Lady Vols demolish Arkansas

The Lady Vols stayed perfect in the SEC with a 69-38 demolition at Arkansas. Go inside for the game story, Inside Tennessee's Take and video links.

The Lady Vols took control of the Razorbacks from the opening tip Sunday and coasted to their 36th consecutive win in SEC play.

Tennessee (12-3, 3-0) deconstructed Arkansas (11-4, 0-3) and welcomed a fourth member to the 1,000/1,000 club when Glory Johnson grabbed her fourth rebound – it came on the offensive glass two minutes into the second half and led to an Alicia Manning basket – and joined a select group of Lady Vols with at least 1,000 points and rebounds.

With 15 points against the Razorbacks, Johnson now has 1,346 career points. She finished with 14 rebounds – her fifth-consecutive double-double – and now has 1,010 career boards. That puts her third on the all-time career list at Tennessee, as she passed Tamika Catchings, who had 1,004 rebounds.

Johnson joined Catchings, Chamique Holdsclaw and Sheila Frost as the fourth member of the 1,000/1,000 club.

Frost is in second place on the career rebounding list with 1,043, so Johnson is just 33 boards from catching her. Holdsclaw holds the top spot with 1,295 boards.

Johnson is 285 boards away from reaching Holdsclaw and with 147 rebounds so far in 2011-12, she would have to grab 432 total this season, which would be the second-most ever in a single season behind 467 by Patricia Roberts in 1976-77. Holdsclaw's single-season high was 367 in 1996-97. Johnson's best single season output to date was 359 in 2010-11.

"I'm too excited, just staying positive all the time is how to get there," Johnson said of reaching the 1,000/1,000 club.

It was a memorable game for Johnson and a forgettable one for the Razorbacks.

"I told our players this game is in the trash," Arkansas Coach Collen said after Sunday's game. "We are not going to look back on this, but we are looking forward starting with practice tomorrow."

The Lady Vols, on the other hand, will get their first day off since Christmas on Monday before returning to practice Tuesday to begin preparations for Kentucky.

"Your body gets worn out every once in a while," Johnson said. "You just have to focus on the task at hand and focus on what's next. Eventually, we're trying to get better so we just have to realize that."

That has started with a renewed commitment to defense and rebounding, and Tennessee seized control of the game early because of both.

Arkansas tied a program low with just 11 first-half points. The last time a team scored that few against Tennessee in the first 20 minutes was South Carolina on Feb. 1, 2007. The final in that game was 72-36. On Sunday it was 69-38.

"Our man-to-man was our best defense," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "There have been previous games where we've had to rely a lot on our zone, but I thought our man-to-man defense was really solid.

"We threw some zone at them at times, but we kept going back to our man. We were very pleased. Their shooting percentage was 18 percent. When you shoot like that, you're doing something right on the defensive end."

The Lady Vols started the game 11-0 by getting to the basket, ratcheting up the defense, and pushing the ball in transition. Alicia Manning grabbed a defensive board and passed to Meighan Simmons, who found Johnson, who flipped the ball to Shekinna Stricklen for a three-pointer, the 11-0 lead and a timeout by Collen.

It didn't slow down Tennessee. Johnson got a steal, drove, was fouled and hit one of two free throws for a 12-0 lead. That was followed by a Johnson block, and Manning passing ahead to Stricklen for a 14-0 lead.

Lyndsay Harris, who started her first game of the season – she tore her ACL last March in the SEC tourney – drained a long three to finally get Arkansas on the board at the 13:34 mark of the first half.

But Tennessee kept pushing and attacking – Stricklen connected with Simmons on a long pass and Johnson got a steal and a layup for an 18-3 lead with 12:10 left in the first half.

Vicki Baugh entered for Tennessee and drove from the top of the key for a 20-3 lead, and Stricklen scored off an in-bounds play – assisted by Simmons – for a 22-3 lead.

The Lady Vol coaches emptied the bench – all 10 available players logged minutes in the first half and at one point all three freshmen, Ariel Massengale, Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison, shared the floor.

That was marked by Burdick draining a baseline jumper, assisted by Massengale, for a 25-3 lead and the 5'6 Massengale drawing a charge from the 6'3 Sarah Watkins at the 6:16 mark.

At the 7:30 mark the Razorbacks were 1-18 from the field – they would shoot 10.0 percent in the first half – and the Lady Vols were 9-15.

Baugh was fouled on a step-through and made both free throws, and Manning had the assist of the game with a catch-and-shoot to Stricklen for a 29-8 lead. Johnson completed the first-half scoring for Tennessee with an offensive board off a Harrison miss.

Tennessee shot 52.2 percent in the first half and led 31-11 at halftime.

"I was really pleased how we did jump out," Coach Pat Summitt said. "I thought everyone had great focus. … That's what we need."

Tennessee started the second half with two long balls – one each from Massengale and Simmons and two turnovers from Stricklen and Manning.

But the Lady Vols got the running game in gear again, and Arkansas continued to struggle to get open looks at the basket.

C'eira Ricketts was a focal point of the Lady Vols' defense, because of her ability to get to the rim and hit shots. She was 1-11 for the game and rarely had a clean look at the basket.

"I felt like our defense on Ricketts was excellent," Summitt said. "Massengale started on her. We helped out a lot. We kept trying to force her left and I felt like that bothered her.

"She wasn't able to get into a rhythm. When she was coming off ball screens, we were showing a lot of help on those ball screens so she wasn't able to get to the basket like she has done in previous games."

Harris said Tennessee never let Ricketts get comfortable on the court.

"They had a lot of help in the paint," Harris said. "They had two or three girls always staring at C'eira when she drove. They probably defended our high ball screens better than any other team we've played so far."

Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood prepared the scouting report for the game and denying the middle of the floor was crucial to his plan.

"I thought we had a really good game plan, just forcing people to their weak hand," DeMoss said. "We knew we were playing the ball screens like we went over in practice, whether we were trapping on the wings or jamming in under at the top.

"Whatever the game plan was, I felt like our players really knew it and then they transferred it to the court today."

It was more of the same from Tennessee in the second half – the coaches again emptied the bench; backup point guard Briana Bass logged 18 total minutes without a turnover – but the Lady Vols shifted from running to working in the half court.

Massengale hit a deep three, assisted by Stricklen, to give the Lady Vols a 54-26 lead and then Massengale fired a skip pass to Stricklen for a three and a 57-26 lead with 8:14 left in the game.

Massengale got to the paint to score and then found Baugh for a reverse and a 61-26 lead. Baugh and Burdick teamed up to find each other for back-to-back baskets, Kamiko Williams connected with Burdick on a pass from half court, and Harrison completed the scoring for Tennessee with a stick-back.

With the score 69-38, Bass dribbled out the final 29 seconds 92 feet away from her basket and then handed the ball to an official.

Arkansas was led by Harris with 14 points. Ashley Daniels and Quistelle Williams added six each.

Harris said the early missed shots didn't affect the team, but it did wear on them as the game continued.

"I think eventually we did get down on ourselves," said Harris, who added open looks were so hard to come by that when one presented itself, the shot was often rushed.

Arkansas shot 18.2 percent (10-55) overall, 15.0 percent (3-20) from long range and 93.8 percent (15-16) from the line.

"Let's talk about our free throw shooting," Collen said, before noting, "We were totally outplayed from beginning to end."

Arkansas had 18 turnovers, five assists, seven steals and three blocks.

Tennessee dominated the boards, 47-24.

"They are a great rebounding team," Quistelle Williams said. "Tennessee came and they were ready to go to the boards."

Collen said he told his team to flush the game, as he intended to do.

"I'll never look at it again in my career," he said, before later adding, "We've got to keep our heads about us. We're a pretty good basketball team. We just didn't look like it tonight."

Tennessee was led by Stricklen with 19 points on 8-12 shooting and eight boards. The Morrilton, Ark., native was playing in front of dozens of family and friends in her last game at Bud Walton Arena.

Johnson got the double-double with 15 points on 6-9 shooting and 14 rebounds. Baugh added eight points on 3-3 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the line. Massengale and Simmons chipped in with seven points each, and Burdick added six.

Tennessee shot 50.0 percent (27-54) overall, 25.0 percent (4-16) from the arc and 61.1 percent (11-18) from the line.

The Lady Vols had 16 assists, 20 turnovers, six blocks and six steals. They got a double-digit lead within five minutes of the game, and it never dipped into single digits.

"We've played a couple of great games at home," Johnson said. "We kind of wanted to let people know we can do the same thing when we travel. This was making a huge statement for everyone.

"Sometimes we're iffy, but I think our defense is a lot better, we're crashing the boards a lot harder and bringing a lot more energy every game."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

Pat Summitt preaches a mantra of playing a 40-minute game, and this team has been inching closer to playing in her image.

"I think we're progressing in that direction each and every day," Summitt said on her post-game radio show after Sunday's takedown of Arkansas. "This team, as I have said before, really wants to win. … They come in every day and go to work."

The Lady Vols have romped through the first three games in the SEC – and have now won 36 in a row in league play – and have done so by adhering to Summitt's principles about defense and rebounding.

Three of Tennessee's first four SEC games are road games, and the Lady Vols got wins at Auburn and Arkansas a week apart with a victory over Georgia in between at home. They travel next to Kentucky.

Johnson has been a major reason why Tennessee has started so well in the SEC. She has double-doubles in all three league games. While her stats are noteworthy, her effort is what has been so noticeable.

In the second half against Arkansas, she yanked down a defensive rebound, made the outlet pass to start the transition offense and was under the basket to grab the offensive board of a teammate's miss.

"Just playing hard," Johnson said on the post-game radio show.

Shekinna Stricklen was interviewed by ESPNU, which broadcast the game, and said the team follows Johnson's lead.

"She is in there battling," Stricklen said. "The rest of the team needs to go work like her, and that's what we've been doing."

A second key component for the team's play after the break has been the return from injury of freshman point guard Ariel Massengale.

Since the loss at Stanford on Dec. 20, Tennessee went to training camp after a five-day break for Christmas, and the coaches emphasized defense and board play. The players got the message. They also got Massengale back on the floor.

Massengale did play in the second half of the Stanford loss, but she was out of sync after not playing since Dec. 4 because of a severely dislocated finger that required a hard cast to heal, and the coaches had hoped to sit her that game as she had just returned to practice the day before it.

With Massengale back on the court, Stricklen and Meighan Simmons slip back to their natural positions on the wings, and the freshman runs the show with an uncommon maturity.

"She has really opened up things for me," Stricklen said. "I tell her every day that I love her."

Tennessee also has a shot to get better. The team's most accurate three-ball shooter remains sidelined to rest a bone bruise in her knee. Taber Spani is expected back relatively soon – she officially remains day to day – and will give the Lady Vols another offensive threat as she showed a willingness to both launch the long ball and get to the rim.

That will help because sophomore Meighan Simmons remains in a shooting slump – she was 2-9 against Arkansas – and, since the break, has shot 25.8 percent (8-31) from the arc over five games.

Stricklen also has misfired from the arc – 17.4 percent (4-23) over the same time period – but she went 8-12 overall against Arkansas because she headed to the paint. She also grabbed eight rebounds.

That latter stat is one of the reasons why Tennessee has played so well despite off shooting performances from key players – rebounding and defense.

"We, as a team, committed to working on defense," Stricklen said.

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen noticed. He noted that Tennessee defended the Razorbacks as well as anyone had all year and with better players.

"They just smothered us," Collen said.

Of Arkansas' 55 shots in the game, Collen estimated that 45 of them were off balance looks or highly contested.

"That's a credit to Tennessee," he said.

It's also what Summitt has been waiting for from this senior class for four seasons. She has finally gotten it, and it has started with the effort put forth, every game, from Johnson.

"When I was a freshman, I just did what I wanted to do," Johnson said. "I was kind of out of control a little bit, too fast all the time. I've kind of slowed down, gained composure and now that I'm a senior, I've realized my role on the team.

"I have to help out however I can and use my athleticism to my advantage."

So far, Johnson has done just that. She has put herself squarely in the conversation for SEC Player of the Year – granted there is a long way to go – and also for All-American honors.

"Glory has really invested in her game," Summitt said. "She can go left, right and really just plays within herself."

That wasn't the case when Johnson arrived on campus, but her game has evolved. Johnson has the sense of urgency possessed by seniors – she said earlier this week, without prompting, that this was her last semester at Tennessee and she knew the clock was ticking on her career – and also the maturity to boil the season down to one game at a time.

The next game is at Kentucky, which will be an early test of this team's mettle.

"It will be, but we've been there before and handled it," Johnson said. "We just have to go again and handle it again this year."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Arkansas provides post-game video of its press conferences. You must sign up for an account.

Access is free and available HERE at Arkansas' website.

Game highlights from UT Sports TV


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