Dec. 16, 2007
#1 Tennessee - 96
Gonzaga - 73
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Angie Bjorklund scored 23 points and Candace Parker 18 to help the top-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers defeat Gonzaga 96-73.
Nicky Anosike added 14 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee (9-0), which played the last of five straight home games and won't return to Thompson-Boling Arena until Jan. 10. Jami Bjorklund scored 19 points for the Bulldogs (6-4), who fell to 1-4 on the road.
Tennessee picked up where it left off in the second half of Thursday's win over Middle Tennessee, which featured a decisive 18-0 run by the Lady Vols. Their 15-0 first-half spurt against Gonzaga gave them a 24-9 advantage after 8 minutes, which then grew to 20 points at the break and as many as 33 during the second half.
Shannon Bobbitt returned to the Tennessee lineup and contributed six points and a game-high 13 assists after missing most of the second half of Thursday's game against Middle Tennessee. Bobbitt suffered a forehead laceration after taking an elbow midway through the period and didn't return after having seven stitches to close the cut.
But the hype heading into this game centered around the Bjorklund sisters from Spokane Valley, Wash., faced off against each other for the first time in their playing careers, with Angie scoring a team-high 23 points to the Lady Vols to a 93-73 victory over unranked Gonzaga. Older sister Jami had 19 points for the Bulldogs.
Angie Bjorklund also tied Shanna Zolman's school record with seven 3-pointers. She had several chances to break the mark late in the second half, but couldn't connect against her sister's defense.
"I said, 'there's no way, Angie. I'm not going to let you break that record on me,"' Jami Bjorklund said. "Then I heard the crowd getting into it and it really pumped me up. It was kind of like the old days, playing 1-on-1 against each other."
Tennessee used a 15-0 first-half spurt to take a 24-9 lead 8 minutes into the game. The advantage grew to 20 points at the break and as many as 33 during the second half.
Jami Bjorklund was sought after by several West Coast schools and chose to stay close to home. The 5-foot-11 junior guard had 19 points against the Lady Vols on 8-of-13 shooting. She was averaging 8.6 points and 6.0 rebounds for Gonzaga (6-4) coming into the game.
On the other hand, Angie, one of the nation's top high-school players last season, committed to Tennessee as a junior. The 6-foot guard, in the rare position of starting as a freshman for the defending national champions, was averaging 9.4 points and almost four rebounds coming in.
"She was very composed," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "She shot extremely well. I've challenged her in all aspects. She had three defensive rebounds. That's been a point of emphasis for her."
Gonzaga head Coach Kelly Graves said he is a big Bjorklund fan.
"You've seen a little bit of Jami and you certainly know a lot about Angie," Graves told the post-game gathering of media. "They are great young women. Sometimes that's lost. It's a tremendous family. Two terrific students, terrific human beings and two great basketball players. We're really proud of having Jami as a part of our program, and we're happy for Angie too. We cheer for her all the time, except for tonight."
Graves said he's looking forward to the re-match on the Gonzaga campus in the McCarthey Athletic Center next year.
"I'm sure they're used to it, but everywhere they go, they are a huge draw. Even the casual fan knows about Tennessee. Everybody knows Coach Summitt. Everybody knows Candace Parker. I think it can only help a program like us. Spokane is a basketball-crazy area, and that's something that we're really looking forward to. I'm thankful that Tennessee would want to do that. You can see what it meant to Jami, and I'm sure it means the same to Angie. That's what kind of class they have here. It's great."
No date has been set for the re-match.
Since they play the same position, the sisters defended against each other for part of the game and ended up in a tangled heap on the floor fighting for a loose ball in the second half.
Jami Bjorklund sounded relieved that the experience of playing her sister in the big time was over.
"I didn't really know what to expect coming into it," she said. "I didn't think it would be as fun as it was, but I am really thankful to come down here and play against Tennessee and my sister. It was a very memorable moment for me in my life."
Summitt said last week that Angie hadn't even thought of what might happen if she had to guard her big sister. That situation might have given them a chance to catch up on family news as the siblings hadn't seen each other since August. They spoke last week by phone, avoiding trash talk while trying to set a time for a reunion.
Sunday's game also posed a wardrobe problem for parents Jim and Kris Bjorklund, which was solved with a pair of scissors. They cut t-shirts for each school into halves and sewed the disparate parts together, creating what Jami called "Tenn-zaga" wear.
Then again, the Bjorklunds are probably used to solving sibling-related issues by now. The sisters would often have their father drive them to gyms at very early hours of the morning to practice against each other to hone their abilities.
Their desire to improve may have been understandable considering family history. Steve Ranniger, their uncle, played basketball at Oregon, while maternal grandfather Duane Ranniger played at Washington State. Their paternal grandfather, Leon Bjorklund, ran track at Washington.
Graves said it was unfortunate the Bulldogs had to go into the game without leading scorer and rebounder Heather Bowman who suffered a spiral fracture of her hand earlier in the week in practice.
"I feel bad for Heather. She's a great player and has been averaging 21 (points) and 11 (rebounds) for us. I didn't know how we'd react. This is the first game we've been without her, and we've only been without her for two days in practice so this was really the first time. I think we can adjust to it and if it's the six or seven weeks that we think it might be, that gives us a lot of opportunities to find someone who can fill that role for us. When we battle the front line that Tennessee has, I mean every weapon that you have is important. There were some times out on the court that 5-10 was our tallest player. That's not enough when you're going against players of that ability. We hope that somebody will step up," Graves said.
But he was also quick to praise the Lady Vols.
"First of all, I want to congratulate Tennessee. That's a great team. They are very deserving of all their accolades and their rankings. I'm proud of our team. I thought we competed to the end. We were a little short-handed tonight, but I thought a couple of our players, especially Jami stepped up and did a really good job tonight. We lost to a very good basketball team, but I think we learned some things, and it's going to help us later on in the season."
The Bulldogs return to action at home Wednesday when Purdue University visits for a 5 p.m. contest, Gonzaga's last game prior to Christmas break.