"I thought the first half of basketball was very inspired," Pat Summitt said. "We executed, moved the basketball. Our defensive intensity was really good. Overall pleased. Second half was ugly basketball, uninspired at times and unacceptable by our standards. I give Arkansas credit for coming out and playing a much-better second half, but I'm really disappointed that we didn't step up and bring the same type of intensity and have a chance to get better in a lot of aspects of our game."
After that assessment, Summitt did add, "It's a win."
For Arkansas (10-5, 0-4), it's a loss but the team was buoyed by the fact it didn't fold in the face of a big deficit and a crowd of 10,974 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"I asked our players after the game, collectively, what we did well, and without hesitation they said, ‘We kept playing hard in the second half,' " Gardner said. "I think that's a good assessment. I was proud of them for doing that because, really, you get down 40-17, you could just kind of throw in the towel. We did some good things. We're not thrilled with the outcome, but we played as hard as we could. We were, you noticed, a little undersized."
Arkansas was led by the Vaughn sisters of Plano, Texas. Freshman Brittney Vaughn had 13 points. Junior Rochelle Vaughn had 10. (Their brother and Rochelle's twin, Vickiel Vaughn, plays cornerback for the Razorbacks' football team.)
Arkansas won the tip, and Rochelle Vaughn nailed a three to start the game. After that it was pretty much all Tennessee. Vaughn said it wasn't the Lady Vols' first shot that beat them, but the fact Tennessee controlled the offensive boards and got second and third shots.
Tennessee (11-3, 1-0) cruised to the 40-17 halftime lead and went on to defeat the Lady Razorbacks, by an 18-point margin. They won the rebounding battle, 46-30, but lost the turnover tally, 23-20, including 14 in the second half. Many were unforced and were simply the result of sloppy play.
But the offensive breakout by Zolman was a sigh of relief for both player and coach and also the source of some humor. Zolman's father, Kem Zolman, had told her to relax and imagine a streaker running across the floor, much as a nervous speaker is told to imagine the audience naked, if necessary, to relax.
Zolman made her first three at the 9:58 mark of the first half with an assist from Loree Moore. The basket put UT up 17-5, and Gardner called timeout. The Lady Vols bench ran out nearly to center court to join their teammates in congratulating Zolman with high-fives and chest-bumps.
"When they called that timeout I asked her if she saw the streaker at the end of the court," Summitt said.
"I was mad at myself for saying that because now everyone probably thinks I'm a pervert," Zolman said. "Dad told me just to forget about everything and just play. So many people have told me so much stuff. As I said out on the radio (post-game show), it's between God and myself and trying to figure out what his will for me is right now and keeping him No.1 on my priority list and not basketball first. That's something I've been going through, building character, whatever it is. I knew when it all comes down to it, it's just playing. Quit thinking so much. My dad has a little sick sense of humor sometimes, because he was (saying) just imagine somebody running naked out there to make you laugh and get your mind off of basketball."
"It's big for the team, and I think it's big for Shanna just to get her confidence back," UT forward Shyra Ely said. "She knew she was going to have a good game today. She came up to me before the game and said, ‘Tonight's the night.' I'm really happy for her."
Another offensive bright spot for Tennessee was the play of center Tye'sha Fluker. She was 6-7 from the field for 12 points and had six rebounds.
"I think Tye Fluker is playing a lot better and scoring better inside for us," Summitt said. "We have to have a post game without question. And when we go inside we get better looks; we get better rebounding position."
Ely had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. The stat line for freshman post player Nicky Anosike was rather mundane – five points and four rebounds – until the assist column pops up with seven.
"I think Nicky instinctively thinks pass," Summitt said. "Obviously when she's in the open floor she reads well. Watching her in high school that's probably one of the first things that stood out to me was her ability to make plays off the dribble and actually run the floor like a guard. I like her aggressiveness."
The game's prettiest assist probably belonged to Zolman, who threw a half-court pass to a streaking Fluker, who converted a reverse layup in stride.
"Coach was in the huddle saying: ‘Tye's running the floor hard. Guards make sure you look down and get inside,' " Zolman said. "I saw Tye, she was running her fool head off. I looked up and saw she was leading the pack so I threw it down to her."
"I just ran as fast as I could," Fluker said. "I don't think I've ever ran that fast the whole season. Shanna saw me, and I just wanted to give her an assist. I didn't know it was a reverse. I just tried to make the shot. I just focused tonight on making my open and easy shots. Dean (Lockwood) has been working with the posts in practice on finishing our easy shots so that's what I tried to focus on."
Freshman guard Alexis Hornbuckle scored only two points but had two assists, two steals and seven rebounds.
"If you look at what Hornbuckle is doing, she's been able to help us," Summitt said of her rebounding. "That gets our break going. Having that is certainly a plus for us."
The early lead allowed Summitt to get some minutes for players who needed some court time, including Dominique Redding, who scored 10 points in 17 minutes of play, and freshman Sybil Dosty, who had two points, two rebounds and five fouls in eight minutes of play. Her last foul was odd. An Arkansas player had fallen down in the lane, and Dosty tripped over her while trying to track down a rebound. Adding injury to insult, Dosty banged her head hard against the floor when she fell.
Redding's performance was pleasing to Summitt, especially considering practice Tuesday when Redding got upset after getting admonished by Summitt for her play and left the court. Summitt was displeased at that practice and had singled out nearly everyone for sloppy or lazy play.
"I don't hold grudges against players," Summitt said. "We just deal with what happens, and we move on. I wanted to get her more minutes. Obviously she's had a lot more minutes this year at this point in time than she did last year. She's a player we know can help us. She didn't handle the double teams as well in the second half. But aside from that she did some good things. We'll give her some tape to look at, hopefully something to build on for her confidence."
Summitt also was hoping to get more minutes for freshman point guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, but she didn't play because of an undisclosed violation of team policy, resulting in a one-game suspension.
"It would have been a great opportunity tonight for her to get some quality minutes, so I'm disappointed she took herself out of the game," Summitt said.
Ely conceded that the 23-point halftime lead might have lulled the Lady Vols into complacency.
"But the sign of a good team is that you can stay up, and you can still have that killer instinct and pounce on them," Ely said. "That's something that we'll definitely work on for the future."
"We got off to a slow start," Zolman said of the second half. "We didn't keep up the intensity defensively. We started playing a little bit more one-on-one offensively. It's another thing to look at when we go back to practice."
Brittney Vaughn said Arkansas regrouped at halftime and decided to try to find Tennessee's weaknesses.
"We just tried to attack them and not let them attack us like they did in the first half," said Vaughn, who added Tennessee was vulnerable to penetration.
Gardner said she "wasn't going to take up for coach Summitt's team by any means, but when you have a team down 40-17 at halftime maybe the intensity level in the locker room is not quite as high as if it's tied. Certainly from a coach's perspective, hers or mine, you want teams to play two halves equally with the same intensity.
"I tell my guys don't look at the scoreboard, just play as well as you can. I would imagine when you have a team down that much, you're going to lose a little bit of the edge. And then from our perspective you're down, and you have nothing to lose. You come out and just play. You don't think about it anymore. Just give it to Brittney, and let her figure out what she's going to do with it. Penetrate their weaknesses, right Britt? That's the first time I've heard that one."
"Yes ma'am," Vaughn politely responded.
It was the Lady Vols' 55th straight regular season SEC win at home. The win over Arkansas also got the Lady Vols off to the right start if they hope to repeat their feat of last season when they went undefeated in regular season play. It would be quite a feat given the depth in the SEC this year – Kentucky beat Georgia on Thursday – and the difficulty Tennessee has had in putting together two good halves of basketball.
SEC archrival Vanderbilt looms on Sunday in Nashville, the site of UT's last regular season conference loss in 2002.
"The teams that compete for 40 minutes understand preparation for March," Summitt said. "We've had our lapses enough this year that they should be a little bit more focused. From that standpoint I'm really disappointed. Knowing what we're facing on Sunday in Nashville I'm concerned for them.
"It is a very tough place to play, and I think Melanie Balcomb has done a great job. I think her team is better from what I've seen on tape. I normally don't watch teams in advance. Holly (Warlick) and I were recruiting a couple of nights ago, and she had Vanderbilt as her scout so we watched two games on them. They run a ton of sets and execute very well. They've got inside players that get the job done. They've got guards that shoot the three. (Dee) Davis is doing a great job pushing tempo. It almost ruined my evening. It definitely told me we have to bring our ‘A' game. It's not so much about wanting to win the conference. It's to have the mindset of going on the road and playing the way we have to play to be successful."
For now, Tennessee will take the win and return to the practice court Friday afternoon.
"It's kind of like another season," Ely said. "As tough as our conference is we just wanted to get off on the right foot."