Lady Vols head to SEC semifinals

NASHVILLE - Glory Johnson scored a career-high 25 points and caused three Gators to foul out trying to stop her and Tennessee recovered from its defensive lapses in both halves to win its first game of the SEC tourney over Florida, 92-75, before a orange-clad crowd at Bridgestone Arena

Tennessee, 29-2, will next face Georgia, 21-9, at 3 p.m. Central (ESPNU, Lady Vols Radio Network) for the right to play in the championship game on Sunday. Kentucky, 23-7, and Vanderbilt, 20-10, meet in the second semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Central.

Coach Pat Summitt wasn't particularly pleased with her team's uneven performance on defense - she had to play Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen extended minutes - and the Lady Vols went to a small ball approach after the Gators spread the floor, shot well and got to the paint against Tennessee's bigs.

"Obviously, you'll take a win anytime," Summitt said. "Thank goodness that we had Shekinna and Glory come to play. We were having a little bit of trouble off the bench, trying to find people that could knock down shots and defend."

"We started out strong," Johnson said. "Let up a little bit in the game. Whenever they made runs, it hit us hard. We need to work on playing a 40-minute game. We tried. We need to put it into effect.

"What we do in practice, we need to bring it over into the game. We'll be a lot more successful and make our coaches happy when we do that."

"If I ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," Summitt interjected to laughter.

Summitt certainly was happy with Johnson, who scored 25 points and also grabbed 11 rebounds.

Florida used three players to try to contain Johnson and all three fouled out of the game in the second half - Azania Stewart with 10:10 remaining, Jennifer George at the 9:48 mark and Ndidi Madu with 5:22 left in the game.

"A colossal beast," Tennessee junior forward Alyssia Brewer said.

"I said, ‘Glory, you just fouled another girl out?' " sophomore Kamiko Williams said. "I have never seen a game where one person did that. Never. Too quick, too athletic. She is just gifted in every aspect of basketball, and I am glad she is using that to help our team out because the people that she fouled out were giving us problems. It all worked out for the good."

"That may be a first," Summitt said when asked if she had ever seen one player get three others in foul trouble. "I think it would be. Attitude and toughness and aggressiveness. Relentless play."

"That was incredible," Vicki Baugh said. "I said that, too. Did Glory just foul out all of those players? She is very aggressive and she will keep fighting and has the ability to get you frustrated.

"She was definitely amazing. I saw an All-American player out there on that floor. Glory is a great post, very versatile and incredibly athletic and I don't think there are many people, if any, that can stop her."

"She's a player on a mission," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "She's playing within her game. She's playing athletic. When we need a rebound, she's coming out of nowhere and getting a rebound."

"She is just such a tremendous athlete, her strength and her vertical and just her attitude in general," Alicia Manning said. "Her Iron Will really shows on the court. She is battling every possession. We see that and it makes us want to battle just as hard as her."

Brewer, who is rarely at a loss for words, was stumped when asked how to guard Johnson.

"I actually couldn't tell you," Brewer said. "I am just glad Glory is on our team."

Kelley Cain grinned and said it's Johnson's constant movement that flusters opponents, especially the assorted directions that her limbs can take.

"And she's quick," Cain said. "They couldn't do anything but foul her."

Needless to say, Johnson's teammates were impressed with her performance.

"I can't take all the credit," Johnson said. "Being a post player, you have to get your touches from the guards."

Some of those touches came from missed shots by the guards. Of Johnson's 11 rebounds, six were on the offensive end and she shot 7-10 from the floor. After she left the game with 4:15 remaining and Tennessee ahead by 18 points, the camera found Johnson on the bench and she ducked behind Cain to get her post buddy some face time, too.

"Just having the camera on me, I wanted to get Kelley in the camera, too," Johnson said. "I kind of hid behind her. We joked about that a lot.

"I'm not trying to take all the credit. I have off games. There's times where I'm not hitting shots and not pulling rebounds. That's why I rely on my teammates. (Friday) they relied on me and Shekinna. I think we just kind of stepped up."

Cain saw her first action in three games after sitting out with a sore hip and lower back, chronic ailments she has dealt with all season. The 6'6 redshirt center played five minutes and grabbed two rebounds.

"I was psyched to at least finally touch the floor for a little bit," Cain said.

Freshman guard Lauren Avant also saw her first action since suffering a concussion on Feb. 13. She wasn't released to practice until Thursday and has logged time in just 14 of Tennessee's 32 games because of injury and illness this season. She was 3-4 from the line and also got two rebounds.

"I tried to get into the flow of the game and get my teammates into the flow of the game as well," Avant said. "I'm happy to be back. JMo (Jenny Moshak) worked with me, and the coaches have been really patient with me throughout all this. My teammates help me get mentally prepared for each game, and I just try to get mentally focused for each one as well."

The mood in Tennessee's locker room was subdued without any outward signs of celebration, though Manning was proudly showing her busted lip on the play that resulted in double fouls on Johnson and Stewart.

"I don't think there should be," Taber Spani said.

"Obviously it's going to be defense," Spani said when asked what needed to be different on Saturday. "That's not us. That's not Tennessee basketball. Physically we don't change. That's just our mindset."

The players, including Spani, were relaxed, though, as they lunched on soup and sandwiches and received their per diem cash, a major postseason perk.

The expectations for Tennessee are not wins in the quarterfinals - the Lady Vols last lost at that stage in 1993 - and Florida scoring 75 points when they managed just 46 and 39 in the previous two matchups didn't sit well with anyone.

"I was disappointed in us picking and choosing when we played hard," Summitt said. "I didn't think guard play was very good until Kamiko got in there and did some good things."

Williams logged 26 minutes and was a key factor in both halves for Tennessee as she settled the team down on offense at point guard and played stout defense.

Rookie point guard Meighan Simmons struggled in her first postseason game with five points on 2-6 shooting with three turnovers in 15 total minutes.

"She is just trying to do too much," Summitt said. "I need to watch some tape with her."

Simmons tweaked her right ankle again in the game and said it was tender but OK. Her psyche likely hurt worse afterwards, and she said postseason felt different than the regular season.

"It did," Simmons said. "It's something I wasn't expecting. As a freshman it's part of the process that you have to learn, and you have to be able to make the adjustment from regular season to postseason. I should have went from defense to offense instead of offense to defense."

Simmons has a junior class she can consult in that regard as they've been there, done that.

"They are a very big help," Simmons said. "Glory and Strick did an amazing job with leading us by example and having them and Angie out there as well it is a good shoulder to lean on.

"Just relax my mind. Talk to my teammates and focus on the things that I need to do and learn from the mistakes I made."

Manning smiled when she recalled her freshman season and the trial by fire that class endured.

"One of our quotes in practice the other day, Dean (Lockwood) was saying, there's a difference between being ready and being prepared," Manning said. "Meighan is prepared. She is a great player. She'll grow up a lot throughout the game. It's hard.

"I go back to my freshman year. You'll have games where it's not your best, and you've just got to learn from them. She knows we have her back, and we're going to help her with anything she needs."

Williams had her share of freshman adjustments to make, and the laidback sophomore can still get in Summitt's cross-hairs with her uneven play.

"Talking to my dad he was like, ‘Miko, just go out there and go play,' " Williams said. "Talking to Coach D (Daedra Charles-Furlow) during the course of the year I was like, ‘Man, Coach is always on me. I feel like I'm a freshman again.'

"She said, ‘Miko, things will be different. She is just trying to get you prepared.' And I see it now because she had me out there a lot, and I see that she does trust me. I am taking it in as a good thing and just try to keep doing better each and every game.

"Coach D told me, ‘If she stops talking to you then you're not playing.' I was like, ‘OK, you're right.' During the game she was frustrated with the team but she looked at me and was talking to me about it. I was like, ‘OK, I got you.'

"Before it was like, ‘Why is she yelling at me?' Now I can tell everybody else, ‘This is what Coach wants, and this is what we're going to do.' "

If anyone wants to know who Summitt trusts, wait until postseason, a remark that caused the head coach to smile and nod. Friday's game indicated she had a lot of trust in Williams.

"It reminded me of SEC last year when Miko came in the championship game and if we hadn't had her in that game who knows what would have ended up happening against Kentucky," Manning said.

"She brings that composure that we need out there. She sees the floor well. She provides an offensive threat for us, and she buckles down and plays defense. All of those are really key things, especially right now in postseason."

Manning is another player that Summitt will go to in postseason. Johnson wasn't always in that group a year ago and especially not in the NCAA tourney, but the junior has worked her way into that pantheon this season.

That was especially vital Friday as the other bigs struggled to keep Florida out of the paint in what was a yoyo game.

"Unfortunately it was, but Glory has been showing up to every game and she's been consistent," Brewer said. "The past few years you couldn't say that about her but now it's like a whole different demeanor in her. She's brought us here."

Johnson is not a true big but a slender post listed generously as 6'3. The three bigs, Brewer (Achilles tendon), Cain (hip, back) and Baugh (knee), are all in assorted stages of recovery and daily repair.

"I expect to continue to help my team on the court and finish strong," Baugh said. "This health thing is really frustrating. When I feel good, I do good. When I don't feel too good, I don't do too good.

"Right now I am just expecting myself to get over that hump, get to that feel-good point so that I can help my team excel."

Brewer logged 16 minutes and was 4-5 from the field for eight points and four rebounds.

"I felt like my old self in the beginning," Brewer said. "It's just being able to keep that level the whole entire time. I think each game is a jump, hop and a step for me."

Brewer opened the game by hitting her first three shots at the rim. Florida, however, was answering because of porous defense in the paint, and the Gators had a 13-9 lead at the 13:37 mark of the first half.

"There was no way that we should have let their guards get into the paint, but we did," Williams said. "We see that it's going to hurt us. We have to buckle down and play defense and that's going to be the key to us winning a championship."

"Our defense, especially in the first half, is what was hurting us," Manning said.

Tennessee held a slim two-point lead at halftime, 38-36, and was lucky to be ahead after the Gators shot 48.4 percent in the first half. Angie Bjorklund was 2-2 from the arc and Tennessee was 4-8 overall from long range compared to 2-6 for Florida.

Bjorklund's six points, Johnson's 10 and Stricklen's nine carried the Lady Vols in the first half.

Williams also was a difference maker as she logged 12 minutes before the break at point guard without a turnover.

"She was handling the ball on the press," Stricklen said. "Her defense was great. She stepped up when we really needed her."

Tennessee extended the lead to eight points, 44-36, at the 18:35 mark of the second half - forcing a Florida timeout - on six consecutive points by Johnson, aided by a Spani block and then a Stricklen steal.

"Glory is just fantastic," Florida Coach Amanda Butler said. "She's a very hard matchup for anyone."

"It was very disappointing because we knew they were going to come out at halftime and come out on a run," Florida's Deana Allen said. "When Glory was scoring back to back to back, it deflated us in a way. We knew we had to answer. When Coach called the timeout, we were trying to come back together and go on our run."

Jordan Jones hit a trey for Florida on the next possession after Florida got two offensive boards to keep the play alive.

"Sometimes we were getting beat to loose balls," Stricklen said. "They were outworking us sometimes. That shouldn't happen. They had a game (Thursday), and we had fresh legs."

Tennessee steadily built a lead and it was 56-42 on a Simmons layup after a coast-to-coast drive off the in-bounds pass with 13:33 to play. The Lady Vols extended it to 17 points, 63-46, on a Manning and-one layup with the free throw converted with 10:51 to play.

Tennessee's best lineup on both sides of the ball - players who would hit shots and get stops - in the second half was Williams, Bjorklund, Stricklen, Manning and Johnson.

After a Johnson steal and layup for an 80-62 lead with 4:18 remaining, Florida called timeout, and the crowd of 7,461 erupted.

Johnson exited with 4:15 to play, and Stricklen followed with 3:54 to play as both had logged 34 minutes. The Lady Vols should have been able to finish without them, but Florida got the lead to single digits, 83-74, less than two minutes later with 2:37 remaining.

The Gators fouled but Baugh and Avant connected on their free throws, and Tennessee held off Florida for the final 92-75 outcome.

Tennessee shot a season-best and eye-popping 69.2 percent in the second half and finished at 54.4 percent (31-57) overall for the game, 45.5 percent (5-11) from long range and 69.4 percent (25-36) from the line.

Johnson led Tennessee with her career-high 25 points, and Stricklen added 20. Williams and Bjorklund both chipped in with nine.

Florida shot 43.9 percent (29-66) overall, 35.3 percent (6-17) from long range and 61.1 percent (11-18) from the line.

Five Gators reached double figures - Lanita Bartley with 14 points, Allen and Madu with 13 each, Jaterra Bonds with 12 and Jones with 10.

Both teams had 18 turnovers. The Lady Vols had 14 assists, and the Gators had 11. Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 40-32.

"A win is a win, but I don't think we should be very happy about this game," Stricklen said. "Our defense wasn't there. We played defense when we wanted to or when we really needed to, and we've got to play defense the whole 40-minute game.

"But obviously we found a way. We started pushing the ball in transition, and we started locking down on our defense."

This Tennessee team has, oddly enough, responded to being yelled at and Summitt let loose again at halftime. Stricklen, however, does not like to be on the receiving end of Summitt's ire, and she admires Williams for being able to handle it.

"I give a lot of credit to her," Stricklen said. "She can score when she needs to. She can take her player anytime she wants to. It's funny because teams really try to take away her left hand, and it's like they're not going to do it. She's still going to go left. It wasn't just her offense. She was penetrating, kicking. She was opening things up.

"We all get a little worried when Coach gets on her, but I'm happy that Coach stays on her. We all know that we have to have Miko for us to win this tournament and to make it to the championship game for the NCAA. She's a great player."

Summitt did have that one-on-one conversation with Stricklen in January to quietly, but forcefully, remind her junior that she had All-American potential and needed to start playing like it for the Lady Vols.

"Those few words?" Stricklen said wide-eyed and smiling. "She got straight to the point. It really was good."

STARTING LINEUPS

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: :Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (13.5 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game); Taber Spani 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (12.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (12.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg); and Alyssia Brewer 6'3 junior forward/center, No. 33 (2.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg).

Summitt was asked afterward Friday's game if she would change her starters, especially given the performance of some players off the bench Friday, including Angie Bjorklund, Kamiko Williams and Alicia Manning.

"I'll go look at the tape, think about it, talk to my staff," Summitt said. "You'd like to get a firm starting group, but you don't have to."

Summitt hasn't hesitated to make quick substitutions in games this season. It was also in Nashville in 2008 when Summitt replaced Bjorklund, then a freshman, with senior Alberta Auguste, for defensive reasons.

Bridgestone Arena and downtown Nashville are filled with orange-clad fans.

"On the drive here all we saw is orange," Manning said. "I think we always have that responsibility. We always want to play hard for our fans. They always support us, and we want to give them a show. We want to work hard for them."

Summitt will sometimes point out the crowd to her players.

"I don't want to let all these fans down, and I am not going to hesitate if we're not doing well to say, ‘Look at these fans and look at how many people have orange on,' " Summitt said.

"But they've got to start their engine every day. If they don't one good thing is we do have a lot of depth."

Georgia Coach Andy Landers is expected to start: Khaalidah Miller, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 1 (9.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Jasmine James, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Meredith Mitchell, 6'1 junior guard, No. 11 (7.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg); Jasmine Hassell, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 12 (9.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg); and Porsha Phillips, 6'2 senior forward, No. 21 (11.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg).

The Lady Bulldogs will need to forget the 77-44 pasting at Tennessee on Feb. 21 and focus on postseason performance such as they displayed in the win over South Carolina.

Landers addressed his team about Tennessee before he left the locker room for Friday's post-game press conference.

"I told them, ‘You can't beat them if you don't want to,' " Landers said. "You don't beat good basketball teams unless you want to. Now, if you really, really want to, there's a lot that goes into that.

"Now, you commit to the hurt. You commit to sprinting up and down the floor with a group like Tennessee. You've got to get back. You commit to boxing out. You just commit to a tough, tough task.

"But you've got to want to. And somewhere down in there, down in that little tiny place that nobody can see, you've got to believe you can. You don't have to go around and tell everybody. You don't have to hang a sign. You've got to believe it.

"That's it. There's no magic to it. … I don't know what they would say because they're cool. Kids are cool. So I'm not sure that they would tell you the truth about Knoxville. But my take on it - and I'm with them every day - is they got there and got shell-shocked. Tennessee hit two threes, and they went, ‘Oh, my God,' and they got scared.

"They're scared again (Saturday) the result will be the same. If they're not, it will be different."

SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick had the scouting report for the Tennessee-Georgia game. Here is her assessment.

When Georgia has the ball: The Lady Bulldogs, as they showed Friday in the win over South Carolina, will run when the opportunity presents itself and set up in the half court.

"They are very athletic, they play hard, they want to score quick and get after you on the defensive end," Warlick said. "They like to get the ball inside because (Jasmine) Hassell is a pretty good force inside and Porsha (Phillips) is shooting the ball well from midrange.

"I think they're going to look at transition and they're going to set up and try to get those two kids the ball. They've got athletic guards. They're a talented team."

Defensively, Warlick expects Georgia to vary its approach. The Lady Bulldogs played mostly zone against South Carolina to cut back on the penetration of the Gamecocks.

"I think they'll mix it up," Warlick said. "They'll go man, zone. We're going to prepare for everything. His bread and butter is man to man and getting after you. (But after the 77-44 loss to Tennessee), maybe he's got to try something a little bit different."

When Tennessee has the ball: The Lady Vols can show an assortment of combinations on the court with the key being good ball rotation and player movement regardless of the five players on the floor at any given time.

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "We want to get an open look and make them have to play defense. We don't want to quick shoot the basketball. If we quick shoot the basketball it's going to play into their hands because they're an up-tempo team."

Quick shots usually come on the perimeter, often deep, and a long rebound can mean a layup on the other end in transition.

"Absolutely," Warlick said. "We've got to take what we think are good shots - uncontested shots, getting the ball inside and then we can play out."

Defensively, the Lady Vols stayed in their 2-3 matchup zone against Georgia in the last game, but Warlick doesn't expect that strategy to shut down the Lady Bulldogs again now that they've had nearly two weeks to adjust.

"I don't anticipate us playing a zone the whole time," Warlick said. "We've just got to adjust to how the game goes."

There are no secrets among the SEC teams at this point in the season. The difference is which team will execute its offense better and play lockdown defense for longer stretches.

"At this point we haven't changed a whole bunch," Warlick said. "We want to score quick. We want to score layups, and if we don't get into our half-court game."

ODDS AND ENDS

Tennessee leads the series with Georgia, 19-8. The Lady Vols' record at neutral sites against the Lady Bulldogs is 17-7. Tennessee has faced Georgia 11 times in the SEC Tournament and has an 8-3 record. The last time the Lady Vols faced the Lady Bulldogs at the SEC tourney was in 2006 in North Little Rock, Ark., and Tennessee won 89-79. The last time the two teams played at the tourney in Nashville was in 2004, and Georgia won 68-66 in overtime. … Tennessee is 15-4 in games played on March 5. The last win on this date was against Ole Miss, 76-51, in 2010. The first win on March 5 was against Sullins, 70-34, in 1969. The four losses on this date were to Maryville, 29-0, in 1904; Chattanooga, 46-22, in 1971; Georgia, 71-65, in 1983; and Auburn, 78-77, in 1990. One of the 15 wins on March 5 was against Georgia, 86-72, in 1994.

OFFBEAT OBSERVATIONS

BEST CAROM: The one off Taber Spani's foot after a low pass. The ball bounced to Glory Johnson, who grabbed it and hit the layup, to give Lady Vols a 46-39 lead in the second half.

BEST RECOVERY: The Tennessee cheerleader who lost his shoe on the Smokey roll - the furry mascot body surfs the cheerleaders from baseline to baseline as they rotate to the floor - as he managed to get up, get the shoe back on and dart back to the front of the pile.

BOUNCE THIS WAY: Kamiko Williams, when in-bounding the ball, has bounced it off a defender standing under the basket with her back turned several times this season, and she did it again Friday and hit the layup to give Tennessee a 22-18 lead in the first half.

It takes a soft touch and a deft pass to get the correct carom, and Williams has perfected it. Florida did pay attention the next time Williams went to in-bound the ball under Tennessee's basket.

"After I did it that one time that were talking about. ‘Hey, turn around, she might bounce it off of you,' " Williams said. "I'm not going to do it again. Unless you turn around."

BEST SMILE: That of Alicia Manning after she made a layup and got fouled after missing her first two at the basket. The made one had a higher degree of difficulty.

"I think I just like to miss the easy ones and make the hard ones," Manning deadpanned.

It also helps to increase Glory Johnson's offensive boards as the junior forward cleans up a lot of misses.

"Exactly," Manning joked. "I miss it, and she pays me money."

FIRST PUZZLED SMILE: That of Pat Summitt after a double foul was called on Glory Johnson and Azania Stewart. It was Stewart's fifth foul, one of three Gators who tangled with Johnson all game without much success.

SECOND PUZZLED SORT OF SMILE: Pat Summitt after a foul was called on Glory Johnson when Shekinna Stricklen got the offensive board. Perhaps Johnson fouled her own teammate. Official Beverly Roberts nodded in support of her call while Summitt shook her head.

NOT SMILING AT ALL NOW: Pat Summitt after Glory Johnson got pulled to the floor trying to get an offensive rebound. Johnson was called for a travel.

BEST FAN RESPONSE: That of a Florida supporter when the next play resulted in a jump ball after Glory Johnson tied up (not literally) a Florida player. The fan: "C'mon, ref, don't make make-up calls!" Even the Gator fan knew the previous call was the wrong one.

BEST STYLE: That of the Florida pep band. The saxophone players donned sunglasses. For some reason a rubber chicken was taped to a drum stand and also wore sunglasses.

FASTEST BASKET: That scored after an Alicia Manning steal on Florida's end. She passed ahead to Shekinna Stricklen, who juggled the ball in the air between her hands but got control of it and scored the layup. Five seconds elapsed from theft to bucket. Manning got the assist, too.

Twenty seconds later, Glory Johnson got a steal, drove and hit the layup for an 80-62 lead, and Florida called timeout.

BEST REUNION: That of the Williams family. U.S. Army Master Sergeant Vincent Williams and Angelita Williams, the parents of Kamiko Williams, are sitting behind the Lady Vols bench in Nashville. Vincent Williams is home on a 15-day leave from a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan that is scheduled to end next July.

He surprised the family by coming home to Clarksville, Tenn., last week and surprised his daughter by showing up at Tennessee's last regular season home game. Williams heard the family call her name at halftime last Sunday while warming up and wrapped her father in a hug. She then collapsed into tears on the bench.

"When he was surprised me, I was crying," Williams said. "Him being back it's exciting because it's like, ‘My dad is back!' but at the same time I know he has to go back. Now that I found out what he really does (overseas) I was like, ‘Whoa, OK, it's not the happy-go-lucky scene that I thought it was.' I am just going to leave that up to God and pray about it."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Angie Bjorklund

Glory Johnson


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