Lady Vols stumble at Baylor

WACO, Texas - The Lady Vols got a split decision on their swing through the state of Texas and now return home for a marquee matchup with Stanford, another top five team. Tennessee couldn't overcome an 0-9 start from the field and an 11-0 run by Baylor to end the first half and fell 65-54 in front of the largest crowd to ever see a basketball game at the Ferrell Center.

"That was a great crowd out there," Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey said. "They were here to support the Lady Bears without question but they were here in appreciation for Pat Summitt because she means so much to all of us that love women's basketball and I was proud that the crowd showed that kind of respect to her program. …

"What John Wooden is to men's basketball, Pat is to women's basketball. I just have always have the utmost respect for her."

The crowd of 10,569, the largest in program history and an arena record, rose to applaud Summitt as she walked to the Tennessee bench in an orange leather jacket that looked like it could have been borrowed from the closet of Mulkey, who wore solid white, including the shoes.

"It was really nice," Summitt said. "I am glad we came into this environment, and I think we will benefit having been here and played that game."

Among those in attendance was a large contingent of the Baylor football team, which sat behind one basket.

"They were in my ear the whole game," Baylor's Brittney Griner said. "They were pumping me up and talking to me the whole game. It was pretty funny."

The crowd also included a hearty student section - one member politely asked press row how to spell Summitt's name for a poster board sign - despite the fact exams had ended Monday.

"We appreciate it," Griner said. "We really appreciate everybody that came out."

Before the game tipped, the seven Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coaches in attendance were honored - Summitt, Mulkey, Tennessee staff members Holly Warlick and Daedra Charles-Furlow, Baylor assistant Leon Barmore and two who coached Mulkey, Sonja Hogg (Louisiana Tech) and Fran Garmon (PanAm Games).

The game was a sellout as of Tuesday morning and distribution of a Mulkey bobblehead began outside two hours before tipoff with fans lining up for the figurines, an excellent likeness of the spitfire of a coach. When Baylor made a nice play, the overhead scoreboard showed the bobble nodding in approval.

"I thought there were three things we needed to do to compete with Tennessee and if you look at the stat sheet we didn't do a very good job of it - you've got to keep them off the offensive boards," Mulkey said. "I thought the second thing is you needed to try and eliminate as many transition as Meighan Simmons and (Shekinna) Stricklen want to get, and I don't know of many transition baskets either one of them got.

"Thirdly, you wanted them to have to beat you in a half-court and when they did make sure you knew where (Angie) Bjorklund was for the three coming off screens and make sure you knew where Meighan Simmons was and I thought that we did that."

Summitt had said the December road trip would be beneficial in terms of telling the team where it was and what needed to improve. Point guard play remains an issue, and the health of the post is still tenuous, but the Lady Vols didn't back away from Brittney Griner in this game - actually held her to five points in the second half - and had their chances for an upset torpedoed by a 25 percent shooting performance from the field.

"We didn't make shots." Summitt said. "When you don't make shots it can be a long, frustrating game for us. Typically, I think we've got good shooters. Why we didn't knock down the shots, it happens at times, and that's what happened. … It was just tough for us when you don't make shots it's not pretty."

Tennessee, 9-2, started the game by misfiring on its first nine shots before Kelley Cain, who played a surprising 25 minutes and was very stiff after the game, hit a short jumper at the 14:09 mark of the first half. Despite going nearly six minutes without a field goal, Tennessee trailed just 8-4 with the other points coming from Meighan Simmons, who made two of three after getting fouled on a trey attempt.

The Lady Vols stayed within closing distance of Baylor, 10-1, because of an effective 2-3 matchup zone and its job on the boards, especially the offensive glass.

Baylor extended the lead to 19-12 with 9:56 to play before the break but Tennessee was within two points, 23-21, on a Kamiko Williams jumper from inside the top of the key at the 5:23 mark.

But Tennessee would not score again in the first half while Baylor got eight points from Brittney Griner - two jumpers and four at the line - a free throw from Odyssey Sims and a layup from Kimetria Hayden, who went the distance after corralling a block from Griner.

"You have to learn as a guard or perimeter player anybody that's playing with those guys (Griner and shot-blocker Brooklyn Pope), get ready, get your hands ready," Mulkey said. "They're not blocking it to go out of bounds. They're blocking it as if we're fixing to have a possession and let's go. I think we are getting used to that, and that's big for us."

That 11-0 run ended up being the difference in the ball game as Baylor headed to the locker room with a 34-21 lead.

"That was huge," Summitt said. "We just didn't answer it. We just didn't. And disappointing but you go on the road and you learn a lot. We'll go home and one thing we're going to do we're going to be shooting the ball quite frequently and hold people accountable in that aspect."

Angie Bjorklund added, "I think they continued to push the ball and we didn't stop them in transition and also we have to answer their runs, and we didn't do that. We've got to make stops."

The Lady Bears led from beginning to end and finished the game with an 11-point margin, 65-54.

"I would definitely think that fatigue played a factor on both ends of the floor," Mulkey said. "Fatigue kept us probably from extending it, and fatigue kept them a little bit from ever getting below nine. You had two teams out there battling hard. I thought it was a great team for television. You had the crowd, you had two teams that you're going to see again in the NCAA playoffs. … It was a good game."

The second half for Tennessee began with a turnover and one made free throw, but a steal and a layup by Williams and a three-pointer from Simmons got Tennessee to within seven points, 34-27, with 17:28 left in the game. But fouls, a turnover and three consecutive missed 3-pointers from Simmons, Taber Spani and Shekinna Stricklen allowed Baylor to increase the lead to 15 points, 47-32, on a three-pointer by Melissa Jones with 12:01 left.

But the Lady Bears could not put the Lady Vols away and they hovered within striking distance throughout the second half.

"If I have to say things we must improve on I thought we should have extended the lead in the second half and we didn't," Mulkey said. "I thought with five minutes remaining in the game, we had gotten up 14, 15 and then we'd turn the ball over and then we would foul them, stop the clock and we would shoot free throws. That comes with youth, that comes with keep playing, keep learning, show them film."

The game featured two stellar first-year guards from the state of Texas - Odyssey Sims for Baylor and Simmons for Tennessee.

"I am certainly partial to mine as Pat is partial to hers," Mulkey said. "They're two outstanding players. They're both from the state of Texas. It wasn't their first rodeo. They've gone against each other in summer ball."

Neither shot the ball particularly well - Sims was 8-22, Simmons was 6-21 - but both played with a lot of determination and energy. Sims played 40 minutes and led her team with 24 points. Simmons played 35 minutes and led her team with 22 points.

"Meighan is going to be a great player for us," Summitt said. "Meighan, I'm never going to fault her for being over-aggressive. She's got a great upside and she's going to continue to get better. She competes. She competes hard on every play, and you've got to love that as a coach. I think she brings a lot of energy to our team."

The two often were matched up on each other, and Sims said the crowd and the presence of Simmons, a fellow Texan, motivated her and allowed her "to have an opportunity to prove that I can guard her and show my ability to play defense."

"Odyssey has definitely gotten better," Simmons said. "That just tells me that she's getting better and better so what that means for me is I have to get better. I have to get in the gym, and I have to work on my shot and I have to get my teammates involved like she was doing tonight." ,

Simmons got some good looks at the basket late that she couldn't get to fall and the other guards and forwards also struggled - Williams was 2-10, Stricklen was 1-9, Spani was 2-6 and Bjorklund was 4-12.

"When you don't make shots, it's not pretty," Summitt said. "We were not as efficient as we had to be to play this team head-on."

That effectively snuffed any chance for a comeback and the Lady Vols succumbed, though Simmons was twice fouled on three-point attempts and made all six free throws down the stretch to cut the lead to nine points with just under a minute to play. It wasn't close to enough, though, and Tennessee, which scored just 10 points in the paint, dropped its second game of the season.

"Obviously a disappointing game for us and you've got to give a lot of credit to Baylor," Summitt said. "Odyssey did a great job and Griner. They were just too tough for us. We didn't match their intensity. Baylor is really solid, a great team, well coached."

Griner had 16 points in the first half and just five in the second for 21 for the game, but she was disruptive the entire way - Griner played all 40 minutes - on defense with nine blocks, and she has a shot swatting assistant this season in Brooklyn Pope, a transfer from Rutgers, who knocked away four shots.

Pope scooted to the center court to celebrate one block, prompting Griner to look around for her to in-bound the ball.

"We had to bring her back," Griner said. "I didn't know where she went. Where's Brook? We feed off of each other."

The crowd, especially the student section, was particularly energized by the blocks.

"I think they got great momentum from that," Summitt said. "We couldn't seem to get on track. That happens sometimes. It's a lesson. We can learn from it."

One of Griner's blocks electrified the football team - it happened directly in front of the players - when she chased down Vicki Baugh, who got the defensive board and took off full speed to the other end, and knocked the ball out of bounds.

It was the quickest Baugh had moved all season, and it appeared she had a clear path to the rim until Griner appeared.

"I feel like I am a little bit," Griner said when asked if she was a better shot blocker this season. "I am trying to wait until they are in the air."

Tennessee didn't back away from Griner as they did last March in Memphis in the Sweet 16 matchup.

"I think having played against them before we were more familiar this second time around, which was good," Summitt said.

Simmons played against Griner in summer ball so she was aware of the 6'8 shot blocker.

"Even at that time she was a good shot blocker," Simmons said. "With me if somebody blocks my shot I am just going to go at you again. You are just going to have to teach me a lesson. Blocking my shot once is not going to stop me from what I need to do. I'll know the next time Kelley is going to be open, Angie is going to be open, somebody is going to be open."

But the Lady Vols could never fully recover from the start of the game.

"It was really frustrating," Simmons said. "We just have to go out there and be in attack mode 24/7 from the get-go. We have to play from beginning to end and I just think us missing our first nine shots, everybody was getting their feel … but we still had to hit open shots."

Tennessee got a few good looks and simply missed the shots but some were far too quick in the possession.

"I thought we rushed some," Summitt said. "We needed Glory to step in and make some shots and that really hurt us early and late. But I think it's great for us to be in this environment and learn from it. We are definitely going to get back in the gym and put up a lot of shots."

Summitt also acknowledged the job the Lady Bears did on defense.

"You've really got to give Baylor a lot of credit because they really brought a lot of pressure and did a great job of contesting shots," Summitt said. "They really had a toughness about them and I don't think we matched their intensity the way we needed to."

The Lady Vol players expressed frustration after the game at the lack of offensive patience. Summitt started Williams at point guard - she is there to generate paint points and rarely calls a set play - and shifted Simmons to the spot for some possessions in the second half. The lack of consistency at the spot seems to have created confusion at times on the court among the players. Tennessee had just three assists before halftime and five for the game.

"We kind of settled to play one on one," Bjorklund said. "We need to play more together as a team and that's myself included. Once we moved the ball and played inside-outside and played together more, that's when we got more open shots instead of contested shots. But if we're not hitting, we need to make stops."

The inside-out game takes a big step forward when the bigs are on the floor. Baugh and Cain had two of Tennessee's five assists by passing from the paint to the arc to open three-point shooters - Baugh found Spani, and Cain found Bjorklund, both in the first half.

Baugh, who has been physically limited, only played for four minutes in the first half. Cain was 2-8 from the field but can pass out of traffic in the paint and find open shooters. In this game, those shots rarely fell.

"I thought Cain really played well," Summitt said. "Glory has got to get better, period. I think (Johnson) has got a good pull-up game. She tried to get to the rim. She needed to pull up and knock it down. She's 1-4. We need more than that from her. She needs to be on the boards more. If you're not making shots how are you going to help us? With rebounds. Play defense."

Tennessee also needs a contingent of healthy post players. Johnson, a slender forward, battled Griner inside and logged 11 minutes. Cain, the best suited size-wise to defend the paint, logged 25 minutes one game after having to be helped off the court with a hip contusion.

Cain was clearly in pain during and after the game, and her presence was saluted by her teammates.

"I heard on the sideline, ‘Coach, I'm ready,' " Bjorklund said. "I know she's in pain. You can't even tell she's in pain. She's been fighting through a lot, and she's all for this team and not about herself. And that's what we need from everyone."

"I just went out there and played for my team," Cain said. "I knew my team needed me so I have to put myself aside and do it for something bigger than myself and that's the team."

For the last two minutes of the game, Cain and Johnson played in the paint with Stricklen, Simmons and Bjorklund on the perimeter - a lineup that could take the floor more often if Cain can go.

"Absolutely," Summitt said.

"Once we got two bigs inside it put people back into their regular positions where they play and where they're comfortable," Bjorklund said. "But at the same time I give a lot of credit to Shekinna and Taber and the people who have been playing out of position. They've just stepped up. That's huge on their part."

Cain was asked if she played in pain, and she sidestepped the question with the same stoic nature she shows on the court.

"That has nothing to do with the game to be honest," Cain said. "We didn't play to our potential tonight. We're not consistent. We showed up in the Texas game, but we didn't show up for this game. That is going to be key down the road is everybody has to be consistent in showing up every night, not just a few people."

Baylor was led by Sims' 24 points and 21 from Griner. Jones added eight and Pope and Hayden added six each. The Lady Bears got no scoring from the bench.

Baylor shot 35.7 percent (20-56) from the field, 40.0 percent from long range (4-10) and 70.0 percent from the line (21-30). The Lady Bears had 13 turnovers, 10 assists, 13 blocks and eight steals.

Tennessee was led by Simmons with 22 points, and she now has sole claim to second place on the freshman list for double-digit scoring debuts with 11 consecutive games. Chamique Holdsclaw holds the record at 14.

Bjorklund added 10 points and her two three-pointers gave her 261 for her career, just five away from tying the school record of 266. Johnson and Williams added five points each, and Cain and Spani had five each off the bench.

Tennessee shot 25.0 percent (18-72), 26.1 percent from long range (6-23) and 66.7 percent from the line (12-18). The Lady Vols had 17 turnovers, five assists, three blocks and four steals. The Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 53-43.

Summitt maintained what she had said before the game - win or lose the outcome would be a teaching experience.

"Who knows? We may see them down the road," Summitt said. "It was a great environment. The fans were very into it, but I like that. I love to go on the road when you've got a packed house and see how our team responds. It was good for us."

Tennessee and Baylor will definitely play next season. The Lady Bears will make a return trip to Knoxville.

"We go there next year. I would love it. I know Pat would love it," Mulkey said when asked if the series would continue after that. "I know she is recruiting Texas so hopefully it will continue."

Mulkey also acknowledged how Summitt handles a loss.

"She's a gracious loser," Mulkey said. "It's not what they didn't do it's always here's what the other team did and we've got to get better. She always is respectful."

"We've got to go back to work," Summitt said during her post-game press conference.

That will start Wednesday. With school out, Tennessee can use every practice day this week until Sunday's game with Stanford.

"I think we learned that we have a long ways to go," Bjorklund said. "It's a long season. We have to stay positive and watch film, get back in the gym and learn from our mistakes and continue to get better.

"So I think this was a good test for us. We need to get back in the gym and work."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt

Tennessee players Angie Bjorklund, Meighan Simmons and Kelley Cain

Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey with players Brittney Griner, Brooklyn Pope and Odyssey Sims


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