Tennessee outlasts Virginia, 85-73

Pat Summitt was late to her post-game press conference and her opening remarks to the media were delivered while standing up – "How ugly was that?!" – as she tossed her notepad on the table and shook her head. Although Summitt acknowledged the outcome and was grateful for it, she said she intended to take "full responsibility" for the team's performance Thursday in the 85-73 win over Virginia.

Virginia, 2-1, started the game by going right at Tennessee, 3-0, went a perfect 8-8 from the field – with six being layups – and turned a 5-2 Lady Vol lead at the 19:08 mark into a 17-9 Cavaliers lead at the 15:45 mark.

That led to a timeout by Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt, who was aghast at the start of the game and had already planted Shekinna Stricklen, who got two earfuls from Summitt, and Glory Johnson on the bench. Both players would go on to redeem themselves defensively in the game – though Johnson fouled out on two dubious calls – but Summitt was livid with the porous start to the game.

"That was painful to watch," Summitt said. "We just came off of a 60-point win. Now, we thought we were all that and more. So, tonight this was a great test for us. Now, am I happy that we won? Absolutely. Am I pleased with how we played? Not at all. I am not surprised, however.

"We have a day off. We come back. We have a light practice. And even in watching films they did not appear to be very focused. So, that's my job. I'm the head coach, and Ms. (Joan) Cronan put me in that position. We've got a great staff, and I can promise you we're going to be a lot better.

"Arizona State, I can tell you they're going to come in here (Sunday), and they're going to be like Virginia. They're not going to back down. Virginia had a great game plan, and all I can tell you is I take full responsibility for our lack of intensity and effort at times and lack commitment to our defense and board play. It will get better. We were 19-of-28 from the free throw line. There's a reason they call it free throw. Everybody understand that? We just don't get in the gym, we haven't made the commitment and that's my fault, and I will have my thumb on them."

That was the entirety of Summitt's opening remarks to the media and in the Q&A session she acknowledged the overall excellent play of Angie Bjorklund, who went 40 minutes and led at all scorers with 26 points, the absence of Vicki Baugh – she warmed up and shot with the team before the game but was held out again to get more rest – and the better play later on defense when the communication increased.

With Monday's 103-43 win over Chattanooga, two games scheduled for Thursday and Sunday, and the need to schedule a mandatory off day for the team, Friday will be the team's first chance for a full-scale practice since two days before the Louisville game last week. The lack of practice reps apparently caught up with the team, and Bjorklund said the wake-up call would be beneficial.

"Absolutely," Bjorklund said. "I'd rather have it now than later because we have more tough teams coming up. ASU on Sunday is going to be a tough game. We have a couple of days to prepare for that and get a lot better on defense."

Sophomore forward Taber Spani, who came off the bench and provided an immediate offensive spark with eight first-half points, understood why Summitt was so steamed after a 12-point win.

"It was quite a while; that's why she was so late coming out," Spani said. "Overall, what she preaches, defense and rebounds, and obviously when we give up 73 points and 13 offensive rebounds, that's kind of going against everything that she's built this program on. That's pretty much what it was about."

Junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen also understood why she took a quick seat in the first half.

"Just coming out not being focused," Stricklen said. "That's the mistake me and Glory made. She took us out. She let us get our minds set. I just felt like we came back in the second half, and everyone was focused, and we brought the pressure on defense. We really committed to defense and rebounding in the second half. That's basically how we came out with the win."

Tennessee had to overcome a nine-point deficit in the first half – Virginia took a 20-11 lead on an Ariana Moorer three-pointer with 14:30 to play – and it took the Lady Vols until the 6:41 mark to tie the game at 32-32 on a Stricklen three-pointer on a pass delivered by Johnson, as she took contact from behind.

When the game was knotted at 32 both teams were shooting an identical 56.5 percent from the field.

Tennessee got the first basket of the game when Meighan Simmons scored a layup after a somewhat muffed center-toss jump in which the ball just sort of squirted loose. But the freshman guard was a major focus for the Cavaliers defense and while Simmons got four more points in the first half on drives to the basket, she was also 0-3 from behind the arc.

However, because Virginia had to account for Simmons and Stricklen – Summitt reinserted her in the game in the first half – that meant Bjorklund wasn't the target of suffocating defense and the senior went 3-4 from behind the arc before halftime.

"Simmons has added such a good off-guard to Angie, and I knew Angie was ready to break out because Simmons had sort of dominated," Virginia Coach Debby Ryan said. "We kind of wanted to take Simmons out of her rhythm knowing that she was a freshman, so we changed some things up on her.

"Of course, Angie got started and once she got started, it was tough to stop her. She's a very talented player. Angie stepped right up and hit some really big shots. Giving up 10 threes is not a good thing for us defensively. We just have to get better at that."

Bjorklund accounted for six of those and finished with 26 points for the game. Spani and Stricklen also hit two 3-pointers each as Tennessee connected on 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) for the game.

But the Cavaliers had the Lady Vols plenty uncomfortable in the first half when they opened the game by attacking the basket and spreading the floor – precisely what Associate Head Coach had presented in the scouting report.

"I think that's sort of the way we play," Ryan said. "I wouldn't say that's a game plan for Tennessee. I just think that's the way we play. We're a team that likes to run and get to the paint."

That was how the Cavaliers took an early lead in the game and then increased it when Whitny Edwards and Paulisha Kellum connected from long range. With post player Simone Egwu picking up three first-half fouls trying to guard Kelley Cain, Virginia went with small ball and quick guards, who could score off the bounce.

Tennessee countered with 11 minutes each for Alicia Manning and Kamiko Williams off the bench, while Stricklen regrouped on defense and logged 14 minutes before the break. Spani and Bjorklund often kept Tennessee within a basket of tying a game by hitting from long range. Spani was unaccounted for in transition to pull Tennessee to within one, 25-24, with 11:30 left in the first half because the Virginia defense tracked Bjorklund and Simmons behind the arc.

But Virginia boosted the lead to six points, 30-24, with 10:44 left before the break with a Kellum 3-pointer and layup and short jumper from Telia McCall. At that point in the game Virginia was shooting 68.4 percent while Tennessee was connecting at 62.5 percent.

Stricklen hit a layup after Spani got an offensive board and tossed the ball to Stricklen and then Spani connected from 18 feet in transition to pull Tennessee to within two points, 30-28, with 9:58 left before halftime. Stricklen hit one of two free throws to make it a one-point game and when Tennessee's defense forced a turnover with one second left on the shot clock – Johnson was on the perimeter for that possession – the crowd of 10,934 got energized and Summitt clapped her hands in appreciation for her team's effort.

Johnson got the ball to Stricklen behind the arc to knot the game, but Virginia still managed to grab a lead, this time four points, 36-32, after Moorer made one of two free throws and hit a three-pointer.

Bjorklund trimmed it to one with her third 3-pointer of the first half, after Cain grabbed a wayward offensive rebound and got the ball to Stricklen, who found Bjorklund. Kellum hit a midrange shot to give the Cavaliers a three-point lead, 38-35, but back-to-back-to-back layups from Cain and Stricklen, one off an out-of-bounds play under the basket, the other in transition and the third after Cain snared a bad pass and converted gave Tennessee a three-point lead, 41-38, with 2:48 left in the first half, and the Lady Vols never trailed again.

The Lady Vols went to the break with a 41-39 lead that could have been three points bigger after Bjorklund tipped a nearly length-of-the-court pass to Simmons, who misfired on the three. It was a well-executed play, but Simmons had to rush the shot a tad to beat the clock.

"I think their game plan was to really space out on the floor," Summitt said. "They did a great job in transition of really spacing. Paint points, we gave up middle drives and that's always a point of emphasis for us. We kept opening up and giving up middle drives. We were late on a lot of pickups. We wanted to turn them in the backcourt.

"At times it was like they just weren't connected as a team and it seemed they were unsure at times. I'll make sure before Arizona State gets here that we have a better game plan."

Tennessee started the game defensively sluggish and that led to early substitutions.

"Obviously, I wasn't very happy about their defense, but I wasn't also very happy about how they were playing on the floor," Summitt said. "Glory Johnson has got to keep herself in the game. That's a must. Shekinna Stricklen is another player that's got to keep herself in the game.

"I don't mind substitutions. I don't mind giving them breaks. I think it's important. I don't want to pull them out because they're fouling or not playing hard."

Stricklen and Johnson, as well as the rest of the team, regrouped enough before halftime to take the lead and then opened the second half the way Summitt had expected the game to unfold from the opening tip.

"I thought the effort level was really turned up," Summitt said. "A lot of that is combinations as well. I thought Angie did a lot of good things, as well. Throughout the game we had some really good (defensive) possessions, but we weren't consistent in what we were doing."

Tennessee's coaches used their zone defenses sparingly and forced the Lady Vols to defend in man action, which requires switching and communication, especially on screens, to finish the first half and start the second. Virginia misfired on its first seven shots to start the second half.

"It's a lot tougher and more demanding when you're playing man-to-man than looking back and sitting in a zone," Summitt said. "I felt like that was probably the best way to get them to bring more energy and have more passion for what we needed to do on the defensive end and on the boards."

The second half started with Bjorklund hitting a three-pointer for a 44-39 lead. Simmons got a steal and a layup, and Williams hit two free throws – Williams and Bjorklund were a combined 10-10 from the line; the rest of the team was 9-18 – to increase the lead to 48-39 within the first four minutes.

Simmons made it a double-digit lead, 51-41, when she drove and managed to get up a shot despite a high-speed collision, and made both free throws.

Tennessee's defense stiffened, and the Lady Vols got their transition offense flowing – after makes and misses by Virginia – and increased the lead to 18 points, 72-54, on a Bjorklund cut to the basket and bounce pass from Cain, at the 7:20 mark.

But Cain also picked up a third foul less than two minutes later while Johnson, who had taken a seat on the bench with 14:23 left in the game with a fourth foul had to leave the game at the 3:01 mark with her fifth.

At that point Kellum and Moorer had gotten Virginia to within 11 points, 74-63, with 3:27 left and Tennessee had little size inside, especially with Baugh sitting out a second consecutive game to rest her knee despite practicing Wednesday and going through all the warmup drills Thursday.

Summitt explained that with three scheduled games there had been little practice time, and she didn't want Baugh's knee to absorb game-tempo pounding with little prior chance to see this week how it would respond. If it had been somewhat sore with light work – and the issue is the IT band and hamstring, not the ligament – Summitt didn't want to take a chance with the heavy stuff during a game.

"I didn't want to go with Vicki," Summitt said. "I just want to make sure that we got that knee really strong. We don't want to rush any of that."

With Alyssia Brewer also out and Johnson in chronic foul trouble, that left Tennessee with no depth in the paint. Cain had eight points, seven boards, four steals, two blocks and three fouls in 22 minutes. Johnson had two points, five boards, one assist, one block one steal and five fouls in 19 minutes.

"Obviously, I wasn't pleased (with Tennessee's post players being in foul trouble)," Summitt said. "I think we've got to watch tape. We've got to look at it and they have to embrace the role that they play and the discipline that they have to have on the court."

Virginia's run in the final three minutes likely soured Summitt's mood even more, making the start even more bothersome to her and the staff. Tennessee did keep the lead in double digits until 1:23 was left and Moorer hit a three-pointer to trim the lead to 79-70 and then to 77-70 on two Moorer free throws with 51.3 seconds left.

But Virginia put Spani, Bjorklund and Williams on the line and they went 8-8 down the stretch for the final 85-73 lead.

Moorer picked up her fourth and fifth fouls to stop the clock at the 25.4- and 24.6-second mark.

Virginia also lost Kellum at the 3:27 mark when she got her fifth foul trying to guard inside against Johnson, who made one of two, for a 74-63 lead.

"She did a great job all night of switching positions," Ryan said of Kellum, a 5'8 guard. "She played the four, she played the two, she played the three, she played the one. She played all over the place. We couldn't have played without her. I hated to see her foul out because I felt like we were really making our run then."

Ryan also liked her team's start but pointed to the stretch of time in the second half when Tennessee seized control.

"I thought we got off to a really good start," Ryan said. "We are playing a little bit short due to injuries we sustained in our first game – our starting point guard and a reserve post player that plays fairly good minutes for us are out. So I was really pleased with our production in the first half.

"But all of the credit goes to Tennessee. I warned my team that (the Lady Vols) were going to come out with much better intensity and I knew that they would come out a little more organized and sure enough they did. We took about a four-minute span there where I thought we pretty much did not execute the way we should have and then made a nice little run at the end. But I felt like that was where the game was decided was in that four or five-minute stretch to start the second half."

Virginia beat Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena two years ago, and Ryan said her players remembered that outcome and the rarity of a win in Knoxville.

"We have six players who have actually won in this building," Ryan said. "We're probably one of very few teams in the last 10 years who have won here. They had a little bit of edge to them when they came out to play and then they kind of dragged the rest of the team with them.

"I really felt good about the way that we prepared for this game, and I felt like they stepped up and did the things I was expecting them to do. I just wish we could have done it for a longer period of time. We got some players a little bit tired and didn't substitute like we normally do, so that was one of our issues. Tennessee took advantage of that and came at us with waves of players, and that was the difference."

It's an interesting observation insomuch as that wasn't completely the case. Tennessee played nine while Virginia used eight players and only Tennessee had a player go the distance in Bjorklund. Summitt did shuffle players in and out quicker – the Cavalier players spent longer stretches on the floor at a time – with three players on each team logging identical minutes of 25, 19 and 17 and a fourth and fifth being close on each team at 28 and 29 minutes and four and two minutes.

The fact the Cavaliers had had success in the arena did play a part in the players' confidence.

"We knew it was going to be a battle and we knew we were going to have to give everything we had," Moorer said. "Tennessee is a very tough team, very well-organized team, and we knew we would have to fight."

"When we won here I actually didn't play because I was injured and so I got to watch," Kellum said. "I wanted to come out with a great focus and a great intensity. I remembered how our intensity was before the game and at halftime so I wanted to carry that over into this game. I think I kind of did and I think our players did. We showed great leadership on the court, and I think that helped us out in the long run."

Ryan added, "I don't know if it (the 2008 win) carried over or us just reminding them helped a little bit. But I thought they were well prepared, and they knew they were well prepared."

Virginia had three players in double figures led by Moorer's 24 points and 18 from Kellum. Telia McCall was 5-5 from the field for 10 points.

"Telia had a great game tonight," Ryan said. "Her ability to get to the basket from the high post and be able to put it on the deck a little bit and play like a guard is tough to match up with. I felt like when Simone got in foul trouble that really hurt us a lot because we just don't have players that are able to come off the bench and match up with Tennessee.

"They just have so many more post players than we do. I felt like she did a great job of coming off the bench and giving us quality minutes."

Virginia shot 45.5 percent (25-55) for the game, 50.0 percent (6-12) from the arc and 73.9 percent 17-23) from the line. The Cavaliers had 11 steals and four blocks with 22 turnovers and 14 assists.

With Baugh and Brewer sidelined and Johnson in foul trouble, Manning and Spani took reps at the five spot while Stricklen also posted up.

Stricklen left the game with less than three minutes to play with a sprained left thumb – it was wrapped in ice after the game – and she did not return.

"All I know I just ran into another player, and I just jammed it," Stricklen said.

Williams and Simmons handled the point duties to finish the game, with Bjorklund also helping to set up the offense.

Tennessee had four players in double figures led by 26 points from Bjorklund. Stricklen tallied 15 points on 6-9 shooting with four assists, and she now has 900 points for her career. Spani added 14 points, four boards and an assist, and Simmons tallied 12 points, four rebounds and two assists, her third consecutive game in double digits. Williams had eight points and went 6-6 from the line.

Tennessee shot 48.3 percent (28-58) from the field, 52.6 percent (10-19) from the arc and 67.9 percent (19-28) from the line. The Lady Vols had 11 turnovers in the first half but reduced that to seven after the break for a total of 18 miscues with 17 assists, eight steals and four blocks.

The Lady Vols edged the Cavaliers on the glass by one board, 35-34, with Cain grabbing seven and three players, Bjorklund, Johnson and Manning, getting five each.

Bjorklund's stat line of 40 minutes played with just one turnover stood out, and she also had four assists.

"The one thing about Angie is I don't really think fatigue is a factor with her, especially at home games," Summitt said. "As long as she was playing that way, we can get her some rest (later). I thought that she was really feeling it offensively, and I thought her defensive intensity was really good as well."

Bjorklund's six three-pointers gave her 246 for her career. She is now just 20 treys away from tying the school record of 266.

Last season Bjorklund was 5-10 from long range against Virginia and the 26 points were the most she had scored since tallying 29 against Old Dominion in 2008.

"I don't know if it's necessarily Virginia," Bjorklund said. "I just thought my team did a great job of getting me the ball. We try to play inside out, and going into Kelley Cain really opens things up. I just thought we moved the ball around well as a team, and I just knocked down open shots."

She also came close to her career record of seven threes in a game – one she shares with Shanna Zolman – and would hold the school record alone if she ever hits eight.

"No, I don't think it was necessarily fatigue," Bjorklund said of her late misses. "Sometimes you're just not hitting shots. But as a shooter you've just got to keep shooting. Every single shot is a new shot."

Summitt's intense displeasure with her team overshadowed an otherwise stellar performance from Bjorklund – and Summitt did salute the senior at her post-game press conference. Her remarks to the team in the locker room were another matter.

"It wasn't pretty," Bjorklund said. "I think we're all pretty disappointed as a team with our defensive intensity, and we have a lot to work on. We just have to come in (Friday) watch film, learn from it and move on."

Summitt believed her players got the message long before the game ended.

"I stayed on them," Summitt said. "I got their attention most of the night, but we didn't always execute, and it didn't always show. I always say every moment is a teaching moment. … It's going to give us an opportunity as a coaching staff to really teach, but we've (still) got to get ready for Arizona State. I do think we have to take the time to invest in watching the film and making people respond and have some accountability as well."

Summitt did manage a smile before she left the room.

"Thanks for being here," she said.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Pre-game video clips.

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