Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lady Vols are in California, minus a fixture

KNOXVILLE -- Before this week, Tennessee associate women's head coach Holly Warlick had never missed a game as a Lady Vols player or coach.

But Warlick, who broke her ankle while working out Dec. 7, announced after Sunday's win over Gonzaga that she had developed a blood clot in the calf of that leg. After that discovery at a checkup Friday afternoon, her doctors advised her to sit out the California trip that begins tonight at UCLA.

So ends a streak that would make Lou Gehrig feel not so lucky.

From 1976 to '80, Warlick played in 141 straight games as a player. Since joining the Tennessee coaching staff, she has been present for 782 consecutive contests, a stretch that spans 23 years.

Warlick, whose duties include scouting upcoming opponents, wasn't about to let the injury prevent her from putting in her two cents' worth about UCLA and Stanford.

"I'm still going to be the scout," Warlick said Sunday. "I'll just have to a fan and yell at the TV."

Warlick's absence will come at a critical juncture for the Lady Vols (9-0), who face their first two official road games of the season when they take on the Bruins (4-5) tonight and Stanford on Saturday.

Head coach Pat Summitt said at her weekly teleconference that she looks forward to see how her freshmen adjust to the hostile environments.

"Our young players haven't played as well on the road this year," Summitt said. "That is just part of the process. What we're going to have now is an opportunity for back-to-back road games, which should be telling."

Summitt was encouraged by forward Angie Bjorklund's performance Sunday against Gonzaga. The rookie faced her older sister, a guard for Gonzaga, and the siblings were often guarding each other. Despite the unique circumstances, Bjorklund seemed well at ease, tying a Tennessee single-game record by nailing seven 3-pointers.

Still, that happened at home in Thompson-Boling Arena. On Nov. 15, she shot 1-for-6 from the field against Oklahoma in Tampa, Fla. Six days later, Bjorklund improved against West Virginia at Charleston, W.Va., scoring nine points but going only 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.

So whether Tennessee goes deep in its bench remains to be seen, Summitt said.

"It depends on how they step out on the floor and perform," Summitt said. "Will I be less patient? Possibly. These are two fine teams and two big road games for us. Ultimately we want to come home with two wins."

Of course, Summitt knows there's always a contingency plan in place to pick up the slack: All-America forward Candace Parker.

"There have been several times that I've shaken my head watching Candace play," Summitt said. "Sometimes it is when she isn't playing hard, but when she plays hard, she separates herself (from others on the floor). She has great influence and impact on our team in her play."

Parker and senior guard Shannon Bobbitt practically carried the team against Oklahoma, with 28 and 27 points

Summitt is hoping those same two won't have to share that same burden this week.

"It has been a while since we've been on the road," she said. "We'll play in a tough environment against two quality opponents. It will be a good way to evaluate and get some road game experience."

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