"We were sluggish in the first half, and we played inspired the second half," Coach Holly Warlick said. " … It was a good win for us. I was excited for Tonya Edwards to come back. I think she's got an outstanding team. They play hard. I told her that after the game.
"They play hard and they'll do great in their conference."
Edwards, a former Lady Vol who was on two national title teams in 1987 and 1989, crossed center court with Warlick before the game to hug Pat Summitt in her front row seat. Edwards' former teammate, Shelley Sexton Collier, was seated beside Summitt.
Edwards asked Warlick to take her directly to Summitt's seat rather than have to scan the crowd with tipoff so close.
"She was anxious to see her," Warlick said. "I thought it was important that I took her over there to make sure she saw Pat. I have a lot of respect for Tonya and what she is doing.
"She will get her team turned around. She loves this program and actually I think she is coming by practice tomorrow to watch us."
The Lady Braves had some speed on the perimeter and athleticism inside but had trouble scoring against both Tennessee's man and zone looks. The Lady Vols, meanwhile, shot 48.1 percent in the first 20 minutes and led 36-15 at halftime with 11 assists on 13 made baskets. But they also turned over the ball 11 times.
"We've got to take care of the ball," Warlick said. "We don't value the basketball at times as much as we should, especially in transition and in the breaks.
"I thought we had good looks but we had a lot of turnovers in transition. We've got to cut those down because the teams we're getting ready to play will totally capitalize off those."
Those teams would be Middle Tennessee, which comes to Knoxville on Wednesday and then North Carolina, which arrives next Sunday. After a two-week break for exams, Tennessee goes on the road to face Texas and Baylor.
The Lady Vols trimmed the miscues to eight in the second half – for a total of 19 turnovers for the game – and cranked up their running game. Warlick spread court minutes among the 11 players with Cierra Burdick logging the most at 26.
Six Tennessee players scored in double figures, and senior Kamiko Williams, added nine points and played inspired on both ends.
"I think Jolette (Law) and Kyra (Elzy) have done a great job with Kamiko in meeting with her and getting her head right and getting prepared for games and those types of things," Warlick said.
Williams also had four assists to just one turnover, four steals and a block.
"Defense has always been an emphasis for me, since my freshman year, they've wanted me to be a defensive stopper," Williams said. "I'm just trying to take it as a challenge and pick it up full court this year because that's what they're looking for."
Alcorn State didn't have a player reach double digits, though Tierro Frost came close at nine points. Renelle Richmond and Ather Cep tallied seven each for the Lady Braves.
Before the game, Edwards said she knew that her team would be overmatched, but she wanted to see her players compete.
"I thought we gave effort," Richmond said. "We could've given a lot more effort. I thought we could've capitalized on a lot of things better. I think that this was a big learning experience, and we'll grow and move forward from this."
Alcorn State shot 22.6 percent (12-53) overall, 18.2 percent (2-11) from long range and 91.7 percent (11-12) from the line. The Lady Braves had seven assists and 34 turnovers, which the Lady Vols converted into 37 points. They tallied seven steals and a block. Alcorn State managed just six points off of Tennessee's 19 turnovers.
The Lady Vols shot 55.7 percent (34-61) overall, 36.4 percent (4-11) from long range and 69.2 percent (18-26) from the line. Tennessee nipped Alcorn State on the boards, 38-35, swamped the bench scoring 51-15 and got 50 points in the paint to just 14 for the Lady Braves.
It was still a good experience for Alcorn State.
"You want for your coach to come back to where she first and foremost learned everything, the whole aspect of basketball," Richmond said. "From a player-to-coach relationship, that's an important part of basketball. You could tell she was happy to come back."
"You never want to take a whooping at home, but it's great to be back home," Edwards said. "It was tough. Coming in we already knew that they were going to turn it up, apply a tremendous amount of pressure on our ball handlers and play 94 feet. We seem to have trouble handling the ball 94 feet.
"We definitely had our hands full, but I thought Holly and the crew did a wonderful job of exploiting our weaknesses and pushing the ball up the floor and really applying pressure on the ball."
MY TAKE FOR INSIDE TENNESSEE
The first sign it wasn't a regular game in the regular season was the sight of Holly Warlick escorting the visiting coach to see Pat Summitt before tipoff. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis of the Lady Vol win over Alcorn State.
"I wouldn't walk too many people over to see coach Summitt," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said with a smile at the post-game press conference after her team's 90-37 win over Alcorn State.
Tennessee got off to a bit of a slow start against Alcorn State – likely the result of a week between games and the players taking quick trips home for Thanksgiving – but they cranked up the defense to the tune of 34 Lady Braves turnovers and put up 54 points after a halftime lead of 36-15.
"We needed to come back and have a great statement game," Taber Spani said. "Obviously, our first half was very sub-par, so to come back in the second half with great energy and finish the way we did was needed."
The defensive charge was led by two perhaps unlikely players in senior Kamiko Williams and junior Meighan Simmons. Williams' career at Tennessee has been marked by inconsistency and Simmons has been known more for her offense but those two were sparks for the Lady Vols with Simmons applying ball pressure and Williams nabbing four steals.
"Holly and Coach Elzy have been on me like crazy on my defense," Simmons said. "I think that's just the biggest thing for me is to focus on my defense and making sure I'm doing what I can to help the team."
Warlick credited her assistants, Jolette Law and Kyra Elzy, for finding the right motivational mix with Williams, whose athleticism and talent has never been in question.
"They worked really hard with her and she's responding, and she's been responding to all of us," Warlick said.
Williams credited improved conditioning for the defensive surge, while Simmons noted that side of the ball has become a major team emphasis.
Warlick has demanded pressure on the ball by her guards and playing time has been parceled based on that effort in practice and games.
Alcorn State coach Tonya Edwards likely recognized the style of play. It in how Tennessee hounded the ball when she wore orange from 1986 to 1990 and won two national titles in 1987 and 1989.
Edwards was wearing an orange blouse and received a loud ovation from the crowd of 10,609 when she was introduced as the visiting coach.
Right before tipoff, Edwards and her staff stopped to greet the Tennessee coaches and then Edwards asked Warlick to escort her across the court to say hello to Summitt. Edwards embraced Summitt, who expressed her love to her former player, and then Edwards headed to her bench to get ready for the game.
The Lady Vols were a little slow at the start but Simmons scored the first five points – a three ball and coast-to-coast layup – and Tennessee never trailed in the game.
Tennessee also got a balanced scoring attack with six players in double figures led by 12 from Simmons. Bashaara Graves, Jasmine Jones, Taber Spani, Isabelle Harrison and Nia Moore all had 10 points each.
"I love it," Warlick said.
The head coach had several other things to be pleased about with the game, including:
The overall defensive effort from Simmons, who had a block and a steal, but, more importantly, was fully engaged when the opponent had the ball.
"Meighan Simmons is one of our best defenders when Meighan wants to play," Warlick said. "I thought Meighan came out and got after the basketball and did what I know Meighan can do."
Taber Spani got back on track offensively. She was 4-5 from the field and swished a three ball that was nullified after Ariel Massengale made a sweet pass and then got called for a charge.
"Taber needed to get on track," Warlick said. "She hadn't shot the ball well and she has put in a lot of extra time."
Jasmine Jones, who had exploded in the exhibition games, and then got quiet in the regular season, avoided foul trouble in the second half and showed the athleticism on the boards and around the rim that had the coaches raving about her in preseason.
"She has a beautiful jump shot and plays hard," Warlick said. "That is what I love about her and why I want to keep her in the game."
Nia Moore went 4-7 from the field, was active on defense and grabbed seven boards in the best showing of her young career.
"Nia has the best hands of a post player that we have seen in a long time," Warlick said. "You can throw anything to her and she catches it."
Warlick said Moore had two outstanding practices this week and was rewarded for such with game minutes.
That has been a pattern with Warlick this season - earn minutes in practice and with defense. It is likely a welcome return to Lady Vol basketball for the fans, who watched teams in recent years have to be drop back into zone looks to cover defensive deficiencies.
Warlick likely won't like the turnovers at 19, though Alcorn State was scrappy and athletic. However, several miscues were of the avoidable variety – bad passes and poor ball handling.
Overall, Warlick should enjoy most of the game film. A young team that had a week between games and feasted at home for Thanksgiving got its fourth win of the season and it was a decisive one.
The schedule is about to ratchet up with Middle Tennessee and North Carolina coming to town this coming week.
Warlick has several days of practice to sort it out and see who is ready to play.
"I'm pleased but there's always things we can go back and work on, and there is a big list of things we can work on the next two days in practice," Warlick said.
Game highlights from utsportstv
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Taber Spani, Kamiko Williams, Meighan Simmons
Alcorn State coach Tonya Edwards, Renelle Richmond