Lady Vols prevail over LSU

The Lady Vols survived a physical battle with LSU to secure the 65-56 win Thursday. Go inside for the game story, Inside Tennessee's Take and the post-game press conference videos.

When the Lady Vols and Lady Tigers tangle, it tends to get physical in the paint. This time, the battle extended to every inch of the court.

"Obviously, this was a physical game tonight and both teams played extremely hard," Pat Summitt said.

"We didn't come out thinking it would be that type of game, but I thought we regrouped and adjusted to it."

Tennessee (14-4, 5-1) prevailed over LSU (13-5, 4-2) in a game that saw two Lady Tigers knocked out of the game before halftime – one within the first two minutes with a concussion – and one Lady Vol sent to the locker room before the half ended with a shoulder injury.

"Obviously, it was a knock-down, drag-out type fight, but it was a very competitive fight," LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell said. "You saw two teams really playing every possession like it was their last."

Freshman Cierra Burdick knew this SEC rivalry was traditionally a hard-fought one, but it exceeded her expectations.

"It was more than what I thought," Burdick said. "Players were hitting the deck every single possession, but we came out to play.

"That's exciting. People want to see that. People want to come and pay money and see women just battle on the floor. I think we did a great job of that, and I hope our fans approve."

The 13,107 in attendance did indeed, when not in a full-throated roar directed at the officials. Summitt stomped and screamed over the calls and non-calls while Caldwell, sporting high heels and seven months pregnant, did the same on her end of the court.

"I felt like I played," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "I thought tonight you saw two very physical, up-tempo teams. Hard fought.

"They just battled. I wouldn't expect anything less by a team coached by Nikki or a team coached here."

LSU lost guard Jeanne Kenney early in the first half after she took an elbow to the eye. She was diagnosed with a concussion and didn't return.

Then, with less than four seconds to play, Lady Vol Briana Bass picked up LSU's Destini Hughes deep in the backcourt when LSU in-bounded the ball under Tennessee's basket. Hughes bolted for the other end, and Bass ran into a screen, taking her out of the play for the moment.

The long in-bounds pass was intended for Hughes with Vicki Baugh and Isabelle Harrison, who were back for Tennessee, also leaping for the ball as it hung in the air. Hughes came down with the ball, and her right leg crumpled underneath her and bent at an awkward angle. Bass, who had caught up with the play, slid around her to avoid contact.

The injury occurred in front of Tennessee's bench, and both Summitt and Caldwell went to the fallen player.

Hughes, a senior guard, stayed down for several minutes while medical personnel from both teams came to her aid. Inflatable casts were used to stabilize the leg, and Hughes left the floor in a wheelchair with several Lady Vol players patting her on the head.

LSU officials said that Hughes would need X-rays and an MRI to determine the extent of the injury.

Minutes before, Lady Vol Glory Johnson injured her shoulder on the other end in a scramble for a loose ball that had been batted around and was up in the air. Johnson came down and grabbed her left shoulder. She was taken to the locker room for the remainder of the first half.

"I just saw the ball, I went up and I kind of tried to get it with both hands, and I think one of my shoulders (got) knocked back, and I heard a pop, and that's when I was holding it," said Johnson, who dislocated the same shoulder in practice two years ago and wears special tape on it now.

"Right now with rehab and everything, I'll be fine, got to keep playing hard and playing through pain."

Johnson, now wearing a thick brace, ran onto the court from the Lady Vols locker room seconds before the second half started. She took a seat on the bench, and Burdick started in her place.

The coaches didn't know at halftime if Johnson would be cleared to play.

"I wasn't sure, because she was in a lot of pain at halftime," Warlick said. "She was back in the training room. I wasn't sure, then Jenny (Moshak) came up and said she could go. I thought when she first came in, she was favoring her arm. She was playing with one arm.

"But I think as she got involved with the game, I think she totally forgot that she was injured and played. That was part of Glory being competitive and a tough-minded kid. We needed her. She had some good put-backs and free throws. So we needed her play and needed her to step up, and she did."

Tennessee already was down two players with Taber Spani, who has been out since late December with a bone bruise, and Shekinna Stricklen, who sprained her knee in Sunday's win over Vanderbilt, sidelined.

That meant sophomore Meighan Simmons would need to log considerable minutes, and she did at 38 for the game. She likely would have gone the distance had she not picked up a second foul late in the first half, which sent Kamiko Williams into the game for two minutes.

"I think Kamiko is healthy, but she is not there on the conditioning end," Warlick said. "We're trying to do extra with her, trying to get her in short spurts and give her a rest. Her conditioning is just not there.

"She can't play through more than a couple minutes. She gets tired easily."

This was a game that could have induced fatigue easily as it was either an up-tempo pace in the open floor or combat in the half court.

"When you come to this conference as a player, as a coach, you understand that this is one of the most physical conferences there is in the country," Caldwell said.

"It tells you a lot about who you are as a competitor. We obviously have some areas that we are going to work on, but again I was very proud of this group."

The game was knotted at 26 at halftime with both teams struggling to hit shots and every rebound a battle for possession.

"That's what we expected," Warlick said. "Nikki's been in our system for a long time, so she understands the importance of defense and rebounding. I thought they were physical on the boards as we were physical."

Tennessee scored first in the game on a Simmons three after Vicki Baugh got double teamed in the paint and fired a pass to the perimeter.

Simmons shot 6-16 overall, but she was 3-7 from the arc – the rest of the team was 2-10 from long range – and connected when Tennessee needed a tad bit of separation.

"The Lord is good; that's all I'm going to say," Simmons said. "It's just one of those things where I have to be mentally ready, and I knew that I was going to have to hit some shots early in the game to try to help the team get going.

"I was practicing earlier with Bird (Alberta Auguste) and (former Vol) Bobby (Maze) and being able to get them to pass me the ball and shoot and make sure I wasn't so worried about my technique.

"I was just catching the ball and shooting it, and I think today there were a couple of times where I felt like I rushed it, but then at the same time I came back and hit some shots that were closer in."

Simmons did an up-fake from the corner in the first half, dribbled in and hit a sweet bank shot to give the Lady Vols a 21-18 lead with 6:52 left before halftime.

LSU had led for the early part of the first half – the largest lead was 11-8 after Hughes hit a three-pointer at the 14:16 mark – but Tennessee retook it after Ariel Massengale got a steal and hit the layup for a 14-13 lead at the 10:18 mark.

Tennessee maintained a slim lead with its defense – both teams struggled to connect – and second-chance points. The Lady Vols had eight offensive rebounds and 11 second-chance points in the first half. LSU had 11 offensive rebounds before the break but couldn't convert, getting just four second-chance points.

"It was a very tight first half," Warlick said. "I thought we came out in the second half and were a little more aggressive."

The coaches also made use of the bench with all nine available players logging minutes before the break. When the second half started, Johnson, Stricklen and Spani were on the bench, which could have doomed Tennessee.

"I know this team relies on Strick and Taber for so much of the scoring and Glory to go hard to the boards," Summitt said. "To start the second half, there was no Strick, Taber or Glory. Other people filled those roles."

Burdick and Simmons carried the offensive burden.

"I didn't realize she had 19 points until I looked at the score sheet," Warlick said of the sophomore Simmons' output.

It was a breakout game for the freshman on both ends.

"I thought Cierra played her best game," Summitt said. "She showed a lot of poise, and her 15 points and six rebounds off the bench were pretty big for us.

"Cierra likes to get on the boards and grind it out on defense. She did just that."

Baugh made up for Johnson's limited availability by grabbing 14 boards, a season high and SEC best for the forward.

"That's Vicki's game," Warlick said. "You saw her. She rebounded her own missed free throw, and that's pretty tough.

"We need Vicki's rebounding. We need that hard play. She took a couple hits, and it didn't bother her, didn't affect her. She kept playing. We need that toughness from Vicki Baugh."

Tennessee especially needed Baugh on the floor in the second half, because Johnson was in pain and, while she played after the break, Johnson also took a hard tumble and needed additional bench rest.

"Glory is just a great competitor," Summitt said. "I know she was hurting in the second half, but she wanted to play."

Johnson was able to log eight minutes in the second half. Baugh and Burdick, who both went the distance in the second half, made up the difference.

"I thought Burdick was instrumental, because we had Stricklen out. We had Taber out, and we needed a scorer and we needed someone to step up," Warlick said. "She shot 50 percent and she played really well.

"She has worked hard on her defense, and I thought it showed tonight. Cierra's put in extra time. We've really tried to get her a little more comfortable on the defensive end, and I thought tonight, she was.

"That's what we need from Cierra Burdick. … I thought she played really well tonight, and I'm proud of her and excited she got the minutes."

Baugh's presence was all over the box score to start the second half with a stick-back of a teammate's miss to give the Lady Vols a 28-26 lead with 19:37 left to play. She hit a layup off a feed from Massengale and then found Simmons for a three. In-between was a 19-footer from Burdick to give Tennessee a 35-32 lead with 16:45 left.

But LSU, despite losing both of its point guards in Hughes and Kenney, continued to battle.

"Well, we only really have four true guards, so when you've got two of your starting guards out, we had to figure out how we were going to bring the ball down against their pressure, and we had to do it by committee," Caldwell said.

"Offensively, we had to move our bigs out to the perimeter. We had been able to do that in some instances in some games and we were able to do what we needed to do. I think when you look at how the game came down in the last three minutes of the game, I felt like we were still in position to win the game even without those two (Hughes and Kenney)."

LSU took the lead, 39-37, behind two of its bigs, Shanece McKinney and Theresa Plaisance, with 13:22 to play.

Plaisance logged 15 minutes and tallied seven points in her first extended action in the UT-LSU series.

"Coming in to play against Tennessee, you are always hyped up and ready to play," Plaisance said. "Tennessee is obviously a great team and you just need to be mentally ready and physically ready to come in and just have an all-out brawl because they are going to give it their all, and we have to match that."

LSU did, though Tennessee got the lead, 41-39, on a Simmons layup that was assisted by Bass with 11:35 to play. Bass somehow grabbed the defensive board among the trees and fired to Simmons, who had darted down court.

The lead stayed in low single digits for the next eight minutes, but the Lady Vols didn't lose it. They extended it to four points, 43-39, when Bass poked the ball free from LSU, and Simmons grabbed it and fired to Johnson at the rim for a 43-39 lead with 11:17 to play.

Bass played seven minutes in the second half in relief of Massengale, who struggled at times.

"Bree goes in, plays nine minutes and doesn't have a turnover," Warlick said. "A great leader for us, she gets the ball tonight to the people who needed it. A key steal when we needed a steal.

"Bree's just steady. If she can come in and do those things and give Ariel a relief, that's what we need from Bree."

Tennessee extended its lead to eight points, 47-39, with 9:30 to play after Simmons connected on two free throws after badly misfiring on a pair at the 13:34 mark. She had company as Burdick, Baugh and Johnson also misfired over that two-minute span from the stripe.

"I was proud of our team but I keep saying my concerns are free throws and layups," Warlick said.

LSU tied it at 49 at the 6:41 mark on a layup by Bianca Lutley, who played point guard by committee with LaSondra Barrett and Courtney Jones.

Tennessee retook the lead on a midrange shot by Burdick, 51-49, with 6:20 to play.

"We missed some defensive coverages, and Burdick was able to knock down those open shots for Tennessee," Caldwell said.

Tennessee extended the lead to four, 53-49, after Alicia Manning got a defensive board and passed ahead to Baugh, who found Simmons for the layup at the 5:41 mark.

Adrienne Webb got two of them back for LSU from the line – Massengale thought she had drawn a charge but was called for the block – and Johnson went to the line for a one-and-one with Tennessee clinging to a two-point lead, 53-51, with 5:01 to play.

Johnson stuck both free throws for a 55-51 lead.

"She had some key rebounds and came up with some big points from the line at the end," Summitt said.

Massengale hit her stride in the closing minutes. She passed ahead to Johnson at the rim and then split the defense and got to the rim herself for a 60-53 lead with 2:37 left.

"We obviously had some breakdowns against a great Tennessee team," Caldwell said. "I will credit this group for not backing down and showing a lot of heart and sticking together."

Tennessee got to the paint in the second half and if not for the struggles at the line – the Lady Vols shot 58.1 percent from the stripe and missed 13 free throws – the game would have been secured sooner in the second half.

"I thought we attacked more," Warlick said. "We weren't shooting well on the outside. We couldn't get the ball inside because of the type of defense LSU was playing. We were not hitting shots.

"We were getting open looks. We didn't hit open looks. We weren't very good from the free-throw line. We didn't shoot the ball well from the three-point line.

"We wanted our players to get in, penetrate the zone, get looks, don't have to get threes, get two-point shots. I thought that's what we did. We had a little bit of shot fakes and took the ball inside a little bit more. That was our game plan the second half."

Burdick executed it very well as she went 5-10 from the field for 15 points and was 4-6 from the line.

"She's worked hard on her game, and she got the opportunity tonight," Warlick said. "I always say, ‘When you have an opportunity, you make the best of it.' She did."

Tennessee managed to secure the game at the line – the Lady Vols hit 5-6 in the final 1:39 – for the 65-56 win.

"When we needed to down the stretch, we hit big free throws, but we can't keep getting ourselves in a hole and down," Warlick said.

LSU was led by Jones with 16 points with Webb tallying 12. Plaisance added seven for the Lady Tigers. Barrett chipped in with six points and had seven boards. Jones was the team leader with eight rebounds.

LSU shot 34.4 percent (21-61) overall, 33.3 percent (4-12) from the arc and 66.7 percent (10-15) from the line. The Lady Tigers had 13 assists, 18 turnovers, nine blocks and seven steals.

Tennessee was led by Simmons with 19 points. Burdick tallied 15 points, tying her career high against DePaul, and Johnson added 12 points. Massengale chipped in with eight points – she was 2-11 from the field but 4-4 from the line – and Manning added five points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.

Baugh led all rebounders with 14 and added six points, three assists, a block and a steal.

Tennessee shot 37.5 percent (21-56) overall, 29.4 percent (5-17) from long range and 58.1 percent (18-31) from the line.

The Lady Vols had 15 assists – four for Simmons and three for Massengale – 16 turnovers, 13 steals and four blocks.

Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 45-39. Both teams had 18 offensive boards, but the Lady Vols turned theirs into 17 second-chance points, while the Lady Tigers got just nine.

The benches were even at 17 points. LSU got 19 points in the paint. Tennessee tallied 20.

"It was two teams going after it," Warlick said. "Bodies were flying and that's part of the game. If anyone says basketball isn't physical, they just need to watch the replay of tonight."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

Stay ready, part II.

Against DePaul in December, it was Alicia Manning who came off the bench to jump-start Tennessee when it needed a jolt.

Against LSU, it was Cierra Burdick who provided a spark off the bench – and because of a shoulder injury that limited Glory Johnson, she went the distance in the second half.

"She and I have had a lot of talks, and I've told her her time is coming," Holly Warlick said. " ‘Be patient. You're a freshman. You're playing behind a very seasoned, veteran team.'

"I think she accepted that. She's worked hard. And her time came tonight and she stepped up and made plays."

Burdick has been playing behind Shekinna Stricklen, the Lady Vols All-American, this season, and hadn't logged extended minutes on the court.

She went a career-high 31 minutes against LSU – Burdick played just four minutes against Vanderbilt – and did so in one of the most physical, if not the most physical, games of the season.

Burdick was as prepared for it as any newcomer could be. She got in the gym on her own time, worked hard in practice and channeled her frustration into not playing into instead giving the coaches a reason to do so.

"With Strick and Taber being out, I knew more minutes were going to be played by the bench, and I just tried to come into this game prepared and be ready and just try to make an impact for my team," Burdick said.

With Tennessee down two players to start the game, the other guards knew they would have to log a lot of minutes. Give credit to Simmons for showing some maturity on defense. If there was ever a game to try to steal a breather on defense, this was it.

But Simmons went the distance in the second half and didn't pace herself despite the workload. She played her best defensive game of the season.

"I knew from the beginning that this was going to be the scrappiest game of our SEC experience," Simmons said. "I think with Holly pulling me aside at practice the other day and saying, You're going to really need to play defense in this game,' I think I took that as a way of testing me to see exactly how my defense has improved over the year, and this game actually showed it.

"I came out there, and I played as hard as I could to try to help the team win."

Warlick was asked about Simmons' scoring. She immediately wanted to talk about the sophomore's defense, too.

"I really want to say Meighan, as well, has worked on her defense, and I don't think tonight she was a liability," Warlick said. "That's what we need from Meighan. Her scoring ability and her making points, that's almost a given for us. We rely on that.

"We want to make sure Meighan plays both ends of the floor. I thought tonight she did play both ends of the floor, and we needed her. We needed her.

"We didn't need her or Cierra to be a liability on the defensive end. Those two young ladies have stepped up. They've put in extra time, and I think it showed tonight."

Burdick, a freshman, also has struggled on that side of the ball. She held her own on defense and also managed to hit key shots in both halves, including the one trey ball she attempted.

"Well as a freshman, she just played her heart out, and she played as hard as she can play," Johnson said. "She knew that she was going to have to come in and knock down big shots. She did a great job.

"What she's been working outside of practice for, all the shots that she puts up and working on her own is what this is for, and she did a great job."

Burdick, a high school All-American, could have pouted about her early lack of playing time. Instead, she sought Heather Mason, the strength and conditioning coach, for extra sessions to work on foot speed and lofted shots in the gym.

"It's been tough," Burdick said. "It's been really stressful, but it's teaching me patience. I'm learning a lot from some great players ahead of me, so I'm just trying to use it and take it as positive as I can and just really learn from this experience.

"When my number is called, I just hope to be ready and be prepared."

Like Manning, she was when the opportunity presented itself. Manning has moved into the starting lineup with Spani sidelined, and, though it's not a part of her overall game, she stuck a three ball early in the first half on a pass from Johnson. That was key because it meant LSU had to account for Manning on the perimeter, too.

Manning missed her second three attempt from the corner, but she managed to rebound her own miss by grabbing the ball at the top of the key to keep the possession going. Ariel Massengale was then fouled on a jumper and hit both free throws to tie the game at 8 early in the first half.

Briana Bass is another player who has stayed ready, and she has done so despite never knowing when she would play.

"She plays a role, she accepts her role and she does a heck of a job playing that role," Warlick said. "I'm just glad Bree got the minutes tonight."

It is an overused statement in sports, but Tennessee truly survived this game.

Stricklen missed her first game since a stomach illness in her freshman year in December of 2008. Spani remained out, though she wasn't on crutches for the first time in weeks. Johnson played the second half while barely being able to move her left arm.

The three key players in the second half were a freshman playing in crunch time for the first time late in a game, a sophomore still trying to find her steady shooting touch and a fifth-year senior still getting her bearings on the court after two ACL surgeries.

Another overused expression is that teams find a way to win. But Tennessee did just that with a depleted roster.

"We're going to need a full roster, so we've got to get everybody healthy," Warlick said. "We've got to get everybody in the best physical shape they can be in because we've got a tough remainder of the SEC and then we go into the SEC Tournament.

"We need the strength of our bench and the strength of our starters."

The Lady Vols will get a much-deserved day off Friday, though the players are likely to inhabit the training room.

The team will practice this weekend and then head to Notre Dame for a Monday matchup with the No. 2 team in the country on its home court.

Tennessee could be closer to full strength.

"I'm not sure about Spani," Warlick said. "I think Stricklen has a chance. I think her rehab's going well. I'm not sure about Spani.

"We'd love to have them both. We'd love to have them back on the floor. We'd love to have a healthy roster, a full squad to go."

If that happens, it would be the first time this season the coaches had all 11 players available for a game.

One thing has been established, though. The ones who are available know to get ready.

VIDEO COVERAGE Tennessee, LSU coaches' greeting

Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick

Glory Johnson, Meighan Simmons, Cierra Burdick

LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell, Courtney Jones, Theresa Plaisance


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