Lady Vols roll over Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Lady Vols got back in the win column with an 86-56 win over Alabama on Thursday. Go inside for the game story, Inside Tennessee's Take and post-game press conferences.

The Lady Vol coaches discussed the starting lineup right up until game time at Foster Auditorium and opted to give freshman Cierra Burdick her first career nod and senior Briana Bass her first of the season.

"Everybody responded and that is what we wanted," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.

The result of a lineup under the reward plan was an 86-56 romp over Alabama (10-11, 0-7).

Tennessee (15-5, 6-1) shook off some of the stench of Monday's defeat at Notre Dame, and the five starters set the tone from the opening tip when Glory Johnson found Bass for a three-pointer, much to the delight of the Lady Vols bench.

"I was really proud that we came out the way we did," said Coach Pat Summitt, who posed for photos and signed autographs for Lady Vol and Crimson Tide fans on the court after the game while waiting for her players to get ready to depart.

"Across the board, this is a feel-good game. Everybody got to play, everybody played significant minutes and made a difference."

The biggest difference could come down the road for Tennessee. The coaches shook up the starting lineup, removed seniors Shekinna Stricklen - it halted her streak of 121 consecutive starts - and Alicia Manning and sophomore Meighan Simmons and inserted Burdick, Bass and fifth-year senior Vicki Baugh.

"When I talked to Briana Bass, I said, ‘Let's go,' " Johnson said.

After Bass' trey, Baugh and Johnson rattled off 13 points between them and the Lady Vols led by double digits, 16-6, less than six minutes into the game.

Those wearing orange among the 2,049 in the stands - and there were quite a few scattered throughout the auditorium - enjoyed the start of the game.

The lineup shuffle delivered the intended message.

"Some of the starters that were starting before they have just got to pick their game up, myself included," Johnson said. " Everyone has to bring their ‘A' game every single game every single practice."

A mainstay in the lineup this season has been Johnson. Warlick had said Wednesday that she expected Johnson to be in there and the other slots were under review.

"The one thing about Glory that is consistent is her energy, and she always play hard," Warlick said after the Alabama game. "We don't have to coach effort with Glory. It's instilled in her makeup.

"We don't have to worry about Glory playing hard ever."

Johnson may have played a tad too hard to start the game. She picked up two quick fouls and spent most of the first half on the bench. She ended up with company as Baugh picked up her second with slightly less than seven minutes left in the first half, and Simmons and Stricklen also were whistled twice.

"We fouled too much the first half," Warlick said. "I am not thrilled about us fouling."

Alabama has been riddled by injuries - the most significant was the loss for the season of senior guard and leader Ericka Russell to chronic knee issues - but the Crimson Tide have some athleticism and speed, especially in the open floor.

Alabama got to the lane in the first half - the Crimson Tide had 16 points in the point before halftime - and went to the line 19 times. But Alabama could only convert nine of them (47.4 percent) after starting the game 0-7 from the stripe.

"We played about as hard as we've played in a long time," Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson said. "We did a lot of good things. You look at the first half, and we weren't making free throws. It's an eight point game - seven, eight point game.

"When you're playing a team like Tennessee, you can't let anything go by. Just stepping up to the line and shooting 75 percent, 80 percent, we shoot that and then that changes the whole complexion of the game."

As it was, Tennessee led 47-32 at the break despite shuffling the starters and then having four regulars on the bench for most of the first half with foul issues.

The positive for the Tennessee coaches was the fast start and how the pace of the game didn't drop as they continued to make substitutions.

"I loved the tempo," Warlick said. "I saw Vicki Baugh outrunning everybody. I saw Kamiko Williams sprinting. Shekinna Stricklen sprinting. That is what we want."

Hudson didn't get what he wanted when he watched Tennessee's game Monday against Notre Dame. He knew a recently beaten Lady Vol team would be even more formidable in Tuscaloosa.

Hudson even heard from a fellow SEC coach who teased him about Tennessee coming in after a loss.

"Tennessee's a really good basketball team," Hudson said. "I thought we competed, hung in there and did a lot of good things.

"It's just one of those games where you're playing against a good team, and you can't let them score like they were scoring."

Highlights in the first half for the Lady Vols were Baugh's spin moves to the basket and her flip pass to Stricklen, who drained the elbow jumper. Also, all three freshman were in at the same time for stretches and held their own.

Williams, Alicia Manning and Bass got in the passing lanes - the Lady Vol had five steals before the break - and pushed the ball in transition with Williams finding Burdick and Bass finding Williams.

"I think Briana Bass has gotten better as this year has gone on," Warlick said. "She has really stepped up her game. She understands her role. She has been very consistent for us."

Tennessee opened the second half the same way it did the first with Bass draining a three-pointer.

That pushed the lead to 50-32, but Alabama got to within 12 points, 52-40, on jumpers by Kyra Crosby, Aneesah Daniels, Celiscia Farmer and Jasmine Robinson a little more than three minutes into the second half.

"My mindset was just to get my team motivated and know that this was just like any other game," Crosby said. "If we play together, and we play hard we can do anything."

Stricklen scored for Tennessee on a drive to push the lead to 14 points, 54-40, at the 14:59 mark, and the Lady Vols built the margin from there. Within four minutes Tennessee led by 25 points, 67-42, on two Stricklen free throws at the 11:07 mark.

That burst coincided with a time period when several of the regular starters were on the court, but Stricklen had to leave at the 8:20 mark after drawing a charge from Daniels. Both players were shaken up but Daniels returned to the floor. Stricklen didn't but Warlick said afterwards that the senior guard's recently sprained knee was OK.

Massengale had an effective floor general performance - though she was 0-4 from the field - with 11 assists in just 28 minutes of play. Overall, Tennessee had 22 assists on 32 made baskets.

The ball moved rapidly, and the Lady Vols were able to get open looks for shooters and get to the paint.

"I would say rotating because they swing the ball so much," Crosby said when asked about the difficulties presented by Tennessee. "As a team, it was the most difficult."

The highlight of the second half for Tennessee was the extended minutes logged by Williams, who finished with 10 points and five assists. She also was 2-2 from the line.

"This is the game I have been waiting for, getting my confidence back," Williams said.

The coaches recognize that Williams is getting back to game speed. They also know she would be a tremendous boost for Tennessee going forward.

"She is still trying to get in basketball shape," Warlick said. "Very proud of her. When she focuses on getting up and down the floor, she is one heck of an athlete, and we need her."

Alabama was led by Crosby with 15 points, while Meghan Perkins added eight, Farmer tallied six and Jessica Merritt chipped in with seven points.

"I just feel like we have to keep working," Merritt said. "It's nothing that we can't fix. We just have to keep coming to practice and motivating ourselves and our teammates."

The Crimson Tide shot 40.0 percent (22-55) overall, 7.1 percent (1-14) from the arc and 50.0 percent (11-22) from the line. Alabama had 10 assists, 22 turnovers, four blocks and two steals.

The teams were knotted on the boards at 40. Johnson led Tennessee with eight rebounds, while Baugh and Isabelle Harrison grabbed six each. Manning tallied five boards while Stricklen had four.

Tennessee had four players in double figures led by Stricklen with 14 points. Johnson tallied 13 points, while Williams and Harrison added 10 each. Simmons and Burdick had nine points each while Baugh and Bass added eight points a piece.

The Lady Vols shot 45.1 percent (32-71) overall, 21.1 percent (4-19) from the arc - Bass had half of those by nailing two treys - and 72.0 percent (18-25) from the line.

Tennessee had 22 assists, eight turnovers, 11 steals and three blocks.

It was team-wide effort that led to a team-wide win.

"I thought it was huge working on ourselves as a team," Johnson said.

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

The Lady Vols got exactly what they needed Thursday - a win in the SEC, minutes spread throughout the team and a message sent to the players that details matter, such as forming good habits in practice, getting in the gym and taking extra shots and following scouting reports.

The players also were likely happy to be in a game Thursday. It had to be less demanding than the practice they endured Wednesday because they at least got breaks on the bench in Tuscaloosa with seven players logging under 20 minutes.

"We killed them on Wednesday," Holly Warlick said.

Warlick said it may have been the toughest practice of the season, which is unheard of on the day before a game.

But it speaks to the profound disappointment of the program after getting destroyed by the Irish in South Bend on Monday, a loss Warlick said was the biggest disappointment since Ball State bounced the Lady Vols out of the first round of the NCAA tourney in 2009.

Last Monday, Warlick opened her press conference with an apology for how the Lady Vols played. On Thursday, she was laughing at the responses of Kamiko Williams.

What a difference three days makes.

Williams had the best outing of her season - she just returned to game play this month from ACL surgery last summer - with 10 points on 4-7 shooting and five assists in 19 minutes of play.

She played in both halves and entered with 10:59 left to play after Meighan Simmons had to leave with a bloodied nose. Williams' goal has been to log hard, sustained effort in two-minute segments.

When she saw Cierra Burdick at the scorer's table at the 8:53 mark, she pointed at her chest but Burdick pointed to a teammate. Williams said she had hoped the relief was her.

"I am not going to lie, Coach," Williams said to laughter from Warlick.

"A lot of times she wants out and I just ignore her," Warlick said.

When Shekinna Stricklen went down after a collision under basket with Alabama's Aneesah Daniels and had to leave with 8:20 to play, Simmons, whose nose was now OK, took her place.

That meant Williams had to stay on the court. She ended up finishing the game and logging 11 consecutive minutes.

"My knee feels good," Williams said. "Of course, I have to deal with the after-surgery pain, but I feel fine. Rehab was tough, but it was more about the mental (aspects) of it.

"I was working so hard to get back, watching my teammates out there, I wanted to get back and play."

Tennessee needs Williams on the floor - she can play both guard spots and has the capability to hit shots. She showed Thursday that she has knocked some of the rust off her silky-smooth jumper.

It also would be beneficial for the Lady Vols because it would limit the minutes freshman Ariel Massengale had to log - she went 28 on Thursday - and it helps with the absence of Taber Spani, who played nine minutes against Notre Dame after missing eight games and is back to day-to-day status.

Spani wasn't on crutches Thursday - a good sign - but a return date for the junior sharpshooter is not yet known. Williams brings relief at a position of need.

The coaches also have some useful game film from Thursday since all 10 available players went at least 13 minutes.

Warlick indicated there were areas to correct - penetration to the paint, especially in the first half, and too much fouling.

The Lady Vols were mired in foul trouble in the first half - Glory Johnson, Stricklen, Simmons and Baugh all were limited because of whistles, which were correctly called, according to Warlick.

Simmons logged just two minutes while Johnson played four. Stricklen got to seven while Baugh made it to 10 minutes before foul trouble parked all four on the bench.

That meant the play of the bench - and new starters Briana Bass and Cierra Burdick - was especially important. And while there were lapses - the coaches ended up having to play assorted combinations - Burdick finished the first half with nine points in 16 minutes, Williams tallied eight and Bass added five points before the break.

"We felt like we needed to shake up some things and get some people's attention," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "We knew we had to get off to a better start so we thought we would experiment with a new lineup.

"Fortunately, everybody responded - the players that started and the people that came off the bench."

Respond they did. Every player wearing an orange jersey did something that encouraged the coaches.

"We had good minutes from a lot of people," Warlick said.

Thursday was about getting the team's attention and underscoring the need for accountability, especially in daily practice sessions. Based on the smiles from the coaches and players after the game, Thursday helped get the team back on course.

The Lady Vols will play their third road game of the week when they travel to Georgia for a rematch with the Lady Bulldogs on Sunday.

"We know we're certainly going to have our hands full down in Athens," DeMoss said. "It'll be our third straight road game. Our schedule is presenting a lot of challenges for us, but I think we'll be ready.

"I think this game was good for us coming off that Notre Dame loss. I think we have a little bit of confidence back and now we need to go down to Georgia and take care of business."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Holly Warlick with Glory Johnson, Kamiko Williams

Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson

Alabama's Kyra Crosby, Jessica Merritt


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