"We played a lot of players, and we wanted to rest people because we know we've got two more games back to back, and the competition is just going to get better. It was good because our staff was talking the whole time about our rotation. We were just trying to keep people fresh."
Tennessee, 5-0, once again got a balanced scoring attack as four players reached double figures – one starter in Meighan Simmons and three off the bench in Alicia Manning, Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams.
Williams, a sophomore guard who has made strides in her second year, was the player of the game as designated by Mickey Dearstone, the voice of the Lady Vols.
Williams was 4-6 from the field overall, 1-1 from behind the arc and 1-2 from the line in 19 minutes of play.
"Yes, sir," Williams told Dearstone on the Lady Vol Radio Network when asked if she would take that stat line every game. "But I would like to bring more as well. Rebounding and steals probably, because I know I can get out there and steal the ball, and Coach is looking for me to rebound more so I am going to try to focus on that next game."
Williams had three assists to just one turnover – as a team the Lady Vols had just nine miscues compared to 25 for Missouri. Tennessee converted the Tiger turnovers into 32 points while Missouri got just four points off the Lady Vols' mistakes.
"Coach stresses all the time to me, ‘Miko, ball security,' " Williams said. "I am really keeping that in mind every time I have the ball in my hands. She doesn't want me to turn the ball over."
Meanwhile, Missouri, 1-2, had the ball squirt free throughout the game – 15 turnovers in the first half and Tennessee converted those into 18 points before the break.
Tennessee got its inside game established after the opening tip when Kelley Cain scored at the rim 12 seconds into the game. Missouri's first possession resulted in a turnover.
Tennessee got out to an 11-2 lead with a layup by Shekinna Stricklen, tip-in by Cain, free throw from Meighan Simmons, a steal by Angie Bjorklund that resulted in a Simmons layup and a short jumper inside by Cain.
But then Cain came out – Summitt kept the scorer's table busy – and Missouri took advantage of the absence of the 6'6 center with three consecutive drives to the basket to cut the lead to 11-8 with 13:24 left before halftime. Prior to that flurry of scoring, the Tigers had settled for taking – and mostly missing – perimeter shots.
But Tennessee kept the throttle engaged on offense and increased its defensive pressure to extend the lead in an assortment of ways. Alicia Manning got her shot blocked, got the ball back, passed it to Bjorklund, who passed it back, so Manning drove and dished to Williams, who connected from the wing. That was followed by Bjorklund anticipating a pass on the wing, swiping the ball and going nearly the length of the court for the layup and 15-8 lead with 12:06 left in the first half.
Tennessee increased the lead to 17-8 when Johnson missed a shot, Manning got the rebound and missed and then Johnson got the board, hit the layup and was fouled. She missed the free throw – Johnson was 3-9 for the game while the team was 11-23 overall (47.8 percent) – in what has become an issue again this season.
"Not me!" Summitt joked when Dearstone asked who oversaw free throws.
She added, "That was the most disappointing part of the game. That can really bite us in the back. We're got to make sure that we make that a priority and that we get a lot of reps in."
Perhaps Summitt could secure the services of Briana Bass to help her teammates. The junior guard was 2-2 from the stripe and never deviates from her routine or form at the stripe.
Summitt kept the rotations steady in the first half, and Tennessee kept piling up points by getting the ball inside, connecting on three 3-pointers – one each from Williams, Bass and Spani – and using its speed.
Williams scored late in the first half by getting a block and going straight to the rim when Missouri fanned out to cover the shooters but didn't stop the ball. That gave Tennessee a 38-19 lead with 1:38 left.
Manning got a steal deep along the sideline, drove and dished to Stricklen for a 40-19 lead with 1:16 before the break. Missouri was about to score after a long pass but Bass beat the player to the ball and saved it over her head to Manning, who drove to the other end, scored the layup, was fouled and hit the free throw for a 43-21 lead with 36 seconds to go.
Missouri's RaeShara Brown hit a three-pointer with 17 seconds left, and Tennessee took a 43-24 lead into the locker room.
Tennessee picked up right where it left off and started the second half with Stricklen getting a defensive board and going the distance for a layup and Simmons getting a steal and converting the layup for a 47-24 lead less than a minute into the second half. That led to a timeout from Missouri Coach Robin Pingeton.
Tennessee forced a turnover out of the timeout after Cain set a double team in the corner, and Missouri had nowhere to go with the ball. Bjorklund and Stricklen connected on three-pointers and the Lady Vols led 53-24 with 17:19 to play. That gave Bjorklund 247 for her career and just 19 treys away from the school mark of 266.
The Lady Vols maintained the lead and got scoring from all 10 players deployed in the game. Spani logged the most minutes at 28 followed by 26 from Simmons. No other player went over 22, and Cain went just 12 minutes – seven in the first and five in the second.
"I am really pleased with how they responded," Summitt said on her radio show. "We rotated people in and out and I'm sure it was like a revolving door, but they all stepped up and made good things happen."
The lead reached 30 points, 66-36, with 7:38 to play on a jumper from Williams, who had found Sydney Smallbone on the previous possession for a three-pointer.
Manning got four of her career-high five steals in the second half to keep the defense creating offense for Tennessee. Manning got inside after a Spani steal for the final Tennessee basket of the game, 82-42, with 54 seconds left and after Maggie Flynn hit a jumper for Missouri for the final 82-44 score, Bass dribbled out the clock.
Missouri was led by Brown with 18 points, and she was her team's only double-digit scorer. Christine Flores, who entered the game averaging 20 points a game, got tangled with Johnson early in the second half as Johnson leaped to catch a long pass and landed on her hip after Johnson pulled free with the ball. Flores was held to four points. Shakara Jones chipped in with six points.
Missouri shot 47.6 percent (10-21) in the first half by attacking the basket but was 5-23 (21.7 percent) in the second half and started 1-11 from the field after the break. The Tigers shot 34.1 percent overall (15-44), 14.3 percent (2-14) behind the arc and 12-17 (70.6 percent) from the line.
The Tigers had 25 turnovers, eight assists and two steals.
Tennessee was led by Simmons with 14 points – the freshman has now scored in double digits in all five games of her career – and Manning with 11 points, who also had five steals, five rebounds and four assists. Spani and Williams added 10 points each with both connecting on a trey. That's expected for Spani but it was just the second made three-pointer of Williams' career.
Cain added eight points in limited minutes, and Johnson tallied seven points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.
"That's where she needs her focus," Summitt said. "She wants to shoot from that free throw line, but she is so good around the basket because she is quick, she is explosive. That is exactly where we need her and that's where she could really thrive."
Tennessee shot 50.8 percent overall (32-63) – 47.4 percent in the first, 56.0 percent in the second – 43.8 percent from long range (7-16) and the aforementioned 47.8 percent from the line (47.8 percent).
The Lady Vols had 13 steals, 17 assists and just nine turnovers. They prevailed on the boards, 36-33, despite having the bigs on the bench for most of the game. Johnson led with nine boards while Stricklen and Spani both grabbed six rebounds with Manning getting five and Bjorklund tallying four.
Cain played just 12 minutes, and Vicki Baugh, a 6'4 forward who did not play in the week leading up to the Paradise Jam, was cleared but held out for some additional rest given the lopsided nature of the game.
"I wanted to limit Kelley's minutes," Summit said. "Vicki Baugh is good to go (Friday). So we get those two in there then now we've got a pretty impressive post game."
The Lady Vols also have a solid perimeter game led by both veterans and youngsters. One particularly effective combination on offense is Simmons and Williams.
"She's very athletic," Williams said of Simmons. "She's been playing well as a freshman. I like it when we're out on the floor together and have Angie on the wing. That's two great penetrators and Angie can get open, so they've got to help out on us."
Williams' progress from first to second year also has been beneficial for Tennessee.
"I am trying to stay levelheaded and give Coach what she wants each and every game and each and every practice," Williams said.
Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Georgia Tech game. Here is his assessment.
When Georgia Tech has the ball: "They are very good off the dribble, they are penetrators primarily," Lockwood said. "They're very good at getting into the paint. They've got a couple of kids who will shoot threes and are pretty streaky from there but they are capable of peeling off some so you have to respect them. But really good at getting into the paint.
"They score off their defense extremely well. They will press you. They press relentlessly. Some of our fans they would remind people of Bruce's first couple of years here. Up 20, down 20, they're pressing (as Bruce Pearl's teams did). We've really got to do a good job of handling pressure and handling full court pressure. Their primary thing is paint points. They get it off the drive and they're very good offensive rebounders."
Defensively,, Georgia Tech wants to bring a lot of pressure and will extend it.
"Ninety-five percent of all made shots, free throws or field goals, I've seen them press," Lockwood said. "They're trying to trap you. They're not trying to slow you up nearly as much they're trying to trap you, get you to turn it over, score off their defense.
"That's another way for them to stay in games and to win games because they're very aggressive and they're very active. They can put very good athletes out on the floor. We're going to be tested in how we handle our full court pressure."
When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols have been playing at an accelerated pace, and they want to continue that trend in the islands.
"We want to play fast," Lockwood said. "We want to be able to use our depth and use people in and out. Obviously right now we're not as big as we had planned to be back in August and September. Kelley is primarily the five player. We do like the tempo, and we do want to play that way because for a lot of teams that is going to make them uncomfortable."
Defensively, Lockwood said the coaching staff would dial up the pressure with an eye on available personnel and the fact that there are three consecutive playing days.
"We're going to be very personnel driven," he said. "So there will be stretches (in the games where) I would be very surprised if we didn't play some zone, mix in some zone. I think we'll mix up our full court pressure. We will pick and choose a little bit in terms of the opponent, who we're playing, the strength of who we're playing against how we're going to play.
"We have to be very wise. The SEC Tournament is the only other time we'll be in this situation."
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with Georgia Tech, 3-0. The team last played Feb. 15, 1989, an 88-71 win for the Lady Vols. … Tennessee is 10-2 in games played on November 26. The last win on this date was against Louisiana Tech, 81-67, in 2007. The first win on this date was against Middle Tennessee, 63-48, in 1979. The two losses on November 26 were to Southern Cal, 78-64, in 1983, and Cincinnati, 72-69, in 1984.