Tennessee rolls past Arizona State

Kamiko Williams provided a defensive spark off the bench for Tennessee – an aspect of her game that didn't emerge last season – and earned praise from Pat Summitt for the way the sophomore guard pressured the ball. The Lady Vols had five players in double digits – three starters and two off the bench – to lead a balanced attack in Sunday's 80-64 win over Arizona State.

Tennessee, 4-0, next heads to the Virgin Islands for a three-game tournament, and it might want to soak its post players in the saltwater of the Caribbean to try to work out the soreness and get them healthy. Of the four true posts, Glory Johnson, who tallied a double-double with 14 points and 15 rebounds, is the only one who logged minutes in the second half, and she had her left arm wrapped in ice after the game.

"Do y'all care if I go barefooted?" Summitt asked as she walked into her post-game press conference without her shoes because her feet were sore. "I'm going to jump in there with them. I love that saltwater. My pool is a saltwater pool."

It was much different than Summitt's entrance on Thursday when she boomed her displeasure with the defensive effort before she even sat down to address the media.

Kelley Cain, a 6'6 center started the game and played 15 minutes in the first half with six points, six rebounds and two blocks. But a sore hip limited her mobility and 6'1 Alicia Manning replaced her to open the second half. The 6'4 Vicki Baugh remains out of game action (hip, IT band), as does the 6'3 Alyssia Brewer, who had surgery in September and is expected back next month.

That leaves the 6'3 Johnson as the only true post and the one player with some size in the paint.

"That small lineup is pretty mobile," Summitt said. "I like it actually. We're not going to rush those two (Baugh and Cain) in any way. It's a long season."

Johnson logged 31 minutes with 14 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and a block.

"I just try and stay healthy," Johnson said. "Whenever I am hurting I think of Kelley Cain and Vicki Baugh and Lyssi, who had surgeries and thank God I haven't had surgery and I haven't had to deal with any of that. When I'm hurting or when I'm sore or when my knee hurts a little bit, I think, ‘Man, I haven't had surgery. I can deal with this. I can push through it.'

"And being the only real post I have to. I want to be there to help my team out, and I want to play for people that are sitting out."

The Lady Vols still managed to tally 40 points – half of its 80 for the game – in the paint thanks to Johnson and the driving ability of Shekinna Stricklen, Kamiko Williams and Meighan Simmons. All four of those players were in double figures, along with sharpshooter Taber Spani who did most of her damage from the perimeter.

The loss was the first of the season for Arizona State, 2-1, which used 11 players in the first half – one more than Tennessee has healthy – and briefly took a one-point lead, 18-17, with 8:42 left but then didn't score again before halftime when the Lady Vols took a 33-18 lead into the locker room.

During that stretch Tennessee ratcheted up the full court pressure and Williams and Johnson became very disruptive defenders. Johnson needed a stint on the bench before her overall game emerged. Johnson played 11 minutes in the first half and went the distance in the second.

"She had to step up for us," Summitt said. "She was blending in. Glory is our best athlete. Or one of our best. I'd say she and Meighan, it's probably a jump ball. I really felt like she was rushing and (needed) better composure."

Williams came off the bench to provide a spark, something she did last season on offense but has figured out how to play to Summitt's standards on the other side of the ball, too.

"Absolutely," Summitt said when asked if that was a solid stretch of defense for Williams, especially in the first half. "Kamiko has been able to play longer minutes. As a freshman, about two minutes, and you've got to pull her.

"But now even when she gets tired, she can push through it and that right there can help us tremendously because she can get paint points, and she needs to do that versus trying to shoot the three-ball. Her defense I thought was really solid."

Williams smiled when told of Summitt's remarks and Stricklen started laughing when Williams was reminded that it's been a yearlong wait to hear Summitt praise her defense.

"I think she puts more emphasis this year on defense," Williams said.

As odd as the observation may sound, it's true. Summitt has been more demanding this season in practice about defense and has held players accountable for it by yanking them out of drill and making them wait to rotate back in to try again.

"Dean (Lockwood) opened my eyes to ‘I can be a defensive stopper when I decide to be,' " Williams said. "So me and Pat had a nice little talk. She told me she wanted more on both ends but especially on defense, so that's where I'm trying to get better."

When did that talk take place?

"It was during the last game," Williams said, a response that brought more smiles from Stricklen and Johnson because that was when Summitt unloaded on the entire team. "It was during the game."

At Friday's practice after the desultory defense in the 85-73 win over Virginia, Summitt really put the screws to the team. That session was fresh on the players' mind during the defensive stand before halftime against Arizona State.

"I just think about the practice we had on Friday," Stricklen said. "It was just, ‘You're going to play defense, or they're going to take you out.' That's what they did in practice. If your person was middle drive or you didn't box out or you're didn't deny, they were like, ‘Next person get on.'

"I think that's what we carried over into the game today. Everyone was really focused on their defense and everyone was committed to it, and I think that's helped out a lot."

Arizona State Coach Charli Turner Thorne noted her team's shortcomings in her opening statement but she also added this: "I do credit Tennessee. They beat a Virginia team and you talk to people around town and they acted like they lost by 30. That's high performance standards. That's the way it should be. We're kind of still growing in that, but we're going to try and be on a fast learning curve this year."

Tennessee's win over Virginia was far below Summitt's standards for defense, and the Lady Vols started Sunday's game much stronger with a 10-2 lead barely two minutes into the game, although the Sun Devils worked patiently to get the ball inside and also got a three-pointer from Markisha Patterson – only the team's second made three of the season – to cut into the lead.

Tennessee scored in six seconds to start the game when Stricklen found Cain inside for a layup. From there Stricklen and Simmons got points from the line after being fouled on drives and when Simmons missed a short jumper from the wing, she scooted to the basket, got the rebound and scored. That was followed by a Stricklen three-pointer from the top of the key to give Tennessee a 10-2 lead.

But Simmons also picked up two quick fouls – the second on a charge while driving to the basket – and Taber Spani came off the bench to replace her. Johnson also had taken a seat and while Tennessee continued to get some scoring from Stricklen and two midrange shots from Angie Bjorklund, the Sun Devils were getting inside to score or getting to the free throw line.

When Adrianne Thomas hit a leaner from the left side at the 8:42 mark of the first half, the Sun Devils had their first, and only, lead. Johnson made one of two free throws and Williams got a steal and a layup off Tennessee's full court pressure to give the Lady Vols a 20-18 lead with 7:26 to play before halftime.

Tennessee's defensive pressure changed the game before the break as the Sun Devils didn't score over that 8:42 and committed nine of 11 first half turnovers. Johnson was especially disruptive as she deflected one pass, leading to a steal, and simply took the ball away from an Arizona State player for another steal in the extended defense.

Becca Tobin had a chance to put Arizona State on the scoreboard again but missed the front end of two one-and-ones at the 1:48 and 28-second marks of the first half.

Combine missed free throws with "turnovers at Tennessee and good luck," Thorne said.

Johnson also defended quite a bit on the perimeter and at the top of Tennessee's full court press with Williams.

"I just thought we had to put a lot more pressure on them," Summitt said. "I thought we did a much better job of slowing them down in transition and much better job of our closeouts (on jump shooters). Our defense elevated there, which got us a few baskets.

"I like to go in at halftime because you can learn a lot and you can teach a lot. They responded really well coming out of halftime."

Johnson got an earful at halftime about slowing down with the ball. She was 0-3 to open the game and 5-9 in the second half. She had one point at halftime. That came from a free throw that knotted the score at 18 with 7:36 left after Johnson got fouled on her third shot attempt at the basket in one possession. The crowd wanted fouls on the first two, and Johnson kept getting the ball back and going back up with it.

"She just was telling me that I'm still going too fast, and she never knows what she's going to get out of me," Johnson said, that one offensive series being the exception. "She just wanted me to be a lot more consistent with my game. At first I didn't understand, but when I'm sitting down on the bench, I was like, ‘There's a lot I can do to help my team.' Stay focused.

"Even though I'm getting yelled at, I'm going to still play my game. I can take that and make things positive from what she had to tell me."

Johnson settled down in the second half and scored in the paint with a short jumper and some nifty turn-arounds and one-on-one post moves.

"I got onto her at halftime, probably a little tougher on her than I should have been, but she responded," Summitt said. "I told her we need her. She can affect the game in many, many ways."

Johnson got her 10th rebound less than three minutes into the second half and was the only player on either team to record double digits in boards. She finished with 15, and seven of those came on the offensive end.

"I love rebounding, and I love playing defense," Johnson said. "It just so happens that (Summitt) loves defense, and she loves rebounding. Hopefully, to stay on her good side, I'll stay on the boards. I don't mind staying on the boards. I have a great jumping ability, and I am going to use what God gave me to rebound."

One of Johnson's most impressive rebounds came on a missed free throw by Stricklen. The crowd gasped as Johnson soared for the ball, came down and hit the stick-back and got fouled before anyone else had really reacted to the play.

"She really was (hard to keep off boards)," Thorne said. "I thought she really stepped up today for them. In watching her first early games she's kicking it out a lot and just wasn't nearly as aggressive offensively. We know she can be, and she was today so give her a lot of credit. I thought she played great."

Tennessee got several rebounds by grabbing missed free throws and given the abysmal shooting from the stripe it turned out to be a better outcome on offense.

"I knew that they missed (free throws) and I really warned my players that you'd better box out on free throws, but they did not heed the warning," Thorne said. "It almost worked out to their advantage the way they rebounded. They miss and they just get easy putbacks. That's pretty good offense right there."

Tennessee was 15-28 (53.6 percent) from the line with Stricklen shooting 6-8 the only bright spot from the stripe. Summitt looked exasperated when asked, for the second game in a row, what is happening at the line.

"I'm not happy," Summitt said after a long pause. "We will be shooting a lot (Monday). They have to get in extra shots. Free throw shooting, it's what it is – it's free. We've got to make sure we get in the gym and we get up shots.

"There's no excuse. We've got Pratt Pavilion. We've got Thompson-Boling Arena. If they're not getting in shots somewhere, then we have to go there as coaches and make that part (more) of our practice routine."

Outside of that stat and a few stretches of defensive play, Summitt overall was happy with the effort. Johnson's ability to defend on the perimeter is also an asset for Tennessee as she is athletic and rangy. Shorter guards aren't accustomed to post players who can pick them up on the perimeter – and stay with them.

"I enjoy it because a lot of guards don't think that a post can guard a guard, and then they try to take it to them," Johnson said. "Just keeping my feet moving and keeping my hands up without fouling. I enjoy it. I would like to see a lot more posts do that. I try to do it and try to set an example for some of the posts that are out there.

"Guards might be able to take advantage of you sometimes, but they can't come in the paint so when you can come out to the wing and guard them that's a little different. It challenges them a lot more."

When Johnson can stall the guards, it cuts down on a team's ability to penetrate to the basket by driving, which is also one of the hardest things to defend. Stricklen took advantage of that against Arizona State by being aggressive from the opening tip.

"I really challenged her, and she has responded so well," Summitt said. "I think it's given our team a lot of confidence. She's pushing the tempo. She's scoring for us. She's playing good defense. I just think that she's investing more in her game this year. Eventually, they get it, and I think they definitely have."

Stricklen led all scorers with 18 points on 5-9 shooting overall and 2-3 from behind the arc. When the 6'2 guard/forward can score at the rim, it really opens up her outside game and makes for a difficult matchup.

"Yes, Coach has been on me," Stricklen said. "She reminded me at the start of the game, be focused, set the tempo, push the ball right up their backs. They were overplaying me to the left. I guess they thought on tape that I really don't go left much, and they were overplaying me. They were giving me the drive, so I took it."

Tennessee maintained its lead in the second half despite Cain, who moving stiffly in the first half, sitting on the floor at the corner of the bench after halftime. Manning started the second half and moved inside with Johnson. Manning, who had a nice up-and-under move to score while playing the center spot, and Spani present a hybrid post and since both can venture to the perimeter, it also presents a difficult matchup.

"They have a strong low block game, and those players are coming along and developing," Thorne said. "When they go small, you've got your four (power forward) player looking for their shooters out on the perimeter whether it's Manning or Spani. That's going to give people some challenges. They move it around and mix up their lineups.

"I think it's going to be very effective for them, especially when their four player is bringing it up in transition. I love small ball. We've had some great years with small ball. We made it to the Elite Eight (in 2009) with a 6' foot scrawny four player and a 6'2 scrawny center. I think they can go both ways. We kind of can, too. They're more experienced and further along this us and I think it's going to serve them well."

Summitt used all 10 of her available players in the second half and nine in the first half. The Lady Vols continued to score – 33 points in the first and 47 in the second – as Johnson got in the paint, Spani connected on a three-pointer and midrange shots and Simmons made the most of her limited minutes because of foul trouble by getting to the rim.

Simmons ran the floor after a made free throw by Arizona State at the 7:50 mark and got a football pass from Spani at the 7:48 mark for a layup in stride with Johnson running with Simmons step for step to give Tennessee a 62-43 lead. Angie Bjorklund fired a pass to Simmons after a long rebound from a missed three-pointer by Arizona State, and Simmons converted that layup, too, for a 64-43 lead with 6:50 left. The lead reached its largest, 23 points, at 68-45 when Simmons banked in a layup high off the glass with 5:55 left in the game. She fouled out 25 seconds later.

Williams continued the forays to the paint and scored six straight points for Tennessee with a drive to the paint and turnaround, a drive to the right and then a drive to the left. That gave the Lady Vols a 74-51 lead with 3:37 to play, and Thorne took a timeout.

Arizona State ran its offense better after that timeout and managed to finish the game by adding 14 points to its side of the scoreboard. By this time, Summitt's biggest concern was the fact that the two ball girls were sitting too close to the court on the baseline, and she got an official to move them behind the basket and out of harm's way.

When Spani hit a step-back two-pointer for the 80-62 lead with 22.2 seconds left and the shot clock well into single digits, the crowd of 12,229 let out a loud cheer because when Tennessee scores 80 or more points, the ticket stub is valid for three-piece chicken tenders at Hardee's. Tenaya Watson finished the scoring for ASU with a short jumper, and Tennessee dribbled out the clock for the final 80-64 outcome.

"I'm disappointed in our team," Thorne said. "Great lessons for us. We're not really young age-wise, but we're actually a very new team. We have a lot of players, transfers and players coming back from injuries who haven't played together. Tennessee did what I thought they would. They exposed a lot of things that we need to get better at, and we haven't been tested in, boxing out for one.

"I'm very impressed with them. They obviously have a great team, a lot of versatility. We knew the boards would be huge, and we didn't get it done in that area. I was just very disappointed in our defense. We're not a team that is a score-more team that relies on that, and we really couldn't defend off of those turnovers in the first half. In the second half, when we took care of the ball, to give up 47 points was incredibly below our expectations and our standards. We have to work harder at keeping people in front of us and not allow great scorers to be comfortable."

Arizona State was led by 13 points from Dymond Simon, who also had five assists and just two of her team's 17 turnovers. The redshirt senior is back at point guard after sitting out last season to recover from knee surgery.

"I'm still working out some kinks in my game," Simon said. "I'm happy where I'm at, and I'm coming along really well."

Simon played as a true freshman when Tennessee played in Tempe during the 2006-07 season.

"I've always wanted to play in Tennessee," Simon said. "It's a great atmosphere, the fans were terrific, and I thought it was a terrific game. We were just excited as an organization to be picked to come to such a great atmosphere."

Simon played 30 minutes for the Sun Devils, along with Tobin. None of the other nine players used by Thorne logged more than 20 minutes. The coach is happy to have her point guard back on the court.

"She is so savvy and so skilled," said Thorne, who, like Tennessee, has a few players on the injured list and expects them back later. "Last year, we have high performance standards at ASU, and we didn't have the guard play that we're used to year in and year out. I'm very excited about Dymond and just my guard play overall this year."

Simon said Tennessee's run to end the first half was a "learning experience" for the team.

"It was definitely a struggle for us at that point," Simon said. "We definitely had some lapses on defense, not communicating as well as we should have been communicating, rebounding, all of the above. It was a learning experience today and I'm happy that this actually happened to us."

Arizona State was much more effective in the second half, and the Sun Devils played Tennessee nearly even with 46 points to Tennessee's 47 and shot 19-33 (51.9 percent) after halftime.

"Shot selection," Simon said of the difference. "I think in the first half, we were rushing, taking a lot of off-balance shots. And when we went in at halftime, our coaches really emphasized make sure you look at all your options, especially the post players. I think we did a very good job in the second half."

Three players for Arizona State, Tobin, Watson and Janae Fulcher, added eight points each. The Sun Devils shot 40 percent (22-55) overall, 27.3 percent (3-11) from long range and 73.9 percent (17-23) from the line. Arizona State had 17 turnovers, just six in the second half, and 12 assists with six steals and two blocks.

Tennessee prevailed on the boards 45-36 after having just a 24-22 lead on the glass at halftime. Johnson grabbed 15 while Cain and Manning had six each. Stricklen and Williams added five boards each, and Spani had four. Tennessee had just 12 turnovers and seven assists with Bjorklund, Williams and Briana Bass each tallying two helpers. The Lady Vols had eight steals and four blocks with Simmons and Johnson getting one swat each to go with Cain's pair of rejections.

Tennessee shot 45.6 percent (31-68) overall and 57.6 percent (19-33) in the second half, 23.1 percent (3-13) from the arc and 53.6 percent (15-28) from the line.

"I thought we did a lot of good things," Summitt said. "You look at the stat sheet, and you've got five players in double figures. I like that balance of that. We did a much better job of getting on the boards, much better job defensively. I thought we shared the ball really, really well."

Besides Stricklen's 18 points and Johnson's 14, Williams and Spani added 12 points each and Simmons contributed 10. Bjorklund had just four points, and last year that usually meant Tennessee struggled offensively. The Lady Vols have more options this season.

"Tennessee is a terrific team, and they have a lot of great individual scorers," Simon said. "When one person may not be on the night of the game, somebody else steps up big."

"That's a great asset to have on a team because last year I think we looked to Angie all the time and expected her to score when we needed it. We have us three that can score," Williams said, referring to the trio at the post-game press conference of Williams, Stricklen and Johnson.

"We have Meighan that can come in. We have Taber that can score, A-Town. We don't have to go to one person. We can run sets for different people, and eventually that will open up shots for Angie so she doesn't have to work as hard. It is good that we have a lot of scorers. I think everybody on the team can score."

Last season, Tennessee usually needed both Bjorklund and Stricklen to carry the offensive load. If one was struggling, the other felt a lot of pressure to pour in points.

"They don't just look for me and Angie to score," Stricklen said. "We've had a lot of people step up this year that can score. Miko can get to the basket. Meighan can get to the basket. It's opening up for shooters like Angie and Taber. That's a big plus this year for us on this team."

In terms of determining which players will get the points for Tennessee, Williams said the players' comfort level with each other comes with increased familiarity. Tennessee is veteran-laden but three of those juniors are hobbled in Baugh, Cain and Brewer. Simmons is a freshman starter and Spani, who was hindered last season with turf toe, and Williams, are sophomores who are taking the floor more now, especially together, so there are assorted new combos on the court early in the season.

"That comes through practice," Williams said. "With the practices that we've been having, Holly (Warlick) and Mickie (DeMoss) have been emphasizing, ‘Hey, if you've got the shot, take it. If you have a good shot, take a good shot.'

"We're figuring it out. We are."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Pre-game video clips.


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