Lady Vols' depth overwhelms Alabama

Glory Johnson got a standing ovation from the crowd when she left the court less than midway through the second half – her work done early in the 110-45 win over Alabama – and a hug from Kelley Cain, who checked out soon after halftime, and the two sat on the floor at the end of the bench and watched their teammates finish a dominating SEC win with Pat Summitt using every healthy player.

Tennessee (14-2, 2-0) was expected to beat Alabama (11-4, 0-2) – Thursday was the Lady Vols' 37th consecutive win in the series – but even the notoriously-difficult-to-please Pat Summitt had nothing but kudos for her team in her post-game press conference after watching her starters and bench maintain offensive efficiency and defensive focus.

"Obviously, I thought we did a lot of good things," Summitt said. "We got to play a lot of people, and you learn a lot when you have that opportunity. So just excited about how our bench played.

"Our bench outscored them, 50-21, which is huge, just having that depth and people coming in and staying very fresh and very committed."

Summitt had preached ball security in the scouting session, so she was pleased with that stat line, too.

"We had only nine turnovers, so ball security was really good," Summitt said. "We did a lot of good things, and Angie Bjorklund obviously was terrific. She did a tremendous job, Overall, I am just really glad that we could play everybody off the bench, and I think we got some quality minutes out of a lot of players."

Summitt played everyone except Vicki Baugh (knee) and Alyssia Brewer (Achilles tendon), who were held out because of nagging injury issues – though both practiced Wednesday – and didn't have any of the 11 in the box score log more than 22 minutes. Every player scored at least three points and had at least one board.

For the final 10 minutes of the second half, 6'1 Alicia Manning and 5'11 Kamiko Williams played in the paint with 5'2 Briana Bass at point guard and 5'10 Sydney Smallbone and 5'9 Lauren Avant on the wings, turning one of the tallest teams in the country into one of the smallest.

Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson affirmed what LSU Coach Van Chancellor said after the LSU game – Tennessee is one of the deepest teams in the country and that was on display before 12,897 appreciative fans at Thompson-Boling Arena who ignored snow warnings for the valley and headed to campus.

"Absolutely, absolutely," Hudson said. "And not only a deep team, but they are playing so well together right now. When you look at what Tennessee is doing inside and outside and the combination of people they can put in the basketball game, they are playing so well together right now."

That was evident by the Lady Vols' 23 assists – eight players had at least one – on 35 made baskets despite the assorted combinations that Summitt used in both halves.

"Twenty-three assists, I love that, because that just tells us that we're sharing the ball," Summitt said. "We had great ball movement and great player movement. Obviously if we can continue to have that type of that number, it's just going to tell us that we're going to be a much better team."

Freshman Meighan Simmons led Tennessee with 11 assists – she got the double-double with 15 points – and set a freshman mark, passing Jody Adams, who twice had nine helpers in the 1989-90 season as a first-year player, and Pam Marr, who also had nine in one game in 1983.

"Meighan had 11, and that was great to see out of her," Summitt said. "She is such a competitor, and what I've encouraged her to do is play great defense, because we know she can score, and distribute the ball. She responded very well."

In the first game after not scoring a point against LSU, Bjorklund didn't miss, going 5-5 overall, 4-4 from long range and 2-2 from the line for 16 points in 21 minutes of play with all of her scoring coming in the first half.

"Maybe she learned a lesson," Summitt said. "When she's on, she's one of the best shooters that we've had in this program. From that LSU game, I came in and watched tape with her and watched it with Taber (Spani) and watched it with Kamiko (Williams).

"She was rushing things. What Angie has to understand and I think she's starting to really understand this one thing is that she's got to work hard, we've got to set screens for her. She can't just catch and shoot because everyone knows that she's the best shooter on our team game in and game out.

"With that being said I think she knows she has to work harder, and we have to do a better job of running some things to her to come off of screens and slips. She can definitely score when she has a little bit of room, but she needs that space."

In last Sunday's game against LSU, the Lady Tigers didn't double on Kelley Cain – they played her one-on-one and also devoted defenders to the perimeter shooters – while Alabama collapsed into the paint on Cain. That left Bjorklund and Taber Spani some nice looks outside.

"I think the LSU game, our posts were doing great, and we just kept getting them the ball," Bjorklund said. "After that game I just had to work on getting my shot up quicker, and Taber and I have been in the gym every day with Mickie (DeMoss) and Holly (Warlick) getting shots up, working on getting our shot up quicker and not hesitating.

"I thought that really paid off. Practice is what gets it done."

It was also a case of what a difference a game makes and the sharpshooters both focusing on their offense.

"I think it's a mix of both because, obviously, (against) LSU our post game was dominant, and so we're not going to go away from it when they're scoring every time they get the ball," Spani said. "It's kind of a mix. It's kind of an every game thing, what they want to take away, what they want to decide, double-down or not.

"Angie came out on fire. Angie and I have been doing a lot of extra shooting just this week with the coaches."

Cain started inside with Shekinna Stricklen, who left the game for good less than three minutes into the second half after banging her right elbow after falling along the baseline on a fast-break attempt. Stricklen returned to the bench with the elbow encased in ice.

"I think she is going to be fine," Summitt said.

Cain departed a few seconds later – replaced by Glory Johnson, who arrived early off the bench in both halves – and spent the rest of the game packed in ice for her hip and lower back and watched the action from her usual spot on the floor at the end of the bench so she can stay stretched out.

Cain was 3-4 for six points with six rebounds and three blocks in 17 minutes. She also ran the floor well, beating everyone down the court after Alabama made a deep three and scoring at the rim in the first half for a 26-9 lead with 11:15 left before halftime.

"Kelley's so dominant, and when she plays dominant, it helps the team so much," Johnson said. "She needs to play big all the time. Whenever you throw the ball in you can trust that Kelley is at least going to get it up there. When she plays big, it helps our team, and we just need her to keep doing that.

"Same thing for any post player. If you're going to be in the paint you have to go up strong."

The block of the game belonged to Johnson, who tomahawked the ball straight down in the second half much to the delight of her fellow posts on the bench. That volleyball spike even got Cain off the floor to celebrate.

Johnson, for the third game in a row, came off the bench and played with energy and composure on both ends.

"I was hoping that Glory Johnson was going to stay on the bench," Hudson joked.

Johnson led the team with 19 points on 6-8 shooting overall and 7-9 from the line and also added six rebounds, none more impressive than the offensive board off a teammate's missed 3-pointer that she snared while landing behind the basket and then spun around and hit the reverse layup in the second half for a 78-31 lead with 13:14 to play.

"Whenever I get on the court if my team needs me to score, I score. If they need me to rebound, I rebound. Play defense, I play defense," Johnson said. "It's really whatever Pat asks me to do, I do it, and if we need help scoring – lately here scoring has been where I've been (contributing) – and I love rebounding."

"And blocking," Spani said. "That block was awesome."

"I don't normally block," Johnson said.

"That was times five," Spani said.

The block, which also brought the crowd to its feet, came right after Johnson passed the ball into a turnover while in-bounding the ball, and she wanted to atone for the mistake, even though the Lady Vols were ahead, 70-28, with 16:18 left to play.

"I did, really bad," Johnson said. "Whenever anyone turns it over, I think their first mentality should be get the ball back for your team. That's what I was thinking. I don't normally block shots because I don't like getting fouls, but this time I had to get the ball back."

That type of tenacity, even though Tennessee led by 42 points at the time, was on display throughout the game.

"This is probably the closest full 40-minute game that we played our hardest and it showed," Johnson said.

Summitt had nothing to complain about after the game ended in her post-game remarks, but Johnson did. She didn't like the 54-49 rebounding stat because she thought the Lady Vols' margin should have been greater.

Hudson didn't see anything wrong with Tennessee.

"Well, we opened up with a team that was really ready to play basketball," Hudson said. "They played well, got off to a great start and we got off to a terrible start. Tennessee was like one of those songs, ‘Mama said there would be days like this.' Everybody Tennessee put in the game played well and we kind of struggled a little bit shooting the basketball.

"I thought we had some good looks but couldn't make them and Coach Summitt did a good job and she did substitutions there in the second half but everybody she put in made three pointers and shot the basketball. When you run into a team that is playing that well and you are not playing very well you are probably going to have a 110-45 game."

Alabama actually led once in the game when Ericka Russell hit a three-pointer after Bjorklund had nailed a 16-footer off an in-bounds play for Tennessee. The 3-2 score in favor of the Crimson Tide at the 18:57 mark of the first half lasted 12 seconds after Simmons went coast to coast for a 4-3 lead at the 18:45 mark, the beginning of a 22-0 run until Alabama finally scored again on a three from Jasmine Robinson at the 11:59 mark. By that time, the Lady Vols led 24-6 and were scoring inside and out.

The Crimson Tide has been a pressing team this season, but Tennessee knew if it took care of the ball – and the Lady Vols did with just nine turnovers for the game – it could score in early offense.

The Lady Vols beat the pressure and beat the Alabama defenders down the court, getting open looks at the rim and for the shooters.

"We probably didn't play (the press) as much because we tried to pressure early and Tennessee beat the press and they made every shot after they beat the press," Hudson said. "It's not just beating the press; it's what you do after you beat the press. I think that's the biggest difference.

"A lot of teams can beat our press and they will go down and we want them to shoot a quick shot actually because that is part of the way we want to play. But if (they) make all the quick shots it is kind of hard to keep pressing and playing that way."

By the second media timeout at the 11:39 mark of the first half Tennessee led 24-6, had eight assists on 10 baskets and was shooting 62.5 percent to 14.3 percent for Alabama.

The Lady Vols tallied 58 points in the first half – a season high – and used 10 players with two in double figures by the break. They got points in a variety of ways and outscored Alabama in the paint, 20-2. Tennessee scored in transition, off turnovers, inside, outside and off the bench.

Simmons had nine assists by halftime as she pushed tempo and repeatedly found open teammates. Stricklen posted up, hit the turn-around shot and was fouled, and Spani, who could have stepped back and hit a three, instead shot-faked and drove to the rim.

"Coming from high school, my last year I became a main 3-point shooter and was really looking for that shot," Spani said. "Before that I was looking to drive. Now I'm just kind of trying to do both. The harder you can be to guard and if you can do all three, take it to the hoop or shooter or do a little pull-up, that's harder to guard. So just trying to work and do whatever I can to help the team."

That theme was apparent throughout the game and the second half started much as the first half ended. The same starters took the floor – though Cain was done less than four minutes into the second half – and Summitt didn't take long to rotate in bench players.

"Our depth was obviously glaring in this particular game and really, really pleased to be able to play everyone off the bench except for the two players that have some injury issues," Summitt said. "Overall, I'm pleased that we could get that many reps in for that many players. That should give them some confidence as well."

Spani endorsed the coach's conclusion of confidence and added the teamwork angle.

"Absolutely," Spani said. "Whenever we play this well as a team, and really everyone who went in the game did some great things. I think that boosts everyone's confidence. Right now we're just playing as a team so well. I think that's what makes it really fun.

"We're moving the ball – 23 assists is awesome – and we're playing inside out. I think as a team, we were hitting on all cylinders. That's just fun, as a player, that's just fun to be a part of."

Spani closed out Tennessee's scoring in the first half with two free throws and opened it in the second half with a drive and reverse layup for a 60-22 lead with 19:39 to play. Spani found Simmons behind the arc for a 63-24 lead and then Simmons returned the favor and Spani connected on an 18-footer for a 65-24 lead with 18:32 left.

Johnson got to the basket and was fouled, making both the layup and free throw and then set a screen in the open floor for Simmons, who cut by her and went straight to the rim for a 70-28 lead with 16:18 left.

The Lady Vols, despite heavy substitutions, showed no signs of slowing down, even when Summitt had an entirely new set of five players on the court.

"It's been a long time since we had that, and it's something that I think they really thrive on because they know that it's going to be very competitive," Summitt said. "Therefore, our practices are more competitive and then our games are more competitive."

Johnson's work was done for the night after she got clobbered on a breakaway layup – Kaneisha Horn was called for the intentional foul – and hit one of two shots for a 79-31 lead with 12:06 left to play. Johnson had taken several hard tumbles in the game, and Summitt brought her to the sideline with Cain.

It didn't slow down the scoring as Manning hit a five-footer in the paint and Simmons connected on a three for an 84-33 lead with 10:40 to play. By the 10:24 mark, Summitt had Manning, Williams, Bass, Avant and Smallbone on the floor to finish out the game. Despite going deep into the bench, the lead went from 51 points to the final 65-point margin.

The crowd that remained stayed energized and erupted when Smallbone connected on a three-pointer on an assist from Williams for a 100-42 lead with 5:24 to play.

Summitt also used the way the game unfolded to get a look at the defense of players who hadn't logged many minutes this season, especially Avant, who was playing in just the fourth game of her career.

"I wanted to stay in our man to man and in our five (switching) defense, because I wanted us to have to talk and work," Summitt said. "I thought we had great communication. Obviously we went to some zone but that was more to slow down and finish out the game."

Manning finished the scoring for Tennessee at the line with five three throws and the final 110-45 score.

Tennessee's 110 points were the most since scoring 136 against Puerto Rico Mayaguez on Nov. 29, 2002. It was also the most points scored against an SEC team since the 119 rung up against Ole Miss on Feb. 8, 2001.

"It is exciting just knowing you can rely on any one of your teammates to get the job done," Johnson said. "Really, she can play anyone, and the lead's not going to go down. Anybody can go out there and play strong defense and pull rebounds."

Alabama was led by Tierney Jenkins with 11 points and seven rebounds. Robinson connected on two 3-pointers and added 10 points, and Russell chipped in with nine points. Alabama shot 19.5 percent (16-82) overall, 19.0 percent (4-21) behind the arc and 75.0 percent (9-12) from the line. The Crimson Tide had six assists, 17 turnovers, four blocks and four steals.

"This is a game where we just have to move on," Hudson said. "We talked to the team right after the game about how this game right here will tell us a lot about ourselves and how we prepare to play our next game."

Jenkins had to contend inside with the players Tennessee sent into the paint, including Cain, Stricklen, Johnson and Manning, and she fouled out with 8:18 left in the game.

"Tierney fought hard and played hard all year for us and we know our size is a little issue for us," Hudson said. "I think she's competed all year and battled, but when you run into a team that is playing well and bringing so many people off the bench, and you get into a situation where they are very athletic it is kind of tough on Tierney to battle all those people."

Tennessee had five players in double figures – three starters and two off the bench – led by Johnson's 19 points. Bjorklund tallied 16 points while Simmons and Spani added 15 each with Manning chipping in with 11 points and eight boards. Simmons became the 10th Lady Vol to get a double-double with points and assists.

Tennessee shot 53.0 percent (35-66) overall, 50.0 percent (9-18) from long range and 83.8 percent (31-37) from the line. The Lady Vols had 23 assists, nine turnovers, five steals and a season-best 12 blocks. Williams' four blocks and nine boards were career highs. She also added seven points.

Jenkins indicated the outcome was decided before tipoff.

"I just don't think we were mentally prepared," Jenkins said. "A lot of us are kind of young and we kind of looked at the name of the jersey and the court. We are playing against Pat Summitt and some of the freshmen were talking about that before and they were looking at the banners, kind of like they were in awe, instead of coming out and playing.

"As a team we looked at the team on the jersey and were kind of like, ‘Well, maybe we're not expected to win,' and that is how we played."

VIDEO COVERAGE: Videos of post-game press conferences.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt

Lady Vol players Glory Johnson, Taber Spani and Angie Bjorklund

Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson and player Tierney Jenkins

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