Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tennessee beats longtime foe Old Dominion 102-62

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Already leading Tennessee in scoring, Angie Bjorklund still heeded coach Pat Summitt’s suggestion that the Lady Vols spend some extra time in the gym shooting this week.

It certainly didn’t hurt. Bjorklund, who entered the game averaging 14.9 points, scored all but three of her 19 points in the first half as No. 4 Tennessee beat Old Dominion 102-62 on Wednesday night.

“If you said what player you think has worked the hardest to get where they are right now it’s Angie Bjorklund,” Summitt said. “I think other players are recognizing what she can do on the floor.”

Bjorklund, who scored a career-high 29 points a season ago at Old Dominion, hit an early 3, a fastbreak layup and a fadeaway jumper as the Lady Vols (11-1) scored the first 11 points of the game. She hit one final 3-pointer for the first basket of the second half, earning some rest time for much of the second half.

With 70.3 percent shooting, Tennessee led 57-31 at halftime. Old Dominion (2-8) hit just 33.3 percent of its first-half shots.

“I asked Pat for the fire extinguisher at halftime,” Lady Monarchs coach Wendy Larry joked. “I think Angie Bjorklund has distinguished herself as one of the best there is. She certainly put on a clinic in the 20 minutes she played.”

As the Lady Vols’ veteran, Bjorklund’s hard work has also lit a fire beneath many of her teammates, Summitt said. All players put in some extra time in the gym after shooting just 32.8 percent in a 67-52 loss at No. 2 Stanford on Dec. 19.

Glory Johnson recorded her eighth career double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for Tennessee. Alyssia Brewer scored 16 points, and Briana Bass and Kamiko Williams both added 11.

“Just an extra 200 to 300 shots before or after practice really helps,” Bjorklund said. “It helps mentally too.”

Jasmine Parker led the Lady Monarchs with 13, and Tia Lewis scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Shadasia Green added 12 points.

Tennessee got a scare when two-time Southeastern Conference player of the week Shekinna Stricklen awkwardly landed on the floor after grabbing a rebound and left the court clutching her right knee. Initial tests showed her injury was not serious and she will be day-to-day as the Lady Vols prepare to face No. 14 Oklahoma on Sunday.

It was the 43rd meeting between the traditional women’s basketball powerhouses, but the Lady Vols have won 14 straight and hold a 34-9 lead over the Lady Monarchs dating back to 1977.

Old Dominion has had a tough nonconference road, facing teams such as Stanford, Maryland, North Carolina State, Syracuse and Louisville before making the trip to Knoxville.

The Lady Monarchs open Colonial Athletic Association play Sunday at Delaware and they hope that the especially tough schedule helps them cruise to an 18th conference championship in 19 seasons.

“I haven’t played in the CAA, I’ve only watched it. From what I’ve seen it’s aggressive but not as aggressive as the teams we’ve played,” Lewis said.

Summitt, in her 36th season and Larry, in her 26th season, have developed a strong friendship over their history of playing each other. Larry attended a celebration in Knoxville in May honoring Summitt and her 1,000 career wins wearing an orange blouse and carrying and orange purse.

“Took them back,” Larry said. “I left the tags on.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No. 4 Tennessee bounces back from loss to rout USF

SAN FRANCISCO — Pat Summitt sat down with each of her players in recent days, trying to gauge who is invested in doing the extra work to maintain Tennessee’s status as a top program.

Her challenge to Angie Bjorklund sure worked.

Bjorklund scored 19 points in 17 minutes and moved into third place on Tennessee’s all-time 3-pointers list with 165, and the fourth-ranked Lady Vols bounced back from a tough loss with an 89-34 victory over San Francisco on Tuesday night.

“The team did the work. They can critique themselves,” Summitt said. “It showed me that they’re taking ownership. As coaches, when that happens, it’s amazing what a team can do.”

Kamiko Williams had a breakout game with 14 points, eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks for the Lady Vols (10-1), who stayed in the Bay Area after a 67-52 loss to No. 2 Stanford on Saturday at Maples Pavilion. Glory Johnson added 13 points and nine rebounds for Tennessee, down one spot in this week’s poll.

“I thought we did really well and responded to the loss,” Bjorklund said. “I think the game was very important to see where we’re at. We took two days to say, ‘Hey, this is where I need to improve,’ and we had an opportunity two days later to go back and apply that.”

For the first time in 10 years visiting the area, Tennessee had time to do some sightseeing, such as visiting the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf — not to mention shopping downtown.

“Oh, I love this city, so much fun,” Bjorklund said.

San Francisco (4-10), of the mid-major West Coast Conference, is coached by Lady Vols Hall of Famer Tanya Haave and Summitt always works to schedule games against her former players who have become head coaches. Haave was a three-year starter for Tennessee from 1980-84 and reached three Final Fours during her time in Knoxville.

Dons assistant Abby Conklin also played at Tennessee, where she was a four-year letterwinner and helped lead the Lady Vols to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1996 and ’97.

Rheina Ale scored 11 points to lead USF. Tennessee forced 10 first-half turnovers and 18 in all and outrebounded the Dons 52-32 in front of a crowd of 3,255 at Memorial Gym.

“It was an exciting atmosphere tonight. We’ve never had that 3,200 in our gym,” Haave said. “Tennessee’s size, skill and athleticism was too much for us. No question, you’ve got the eight-time national champion, all that they are and all that they have been, there’s going to be some intimidation.”

Bjorklund’s 3 at the 11:56 mark of the first half started a 26-6 run that gave Tennessee a comfortable 48-17 lead at the break. USF matched its lowest halftime score of the season, shooting 24.1 percent and going 3 for 13 from long range.

Bjorklund, a junior, went 7-for-10 with four 3-pointers and also had four assists and two steals. She came into the game tied with Brittany Jackson with 161 3s. Shanna Zolman’s 266 career 3-pointers are the most in program history, followed by 256 from Kara Lawson.

Tennessee had only four assists in the loss to Stanford—a number Summitt believes is a record low for the program—but finished with 17 on Tuesday, already doubling its Saturday total late in the first half. The Lady Vols scored only 18 points in the first half Saturday to match their sixth-lowest halftime total.

Summitt wasn’t about to stand for another slow start. She quickly called timeout after her team fell behind 4-2 and let her players have it.

“I got a pit in my stomach when I saw they lost,” Haave said. “You don’t want to play them after they lose. She knows exactly what to do after a loss and she hates to lose with a passion.”

USF, which lost for the seventh time in its last eight games, hosted a top-five team on the Hilltop for only the third time in school history. The Dons are 2-5 at home against ranked teams since 1995.

Tennessee took last season’s meeting in Knoxville 68-39, the only other matchup in the series.

USF appreciates getting to face such a quality opponent.

“I think it’s good for us,” Ale said. “We need to play against better teams to get better ourselves. I like our schedule. I like playing against big teams.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No. 2 Stanford beats No. 3 Tennessee 67-52

STANFORD, Calif. — Tara VanDerveer has always considered a game against Tennessee a true test for her Stanford program, win or lose.

This victory told the Cardinal coach plenty. The next game on the schedule should do the trick, too.

Kayla Pedersen had 16 points and eight rebounds and No. 2 Stanford beat third-ranked Tennessee 67-52 on Saturday in a matchup of unbeaten national powerhouses.

“This really kind of lets you know where you’re at,” VanDerveer said. “When you play Tennessee, I think it’s a win whether it’s a big ‘W’ or a little ‘w.’ They help you get better. They’re the barometer. They always let you know what you have to work on.”

Jayne Appel added 10 points, 14 boards, three assists and three blocks and Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored all 14 of her points in the second half to go with 10 rebounds for the Cardinal (9-0). Stanford held off a late run and won its 35th straight game at Maples Pavilion.

Let the hype begin for Stanford’s showdown with No. 1 Connecticut on Wednesday night in Hartford in one of the most highly anticipated games of the regular season.

Angie Bjorklund scored 15 points and Glory Johnson 13 for the Lady Vols (9-1) on a day when leading scorer Shekinna Stricklen was held to eight on 4 of 12 shooting.

Tennessee managed only four assists.

“That may be an all-time record at University of Tennessee for the Lady Vols basketball team,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said.

This was the biggest matchup so far for both schools and each was slow getting going offensively after the 11:30 a.m. tipoff. It was the first time in 10 meetings that Tennessee came to Stanford ranked lower than the Cardinal.

“They exposed their game to all of women’s basketball today, and it wasn’t pretty,” Summitt said of her squad. “It was a butt kicking, don’t forget it. I won’t. They were the best team today in all aspects of the game. We’ve got to get a whole lot better. We fell apart. Sometimes that happens.”

Pedersen converted a key putback midway through the second half and a 3-pointer with 8:01 to play that helped spark her team. She also knocked a jumper with 4:42 to go, thrilling the near-sellout crowd of 6,809.

The game featured scalpers outside the arena and pregnant WNBA star Lisa Leslie doing color for the television broadcast.

Stanford was challenged to establish an inside game with 6-foot-6 Kelley Cain clogging the middle and making things tough on the 6-4 Appel, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year.

“I felt like a lineman, kind of,” Appel said. “I was told to meet her at the free-throw line. It was physical. Tomorrow will be a recovery day for both of us because we were going at each other a lot.”

Johnson converted a three-point play after drawing Appel’s third foul with 13:46 remaining and Appel went to the bench. Summitt immediately sent in Cain, but she quickly got whistled for her third foul and came right back out of the game.

After Johnson’s play, Stanford answered with a 7-0 spurt and forced Tennessee into back-to-back turnovers.

The Cardinal were stronger in many areas four days after beating seventh-ranked Duke 71-55, especially on the boards after allowing the Blue Devils 25 offensive rebounds.

After falling behind 9-4, Stanford used an 18-4 run to gain momentum. Both teams had scoreless stretches of more than 5 minutes in the first half.

Stanford got a big boost late in the first half from Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who hit consecutive 3s followed by a driving layup. Pedersen then drew a charge on Stricklen on the other end and the Cardinal took a 30-18 lead at the break. They led by 18 in the second half.

Tennessee matched its sixth-lowest halftime total, also done against Stanford in the NCAA tournament regional finals in 2004. The Lady Vols won that game 62-60, the previous-low scoring total for the Lady Vols in the series.

It was Gold-Onwude who scored nine of Stanford’s 10 points in overtime of a 73-69 win over top-ranked Tennessee at Maples on Dec. 23, 2007, to end an 11-game losing streak in the series.

Tennessee stays in the Bay Area to play at San Francisco on Tuesday night and Summitt planned to get her team in the film room right away.

The Lady Vols are still striving for the Final Four.

“They didn’t surprise me. I think they surprised our team,” Summitt said. “This team has got to make a decision here real soon if we’re committed to getting to San Antonio, because right now we’re miles away, or we could be years away.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No. 3 Tennessee beats Louisville 86-56

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The third-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers know they’ll need to create their own energy when they go on the road to play No. 2 Stanford this weekend.

They got some practice putting together some long runs in an 86-56 win over Louisville on Wednesday night.

“Coach emphasized keeping the ball inside and keeping our energy up,” Angie Bjorklund said. “We need a 40-minute game. We’re working towards that. Stanford will be on their home court. Creating our own energy will be huge when we step on their court.”

Three days before Saturday’s showdown in California, Bjorklund made one of the biggest contributions to the Tennessee’s energy, scoring 19 points—all but four on 3-pointers.

Despite jumping out to a 23-3 lead to open the game, Tennessee (9-0) went cold halfway through the first half as Louisville (6-4) shook off six early turnovers in its first meeting with the Lady Vols.

“I’m not saying I’m a really smart coach, but if you don’t shoot, you don’t score,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who led the Cardinals to the NCAA championship last season. “Once we figured out it’s better to throw it to our own team, we did some better things. We started to score.”

It turned out that Bjorklund wasn’t the only one feeling comfortable behind the arc. Becky Burke hit 7 of 9 from behind the arc, the most 3s any player has made against the Lady Vols this season. She finished with a career-high 23 points.

One of Burke’s 3s cut Tennessee’s lead to 31-24 with 5:04 left in the half. Free throws by Shekinna Stricklen and a 3 by Bjorklund gave Tennessee a 43-29 halftime lead.

Bjorklund and Stricklen combined for four 3s in the first 6 minutes of the second half, and Tennessee tied season highs in finishing 9 of 22 from beyond the arc.

Stricklen finished with 15 points, and Alyssia Brewer added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Tennessee.

Despite her players forcing the early turnovers by the Cardinals, Summitt wasn’t satisfied with the Lady Vols’ pressing defense early in the first half.

She switched to a half-court approach at halftime, and by the end of the game Tennessee had forced 24 turnovers and outrebounded Louisville 54-37.

“I’m not going to blame anyone except myself, but our staff wanted to extend our defense,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “Looking back, we shouldn’t have done that against a team as athletic as Louisville.”

Summitt had an early holiday surprise for the Tennessee fans, announcing before the game that she had decided to add the players’ names to the back of their jerseys after having them removed during the 2004-05 season because she was frustrated with the play of her players at the time.

She said she made the decision after considering hundreds of letters and e-mails she’s gotten from fans in the years since—some downright demanding, she said—asking for the names on the jerseys to distinguish the players in the massive Thompson-Boling Arena.

“Merry Christmas,” Summitt said to the fans before the game started.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stricklen helps No. 4 Tennessee beat Rutgers

NEW YORK — Pat Summitt coached against Maggie Dixon in her final game. So when the Hall of Famer got the chance to take part in an event in her honor, she jumped all over the opportunity.

“She was such a great person,” Summitt said after her fourth-ranked Lady Vols beat Rutgers 68-54 on Sunday. “We knew we were going to be facing each other in the postseason and actually wound up at the same restaurant. She had a great mind for the game. I enjoyed getting to know her. To be a part of this today meant a lot to me and we talked to our team about it as well.”

Shekinna Stricklen scored 19 points and Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer each added 10 points for the Lady Vols (8-0). Playing in New York at Madison Square Garden was a thrill for the Tennessee players.

“Everyone on the team was excited to play here,” Stricklen said. “It was my first time being here. They had great fans here.”

Brittany Ray scored a career-high 29 points for Rutgers (7-5).

“Brittany did everything. She took drives, long 3-point shots,” coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “She’s been bringing it.”

Sixth-ranked Baylor beat Boston College 68-55 in the doubleheader opener behind Brittney Griner’s 25 points.

Ray did all she could to help Rutgers pull off the upset. With the Scarlet Knights trailing by five at halftime, she scored 10 of the team’s first 14 points to help Rutgers close to 40-39 with 13:17 left.

“She’s a player,” Summitt said of Rutgers’ senior guard. “She can do it all. She can get to the hole and pull up.”

Tennessee clamped down defensively, holding Rutgers without a point over the next 5 minutes to take a 48-39 lead. Ray finally ended the drought with a layup, but the Scarlet Knights could get no closer.

“We didn’t recover from their run and didn’t bounce back,” Ray said.

This was the seventh straight year the two Hall of Fame coaches, who have a combined 1,845 victories, have met. The teams played twice before at Madison Square Garden almost a decade ago, with Tennessee winning both times.

“Vivian’s team is going to come at you and get in your grill,” Summitt said. “We knew what we were going to get.”

The last two meetings between the Lady Vols and Scarlet Knights were thrillers: Tennessee beat Rutgers on a controversial finish two years ago in Knoxville, and last season, the Scarlet Knights built a 20-point halftime lead only to see the Lady Vols complete the biggest comeback in school history in a 55-51 win.

On Sunday, Tennessee took a 21-7 lead, surpassing its halftime total from last year in the first 6 minutes. Rutgers rallied behind Ray, using a 9-2 spurt to cut it to 30-25 at halftime.

This was the fourth Maggie Dixon Classic in honor of the former Army coach, who died on April 6, 2006, of arrhythmia, likely caused by an enlarged heart. The inaugural Maggie Dixon Classic was held at Army in 2006—a men’s and women’s doubleheader. The Pittsburgh men, coached by Maggie’s brother Jamie, beat Western Michigan, and Ohio State routed Army. The last three have been played at Madison Square Garden.

“This has turned into one of the premier women’s events in the country,” Jamie Dixon said during a pregame ceremony honoring his sister. “She wanted some day to play at Madison Square Garden with her team. Now we have an event in her name.”

Stringer and Lieutenant Colonial Kim Kawamoto were honored before the game as the inaugural recipients of the Maggie Dixon Courage Award.

Lady Vols' Pat Summitt shows she's a winner

By Joe Biddle

This story was passed on by reader Larry Adamson, as it was told to him.

A daughter always took her father to at least one Tennessee football game a year, but it became more difficult when he was in his early 80s. There was the trip by car, getting from a parking lot to the stadium, climbing steps in the stadium, et cetera.

At one particular game, the weather was cold, windy with rain. They all agreed to leave about mid-way through the second half. When they reached the shuttle dropoff area, they learned the shuttle would not be running until after the game ended, and they had parked too far away for her father to walk.

A lady had been walking behind them, also leaving the game early. She overheard their plight and asked if they would like a ride, that her car was close. They accepted. She got her car and pulled up to let them get in. The lady's father got in the front seat next to the driver.

Soon, he asked, "Don't I know you?''

She smiled. "I don't know. Do you?'' He quickly figured it out.

It was Lady Vols basketball legend Pat Summitt.

Arriving at the family car, the elderly gentleman asked if he could have his picture made with Summitt. She didn't hesitate.

That's what makes Pat Summitt a winner on and off the court. Caring for others.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

No. 4 Tennessee faces new task: handling success

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Lady Volunteers must learn how to manage success after a year of dealing with struggles.

Thanks to a win over Texas, the Lady Vols (7-0) are now No. 4 in the country, their highest ranking in more than a season.

“They’ve just committed. They’re invested,” coach Pat Summitt said. “We had a miserable year to get to where we are now, but it’s paid off.”

Summitt said her players must manage their success by continuing to improve.

Though forward/guard Shekinna Stricklen was named the Southeastern Conference player of the week, Summitt still called the sophomore in to see her in her office Monday, a day after Tennessee’s 78-58 win over Texas.

Stricklen was 6 of 10 from the field, scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, but Summitt didn’t like the way she played the point guard position. She didn’t drive the lane enough, and she was looking to often for shooting guard Angie Bjorklund.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to play with everybody,”’ Summitt said. “I went through every possession.”

That kind of nitpicking was a luxury a year ago. Summitt, coaching her youngest team ever, was busy teaching fundamentals and trying to motivate her team.

Summitt doesn’t talk rankings with her players, but there’s no doubt they’re aware of their current success after easily handling No. 17 Texas, a team that beat Tennessee during its disappointing 2008-09 season.

It started with the players’ commitment to their offseason conditioning program. Strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason said it was the most dedicated any Lady Vols team had been in the summer in her seven seasons at Tennessee.

It’s carried over onto the court, where Summitt’s first-ever senior-less team is playing together better and showing maturity.

“It’s just knowing that we’re much better this year than we were last year and just all the time that we put in this summer,” sophomore forward Glory Johnson said. “When everyone brings their A-game and everyone can contribute during a game, then I think our team will be great.”

The season is young and the Lady Vols still have plenty of plenty of challenges ahead, starting Sunday against Rutgers at the Maggie Dixon Classic in New York. They’ll also travel to No. 2 Stanford next week.

Rutgers (6-4) might not be enjoying as much early success as Tennessee is, but Summitt still expects a tough game from Vivian Stringer’s squad.

Last season, Rutgers held Tennessee to only 13 first-half points, but the Lady Vols overcame their 20-point halftime deficit to win 55-51.

Summitt reminded the Lady Vols how much work it took to win that game, just in case they’re in danger of slipping back into their old ways.

“I asked them if they remembered the score at halftime,” Summitt said. “You never knew when they were going to show up or when they were going to play great or give in to fatigue.”

Monday, December 07, 2009

No. 6 Tennessee beats No. 17 Texas 78-58

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Angie Bjorklund remembers Tennessee playing well in the first half against Texas last season before unraveling in the second.

What a difference a year makes.

Bjorklund scored 15 points, and No. 6 Tennessee cruised to a 78-58 victory over No. 17 Texas on Sunday night.

“I just think it shows a lot—how hard we worked in the summer, how having a year of experience under your belt helps,” she said.

A year ago, the teams were tied midway through the second half before Texas went ahead with a 10-1 run, and Tennessee never recovered.

This time, the Lady Volunteers (7-0) grabbed a double-digit lead midway through the first half and never let up against the Longhorns (5-3).

Texas coach Gail Goestenkors said it’s the best she’s seen Tennessee play all season and thinks the difference from last season can be attributed to many different things, including Kelley Cain’s dominance in the post and more confident guard play.

“They just have a better flow this year,” said Goestenkors, who is 6-6 against Tennessee coach Pat Summitt in her time at Texas and Duke. “They seem more confident. They trust themselves more, and they trust each other more.”

Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson both added 14 points for Tennessee, which shot 52.5 percent. Kelley Cain, who missed Tennessee’s win over George Washington on Tuesday night recovering from a concussion, was 6-for-6 from the field for 12 points.

Texas shot only 30 percent from the field, the lowest figure by any Lady Vols’ opponent this season.

A 3-pointer by Stricklen with 7:10 left in the first half capped a 14-2 run, and another 3 by Stricklen sent the Lady Vols into halftime with a 41-24 lead. Tennessee led by at least 20 points for most of the second half.

Brittainey Raven led Texas with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

The Longhorns did best in creating scoring opportunities, getting 17 points off 18 Tennessee turnovers. They struggled with the easier shots, missing six layups in the first half, six layups in the second half and six of 16 free throws.

“If we would have made those shots, we would have won the game,” Raven said.

Texas is one of only six schools to hold multiple victories at Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena after winning at “The Summitt” in 1987, 2002 and 2003. Only Connecticut has more wins—four.

Even with the recent success by Texas and Goestenkors, the Lady Vols lead the all-time series 19-12.

Summitt won’t let her players rest on their laurels, even with a week off to study for exams. Tennessee faces Rutgers Dec. 13 in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“They’re excited, but this is just one game,” Summitt said. “I expected this game to be closer, but when you play on the road it can be different. It will be different for us.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Daedra Charles-Furlow Has Medical Problems

Tennessee assistant coach Daedra Charles-Furlow announced in a release after Tuesday night's 93-53 women's basketball victory over George Washington that she's dealing with medical issues that will impact her duties as the Lady Vols recruiting coordinator.

"It is possible that there may be times when I am unable to travel,'' Charles-Furlow said.

UT coach Pat Summitt said that Charles-Furlow will continue her coaching duties on the bench. Summitt also said in the release that she is designating her special assistant, Stephanie Glance, to help out on a temporary basis.

"Daedra is so passionate about recruiting our student-athletes," Summitt said.

"During the next several months she needs to be focusing on her health."

A former All-American for the Lady Vols, Charles-Furlow joined the Tennessee coaching staff in May of 2008. She replaced Nikki Caldwell, who left to become the head coach at UCLA.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

No. 6 Tennessee beats George Washington 93-53

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — This time, Alyssia Brewer delivered with Kelley Cain sidelined by another injury.

Brewer scored a career-high 23 points, Glory Johnson had 16 points and 12 rebounds and No. 6 Tennessee beat George Washington 93-53 on Tuesday night.

Cain missed much of the Lady Volunteers’ loss to Ball State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last season after she hurt her knee. Brewer struggled in that one as Tennessee slipped to its worst postseason finish in history.

Cain suffered a concussion Saturday against UCLA, leaving the Lady Vols’ without their starting center against the Colonials. But Brewer finished with a strong effort, helping Tennessee (6-0) dominate inside.

“Last year it was the same scenario against Ball State, and I didn’t step up like I needed to,” Brewer said. “It’s all in my hands if I carry it over or not. I plan on doing that, but I need to stay consistent.”

Brewer got an earful from coach Pat Summitt regularly during practice last season as Tennessee struggled and was pushed hard during the team’s physical offseason conditioning program.

“I think she needed this game,” Johnson said. “Just watching her struggle in practice—sometimes she’ll do good things in practice, but she’ll dwell on the negatives.”

Johnson had a double-double by halftime and rested for much of the second half when Brewer took over. Shekinna Stricklen had 17 points.

“If we can rely on that, along with Kelley and Glory and Taber (Spani) doing some good things in the mix, I feel better about our post game,” Summitt said.

Tennessee led 54-24 at the break and finished with 54 points in the paint.

Kay-Kay Allums led George Washington (2-4) with 16 points. Tiana Myers and Megan Nipe both had 11.

The Colonials dropped to 0-10 against Tennessee, but Allums thought it was a good experience for her team.

“I love playing against the best. To be the best, you’ve got to beat them,” she said.

Like Tennessee, George Washington has been forced to deal with injuries early in the season. The Colonials lost starting point guard Danni Jackson on Friday when she broke her left leg in a 78-47 loss to Michigan State.

“They lose a player, they replace her with another high school All-American,” coach Mike Bozeman said. “I’m proud of the class that my young group came in here and played with.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

No. 6 Tennessee holds off UCLA 61-47

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Five former Tennessee players in the coaching ranks have tried to beat coach Pat Summitt. UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell came close to being the first to succeed.

After a slow start by the Lady Volunteers, Taber Spani scored 16 and helped sixth-ranked Tennessee (5-0) hang on to beat the Bruins 61-47 on Saturday.

“It certainly wasn’t pretty. I’m not happy. I’m glad we won,” said Summitt, who wore her trademark stare for much of the game and told her players they’d be practicing Sunday instead of taking the day off as planned.

Caldwell, a native of nearby Oak Ridge, Tenn., played for Summitt from 1990-94 and worked as her assistant coach from 2002-08 before taking over the Bruins.

“At shootaround I just went and sat at the visitors’ bench, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a little different,”’ Caldwell said. “I never feel like a visitor coming back home though.”

Her team’s style of physical defensive play bore a close resemblance to Tennessee, and UCLA (4-2) smothered the Lady Vols in the first half, forcing 12 turnovers.

The Lady Vols shot only 29 percent from the field in the first half, and the Bruins grabbed a 25-14 lead off a jumper by Rebekah Gardner with 4:56 left in the first half.

UCLA cooled off as Spani began finding some rhythm. The freshman hit two 3-point baskets and a pair of free throws before halftime, and the Bruins’ lead was cut to 27-25 by the break.

“The first half we didn’t bring it consistently energy-wise. That cannot happen against any team, especially a team like UCLA,” Spani said.

The Bruins trailed 43-40 with 9:10 left when the Lady Vols launched a 10-2 run. A 3-pointer by Angie Bjorklund gave Tennessee a 53-42 lead with 5:12 left, and the Lady Vols kept a double-digit lead for the rest of the game.

Bjorklund hit three 3s and finished with 12 points, tying Shannon Bobbitt for fourth in the Tennessee record books with 147 career 3-pointers. Glory Johnson added 11 points, and Kelley Cain grabbed 11 rebounds.

Markel Walker, who is almost averaging a double-double this season, led UCLA with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

Tennessee grabbed 49 rebounds, compared to UCLA’s 35, and scored 30 second-chance points.

Most of the attempts by Summitt’s former players turned opponents have ended up as Tennessee blowouts. North Carolina State coach Kelly Harper was the last to try as coach of Western Carolina last season, but the Catamounts lost 83-56. Tanya Haave’s San Francisco team lost 68-39 earlier in the 2008-09 season.

Maine coach Patricia Roberts came the closest to beating her mentor with a 77-64 loss on Dec. 13, 1990.

“I never doubted that (Caldwell) would be successful,” Summitt said. “They’ll win some games in the Pac-10.”

Still accustomed to tutoring the players in orange, Caldwell told Spani, Bjorklund and Johnson as they listened to her post game press conference that she was in agreement with Summitt’s decision to make the Lady Vols practice on Sunday.

Caldwell also said she brought a bag of UCLA clothing for her family members to wear to the game.

“They are loyal (Tennessee) fans,” she said. “I threatened my mom today. I told her, ‘Three hundred and sixty-four days out of the year you can be all about Tennessee, but this one day that we play you have to wear the blue and gold.”’

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No. 6 Tennessee beats Middle Tennessee 69-52

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Glory Johnson scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and sixth-ranked Tennessee beat Middle Tennessee 69-52 on Wednesday night before the first sellout crowd in Blue Raiders’ history.

Pat Summitt hadn’t brought her Lady Vols to Middle Tennessee since Nov. 26, 1979, when assistant Holly Warlick was a senior. Only 1,500 showed up that night for a Tennessee win. This time, Summitt came to play old friend Rick Insell’s program, and 11,802 turned out to easily top the 10,010 when top-ranked Maryland visited Nov. 10, 2006.

Angie Bjorklund had 16 points and Shekinna Stricklen 12 and 11 rebounds for Tennessee (4-0).

Alysha Clark, the nation’s leading scorer last season, finished with 23 for Middle Tennessee (2-2). Jackie Pickel added 16.

Insell has taken the Blue Raiders to the NCAA tournament in three of his first four seasons, and they were ranked No. 24 before a road loss to then-No. 7 LSU last week.

But Tennessee improved to 18-0 against Middle Tennessee, a program that just played its 1,000th game last weekend. Compare that to Summitt, whose career record now is 1,009-193.

Clark averaged 27.5 points per game last season and was coming off a 38-point performance in a win last weekend. Tennessee had the size advantage on the 5-foot-10 forward who found herself mostly guarded by 6-6 Kelley Cain. Clark didn’t hit her first bucket from the floor until 2:54 left in the first half, and she had only three points before the break.

The Blue Raiders led only once, at 3-2 on Chelsia Lymon’s 3-pointer. Taber Spani scored on a layup to put Tennessee back ahead, and the Lady Vols never trailed again. The Lady Vols seemingly couldn’t miss, hitting 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) in the first half.

Middle Tennessee too often settled for outside shots over the taller Lady Vols and couldn’t hit enough.

Brandi Brown’s 3 with 7:18 left pulled Middle Tennessee within 22-20. Tennessee responded with eight straight points as Stricklen and Johnson each scored twice. Alyssia Brewer’s layup with a minute left gave the Lady Vols their biggest lead at 35-22, and Tennessee took a 35-24 lead into halftime.

Clark finally got going in the second half, scoring 11 straight points for Middle. Her bucket at 8:31 pulled Middle within 54-42. Bjorklund scored, then Stricklen hit a pair of free throws to pad the lead.

The Lady Vols eventually led by as much as 20.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lady Vols Crunch Virginia, 77-63

Click to Enlarge
Photo by UT
Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen
Tennessee Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt gave her team an early holiday gift after her fifth-ranked team crunched no. 12 Virginia 77-63 before the largest crowd ever to attend a women‘s basketball game (11,895) in Charlottesville Sunday afternoon.

The Lady Vols (3-0) gained readmittance to their locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time since last February when Summitt barred access to motivate her then struggling team.

Angie Bjorklund, the junior who has developed into the team leader on a senior less squad, scored 24 points while Shekinna Stricklen added 20 followed by Glory Johnson with 14.

Sophomore center Kelley Cain had a six-plicate in points, rebounds and blocks.

The Cavaliers (3-1), who stunned UT 83-82 in Knoxville last season, had trimmed the Lady Vol lead to 42-39 with 18:14 remaining until Bjorklund responded with a momentum killing three point play aided by an assist by Stricklen. UVA All-American Monica Wright, who scored 35 points in the Cavaliers’ upset, fouled Bjorklund who converted her free throw to give UT a 46-39 lead.

UT freshman Taber Spani responded to Bjorklund’s shot with a trey of her own, extended the Lady Vol lead to 10 and the Cavaliers never recovered.

Next up for the Lady Vols is a Thanksgiving Eve meeting with 24th ranked Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. Game time is scheduled for 8 ET as the Blue Raiders (2-1) and their senior All-American Alysha Clark attempt to defeat UT for the first time in school history. Clark, who was the nation’s leading scorer averaging 27.5 points per game last season, scored 38 in MTSU’s 84-73 victory over Austin Peay Saturday evening.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No. 6 Tennessee blows out Texas Tech 91-53

SAN ANTONIO — Returning to San Antonio likely won’t be this easy for No. 6 Tennessee.

Taber Spani scored 18 points and Glory Johnson added 17 as the Lady Vols crushed Texas Tech 91-53 on Tuesday night in what Tennessee hopes will be the first of two trips to the Final Four city this season.

The road back is bound to be tougher: Tennessee opened the second half on a 32-4 run, held Texas Tech to 30 percent shooting and handed the game over to Spani and the rest of the Lady Vols bench early.

About the only thing giving the game a Final Four feel was defending national champion Connecticut watching nearby, waiting to play No. 10 Texas in the second game of a doubleheader.

“It gives (the players) a taste of what it’s all about,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said about playing in the San Antonio showcase. “Clearly, we all want to be back. It kind of whets your whistle a little bit.”

Shekinna Stricklen scored 16 points for the Tennessee and Angie Bjorklund sank four 3-pointers to finish with 14. The mostly burnt-orange crowd here for the Longhorns took in a dominating preview of Tennessee, which will face Texas at home Dec. 6.

Kierra Mallard scored 15 points and was the only player in double figures for Texas Tech. The Lady Raiders have never beaten the Lady Vols in six tries.

Tennessee flirted with holding Texas Tech to a single-game school record for poor field percentage before the Lady Raiders scored 21 of their points in the final 10 minutes. Before then, Texas Tech was shooting just under 24 percent from the floor.

Like the three other teams in the AT&T Center for the doubleheader, Texas Tech was once a Final Four contender before longtime coach Marsha Sharp retired after the 2005-06 season. Coach Kristy Curry has been trying to get Texas Tech back on track since.

“This does not define our season,” Curry said. “When you’re called for this opportunity, do you turn it down? No. You know this is the right step to take to get Tech back to where we want to be.”

The Lady Vols have now opened the year with two wins over Big 12 teams after beating No. 8 Baylor on Sunday. They’ll play another pair of rank teams starting Sunday at No. 12 Virginia, then Nov. 25 at No. 24 Middle Tennessee.

Stricklen just wants to be back in Texas come April.

“As a team that’s our main goal—to come back here,” Stricklen said. “Being here for the first time we really enjoyed it and we want to be back. We know what it takes to come back.”

Together again: Auriemma shrugs off Summitt spat

SAN ANTONIO — It's safe to say that Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt didn't spend much time catching up in Texas.

Auriemma and Summitt were at the AT&T Center on Tuesday night for a doubleheader in San Antonio, where the Final Four will be held in the spring. Summitt's sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols beat Texas Tech in the first game before Auriemma's top-ranked Huskies demolished No. 10 Texas.

The two Hall of Fame coaches had a falling out two years ago when their powerhouse programs canceled their regular-season series. Auriemma said in April 2008 that it was because Summitt accused UConn of cheating in recruiting.

Auriemma said he'll say hello to Summitt like anyone else, but doesn't see why anyone expects them to, say, go to dinner.

"Why? I don't go out to dinner with these guys," Auriemma said, sitting between two of his UConn players. "And I like them."

All four teams in the San Antonio doubleheader actually did have a dinner together Monday night. Auriemma said that what people need to understand is that within Division I women's basketball, people wanted to see games other than Connecticut playing Tennessee.

Between 1995 and 2007, the Huskies and Lady Vols played at least once a year.

"Everybody in the country has to understand that the only people who really wanted the whole Connecticut-Tennessee thing were people outside women's basketball," Auriemma said. "That was just for the outside fans."

Auriemma made his comments after being asked about Summitt following the game. Summitt was not asked about Auriemma following Tennessee's victory and made no comment on her own.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

No. 8 Tennessee beats No. 7 Baylor 74-65

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Shekinna Stricklen had 25 points and 14 rebounds, and No. 8 Tennessee beat No. 7 Baylor 74-65 on Sunday in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.

All the buzz entering the game was about Brittney Griner, the Lady Bears’ celebrated recruit who dunked in an exhibition game. The 6-foot-8 Griner dunked a few times in warmups and scored 15 points, but never got close enough to the rim for a chance to dunk during the game.

The Lady Volunteers (1-0) used a combination of post players—who spent much of the game in foul trouble—to shut down Griner.

Stricklen hit a fast-break layup on a steal and assist from Kamiko Williams to cap a 14-2 run that gave the Lady Vols a 52-38 lead with 9:49 left. Baylor (0-1) got within nine points several times.

Melissa Jones led Lady Bears with 21 points.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lady Vol is injured at practice

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee sophomore forward Glory Johnson suffered a left shoulder injury during Wednesday's practice and is being listed as day to day.

There was no immediate word on the nature of the injury. The official report was that Johnson was being evaluated.

UT Coach Pat Summitt expressed optimism that Johnson would be available for Sunday's season opener against Baylor in the State Farm Tipoff Classic at Thompson-Boling Arena. Her first thought was that the injury wouldn't present long-term problems.

The injury occurred during a shooting drill. Johnson was attended to by UT medical staffers for at least 15 minutes. The other players were concerned enough to convene a prayer circle.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Summitt encouraged by Lady Vols' offseason effort

KNOXVILLE — Pat Summitt thinks her six sophomore Tennessee Lady Volunteers learned an important lesson last season after being a part of the program's worst finish last season.

"I would say all of our sophomores understand that they can't just step out there, put on the big orange uniform and win. That's a good thing," the coach said.

Now the team must prove that the lesson learned is enough to put No. 8 Tennessee back on an NCAA championship path after making its first-ever first-round exit from the tournament in March.

After coaching the youngest team she'd ever fielded last year, Summitt added three new faces to her lineup for 2009-10. Only one of them — 6-foot-1 guard Taber Spani — ranked among the top 20 recruits in the nation.

The Lady Vols claim that even without a game-changer like Candace Parker in the lineup, they'll be better. They say they're working harder this year and better understand what it takes to win.

After the 71-55 loss to Ball State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Summitt held a sort of spring training for the Lady Vols. She told them they could either commit to working hard in the offseason or don't come back.

"I think this team just thought they could all come together," she said. "They had a lot of high school All-Americans, and it was just going to happen. It doesn't happen. You make things happen."

The message got through.

Strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason, who's already known for her demanding training style, said the team worked harder than any in her seven years with Tennessee had ever worked in the offseason.

Junior guard Angie Bjorklund, who with the most playing experience is the team's elder, said all the players worked out as a team every single day, despite the workouts being optional.

"Coach always says championships are won in the offseason. If that's the case, we have a good shot because we worked hard this summer," the Spokane Valley, Wash., native said.

Bjorklund says the sophomores will be improved just by being a year older. She had her own struggles as a freshman, going through a slump after New Year's, but became one of the team leaders and top scorers as a sophomore.

Sophomore point guard Briana Bass agrees. She's got a better sense of how to manage her time as a student-athlete and what to expect on the team.

"It's all about getting that year under your belt. You understand the system and how things work around here," the 5-foot-2 Indianapolis, Ind., native said.

Spani and her fellow freshmen, Faith Dupree and Kamiko Williams, have been working hard too. Spani said the three of them understand the commitment they have to make to avoid the kind of experience last year's freshman class went through.

"I'm a blue-collar worker. I come from that kind of family," Spani said. "Hard work is natural for me, and I love it. I was drawn to Heather Mason and the offseason stuff and the conditioning. I think that's what help makes championship teams."

Summitt knows that hard work, a few new players and a new attitude won't automatically translate into more success. The Southeastern Conference is better this season, and there's more parity in women's basketball across the nation.

The Lady Vols will be tested early and often. They open at home against No. 7 Baylor, which features top recruit Brittney Griner. They'll also face six other teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 — all before Christmas.

Still, the Hall of Fame coach knows she and her players have done the best they could do in the offseason. That gives her a little hope, for now.

"I just will tell you I have a different comfort level now than a year ago," she said.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Avant is better off for having a hoops break

Point guard ready to sign with Lady Vols

Pat Summitt's UT Contract

In February Pat Summitt signed a contract extension that will keep her at Tennessee through 2014, which would be her 40th season as Lady Vols coach.

See the contract Summitt signed with the University of Tennessee.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Lady Vols 79, Delta State 46

Kelley Cain breezed to a double-double Monday night in a 79-46 exhibition victory over Delta State in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Cain, who finished with a game-high 20 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocked shots in just 19 minutes of play, loomed large over the Lady Statesmen, whose tallest player still gave up six inches to Tennessee's 6-foot-8 center.

All that changes this weekend, though.

The Lady Vols begin the regular season against No. 7 Baylor -- and the Lady Bears' 6-foot-8 freshman Brittney Griner.

The true freshman boasts a 7-foot-4 wingspan and dunked 52 times in 32 games as a senior at Nimitz High School in Houston. Griner, a consensus national player of the year coming out of high school, dunked in the Lady Bears' exhibition win over Incarnate Word on Saturday.

Cain wasn't the only Lady Vol to post a double-double on Monday, either.

Freshman Taber Spani, despite coming off the bench in favor of sophomore Glory Johnson, scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.

Angie Bjorklund scored 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting, while Shekinna Stricklen added 10 points and nine boards.

Johnson finished with seven points on 2-of-6 shooting with two blocks and five rebounds.

Delta State, ranked No. 4 in Division II, was paced by point guard Bug Cooper's 15 points. The Lady Statesmen shot just 26 percent from the field and turned the ball over 19 times.

The Lady Vols opened the game on an 11-0 run and used another 11-0 run to take a 22-5 lead early in the game.

Tennessee and Delta State last played in 1979 before Monday's exhibition, but the two programs met in the 1977 AIAW Final Four where the Lady Statesmen defeated Tennessee to claim their third consecutive AIWA national title.

Counting Monday's exhibition, the Lady Vols are 5-2 all-time against Delta State.

The Lady Vols return to the court Sunday for a 5 p.m. tipoff (TV: ESPN2) against the Lady Bears in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols defeated Baylor 71-69 in the 2004 NCAA tournament, their only previous meeting.

Cain climbs boards: Lady Vols win, 79-46

Center grabs 20 rebounds in 19 minutes

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cierra Burdick Committs to UT

Cierra Burdick, one of the nation's top ranked girls basketball players, committed to Tennessee Sunday morning.

Burdick, ranked among the nation's top 5 in the junior class, visited the school Saturday and attended Tenneesee's football game where the Vols beat Memphis 56-28. Burdick said she spent time with some of the school's players and felt really at home.

But when she walked into coach Pat Summitt's office for a post-visit meeting Sunday morning, she didn't plan to commit.

"I planned to go on and check out my other choice, South Carolina, and compare after that," Burdick said, "but they got me. They said all the right stuff -- and the numbers there don't lie."

In 35 years, Summitt is 1,005-193. Her teams have won 14 of 29 SEC championships and eight national titles.

Burdick, a 6-3 junior guard, thinks Summitt -- and her staff -- will fully develop her game. Burdick averaged 12.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, four blocks and 2.1 steals last year for Butler, which reached the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship, before losing to eventual state champ West Charlotte.

In the summer, she played for a 16-and-under USA Basketball national team that won a FIBA Americans U16 championship in Mexico City. In the Gold Medal game, when the U.S. beat Canada 103-52, Burdick had six points, a team-high seven rebounds, five assists and a team-high five steals.

As the 2009-10 season begins next week, she is North Carolina's top player, regardless of class. And she's excited to get her college decision out of the way.

"I just think coach Summitt can bring the best out of me," Burdick said. "I want to continue to get better and be the best on the next level and the level after that. I think they can bring out my full potential."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lady Vols crush Carson-Newman 124-34 in exhibition opener

Six players reached double figures and No. 8 Tennessee defeated Carson-Newman 124-34 in an exhibition game Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Sophomore Glory Johnson led the way with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, and junior Angie Bjorklund scored 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting before making her exit midway through the second half.

At one point after halftime, Bjorklund had scored more points than Carson-Newman.

“We wanted to focus on what the team brought at both ends,” UT coach Pat Summitt said. “Last year, we would sometimes play down to the level of our competition. Tonight, we maintained our intensity. Last year, we’d get a lead and think the game was over. Tonight, we were thinking execution.”

Freshman guard Taber Spani started and scored 17 points in her first game as a Lady Vol. Alicia Manning added 18 points, and Kelley Cain had 16 points. Shekinna Stricklen chipped in 12 points, 10 of which came in the first half.

No other freshmen played until forward Kamiko Williams, who scored two points on 1-of-2 shooting, entered with about 6:21 remaining in the game. Faith Dupree did not play.

For the game, Tennessee hit 62 percent of its shots from the field, including a 45-percent clip from beyond the 3-point line. Bjorklund and Spani both hit a team-high three 3-pointers.

The Lady Vols opened the game on a 16-3 run and cruised to a 64-18 lead at halftime, thanks in large part to 18 first-half turnovers by Carson-Newman.

Tennessee scored 22 points off turnovers in the opening half and used their considerable size advantage inside to outscore the Lady Eagles 34-8 inside over the same span.

The Lady Vols defeated Carson-Newman 135-55 in an exhibition game last year and have now scored more than 100 points in five of their last six exhibition games against the Division II school.

“Overall, I was pleased,” Summitt said. “We played well together. Sometimes our defense was too tight. We weren’t perfect, but we’ve got some good film to look at.”

Tennessee returns to the court Monday for its final exhibition game against Delta State at 7 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Lady Vols open the regular season at home against No. 7 Baylor on Nov. 15 as part of the State Farm Classic.

Visit to purchase tickets.

Late show by Johnson, Lady Vols

Summitt likes way 'we kept our intensity and maintained it'

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lady Vols prepare for exhibition game tomorrow

Forty-five minutes before practice began, Vicki Baugh was draining 15-foot jumpers from the baseline. A renewed hope for her return is growing, but she still hasn't been cleared to play.

Tennessee's post players will be the key to a successful season because they all are the only real question marks from last season's disappointing end. Counting Baugh, the Lady Vols have just five true post players on their roster.
  • Taber Spani could be used as a four, but counting on a freshman, even a McDonald's High School All-American, for anything is naive.
  • Baugh's status for this season is still completely up to Jenny Moshak, long-time Lady Vol head trainer whom Pat Summitt trusts deeply.
  • Alyssia Brewer's consistency, or lack thereof, has been noted by other reporters and Summitt.
  • Kelley Cain has been recovering from major knee surgery for about a year now and is the center, literally, of Tennessee's game plan.
  • Glory Johnson, who has made great strides in the offseason, still has to prove it on the court.
  • Faith Dupree, who practiced today after being held out yesterday for back spasms, looks promising but is still a freshman.
On a brighter note, Tennessee has more quality guard depth this year than any recent year that comes to memory. Angie Bjorklund, Shekinna Stricklen, Sydney Smallbone, Alicia Manning and Spani have deadly accurate jump shots and could all easily average 15 points-per-game.

Briana Bass and Kamiko Williams, who will likely see the majority of their minutes at point guard and shooting guard respectively, have great scoring abilities as well. Ultimately, it will be up to the post players to keep opponents from keying on Tennessee's guards on the perimeter.

Heather Mason, legendary strength and conditioning coach, talked everyone through the pregame warm-ups at first, and the upperclassmen had to move the newcomers into line, literally. One drill which features lots of "foot fire" requires the players to line up behind each other in a grid on the court.

Shooting drills featured an impressive display of shooting accuracy from the guards on one end of the court and left something to be desired from the posts' offensive moves and consistency.

Scrimmages against practice players showed that this Lady Vol team has good early chemistry that could become something special. Offensive shells, while not executed to perfection, were effective against the stiff competition.

Brewer showed her potential by scoring two consecutive times, once in the paint and the other draining a short jumper with a hand in her face.

I left practice feeling like this team has the potential to be special, but we'll soon see just how special. No. 7/4 (AP/Coaches) Baylor, which has freshman YouTube-dunking sensation Brittney Griner, comes to Knoxville on November 15th to start the season.

This new Tennessee Lady Volunteer team, No. 8/9 (AP/Coaches) in the preseason polls, looks to improve upon last year's sub-par season; 2009 was the first year since 1997 that Tennessee failed to claim either the regular season SEC crown or the SEC tournament title, and it was the first year in Lady Vol history that Tennessee did not win a first-round NCAA Tournament game. The chance to start anew comes tomorrow in Knoxville against Carson-Newman (exhibition match) at 7:30 PM ET.

Offense requested by Summitt

Lady Vols told to 'play' in exhibition

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Happy Homecoming

Saturday, Homecoming festivities continue with Party in the Park. Circle Park will be enlivened with the pep band, cheerleaders, music, door prizes and face painting. A barbeque is also available for $12, but requires a reservation to claim a plate. Coach Pat Summitt and Jay Bush and Duke (of Bush's Baked Beans fame) will be there from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The party begins 3 hours before kickoff. Free, except barbeque - contact Susie Orr to make reservations for food.

Lady Vol Basketball Media Day Quotes

HEAD COACH Pat Summitt

Opening Statement "It's good to see you all here today. I'm excited what we've got done so far and anxious to get the season started. I can tell that all of our players made a commitment to get a lot better and we have a different comfort level now than a year ago. Being in practice with this team and watching the accountability unfold with the group, in particular, having Angie Bjorklund playing the way she's been playing. I think she did a great job of getting a lot of her teammates in the gym throughout the summer. Across the board, I can tell you that this team now understands what it takes to really work hard to be at a certain level, to compete with the schedule that we have in place. That's one thing that hasn't changed over the years, and I think that's a good thing. It was challenging for us a year ago. I think we're much better prepared to understand how to go out and compete as a team. We're not there 100 percent, but we're getting there. Our freshmen, overall, I think they've really bought in. Certainly, Taber Spani has been very impressive in the workouts. She's got deep range which will help us on the perimeter and will also help us open our inside game. Faith Dupree certainly has shown a lot of promise in just working in the post position, definitely her high-low game. It will help us to have a player like Faith along with the other returning post players that we have. That's very encouraging. Kamiko Williams is very athletic, skill player, she's just got a lot to learn, but she has a great upside. All three freshmen should be able to help us out. A healthy Kelley Cain could make a big difference for us without a doubt. She's working really hard, we just have to make sure to keep her healthy. Vicki Baugh is a player right now, we're just day to day. When she feels like she's having a great day, she can go and get the reps in and [Associate Athletics Director for Sports Medicine] Jenny [Moshak] is managing that. And that's exactly what we want. We're not going to force or push a time when she has to be back. It's when she feels that her knees are standing up and healthy and strong, she's got to be strong. Having the back to back tears is almost unheard of in the same knee. She has really had a good attitude overall. I'm anxious to see how she progresses.

On this year's schedule "I could talk about a lot of the teams that we're going to play, for us to have Nikki Caldwell coming back and have UCLA in here that will be exciting. We'll get everybody in Oak Ridge here. She has stayed in close contact with me. I'm really proud for her and for what she has done already at UCLA. If you look at our schedule, and you know that Baylor is going to be a force to be reckon with. They've got a 6-8 center and that'll pose some problems for us. But hopefully Kelley will be able to matchup with Brittney Griner and go head to head with her. At least we've got the size to compete in the paint. As I look at the schedule, I don't know what I was thinking, I think [Associate Athletics Director for Media Relations] Debby [Jennings] probably put this together. If you look at it, it's a typical Tennessee schedule. Texas, I think, is going to be a much, much better team. Coach DeMoss keeps telling me they're going to be a lot better. We're looking forward to having the teams come in here, to have Louisville on our schedule is huge, we've got Oklahoma coming in. We didn't dodge any bullets. To be able to go play in the [Madison Square] Garden and play against Rutgers of all people, that's always an interesting game. All I can tell you is that we're going to work hard and we're going to continue that offense - I always say sells the tickets - we're better offensively, but our defense and our board play, and our ball security is going to be everything to us being a successful team."

On having better effort this year "I think losing and losing out in the first round. They made history, and not in a good way. They know that a lot of people looked at this team and said `why, why did we lose?' I think this team just thought they could all come together, they had a lot of high school All-Americans, and it was just going to happen. It doesn't happen, you make things happen. Shekinna [Stricklen], she's at a different level, she wasn't ready for that a year ago. I think she's one of the most improved players, and that's going to benefit us tremendously. Bree [Bass] is better, we're better across the board. There is not one player that didn't invest, some at a higher level than others, but clearly, this team understands playing together now. It's all about the leaders stepping up now in that regard."

On a younger generation and how you coach "I think every coach out there is thinking about, `ok, it's a different generation'. But I'm not going to lower my standards because of that, not at all. My thought is that we have to raise the bar. I think they get it now, but it's really been interesting to see the people that have invested the most. I can tell you across the board, that all of our sophomores understand that they just can't step out there, put on the Big Orange uniform and win. And that's a good thing."

Is the Ball State loss still felt? "I think it was probably felt more in the offseason. I think when they invested in all the workouts. For [Assistant Athletics Director for Strength & Conditioning] Heather [Mason] to say that in the seven years she's been here, this team has put in more summer workouts than any team that she has been associated with over the seven years. There are some good teams, obviously Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle and that group. This group put in more than anyone, any other team in the seven years. They needed it, trust me, they needed to put all that in. I think because of that, they have a different opinion of not only their individual games, but in how the team invested so that everyone understands that we're committed. If someone isn't committed on a given day, then it's time to call them out."

As a group, do you sense that this group gets it? "I think they get it. I really think they get it. With the schedule we have, we have to get it. We have to get it early and we have to be able to keep it. And it's a long season. You look at the conference, the conference is tough. We go down to media day and I'm thinking we're going to be third or fourth, and what do they do, the coaches put us number one. I'm like `no'. I don't know that we belong there, but that's where we want to get to. We want to have the best team in the league, but there are a lot of great teams right now. There is more parity within the game, not only within our conference, but within the game."

On having a consistent lineup "Well, my thought has been at least eight. We need eight players that understand how we want to play the game, and how much they have to invest. The defensive part of the game, I think we've made some progress there, but that's an everyday thing, that's all about the hard work. We may have more than eight, but definitely if we can get a great rotation with eight, nine, ten people, we'd have the depth to press and run more. If I'm not mistaken, I think we can do that."

On this team's style of play "I think it's going to depend on the opponent. We have a certain way we want to play, but if things are not going well for us, if we're not scoring in our early offense, we have to be more disciplined in the half court game. I think we can do both. That's the one thing we've worked a lot on, our half game, then the full court game, giving them a little more freedom in that half court game, more three out, two in, instead of running a lot of set plays. I thought, last year, in looking back and breaking it all down, we probably spent too much time in running different sets as opposed to just playing three out, two in, and letting them work the high-low and make the reads."

What do you expect out of the SEC? "I think Mississippi State is going to have one of the best teams, not only in the SEC, but they could definitely make some noise outside of the conference. They've got all five starters back and I think that they are going to be really, really tough. I know some schools have had some injuries, but I look at LSU and think this has got to be a team that contends for a championship in the league. I think Florida is going to be good, Ole Miss, you can just go down the list. I think the depth in our league now is where it should've been a few years ago. I think as we've had new coaches come in to the league, as we've recruited better players for our league, there is a lot of parity right here in the SEC."

Are you rejuvenated more than you have been recently given the new slate for this year? "I always think I've got energy and passion for what I do. I've always said, if I didn't, I'm cheating the team, the university and the program. Last year was frustrating at times, I said it was a lot like pulling teeth. It was hard to get them to buy in and commit every day, but I see a whole different attitude and commitment. I'm excited about it; we've got a great staff with the energy they bring. Dean [Lockwood] does a great job with the posts, along with Daedra [Charles-Furlow]. I think our post game is going to be a lot better. I think our perimeter game is too just because of the time they invested in the offseason."

On the size this team has "The thing we talked about is that we could go big. We could start with Briana and go small at the point. Or we could go big on the perimeter. Most likely that would be Shekinna. You could go with Angie, you could go with Taber or Alicia [Manning], we've got the size there. Obviously on the inside with Kelley. Glory Johnson, one thing we're going to look at with her is that she defends on the perimeter more and that she defends more in the backcourt because she's one of the best athletes on our team. That would allow us to get out and put a lot more pressure in the full court as well as in the half court. Again, I think we've got the depth, we've got it in the post game, we've got some young players in there. A healthy Vicki Baugh would make a huge difference for us, but again, that's a total wait and see, nothing forced at all."

On the team chemistry "I think Angie is trying to be a lot more vocal. She is a lot more aggressive offensively and Shekinna is well. They are both shooting the ball very well. That's why I like them both on the floor because it stretches the defense and opens up our inside game as well. Those two, I think they invested a lot of time in the gym. And Sydney Smallbone invested a lot of time as well. On the perimeter right now, we do have players that can knock down the three ball and again that opens up the inside game. Angie really made a different level of commitment in the offseason and so did Shekinna. I think right now, they are standing out as two of the fine leaders on our team."

On Glory getting off to a good start and not playing as well down the stretch "Freshman, she hit the wall. She wasn't by herself now, that's one thing for sure. I do think that she gave in to fatigue at times. That's something we're on her right now, saying `you can't do that again, it just can't happen'. She's responded very well."

On preparing for this season as opposed to a year ago "I think we can make a lot more progress in whatever we're working on because they are familiar with the terminology, familiar with the patterns, they understand how we want to play, whether it's in the half court game or the full court game, both defensively and offensively. We're certainly way ahead of where we were a year ago at this point in time. We've got to get better, but again I think for the most part, we have in what we need in. We don't have to be adding on more layers. I get a little anxious about that. We've got to give them the freedom to play. I'm seeing the fact that they are demonstrating the fact that they will make plays. Stricklen has been the one who has set the tone that we're attacking the paint."

On hosting the first and second rounds in 2010 and 2011 "It's good for our team and certainly our program, our fans. It's good for women's basketball because of our fan support. You saw a lot of venues that had very few people in the postseason. I think that's when you go to places where you can generate the fan support and have the excitement. If we weren't hosting, I'd rather go somewhere where we would have a lot of people in the stands, even if they were cheering against us."

On having no seniors "I'm not even thinking about it. People ask me and I go `we don't have a senior, guess what, next year we will'. Wouldn't it be something to go and win with freshmen, sophomores and juniors? Are we talented enough to win with them? Yes. We've just got to have that commitment every day, and every possession of every game. That really hasn't bothered me, I think it's probably bothered other people more than it's bothered me."


On how last season's loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament motivated her "I never want to experience anything like that ever again. So I was dedicated to getting in the gym and working hard every day. I definitely think we will use that loss as motivation."

On what she did during the offseason "My dad and I went to the gym every day and worked on ball handling and shooting free throws. We worked on everything."

On how the experience from last year will assist her this season "I have been telling people that the experience under my belt has really carried over and that I am still learning, but I now understand more of what the system is and what I need to do."

On her specific goals for the season "To be considered one of the top point guards in the SEC and throughout the whole college world."

On her distinctive voice on the court "I actually had a vocal coach last year. We would practice yelling in a classroom and then we came into the gym. I think that is one of the things that helped me."


On being a team leader "I definitely plan to bring a competitive mindset. We have a young team, so the juniors have to be the leaders this year. I can also bring a lot of cheerful spirit until I'm able to get on the court myself."

On coming back from her knee injury "I'm doing well. I see myself progressing quite a bit every week. I'm not going to rush or push anything. Coach Summitt told me to wait until I'm ready and that's what I plan to do. My progression is great right now though."

On how her experience of being on a national championship team can help the Lady Vols this year "It showed me what we need to do to reach our goals. It takes an incredible amount of work, but I can definitely see that we have the potential to do it. We're going to have to work our butts off, but I know everyone of our players are willing to do so."

On her thoughts on the freshman class "Kamiko is a great passer, Taber can shoot like crazy and Faith has the strongest mindset I've ever seen in a person. I'm really looking forward to playing with them. Things are looking good."

JUNIOR GUARD Angie Bjorklund

On what she has been working on to improve her game "I've worked on creating my own shot, whether it's off the dribble or coming off screens - just not being a set shooter, but more of a scorer."

On taking on a leadership role on the team "All of the juniors have really stepped up. Kelley Cain, Vicki (Baugh), Syd (Smallbone) and I are really trying to embrace a more vocal leadership role. It has been an adjustment. But last year I had a little experience with that and I think it will carry over into this year."

On what she thinks is different about this year's team "I think this year our competitive attitude has just increased. Last year we were a little more laid back and we didn't have that sense of urgency that we needed. It's not quite there where it needs to be yet, but we have improved as a whole a few steps. I think as the year goes on, if we consistently get better every day, we will be right where we need to be.

On what it is like to play for Pat Summitt "Coach is great. You can never complain about the coaching staff here. They are definitely the best. The thing about Coach Summitt is you can't take one day off. She holds you accountable everyday and she is going to push you everyday to be the best player you can be and that's why I came here.


On her freshman season "It was up and down, kind of like a roller coaster ride. It had some good points and some bad ones. The main thing I felt I needed the most work after the season was done was my consistency in play from game-to-game."

On her goals for this season "Like I said earlier, my consistency of play from game-to-game was an issue last year. That was something I really focused on in practice and my hope is put up more consistent numbers to help the team and be one of the best shooters on the team."

On the position she will play this season "Probably at forward, but it I could possibly play a little at center. It depends on where Kelley [Cain] will play and how much she will play."

On how she thinks opponents view her "You'd always like to think that opponents see you as a threat or good competition. I'm not real sure what their view of me is, we'll have to wait and see how the season goes."


On last season "Personally, I've already taken what I needed to take from last year. I'm ready to turn over a new leaf and start playing."

On what she has improved this offseason "I've gotten a lot stronger mentally and physically and gained a lot of confidence."

On how assistant coach Dean Lockwood helps her improve "He helps me pinpoint my strengths and make them stronger. He also helps me work on my weaknesses so that there isn't one particular weakness you can come at me with."

On how the team reacted to teammate Amber Gray's health problems "We were already a close team before, and going through all that, we knew she needed more than just her family. We're her family here too and we all felt for her and felt like we needed to be there for her. I think showing that support helped her a lot."


On what she learned during her first season at Tennessee "I learned that working through fatigue and pain is going to get your farther than anything else. Last year, we struggled a lot because we gave in to fatigue. We were finding excuses for playing bad. This year, we don't take pain as an excuse anymore."

On her individual goals for the upcoming season "I want to score at least double-digits and pull at least 10 rebounds a game. Points are good, but the rebounds are something I can control myself. I can control how hard I crash the boards and how much energy I put into it."

On how the freshmen are fitting in "The freshmen are great. They've fit in really well. I played with Kamiko for a few years in AAU and with Faith for three years straight in high school, so I've gelled with them the most just because I've played with them the most. It's exciting and Taber has a really nice personality and is a great person."

On what improvements she made during the summer "I was here for school all summer long, so I spent the time rehabbing my knee and shoulder and working on my ball-handling skills, left hand and jump shot. I think I shot more jump shots this summer than I did all of last season."


On the adjustment from high school to college "College is more intense and you have to be more precise about your skills here. It's been pretty tough to balance school work. You have to learn to manage your time. I've done pretty well, though. (Being from Knoxville) has definitely helped. Webb (School) definitely prepared me for college. All of the upperclassmen have helped me with classes, practice and managing my time."

On why she chose to stay home and attend Tennessee "I grew up watching the Lady Vols since the fourth grade. I fell in love with Tennessee. As soon as I was offered (a scholarship) I said yes."

On playing with high school teammate Glory Johnson again "It's going to be a lot of fun. I missed playing with her last year. This year, I'm going to take advantage of having her on the court with me. It has helped me out as a freshman here already knowing her."

On her strengths and what she can improve on "My biggest strength is probably my shot around the free throw line and the elbows. That will bring out the defense towards me and open up the lower post. My defense has been lacking at the college level. Right now, that's what I'm working on the most. I need to learn to do more shot fakes, too, because I've never played against girls as tall as me. That's what I will have to get used to."


On her current health "I'm feeling really good. I'm happy to be back and rehab is going well so everything's good right now."

On how her teammates helped support her during her health problems "They were there for me every day. I talked to Shekinna (Stricklen) every day and talked to everybody else at least once or twice a week. Knowing that my teammates and coaches were there for me helped me recover a lot faster."

On how difficult it will be to miss the season "It's going to be tough not playing but I'm just thankful that I will have the opportunity to play again. A lot of people that have dealt with what I went through wouldn't be able to play again so I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity that I have."

On her plans to help the team without playing I think that being a cheerleader on the bench is going to be my biggest role this year I plan on just helping everybody to stay positive and tell them that they can do it and be a cheerleader as much as possible."

On how she thinks the team will fare "We're going to stay positive and hopefully we end up better than we did last year. We look good out there--everybody's listening to Coach Summitt and working together so I think we're going to do really well."


On her thoughts heading into the season "We are all pretty upset at the end of last season because we knew we could have done so much more. I think it helped us in the sense that it gave us more motivation though. We know we can't just walk in the gym and have people fold to us. We have to prove ourselves and play hard every game. I'm excited about this season."

On the biggest difference for her between her freshman and sophomore years "I'm a very competitive person and the loss in the NCAA Tournament really hit me hard, so I was in the gym all the time over the summer. Hopefully that will pay off this year. My body has definitely changed as well, with the help of Heather Mason and the summer workouts she had us doing. I think my shot has improved a lot too."

On her role this season "Being another year older, you always have a bigger role in helping the freshmen out, so I've been trying to do that. As far as on the court, it will probably be about the same as it was last year. I'm not going to be that offensive threat, but if I get an open opportunity I'm going to take it. My main focus will be on rebounding and defense."

On her impression of the freshman class "I'm really impressed. They have a great attitude, good work ethic and like to win. We like to win too, so I'm excited to see what they can do and have them show what they are capable of."

JUNIOR GUARD Sydney Smallbone

On how the end to last season motivated the team "It motivates us every day. We got right back to work with conditioning and practices, and all of that and we had a great summer. A lot of people were here all summer so we were able to play a lot of pickup ball together. We've had a really good preseason so far."

On the amount of adversity the team faced in 2008-09 "Last season, there was a lot of adversity that struck us as a team. There were a lot of obstacles that we had to overcome. The whole season was a learning experience and I think we've matured a lot from last season."

On what she worked on in the offseason "This summer I worked o a lot on quickness and defense, and things like that. I want to not be a liability on defense and bring more to the table when it comes to the defensive end."

On her expectations for the season "We go out every game expecting to win and I think that motivates us every day in practice, knowing that our competitors are always trying to get one up on us, each day we keep that in mind and work to be the best."


On making the adjustment to college "Obviously, it is an adjustment, period. Coming from home school, a lot of people would think it'd be a big adjustment but it's really helped me a lot. You had to time manage a lot and stuff, so academically it's been really easy. On the basketball court, of course there's an adjustment. Everybody's so much better and so much more athletic but I think it's been a great adjustment. I've so enjoyed learning how to adjust and I feel like my game is improving."

On playing for Coach Summitt "I love it. I absolutely love coming to practice every day. We just get better and I think our team is really focused this year. The reasons I came to Tennessee were Coach Summitt and the chance to win national titles, which go hand in hand."

On what element of her game she is looking to improve "Coming in, I'm a natural guard and the three-ball is something that's easy for me. I'm trying to improve my overall versatility and continue to improve off the dribble and at pull-up jump shots."

On her expectations for this season "For me, they're team expectations. I want to do whatever I can to make our team the best that it can be. I want to continue to get better every game and compete. Our talent is so great but I think mental toughness is a big thing. If we can focus on that and continue to buy in 100 percent to Coach Summitt's system, I think it will be a great year."

SOPHOMORE GUARD Shekinna Stricklen

On what fans/opposing teams should expect from her this season "They should expect me to be a lot more vocal. I was seen as a shy person but this year I'm much more confident in my game and have been working hard, along with the whole team, to be a lot better. I'm definitely going to be a talker this season."

On what part of the game she worked on the most this offseason "Becoming a lot more vocal and really talking to my teammates. Last year, I didn't really talk to my teammates or coaches but I worked on communicating a lot more and I think it's not only helped out my game but it's helped my teammates out a lot as well, especially if I'm playing the point. I do think I'll be playing the wing a lot more this year, though.

On who the leaders of the team are "I think I've been more of a leader but definitely Angie (Bjorklund). She encourages us and is very competitive. I also have to say Alyssia [Brewer]. She's tough and I think she wants to be a leader.

On the exhibition game against Carson-Newman Thursday night "I'm going to focus on my defense a lot this game and I'm really excited to be able to do that. The whole team is pumped and I don't think anybody will get any sleep this Wednesday night. We're ready to get the season started."

FRESHMAN GUARD Kamiko Williams

On her first impression of Tennessee "I was a little overwhelmed at first because of the conditioning that we had to do and the intensity of the workouts. Thanks to Heather Mason and her conditioning program, I've gotten it together and I'm hanging in there."

On playing for the Lady Vols "It's like a dream come true. I've wanted to play here since I was nine. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to make sure I'm really here. It's probably going to be the best four years of my life."

On the friends she has made in her first few months in Knoxville "I'm a people person, so I pretty much get along with everybody. The team has been there since day one. I'm free-spirited and I've met a lot of people in my classes that are cool. I also have some people from my high school that came to Tennessee as well, so I've just been catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. It's just been a wonderful experience."

On growing up and playing basketball in Germany "Basketball in Germany is a lot different. They are more physical and get away with a lot more, like taking three steps instead of two. I played a lot of up-tempo basketball in Germany so that helped to prepare me for Tennessee a little bit."

Counting on whom? Summitt wants at least eight players

Monday, November 02, 2009

Progress encouraging Lady Vols' Baugh

Forward optimistic about her left knee

No. 8 Vols picked to win SEC

Pat Summitt says while she isn't sure Tennessee deserves to be picked to win the Southeastern Conference, the Lady Vols coach expects her team to work to live up to the annual expectations.

Summitt admits she was expecting her Lady Volunteers to be picked third or fourth in the league when she recently traveled to the SEC's annual media day. Instead Tennessee was picked to win it, as the Lady Vols have done 14 times under Summitt.

"I don't know that we belong there, but that's where we want to get to," Summitt said Monday during the team's media day. "We want to have the best team in the league, but there's a lot of great teams right now."

Despite returning nearly the same team from Tennessee's worst finish in the NCAA tournament last season, the Lady Vols grabbed the No. 8 spot in the preseason Top 25.

If the players themselves are paying attention to the preseason hype, they're not letting on.

"It doesn't matter what the rankings say. It just matters that we go out there and show that we can be the best team that we can," sophomore center Kelley Cain said.

With a tough schedule that includes games against 10 other currently ranked opponents and an improved SEC, Summitt knows it will take a lot to prove the Lady Vols belong among the best teams in women's basketball.

A loss in the opening round of last season's NCAA tournament to Ball State stuck with the Lady Vols during their offseason.

They spent plenty of time during the summer in the gym with strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason, who said she hasn't seen a Tennessee team do more during their time off as this team has done.

They'll get their first test immediately when they host No. 7 Baylor and top recruit Brittney Griner on Nov. 15. The rest of their November will be spent traveling to Texas Tech, No. 14 Virginia and No. 24 Middle Tennessee.

"I think they really get it," Summitt said. "With the schedule we have we have to get it, and we have to get it early."

Last year's Lady Vols squad was the youngest the Hall of Fame coach had ever instructed, and this year's squad has three freshmen, six sophomores and three juniors -- but no seniors.

Summitt said having a young team will never cause her to lower the standards she's set for players.

"I'm not going to lower my standards because of that, not at all. My thought is we have to raise the bar," she said.

Friday, October 30, 2009

UT is preseason No. 8 in women’s basketball

Connecticut picked up right where it left off last season: unanimous No. 1 in the women’s basketball poll.

The Huskies received all 40 first-place votes Friday from a national media panel. It’s the seventh time in school history UConn has held the top preseason ranking by The Associated Press.

Connecticut was the unanimous choice atop the poll the final 15 weeks last season, winning its sixth national championship to cap a 39-0 run. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma returns four starters from that team, including player of the year Maya Moore.

“It’s a great honor,” Auriemma said of the No. 1 ranking. “They worked hard last season and we got a bunch returning who earned it.”

Stanford was voted second and Ohio State third, with Notre Dame and North Carolina rounding out the first five. The Big East and ACC each have five teams in the Top 25.

Duke and Baylor start the next five, followed by Tennessee—the only team with more No. 1 preseason rankings than UConn. It’s the Lady Vols’ lowest preseason mark since 1985, when they were voted ninth.

The Huskies topped the poll all last season, and have been there for 25 straight weeks. It’s the fourth-longest stretch all-time, and UConn could break the record this season; Louisiana Tech was No. 1 for 36 straight weeks from 1980-82.

Connecticut, which was also No. 1 in the preseason in 1995, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’03 and ’08, opens Nov. 14 against Northeastern. Since the 1989-90 season, the top team in the preseason has won the NCAA championship six times, including the Huskies last season.

“We tend to finish close to where we’re picked,” Auriemma said.

LSU is ninth with Michigan State rounding out the top 10.

Xavier is No. 11—the Musketeers’ highest ranking ever. Expectations are high with Amber Harris back after sitting out last season with a knee injury.

“I’m happy people recognize our players and the work we put in,” Xavier coach Kevin McGruff said. “I’m very optimistic this could be a special season.”

Xavier is followed by Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Florida State, while Arizona State, DePaul, California, Georgia Tech and Kansas complete the first 20.

The Jayhawks, who return four starters from last season’s 22-14 team, are ranked for the first time since Feb. 21, 2000. They lost in the WNIT finals in front of more than 16,000 fans after winning four of their final five league games.

“There’s a nice buzz. It’s a tribute to the kids we have returning in our program,” Jayhawks coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “We’ve already tripled season-ticket sales from last year.”

Georgia, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Middle Tennessee State and Rutgers finish off the Top 25.

Middle Tennessee State returns Alysha Clark, who led the nation in scoring last season, and is ranked in the preseason poll for the first time.

LSU is one of eight teams in the poll not ranked at the end of last season. The others are Michigan State, DePaul, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Georgia, Middle Tennessee State and Rutgers.