Granted, the aforementioned halftime lead gave way to a Tennessee (21-1, 8-0 SEC) romp during the second half and ultimately produced an 87-69 victory over the Lady Bulldogs (14-9, 2-6 SEC). But the never-say-die attitude of the Lady Bulldogs kept them in the ballgame throughout the entire opening period and for half of the second period.
The 21-0 Mississippi State run that gave Summitt her figurative nervous breakdown was led by Alexis Rack. The sophomore guard scored 10 of her career-high 32 points during that stretch. The 3-pointer she nailed during that run was one of only two treys made by Mississippi State during the first half.
Rack's hot-shooting rescued a Mississippi State team which was in despair for the first four minutes of the game. During those four minutes, Tennessee was outperforming Mississippi State in virtually every facet of the game. That's when Rack stepped in and began her shooting exhibition.
"I thought that she came off the bench focused," Lady Bulldogs head coach Sharon Fanning said. "She was playing hard at both ends of the floor, she was encouraging her teammates. I was pleased with her coming in and being ready to play."
Summitt was also quick to complement the second-year Mississippi State guard.
"She did a great job," said Summitt. "We knew coming into the game that we had to play better defense. Rack can obviously make shots. They did a great job getting her the basketball, and she also worked hard without the ball."
Fanning said her whole team played inspired basketball during that first half and compared it to the best consistent half of basketball that the team has played all season.
"That's the first time we've played with that intensity and team play for an extended period of time all year," she said.
Over the course of the intermission, however, things went south for the homestanding Bulldogs.
The Lady Vols came out shooting during the second half and made shots that simply rimmed out of the basket during their nine-minute scoreless stretch in the first half. They tussled with the Bulldogs for a possession of the lead early in the second period and took it by the handles for good at the 17 minute mark. Shortly after that point, they reeled off a 16-4 run to, well, run away with the lead.
Lady Vols guard Shannon Bobbitt, who finished the game with a team-high 16 points, connected on two 3-pointers during the second-half run and helped ice the game for her squad.
"We knew they were going to come out in the second half with more intensity," said Rack, whose 32-point performance marked the first 30-point performance by a Mississippi State player in over a year. "We knew we had to pick it up. We picked it up, but they just made a run that we couldn't gain back."
Physicality was a mark of the Lady Bulldogs for the entire contest. Three Tennessee players were injured during the second half of the contest. Freshman Angie Bjorklund received what is likely a broken nose. Alberta Auguste re-aggravated a shoulder injury she suffered earlier in the season. And Tennessee's leading scorer and top rebounder Candice Parker, who ended the game with 11 points and 11 boards even though she was swarmed by defenders for the entire contest, went down with a knee injury with only three minutes left in the game. Tests that were completed after the game showed no damage to any ligaments, and the talented junior is stated as day-to-day.
Although the toughness was there during the second half, the scoring just wasn't. It almost seemed to be a reversal of fortunes for the Lady Bulldogs, who went from shooting 44.4 percent during the first half to a paltry 29.4 percent during the second. Rack was the only Mississippi State player who scored double-digit points.
The scoring deficiency of the second half showed the Lady Bulldogs that they must play with the tenacity that they possessed early in the game.
"We see how we have to work, and now we have to take that and let that success of the first half encourage us and give us a measuring stick to know that this is how you have to play," Fanning said.
The Lady Bulldogs will now turn their attention to a Florida (14-8, 3-4 SEC) team which will visit the Humphrey Coliseum on Sunday for a 1:30 p.m. tipoff. And Mississippi State will definitely be looking for a repeat of its first-half success that it had against the second-ranked team in the country.
"If they play against everyone else the way they play against Tennessee, then they have a different record," Summitt said. "These players hopefully learned something tonight that's going to help them get better because they're athletic, they're skilled and they shoot the ball well."