Change in lineup planned to counter Notre Dame

Tennessee players Alicia Manning, foreground, and Kamiko Williams pass the time doodling on a white board as their teammates Sydney Smallbone, left, and Angie Bjorklund watch.

Photo by Saul Young

Tennessee players Alicia Manning, foreground, and Kamiko Williams pass the time doodling on a white board as their teammates Sydney Smallbone, left, and Angie Bjorklund watch.

DAYTON, Ohio — Dean Lockwood didn’t have to wonder about Tennessee’s readiness on Sunday.

Tennessee’s assistant coach could concentrate on watching game video in the locker room while the Lady Vols occupied themselves with a rousing game of “Pictionary.”

A different scene will unfold in the same locker room at University of Dayton Arena as top-seed Tennessee (34-2) will gather for its instructions before a Dayton Regional final against No. 2 seed Notre Dame tonight (TV: ESPN, 7 p.m.). The winner advances to the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis.

That’s when Lockwood and his colleagues are apt to look around and ask themselves: Are they ready?

Lockwood already was anticipating a familiar reply: “You tell me. I don’t know.”

The Lady Vols’ 25-game winning streak suggests consistency. But they’ve been shaky enough in NCAA women’s basketball tournament victories over Marquette and Ohio State to create an undercurrent of uncertainty.

After meeting with her assistants Sunday morning, UT coach Pat Summitt added a little upheaval by rearranging the starting lineup against the Fighting Irish (29-7). Alyssia Brewer and Taber Spani will start against the Fighting Irish in place of Kelley Cain and Angie Bjorklund, respectively, as the Lady Vols revert to the starters they utilized at the SEC tournament.

“They have matured; it’s clear that they’ve matured,’’ Lockwood said of the players. “And it’s clear they recognize more what is needed, what type of effort. But now the key is can they go to that right away as opposed to needing a half or waiting the first 10 minutes even.”

The lineup changes reflect one of UT’s strengths, namely its depth. Brewer is more mobile than Cain, who has been bothered by a sore right hip.

“I know they’re going to face up at the high post,” said Summitt, speaking of Notre Dame. “That’s not Kelley’s strength. Lyssi is a lot more mobile.

“We’re trying to go more mobile against them. I think our mobile players will be our most effective players.”

Bringing Bjorklund off the bench, though, is a concession to her 2 for 13 shooting in the past two games. The Lady Vols hope the senior guard reprises the productive role she played as a reserve during the SEC tournament, when she averaged 14 points per game and shot 62.5 percent from the floor.

“That’s how we started in the SECs and we played great in that tournament,’’ Bjorklund said. “Whatever it takes, I trust the coach’s decision. I think anyone can start on this team. We’re so deep.”

Since Notre Dame averages 77.5 points per game and can match UT’s firepower, Tennessee will need a better start on defense than Saturday against Ohio State. The Buckeyes scored 42 first-half points and shot 66.7 percent from the floor before the Lady Vols found some traction in the second half.

The Fighting Irish were feeling good about their defense after holding Oklahoma to 53 points and gathering 14 steals.

“It’s good to be at this point of the tournament knowing that we’re coming together defensively,’’ Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.

Said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale: “I think they don’t get enough credit for their defense because their offense is so salty. But defensively they’re very good.”

The other prominent battle line will be drawn over rebounding. Both teams talked about boxing out on Sunday as if they were previewing a demolition derby under the basket. Notre Dame’s Becca Bruszewski, the team’s third-leading rebounder, is questionable after suffering a knee injury against Oklahoma.

“Everyone has to crash the boards,’’ UT forward Glory Johnson said. “If not, they have to make sure their man is not getting the rebound.

“It’s got to happen. It has to happen for us to be successful. And I think it can happen.”

From her perspective, Johnson indicated that the team emerging from Tennessee’s locker room tonight will know what’s at stake and better realize how little margin for error it has.

“We won’t have the time and the opportunity,’’ she said, “to mess up as much in this game.”

Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/fleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser/

© 2011 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 12

CoachFulmerFan writes:

Awesome!! I'm feeling real good about this lineup!! AB played like an all american coming off the bench in the SEC tournament. Wasn't she like 20-22 at one point? This is why we have the best coach ever in the history of the WCBB. Go Lady Vols!!

Tenn_Traveler writes:

We really have an outstanding team. Come out strong and fast Lady Vols. Play like you can and you will win every game!!!

pomp_and_circumstance writes:

I'm not sure about all this struggle the Lady Vols went through. Marquette and OSU had very good teams that played tough and zipped in a lot of three pointers. Was there rule that LV's had to beat them by 30 points to maintain standards? I have seen ND play three games, and THEY struggled in every one. I seriously question that ND could have beaten either Marquette or OSU.

CoachFulmerFan writes:

in response to pomp_and_circumstance:

I'm not sure about all this struggle the Lady Vols went through. Marquette and OSU had very good teams that played tough and zipped in a lot of three pointers. Was there rule that LV's had to beat them by 30 points to maintain standards? I have seen ND play three games, and THEY struggled in every one. I seriously question that ND could have beaten either Marquette or OSU.

Good point. Remember, Ohio State had won 11 in a row and ran through the Big Ten tournament with relative ease. Marquette had improved drastically by the time post season came. I think we have a great shot at this thing. Good time to be a Lady Vol fan!!

xvolx writes:

I don't like it. Brewer will be yanked after 3 minutes. She's not aggressive, doesn't get good rebounding position and her defense is the worse of the three. I agree with Bj coming off the bench. I would start Baugh. More mobile than Brewer with a bad knee. I like Simmons, Williams, Baugh, Strickland and Johnson to start.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to xvolx:

I don't like it. Brewer will be yanked after 3 minutes. She's not aggressive, doesn't get good rebounding position and her defense is the worse of the three. I agree with Bj coming off the bench. I would start Baugh. More mobile than Brewer with a bad knee. I like Simmons, Williams, Baugh, Strickland and Johnson to start.

xv and other Vols,

I am not going to second guess Pat considering all her success.

The part of me that might agree with xv is playing Baugh instead of Brewer out of the gate.
It probably doesn't matter though, all 3 will see action, Brewer, Cain, and Baugh. Kelley had the hot hand against Ohio State. One thing I noticed was Brewer and Cain were scoring in close with either hand.

Just speaking as a fan, here's hoping they come out and protect the ball, play intelligently..........rebound well.........
and do NOT look ahead to U Conn.

RLL59 writes:

One of the advantages of having so many good players is that the opponent has a difficult time developing a game plan. Why not keep line-up changes under wraps as long as possible? Internally, the players could be aware of it, but wouldn't it be good for ND to see different initial matchups than they expected? Most of the time, the press and coaches provide virtually nothing new about the Lady Vols, and now they provide something advantageous to the enemy.

Hope this line-up works for Angie and the team...though I'm a bit skeptical.

ps11824 writes:

This may be the first time I've been in agreement with xvolx, I think Brewer will be yanked after her first foul or missed assignment, which may be less than a minute in. She really hasn't gotten herself in condition to battle since her surgery. I wish that were not the case. She was key in last year's SEC tourney. If she could get back to that during this off-season it would be so awesome.

Unfortunately, Baugh is not that mobile, is not getting her shot off quickly nor as accurately as she should. Truth be told, hard as it may be to admit, our post players are just not back to where they need to be, and how could they be, having played so sparingly all season?

I'm not comfortable with the situation in the post. Kelley scored some quick baskets for us Saturday and got us off to a good start offensively. It was the defense that broke down. I don't see our post players as a whole, locking down, bothering shooters, switching off, blocking out and securing the boards efficiently enough to win a championship.

Prove me wrong, please, Lady Vols. If you do I will step up and shout, "98 don't know squat!"

KCHS63 writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I believe OKEMO has BONES to pick with us.

Skeletal units never lie.

:)

voloffaith writes:

in response to MOUNTAINofOKEMO:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

UNKEMPT speaky....

UNKEMPT disheveled and all think OMEKO has really got it now....almost...3 to play b4 possible banner.. 1 at a time ugh(indian sound)

UNKEMPT has speakied...

ladivolfan writes:

this is why Pat makes the big bucks.

PINK_CHAMPAGNE writes:

Lady vols you can do this! Play hard, limit turnovers! Play tough defense, and rebound like crazy! Bring home the win lady vols! Let's Go!

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