"I tried to tell the team before we came back out that I am sure Pat is in there just chewing their butts out," East Tennessee State University Coach Karen Kemp said. "So we've got to come out in the second half and try not to let them get going and unfortunately we weren't able to do that. But I knew it would be a different half, a tale of two halves."
Tennessee, 11-2, began the game as if the players already had thoughts of being at home for the holidays. Despite the fact ETSU, 3-6, didn't have the personnel to keep the Lady Vols from getting paint points, the outside shots were being launched early and too often missing the mark – the perils of being an outside-in team rather than the reverse – and it didn't take long for Summitt to insert Kelley Cain into the game to restore order.
"It was great to see Kelley Cain do what she did, and we were able to rest her some after that," Summitt said. "She just played big inside. She's been so efficient for us. I think it has really inspired our team, and they're doing a better job of getting the ball inside and playing inside out."
Cain had eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks by halftime in 12 minutes of play. The blocks came inside and out with a shot rejected from behind the arc with one second on the shot clock. Cain deals daily with hip and lower back issues that has led to her practice and game minutes being monitored. But none of that seem to bother her Wednesday evening before an appreciative crowd of 11,751.
"Pretty much, it's about my team, and I know my team needs me," Cain said. "So, I'm going to go out there and give it my all while I can."
With her teammates properly inspired by Summitt's halftime speech, Cain logged just five total minutes in the second half – she started in place of Glory Johnson, who redeemed herself later – and when she headed to the bench the Lady Vol fans picked up their applause.
"Kelley has really done a great job," Summitt said. "She's got great hands and she's got a soft touch. She uses the glass really well. Once she goes in I told our team, ‘She's got to have touches.' She's not trying to do something outside of the paint. She knows where she needs to be, and she goes there."
Cain was 5-6 from the field and 2-3 from the line and finished with a season-high 12 points – one of six players in double figures for Tennessee – and 10 rebounds.
"I think this shows that we didn't handle her very well," Kemp said while looking at a box score. "It's difficult. It's very difficult when they've got 6'6 and we've got 6'2 trying to defend. She is not just tall; she has a pretty big body as well.
"It was just very, very difficult for Tish (Belcher) or whomever we had guarding her to get around. When you have a player with that size and that touch – she has really good touch – around the basket, it's very difficult if you don't have someone 6'4 or taller to defend that."
Tennessee made it a point to find Cain inside – Shekinna Stricklen made two perfect entry passes – and the Lady Vols played as if they had been injected with energy at halftime. A lackluster effort, especially on defense, for the first 20 minutes turned into a track meet when Tennessee retook the court.
"They were afraid not to," Summitt said. "If you had been in that locker room you'd have been afraid. I did everything but throw something. I'm not going to tolerate that. Ms. (Joan) Cronan would need to fire me if I did that. … I lit into everybody at halftime."
When Johnson reentered the game in the second half, she continued what Cain had started inside. Summitt had started her team speech one-on-one with Johnson as they walked to the locker room at halftime.
"I told her, ‘You're out of the lineup. You're not going to be starting in the second half. We have to depend on you. You are the best athlete on our team,' " Summitt said. "She's got to get in the gym more, and I think she's starting to understand that. She averages no more than two or three days a week.
"We've got Pratt Pavilion and we've got Thompson-Boling. It's not just Glory. It goes right down the line. We need people to be invested if they want to win a championship and I'm going to stay on it. She did a great job. She responded very well. I didn't know exactly how she would respond, but she is a competitor, and she responded in a very positive way for her and for her team."
Johnson was 1-2 from the field before halftime with two rebounds against a team that had no way to match her athleticism – one player curled up and covered her head after trying to take a charge from Johnson that was whistled correctly as a block, and Johnson managed to rebound her own missed shot while reaching behind her while still airborne.
"Just telling me that I needed to be here for my team and I needed to show up and basically what she knew I was capable of, I wasn't doing," Johnson said of the conversation with her coach. "I know my team relies on me to do a lot of things and missing free throws and not pulling rebounds is not one of them."
Johnson finished with 15 points on 5-8 shooting, six rebounds and two assists. One of those assists was a pass out of the post to Angie Bjorklund for the three-pointer that tied the senior sharpshooter with former Lady Vol Shanna Zolman for career treys at Tennessee with 266.
"Angie Bjorklund had four three pointers, which tied Shanna Zolman's record, so obviously that's going to be broken when we get back," Summitt said.
Tennessee's next game is Dec. 30 against Rutgers after the Christmas break. Bjorklund wasn't aware until after the game that she was 4-6 from behind the arc and had tied the all-time record.
"I've always looked up to Shanna, and I have a lot of respect for her," said Bjorklund, who wears No. 5 as Zolman, now Shanna Crossley, did. "So, just to be tied with her right now is a huge honor, and we'll see what happens next game. I had no idea I tied it."
Another milestone was set in the game when Stricklen hit a stick-back and one of two free throws in the first half to give her 1,000 points for her career. She finished with seven points, eight rebounds and three assists – two of which came from pinpoint post entry passes to Cain to open the second half.
"Obviously, she's done a lot of good things," Summitt said of the junior who has played four positions at Tennessee from point guard to power forward.
In this game Stricklen also did something she usually doesn't – foul. Tennessee played quite a bit of man defense, and ETSU drove on her to get to the basket.
"She fouled way too much tonight," Summitt said. "She's the kind of player you really have to stay on her to play low and to be aggressive. While I didn't like the fouls she got I liked the fact she was aggressive in getting paint points."
Summitt was also happy to see aggression from the rest of her team after the way the game opened.
"I thought we started really slow," Summitt said. "They were tough, aggressive. They had their way early on. We were in a real battle. They're extremely well coached. I had no doubt about that. They were tough minded. They were aggressive, and they attacked the paint. They passed the ball well, too."
Kemp graciously acknowledged Summitt's remarks about her team.
"That's an honor," Kemp said. "I don't know how well coached but we do the best we can. We try to just play hard and compete every night we step on the court."
The Lady Bucs went right at Tennessee when they took the court and hunted points in the paint.
"I think something that benefited us was that we ball faked and got them in the air and they always jump to the ball, so we had open shots to put up," said Latisha Belcher, who was 4-8 from the floor.
"I think just simple things that we did work on in practice – ball handling, hitting open jump shots and creating space to get our own shots," said ETSU's Gwen Washington, who had 10 points and nine boards, on the team's success to start the game. "I think we do that really well since we have a lot of talent on our team, everybody can do it, so that's how we get some baskets."
Kemp's advice at halftime not to succumb to Tennessee's second half run may have not come to fruition but her players followed her words to open the game and didn't let the big stage of Tennessee take them out of their game plan.
"The starters have played in the spotlight," Kemp said. "They have been to North Carolina, been to Ohio State, previously we have been to the NCAAs three years straight, so we have some people who have played in front of – not this many I don't think – but they've played in front of large crowds. I think that really helped us keep our composure at the beginning of the game.
"The other thing I said is, ‘Don't look in the stands. It's 94 feet. We keep our focus on the court and not worry about who's up in the stands.' "
"It's always a great opportunity to play against a tremendous team like Tennessee," Kemp added. "We faced a few others prior – I guess that's not smart on my part as far as scheduling – but it is a great opportunity for ETSU. It has been a long time since we played Tennessee so we were excited and I think that showed the first half."
ETSU started out by hitting shots – the Lady Bucs were near 43 percent to open the game – but the Lady Vols extended the defense on the perimeter and Cain redirected driving lanes and the ball when a shot was lofted in front of her.
"We came out and did three of the four things that I told them we had to do and that was be smart, play hard and take care of the basketball," Kemp said. "The fourth one unfortunately we were not able to accomplish and that was knock down open shots. I was still proud that we were right there at the end of the first half."
The score at halftime was 46-32 but less than six minutes into the game Tennessee had just a 14-11 lead at the 14:27 mark of the first half. ETSU was scoring at the rim with relative ease, and Summitt called a timeout to specifically discuss defense, or lack thereof to that point.
"They didn't come in here with the level of respect that they should have," Summitt said. "You've got to respect every opponent. Everybody has got one foot out the door at that point in time (to head home). Halftime was really necessary."
Tennessee was able to score in bunches before the break, and would have had an even larger lead if not for the 11-21 performance from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes. Sophomore Taber Spani had her own highlight reel with a drive after grabbing a defensive rebound, dribbling down court, splitting two defenders and flipping in a left-handed layup.
She also tried a lob to Johnson that settled through the net for a three-pointer, giving Tennessee a 34-23 lead with 6:34 to play in the first half and bringing a smile to the face of the team and Summitt.
That was followed by freshman Lauren Avant driving to the basket and also flipping in a left-handed layup for a 36-25 lead with 6:05 left before the break.
Cain was effective on the defensive end as a swat set up a transition basket with freshman Meighan Simmons grabbing the ball and passing inside to Kamiko Williams for a 43-29 lead with 1:50 left in the first half.
ETSU's Shawn Randall drained a long three – she was closer to the sideline than the arc – but Williams got it back on Tennessee's next trip down the floor for a 46-32 with 1:25 left before the halftime buzzer.
It wasn't enough to simmer down Summitt, especially the 32 points scored by the Lady Bucs.
"Halftime was…it wasn't pretty," Bjorklund said. "She definitely got on us, which we needed it. Before she even came in, we were getting on each other, though. She basically said we didn't come out with any energy and that the second half needed to be a completely different game. We definitely took that to heart and went out and did that."
The players always have a few minutes to meet among themselves before the coaches talk, and they essentially pointed to the same flaws.
"Just a lack of energy," Bjorklund said. "Our defensive intensity was not there. We weren't playing together. We weren't getting the ball inside where our strength was. Just a bunch of little stuff, but I thought after halftime we made sure it was a different story."
That was certainly the case as Tennessee made 16 of its first 19 shots and had doubled the halftime lead to 28 points, 68-40, with 13:33 to play on a Bjorklund layup from a Johnson assist. Johnson got the defensive board and went nearly the length of the court before bouncing a no-look pass to Bjorklund.
Prior to that play Alicia Manning had tallied back-to-back assists by hitting Spani and Johnson in transition for a jumper and layup and then Spani had found Bjorklund for a three. When Johnson got a steal at the top of the press and went to the rim for a 70-40 lead with 13:17 left, the flipped script from one half to the other was complete.
"After getting chewed out at halftime everyone was like, ‘Stay positive, get up, play your game,' " Johnson said. "After that we were just talking to each other and staying positive, high fives … a lot of positive energy. We work well off positive energy."
Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood has referred to unfocused performances in games right before Christmas as hearing "Jingle Bells." Johnson said she thought the team just started flat.
"I think we were just lacking energy," Johnson said. "If that was the case, we'd be really excited to finish the game and get off the floor, but I think we just need a lot more energy at the beginning of the game. We need to start talking to each other and getting each other excited while we're on the floor. That wasn't there at the beginning of the game. Second half we picked it up a lot."
Tennessee improved in every category in the second half, including shooting percentage (44.1 percent to 60.0 percent), points in the paint (18 to 24); points off turnovers (11 to 15); fast break points (four to 14) and free throw percentage (52.4 percent to 83.3 percent).
Johnson's improved play sparked the resurgence on both ends.
"Sometimes when I know that I'm not doing what I'm capable of I'm used to (the criticism), and I know that I have to bounce back and take it as constructive criticism instead of taking it negatively," Johnson said. "My team relies on me, so I've got to show up. No matter what I know I have to show up and bring something. When I'm not helping my teammates out any that shows that I need to pick it up."
After ETSU scored on a layup by Destiny Mitchell at the 11:25 mark, Tennessee in-bounded and answered with a Johnson layup on an assist from Simmons six seconds later at the 11:19 mark for a 79-44 lead. The fast pace is the style of play preferred by Summitt.
"Absolutely, up-and-down, being aggressive," Summitt said. "We've got a deep bench, and we can rotate a lot of players as long as they're coming in and maintaining what we need to do, whether it's offense, defense, boards. But we picked it up (in the second half)."
Summitt went deep into her bench by playing 11 of 13 players – Vicki Baugh rested her knee while Alyssia Brewer is being evaluated in practice post-Achilles tendon surgery and working on conditioning issues – and for the last five minutes had Spani at center, Manning at power forward, and Avant, Briana Bass and Sydney Smallbone on the perimeter.
Spani had one more highlight reel shot when she made a direct cut to the basket from the line, received a flip pass from Manning and hit a two-handed shot behind her head as she turned to avoid the defender, plus the foul, for a 97-53 lead with 1:59 left.
Manning hit two free throws for a 99-53 lead with 59 seconds left and the sparse crowd remaining – temperatures dropped during the evening with a forecast of snow, which causes people to flock to grocery stores and then head home in East Tennessee – stirred again, hoping for triple digits on the scoreboard.
Avant got a held ball with possession to Tennessee with 46 seconds left – too much time to dribble out the clock – and Spani left the center position and received a pass behind the arc, where she buried a three with 34 seconds left for the final 102-53 outcome, much to the delight of the fans. It was the 75th 100-point game in program history. The win also was the 25th consecutive one at home.
A look at the box score would not indicate the success that the Lady Bucs had at times and how the team can use this game going forward in the season.
"At the end of the game we were in the locker room, that's the one thing I said to them," Kemp said. "I can't wait to get back home and watch the tape because I think we did a lot of good things against one of the best teams in the country. So if we can continue to build on that then we can be really successful when we get into conference play.
"I felt like as I said earlier we took care of the basketball. Twenty turnovers for the game against a team that pressures like Tennessee I think is great for us because we have had many, many more previously so I was proud of that. We can do a little bit better with our communication and our spacing on our offense, but overall I was pretty happy with the majority of the ballgame."
The Lady Bucs, which arrived with a squad of cheerleaders from nearby Johnson City, Tenn., also weren't at all cowed by the crowd or setting.
"Honestly I like playing ranked teams because I like the spotlight for our team," Washington said. "Even though Tennessee is the home team, the crowd does get our team into it, too. I just like playing in big crowds. It doesn't make us nervous or anything like that."
Washington and Williams had 10 points each for ETSU with Belcher adding nine, Tara Davis chipping in with seven and Randall tallying six – the three launched from very long range and three free throws.
ETSU shot 30.2 percent overall (19-63), 19.0 percent from behind the arc (4-21) and 64.7 percent from the line (11-17). The Lady Bucs had 11 assists, four steals, two blocks and 20 turnovers.
Tennessee had six players in double figures led by Bjorklund's 16 points on 6-10 shooting, including the four 3-pointers. Johnson and Spani added 15 points each with Spani getting the double-double with a career-high 12 rebounds. Simmons added 13 points, her 13th consecutive game with double-digit scoring, Cain tallied 12 points and also had a double-double with 12 boards, and Manning, on the strength of a 7-8 stat from the line, chipped in with 11 points and six boards.
Tennessee shot 52.2 percent overall (36-69), 42.9 percent from long range (9-21) and 63.6 percent from the line (21-33). The Lady Vols dominated the boards, 53-34 and had seven steals and five blocks. Tennessee had 19 assists – four players, Stricklen, Bjorklund, Spani and Manning had three each – and 12 turnovers.
The Lady Vols now head home for the holidays and four days off. The second half performance likely meant Summitt wouldn't fret too much as she is wont to do during a break, but instead relax some in her hometown.
"I'll enjoy Christmas," Summitt said. "Hazel (her mother, Hazel Head) is a great cook. I can't wait to get to Henrietta."
Cain, who took two tumbles to the court, smiled when asked if she was looking forward to some rest at home.
"Yes, definitely," Cain said.
Cain will make the short trip to Atlanta. Bjorklund has to get to Spokane Valley, Wash. The senior already knew what had to happen when the team returned to practice Monday.
"It just goes to show if we want to be a Final Four team we have to bring the intensity and energy and get each other going every single possession, not just the ones we want to," Bjorklund said.
"Not one player can take a possession off or a practice off, so I think everyone will have a nice break, but be ready to work when we come back."
VIDEO COVERAGE: Post-game video coverage of Tennessee and ETSU coaches and players.
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt
Lady Vol players Angie Bjorklund, Glory Johnson and Kelley Cain
ETSU Coach Karen Kemp and players Gwen Washington and Latisha Belcher