cain said. "It gets everybody moving around, and it gets different players open for the ball."

Bjorklund is one of the players that gets overloaded with defenders in the SEC – they have scouted sister teams well – so any new looks can only help the sharpshooter.

"I think having a couple of plays under your sleeve that teams won't be able to scout is definitely going to be effective," Bjorklund said.

Bjorklund, one of just two juniors on the active roster on a team with no seniors, smiled when asked about Summitt's relative unhappiness on Sunday. The junior understands her head coach in a way sophomores and freshmen are still learning to do. Summitt saw a lackluster effort overall and knows such a performance can torpedo a team in postseason.

"She's looking ahead," Bjorklund said. "She's looking to the future games. She knows what it takes and what level you have to be at to win a championship. She's won championships. She knows what a team (needs), the atmosphere that we need to dominate-teams-kind-of-competitive attitude and so I think she's trying to push us to that point.

"It doesn't matter if we win a game. Until she sees that she's going to continue to push us to get to that point."

Summitt also knows when to back off and give her players a break. They had Monday to rest, catch up with schoolwork and get ready for what the team hopes is an extended stay in Duluth, Ga., for the SEC Tournament.

The team's reaction Tuesday on the court indicated that the day off did a lot of good.

"It is postseason, but I'll be honest, it's also having that day off, having a day to get ahead with school, knowing you're going to be gone and just kind of a day to rest and refocus your energy, ‘All right, it's tournament time. This is where it really counts,' " Bjorklund said.

Tennessee earned the top seed and a first round bye. The Lady Vols will face the winner of Thursday's Ole Miss-South Carolina game with tipoff set for noon Friday.

Last year, for the first time since 1997, Tennessee played on the first day of the tourney as a five seed. Cain and Bjorklund were grateful to be able to leave a day later – the team will depart Knoxville on Thursday – so they won't miss as much class.

"It's not near as stressful, especially for myself," Bjorklund said. "I have three tough classes on Thursday (morning), so I get to go to them."

"I am glad we have that bye so we don't have to leave Wednesday, and I don't have to miss another Wednesday night class," Cain said.

Playing on Friday also means additional time to physically get ready for the tourney.

"Just to save our legs, have a light practice (Wednesday and Thursday), or whatever Coach decides to do," Bjorklund said. "I trust whatever she's going to do."

Summitt held an up-tempo practice Tuesday as the team worked on one-on-one defense, board play, transition offense and defense and shooting drills – both by position and at the free throw line.

"(Wednesday) will be lighter, a lot lighter," Summitt said, and Thursday will be even shorter.

Bjorklund believes the team is ready for postseason.

"You can sense, especially just that practice (Tuesday), we're all excited," Bjorklund said. "We're ready to play, and we're really excited about coming in as a one seed."

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