Lady Vols again falter at home

The Lady Vols lost their third game at home this season – a program record – after faltering against Arkansas in overtime. Go inside for the game story, Inside Tennessee's Take and post-game press conference videos.

Tennessee (20-8, 11-4) fell to second place in the SEC on Thursday after Arkansas (21-6, 10-5) slipped past the Lady Vols in overtime, 72-71.

Slipped past is apropos of what Razorback C'eira Ricketts did in her 43 minutes of playing time as she repeatedly got to the paint and tallied 16 points.

"She has had a great career for us," Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said. "We put an awful lot of pressure on her really in the last four years; we put the ball in her hands so much.

"There are times when I think she probably has gotten frustrated with herself and not played great. I think we have just always believed with the ball in her hands something good can happen."

It was Ricketts' penetrating drive that pulled the defense to her and allowed Sarah Watkins to hit a layup with eight seconds left that tied the game at 62 in regulation.

"C'eira just really made a great pass," said Watkins, who took an elbow to the face in the second half and briefly left the game. "I give her all the credit for that. I happened to be in the right place when she passed it and the defense was a little bit behind me.

"Really, it was like I said, the pass – she just kind of threw it and threaded the needle."

Tennessee got two attempts on the basket on their end, but Kamiko Williams and Glory Johnson missed, and the teams went to overtime.

The Lady Vols had expended a lot of energy to get back in the game. They led 7-5 on a baseline jumper from Meighan Simmons at the 17:02 mark of the first half and then didn't lead again until Taber Spani connected on two free throws for a 46-44 score with 11:30 to play, which energized the crowd of 13,337.

Tennessee expanded the lead to 55-50 after Johnson scored at the rim with 5:28 to play and led 57-52 on a Johnson stick-back with 4:07 left.

With 1:05 remaining, Tennessee clung to a four-point lead, 62-58, after Williams grabbed an offensive board and hit the stick-back in one motion and Shekinna Stricklen connected on a turn-around.

But Arkansas came back with two layups from Ricketts and Watkins to force an extra five minutes.

Ricketts scored a layup in overtime, and Arkansas built a six-point lead, 70-64, with 1:55 left after Calli Berna connected on her only trey of the game.

Stricklen answered with a three to trim the lead to 70-67 and then – after Arkansas' fifth shot clock violation of the game – she scored on a putback to pull Tennessee within one point, 70-69, with 45 seconds left.

After a Razorback turnover out of bounds, Stricklen brought the ball down court and was fouled by Keira Peak. But Stricklen missed both – she had missed two from the stripe earlier in the extra period – and Arkansas' Lyndsay Harris connected on two free throws for a 72-69 lead with 6.2 seconds left.

Ariel Massengale was fouled with three seconds left before Tennessee could launch a three and made the first to trim the lead to 72-70. She intended to miss the second, but it swished through the net.

"I was trying to," Massengale said. "Coach told me right when the ref gave it to me to shoot it quick and just try to hit it off the rim and get the rebound. Unfortunately, it went in.

"I was trying to shoot it off to the right so Glory could hopefully get the rebound and put it back in."

Simmons nearly got a steal but Dominique Robinson went to the line for Arkansas with 2.6 seconds left. She missed both, but Stricklen's last-second shot hit the front iron.

Stricklen crumpled to the court and was still visibly upset in the post-game press conference.

"I have to sink the free throws," Stricklen said in a barely audible voice. "I honestly wanted the ball at the end. I clearly missed four free throws in a row. One could've given us the lead to the game. One could've tied up the game.

"We had a bad first half, but we came back in the second half. We fought. We just have to step up, and we didn't make the free throws at the end."

Massengale sat at the table with two seniors, who have just one home game left this Sunday against Florida. Both of the seniors looked emotionally spent.

Massengale, who had six assists and is one away from tying Loree Moore's rookie record of 133 – remained composed.

"We've told Strick that we don't lose games off the last play," Massengale said. "It hurts that she missed those free throws, but I think as a team we lost that game for ourselves right from the get go.

"We just didn't come out with the right mindset that I think we should have."

That has been a season-long issue for Tennessee and the coaches went 11 deep in the first half with Williams, Cierra Burdick and Vicki Baugh scoring four points each to keep Tennessee within five at halftime, when the Razorbacks led 31-26.

Tennessee shot 45 percent in the first half, but Arkansas scorched the nets at 57.9 percent, including 5-10 from long range.

"When you shoot 45 percent the first half, you think you're doing well," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "But they were shooting 58 percent. So at one point you've got to say the defense has to step up and make stops and we didn't make stops the first half. So, we dug ourselves a hole."

Arkansas worked deep into the shot clock – the Razorbacks had four shot clock violations in the first half – and kept the ball in the hands of Ricketts, Watkins and Harris for the most part.

"I think I told our players and it's funny because I really wanted to kind of what we call grind, which is take time off the clock," Collen said. "I wanted to do that in Fayetteville but when we did that in Fayetteville and then we missed shots, we weren't very successful.

"In some ways I was a little bit hesitant to come back and try to play that way, but I think the tradeoff was that we controlled the pace of the game that way. We had the ball in our best players' hands that way. Tonight it worked. It hasn't always worked but tonight it worked."

Tennessee handled Arkansas with ease in the first game but that was nearly eight weeks ago, Harris was still getting back in form from off-season knee surgery and the Razorbacks had started SEC play with a brutal gauntlet of the league's top teams.

Arkansas arrived in town having won nine of its past 10 games and was seeking its first-ever win in Knoxville in program history.

"Give Arkansas all the credit," Pat Summitt said. "There is a reason why they have been the hottest team in our conference over the last month."

Harris led all scorers with 20 points. Watkins added 18 points on 8-12 shooting, and Ricketts tallied 16 with nine assists.

"Their entire team played well, but we basically let three Arkansas players beat us – Lyndsay Harris, Sarah Watkins and C'eira Ricketts," Summitt said.

"Arkansas as a team ran the floor better and played tougher than we did for 45 minutes."

Arkansas shot 50.0 percent (25-50) overall, 38.1 percent (8-21) from long range and 66.7 percent (14-21) from the line. The Razorbacks had 15 assists, 21 turnovers, five steals and two blocks.

Tennessee was led by Stricklen with 17 points and Johnson with 13. Massengale added nine, while Simmons and Spani had seven each.

The Lady Vols shot 45.1 percent (23-51) overall, 38.5 percent (5-13) from long range and 71.4 percent (20-28) from the line. Tennessee had 19 turnovers, 13 assists, seven steals and two blocks. The Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 33-29, after starting the game down 14-8 on the glass.

The win likely secured Arkansas a place in the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks had been building a postseason resume – Collen thought they were in already – but this likely erased any doubt.

"We won 10 of 11 and it goes to show you that it is mind over matter," Collen said. "These kids came in here believing that they could win this game despite the fact that we got beat badly by Tennessee.

"The further along we went in the game the more they believed. They just made a lot of great plays down the stretch to finish it off."

Harris noted, "We believe in each other so much and you don't ever want to think that you are out of the game. I think we played Tennessee down to the wire and we wanted it so bad.

"Every time we huddled up, someone would say we are winning this game and we just believed it. It is hard to beat a team who believes they are going to win when they step on the floor."

That is not an issue with Tennessee. This team hasn't lacked for confidence – its slow starts can sometimes stem from the fact it believes it can recover – but a tight game hasn't brought out their best this month at home. South Carolina nipped the Lady Vols, 64-60, on Feb. 2, and Arkansas did the same three weeks later.

"There's still a lot of ball to be played," Massengale said. "I think we just have to go back and regroup and know that this season's not over yet and there's still a chance for us to win a national championship and keep our mindset on the big picture."


Neither Holly Warlick nor the Lady Vol players was at a loss for words after the game.

They outlined what went wrong, what they should have done differently and how they can't start games slowly and always expect to recover.

But it doesn't necessarily mean that the lesson will stick.

"We're taking one game at a time, obviously," Warlick said. "It is frustrating because I know their ability and what they can do. And they battled. They battled tonight. We just continued to dig ourselves a hole and we've got to climb out of it.

"So if we can ever put together a 40-minute game – I love this team. When they're all clicking, it's a great group. We just have lapses and we've got to get to a point where we close those lapses and shorten those lapses."

It's the fourth loss in the league this season with two preseason All-SEC First Team members in Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson.

Johnson was saddled with two fouls in the first half and didn't score or get a board in eight minutes. Stricklen logged 10 minutes before halftime and also didn't score or get a rebound. They are the ones who set the tone when it comes to both.

"It was awful," Johnson said by way of describing the first half. "I went out with two fouls. We weren't hitting shots that we should have hit. We had no energy at all.

"We had to go to our bench, and then all of the sudden they're out-rebounding us. We were letting them penetrate in the paint, and they shouldn't be in the paint.

"We weren't playing our game, and you see that with us a lot. Sometimes we play great first half and awful second half. We always try to pick it up late in the game, but we're just not a team that can do that.

"We're not a team that can play awful in the first half and pick it up in the second half. It just doesn't work out that way for us."

There is nothing ambiguous in that answer, which Johnson expanded on without prompting. She immediately identified what happened and what should not have occurred.

And it's all been said before. What the team hasn't been able to do is cycle out of its loop of inconsistency.

There are some legitimates reasons for their struggles at times. They haven't been healthy for four years.

Vicki Baugh played an effective eight minutes in the first half, but seemed visibly uncomfortable on the bench before the second half started.

It would be an ideal time to set a regular starting lineup and rotation, but the coaches don't always know until game day – and in Baugh's case in-game – who will be available.

Meighan Simmons logged just 15 minutes and a player who had essentially no restrictions placed on her last season finds herself at the opposite extreme this year – quick hooks and long stretches on the bench.

Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood specifically mentioned energy – and the fact it had to be present from the get-go for this team to succeed – this week. The players have said it's essential to their success.

Yet Stricklen and Johnson became spectators in the first half because they combined for zero points and zero boards in 18 combined minutes of play.

"Obviously, I wish I could explain why we came out flat, but I have no idea why we came out the way we did," Pat Summitt said. "The coaching staff wishes we had an answer."

Another thing Summitt has been seeking an answer for is why she has to constantly remind players to get extra shots on their own. She can't force them and it's been an ongoing struggle to get the team, as a whole, to do so for the past four years.

A freshman, Cierra Burdick, noted on a post-game radio show last week that the players need to find the ball racks. When a freshman is pointing that out to a team with seven juniors and seniors, it is indicative of a major flaw in a team's makeup.

Still, the Lady Vols have time. And they definitely have the talent. Johnson has had a league MVP quality season.

Stricklen shook off a bad first half and tallied 17 points. The usually dependable free throw shooter missed four from the stripe in overtime.

If Stricklen hits those, the storyline is one of resilience and overcoming a scorching hot team, not one of outlining how the Lady Vols succumbed again at home.

Warlick made it clear how much the staff likes this team. On Sunday, the coaches and fans will say good-bye to a senior class that has endured more than any group in the history of the program from nearly losing a teammate to a brain aneurysm to finding out before this season started that Summitt had early onset dementia.

From that point of view, they have persevered. On the flip side, Summitt still has to remind players to get in the gym on their own. That lesson – especially given the shooting percentages at times this season – should have already stuck and the fact it hasn't is rather baffling.

The fact that the players care is not in dispute – or it shouldn't be. Stricklen collapsed to the floor after the game ended and dissolved into tears. Kamiko Williams had to help her up, and Baugh put an arm around Stricklen as they headed to the locker room.

"It's not her fault," Johnson said. "Clearly we played an awful first half. There we so many mistakes made in the first half like missing free throws. I missed two free throws.

"The blame is not on her. It's a team game."

And, once again, they still, as a team, have time. The clock on the 2011-12 season continues to tick.

"Time's getting short, but we still have the opportunity to do great things," Warlick said. "We've just got to turn it around and put it all together."


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Holly Warlick

Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen, Ariel Massengale

Coach Tom Collen, Sarah Watkins, Lyndsay Harris

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