Lady Vols win rain-shortened game

The Lady Vols stayed perfect in the SEC with one game to go – Senior Day at home this Sunday against LSU – with a 66-39 win that won't be remembered so much for the outcome as the circumstances, as the game was called with a little more than five minutes to play because of rain pouring onto the court from the roof after storms passed through Oxford.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt and Ole Miss Coach Renee Ladner talked at the scorer's table while their players waited on the benches as calls were made to the SEC to determine the options. After a 20-minute delay the decision was made to call the game with 5:24 left because of concerns for player safety.

Alicia Manning had secured a defensive rebound after Ole Miss' Shae Nelson missed a second free throw – her first made free throw was the final point of the truncated game – and all the players were headed down court on the fast break when Ole Miss' Kenyotta Jenkins tumbled to the court as she ran through the water, which had started to fall during the free throws.

Tennessee Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss stood on the sideline and immediately pointed to the area of the now-wet court, and officials halted play.

Brian Russell, an assistant director of event operations at Ole Miss, told the Associated Press that high winds during the storms caused rain to come in sideways through air vents in the roof of the Tad Smith Coliseum.

A large trash can and towels were brought to center court in an attempt to soak up the water, but court conditions were deemed unsafe because of the amount of rain that flowed in from the roof of the "Tad Pad."

Pat Summitt said on her post-game radio show with Mickey Dearstone that a rain-shortened game was a career-first in her nearly four decades in women's college basketball. The Lady Vols played an outdoor game in the chilly desert air against Arizona State in 2000, but rain affecting an indoor game is rare to say the least.

"I've never seen anything like it," Summitt said. "All of a sudden it starts raining. I was like, ‘What are we going to do?' Because you don't want anybody to get hurt.

"Renee and I talked about it and the officials talked about it and called Sally (Bell, the SEC coordinator of women's basketball officials) just to make sure that's what the rules would state. It took us a little bit of time, but I didn't want anybody to get hurt on anybody's team. It was probably the best thing to do."

Ladner joked about it in her post-game remarks.

"I would probably have ordered it a little sooner if I had thought it would have helped us out a little," Ladner said. "It's strange. It's bizarre. But things happen."

Tennessee has had a game interrupted already this season. Last November in the Virgin Islands the repeated loss of electricity because of storms caused the players to have to wait for the lights to warm up to resume play against Georgia Tech. In that case the game was eventually finished.

As in that game, the Lady Vols passed the time by dancing to piped-in music.

Glory Johnson, who was selected as the player of the game, also said she had never experienced a rain delay in basketball. The severe weather was outside with Johnson and the other post players bringing a quiet fury on the inside.

Johnson was 7-10 from the field, Alyssia Brewer was 2-3, and Vicki Baugh was 4-4, as the trio, in the absence of Kelley Cain, who didn't make the trip to rest a sore hip, combined for 34 points.

"We've been working with Dean," Johnson said, referring to Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood. "Dean helps us out. He says if we give the game credit, we'll get it back. If we go to work out of practice then it will show in our games."

Tennessee dominated on the boards, too, with Johnson grabbing nine, and Baugh collecting five. Shekinna Stricklen and Alicia Manning, who both played inside and out, had six each. Taber Spani tallied four boards. As a team, the Lady Vols dominated the glass, 43-15, over Ole Miss,

"That's what we tried to do," Johnson said on the post-game show. "We tried to crash the boards as hard as we can."

Tennessee (27-2, 15-0) went on an early scoring run to put the game against Ole Miss (10-17, 3-12) away early as the Lady Vols used 10 players in the first half to create separation.

"Tennessee is a better team," Ladner said. "We generally start out behind in games and against a team like Tennessee you have to be able to score with them."

Brewer accounted for the game's first four points on two assisted baskets – aided by Spani and Johnson – at the rim and Johnson hit a turn-around jumper for a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

After Stricklen was fouled on the floor while getting an offensive board, she played inside-out catch with Johnson, who allowed Stricklen time to reposition behind the arc and when the double team came, Johnson fired out to Stricklen, who buried the three for a 9-0 lead at the 16:50 mark of the first half.

Baugh entered for Brewer at the 16:46 mark and immediately went to work. Tennessee increased its lead to 14-5 after Johnson got a steal and Spani scooped up the loose ball for a layup and Stricklen connected on a three.

On Tennessee's next possession, Baugh got the ball at the free throw line and her defender – who likely had seen her drives in the last game – backed off to protect the basket. Baugh swished the 15-footer for a 16-5 lead and followed that with a bank shot off the bounce for an 18-5 lead with 12:40 left before halftime.

Summitt inserted Angie Bjorklund into the game at the 11:07 mark and then Alicia Manning for Baugh, who picked up her second foul with 10:01 left in the first half.

"She was a little frustrated tonight when she came out and I told her, ‘You've just got to go in and do the best that you can do. If you make a mistake or your teammates, if they can't handle your (passes), you can't show that,' " Summitt said. "She responded well."

Baugh did indeed. She tallied 12 points in 14 minutes of play for the game.

"She is (getting better)," Summitt said. "I think she has gained a lot more confidence."

Despite the use of 10 players in the first half – with Manning and Stricklen holding down the paint late in the first half – the Lady Vols kept pouring in points.

Meighan Simmons got a layup off a Manning steal, Manning scored on a jumper, Johnson got a putback off a Simmons miss, and then Simmons buried a shot from the corner for a 34-12 lead. Manning stole the ball back and finished the possession with a drive for a 36-12 lead with 5:35 left before the break.

"We tried to start off a lot stronger because the energy has been slow (in some past games)," Johnson said. "We tried to play a 40-minute game but 35 minutes is fine. We just tried to play hard and go strong the whole game."

Tennessee did hit a mini-drought in the first half after Ole Miss deployed a trapping zone and while the Lady Vols got some open looks, they misfired. Tennessee went nearly four minutes between field goals before Stricklen buried an NBA-range three for a 40-19 lead with 1:21 left in the first half.

Manning was fouled with 30 seconds left and made one of two attempts, and Johnson rebounded a missed Stricklen three, got fouled and made both free throws with 19.5 seconds left for the 43-22 halftime lead.

Johnson and Stricklen both had 10 points by the break, and the Lady Vols led 24-11 on the boards with 10 coming on the offensive end. Manning had chipped in with five points and three rebounds off the bench.

"Initially, I thought we weren't as explosive, but we had a lot of good play off the bench, and we wanted to get that done," Summitt said of a game that Tennessee took control of within the first five minutes.

Tennessee started the second half with a turnover – the Lady Vols had 15 for the game, though it's partially explained by the various combos on the floor and working in players late in the season who have been injured – but followed that with a scoring flurry as Simmons found Johnson inside, Spani connected along the baseline and Stricklen connected with Johnson in transition for a 49-29 lead with 17:04 left.

Ole Miss cut the lead to 49-32 with another three, but Tennessee extended the lead to 53-35 after Simmons launched a long pass to Manning, who pumped fake and let the defense run by, and then hit the layup.

Baugh tallied four more points after getting fouled on an offensive board and hitting both free throws and then after losing the handle in transition, got the ball back and hit a floater in the lane for a 57-35 lead with 11:34 left.

Baugh added three more with an offensive board, layup and foul for a 60-38 lead with 9:55 left. Brewer joined the post fun with a high-low pass to Johnson for a 64-38 lead.

Johnson tried to punctuate the second half with a dunk on a breakaway but she lost the ball on the way up – she was plenty high enough – and missed.

"This time I thought I had it," Johnson said. "I couldn't palm it. A-Town told me it was dunk time as I was running past and I missed it. I've got to practice dribbling and gripping the ball. I've got to work on it."

Summitt laughed about it on her radio show.

"She tried to knock down that dunk," Summitt said. "I told her, ‘Just finger roll it.' She finger rolls it all the time (in practice)."

Bjorklund got the rebound and missed and Manning got that board and slipped between two defenders for a 66-38 lead. That would be the end of Tennessee's scoring as the rain arrived on the court less than two minutes later.

Johnson said the team discussed the importance of the game in the locker room because of the Lady Vols' goal to navigate the SEC with an undefeated record.

"Finish strong and finish the rest of our (regular) season like we want it to and then go on to the next step," Johnson said of that conversation.

Had the game's final five minutes been completed, Johnson likely would have completed the double-double with one more rebound.

"I just know that I go hard, and I try to go hard on the boards," Johnson said. "When I can rebound I can help my team out."

Summitt praised the play of Johnson on her post-game radio show. Johnson made her first six shots and all four free throw attempts and also had nine boards, four steals, three assists and no turnovers.

"I felt like Glory Johnson really did a great job inside," Summitt said.

Bjorklund was on the floor when the game was halted, and she had logged just seven minutes to that point. The senior likely would have finished the final five minutes, as the staff is trying to ease her back so as not to push the right foot too soon, but also get her ready for postseason. Bjorklund missed a month because of a foot injury.

"If Angie can at least get some minutes … because as we move forward she's a big-time coach and player," Summitt said.

Ole Miss was led by Valencia McFarland with 14 points and Shae Nelson with nine. The shorthanded Rebels were missing senior Kayla Melson – she missed her sixth game because of a concussion – and also are without freshman Pa'Sonna Hope, who suffered a knee injury.

Ole Miss shot 31.1 percent (14-45) overall, 33.3 percent (7-21) from behind the arc and 4-7 (57.1 percent) from the line. The Rebels had seven assists, 14 turnovers, seven steals and a block.

Tennessee was led by Johnson with 18 points and had three other players in double figures – Baugh with a season-best 12 points, Manning with 11 and Stricklen with 10.

The Lady Vols shot 52.1 percent (25-48) overall, 25.0 percent (4-16) from long range and 70.6 percent (12-17) from the stripe. Tennessee had 15 turnovers and 12 assists.

"The interior passing was really, really good, and I think it's the fact that we really have started to connect with each other," Summitt said. "It doesn't matter if we go deep off our bench, everyone is doing a better job of talking and connecting."

The Lady Vols tallied two blocks and 11 steals and owned the glass with a +28 margin.

"It always about defense and boards, especially now as we're getting ready to close out this season and try to have a new season coming up and be ready," Summitt said. "I think our team has really bought in to what we have to do and the communication is much better. Overall I just think the maturity level has taken us to a totally different league."

The last regular season game is Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern at Thompson-Boling Arena against LSU, the Lady Vols' foe to start conference play in Baton Rouge. It's the last obstacle to a perfect regular season in the SEC.

"We want to close it out at home," Summitt said. "Our fans are the greatest fans in the women's game. There is no question about that and hopefully they'll all be there to watch our seniors get their final due and recognition and then we've got to go take care of this LSU team.

"They are incredibly athletic. They pick you up. They'll play man to man. We've just got to take care of the basketball and take care of business."

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