Lady Vols run past Carson-Newman

Tennessee's players were issued a workout T-shirt in the preseason that stated "Lady Vols Do Not Rebuild … They Reload." That sentiment was on display Thursday in a 135-55 defeat of Carson-Newman that featured 33 points and 14 rebounds from newcomer Glory Johnson and double-digit scoring from five other freshmen. The offensive output was the second-highest in an exhibition for a Pat Summitt team.

Pat Summitt nearly needed a turnstile at the scorer's table to rotate players in and out in the first half as Tennessee led by double digits in less than four minutes of play with nine straight points from redshirt freshman Kelley Cain.

At the 14:13 mark with the score 17-6, the Lady Vols had five true freshmen on the floor in Briana Bass, Alicia Manning, Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson and Alyssia Brewer. That group pushed the lead to 33-12 before freshman Amber Gray entered and added six points in the first half.

By halftime the Lady Vols led 64-29, and the freshmen's fingerprints were all over the box score. Stricklen had five steals and Cain had 18 points on 8-10 shooting by the break. Johnson was nearly halfway to her total with 15 points, and Brewer already had six rebounds.

"I'm really excited," Summitt said. "Obviously this is a new challenge to have this many young players, the six true freshmen and a redshirt freshman. But it's been fun. I've demanded a lot, and I'm going to demand a whole lot more, because I see potential there for us to be very competitive."

A trio of veterans got the game started in sophomores Cait McMahan and Sydney Smallbone and senior Alex Fuller. Stricklen started along with Cain, marking the first time in 23 years – and only the second time in program history – that two first-year players were in the lineup on opening night. The last time was in 1985 when Bridgette Gordon and Sheila Frost debuted together.

The offensive explosion of 135 points was second in exhibition play only to the 144 points scored against Dynamo Kiev on Nov. 5, 2000.

"Wow," Carson-Newman Coach Dean Walsh said. "I wish I had a statement that would fit. I'm proud of the effort our girls gave against a team that you noticed was just so much bigger, stronger, faster and honestly did that they should do, the two-time defending national champion should do against a Division II program.

"There were just a lot of things you can't control – when you put a body on somebody and they still move you like you're a toothpick. You can't do much about that."

Tennessee's offensive efficiency was noteworthy, but the game also left the Lady Vols with two clear areas of needed improvement – team defense and free throw shooting, which was an anemic 51.0 percent at 25-49.

"Offensively we're ahead of our defense," Summitt said. "We've got to get a lot better defensively. Our team last year held them to 30 something. (91-30 was the final last season against Carson-Newman).

"Our offense was more productive than our defense. We'll get better. I don't know who the free throw shooting coach is. It must be Dean (Lockwood) or Holly (Warlick), or Daedra (Charles-Furlow). It's not me."

Summitt was smiling when she said that, but the free throw shooting percentage did disturb her.

"That's unacceptable," Summitt said. "We're going to have spend time (in practice) and put them in pressure situations to get better there. We can work on that."

Other than that it was a dominating performance by Tennessee against a team overmatched in height and athleticism. The Lady Vols owned the boards, 72-27, and had 26 assists – five for Manning and four apiece for McMahan and Bass – and 22 steals. Brewer tallied seven steals and Stricklen had six takeaways. Tennessee shot 57.4 percent in the first half, 55.6 percent in the second half and finished at 56.5 percent for the game.

The performance of Johnson off the bench was the storyline of the evening as the forward from Knoxville's Webb School made a case for a starter's slot with 33 points, 14 boards, eight of which were offensive, two steals and two assists. Summitt had announced Johnson as a starter a week ago, but changed her mind after a sporadic practice session over the weekend.

Johnson played like she wanted Summitt to reconsider, but the evaluation also occurs between games.

"Glory can change her role when she brings it in practice every day," Summitt said. "She's obviously a special player, and she's given in a little bit to fatigue during practice. I have a lot of respect for her and also I have a different expectation for her, and she's got to bring it every day in practice.

"The people who start for us, that's how they win that starting role, and I think she's got it in her. But it's not only about who starts. It's about who has a big impact on the game. Clearly she had that tonight."

Once Johnson took the floor she didn't want to give Summitt a reason to take her out.

"Coming off the bench, I knew that I couldn't just come off and play nervous," Johnson said. "Coming on and playing with the starters that were out there and a couple of the other freshmen that came in we were just trying to show what we could do. We were on the bench for a little bit, and I guess we had to show Pat what we were working with.

"It something that you don't want to do – coming off the bench and you're slow and you're not ready to play and then she's going to take you back out and put you right back on the bench. I really don't like being on the bench. Who likes being on the bench? Just to prove that I don't need to be there or at least go out and have to come out. It was something that I was trying to prove and hopefully I left something out there."

Summitt has already said that she would juggle the lineup for the second exhibition game – and sophomore Angie Bjorklund will be available Sunday – so one obvious post-game question was that with two of the players with arguably the most experience from last season, Bjorklund and Vicki Baugh, out for the game, how much better could the team have played and how does the coaching staff sort out the rotation?

"We did have two of our best players sitting," Summitt said. "I think what the challenge is probably going to be in some situations is the rotation, because it's very difficult to rotate 12 players and keep the continuity that you want.

"But it all depends on what they are willing to bring and the roles they're willing to play and commit to. Certainly, they'll (Bjorklund and Baugh) make a difference for us. Vicki Baugh is a player that can change a game just like Glory Johnson changed the game tonight."

Another difference-maker was Cain, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. Cain was playing for the first time in a year after having major surgery last December to realign her right kneecap.

"At first I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect but once I got out there, I forgot about it and played," Cain said.

Cain was the recipient of a McMahan pass in the second half that ended with a fast-break layup in stride. The pass was perfect, as was the finish, but what was really pleasing to Summitt was Cain sprinting the floor.

"I thought Kelley moved well up and down, and she has to continue to make that a priority because we need that from Kelley," Summitt said. "I told her, ‘You've got to be the first post down, not the second post, because we need you on the block, not making the high-low pass.' She's getting better at that.

"Heather (Mason) has done a great job of convincing our team what they need to do in transition and I think, in particular, really challenging Kelley on a daily basis, which is good."

Manning also filled up the box score, although she waited until the second half, after rushing the action with the ball in her hands before the break.

"Coach has been working with me on being patient with the ball, not being too quick to get it out of my hands," Manning said. "We had a little talk at halftime and she talked to me about being a little more patient so that helped me out a lot."

Manning ended up with 19 points, six rebounds, five assists, three blocks and four steals. She got several baskets on putbacks by crashing the glass.

"I watched her played for years," Summitt said. "I think the thing about Alicia is that she is a very active player. Although she really has guard skills she attacks the basket. She's a rebounding guard. She creates for other people.

"She's just a tough-minded, hard-nosed player. I like that about her. She's not afraid to take the ball to the hole and just makes a lot of good things happen. I thought when she was in the game she really picked up the intensity of our team."

The Lady Vols also got inside help from Brewer, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Gray, who added 16 points and also stuck a deep three-pointer. Stricklen added 17 points, six boards and six steals and showed she could wreak havoc in the open court on defense but was composed with the ball in her hands at the point.

"Overall, I liked what I saw from our point guard play," Summitt said. "Shekinna Stricklen played like I thought she'd play. She's just a player."

McMahan and Bass also got repetitions at the point – McMahan didn't score but had four assists and a steal, and Bass had four points, four assists and a steal. More importantly, neither had a turnover.

Walsh noted a change in how Tennessee would need its point guards this year.

"I think the roles of her point guards in the past have been to be scorers; this year they just need to be playmakers," Walsh said. "There's no doubt Cait and Briana did that."

Walsh, who has played Tennessee for four years in the preseason – his thinking is that the games challenge his players and make the rest of their opponents seem manageable – noted several differences with this year's team.

"The size is there like they've had in the past, but I think the reach with this group, the athletic mobility, lateral ability, athleticism is a lot greater," Walsh said. "You can have Candace who was that mobile and athletic for her size, (but) you've got more than one athletic, mobile, lanky player out there than Candace Parker this year. You've got players that can play multiple positions. You can really create several mismatches and a lot of problems, which is what she has done in the past.

"She could play Candace inside, outside. This year she's got three or four players she can have the luxury of doing that with. I think this team seems to be more relentless on the boards than her teams in the past at more than one position. I don't know how much you judge it when we're throwing 5'10, 5'11 at you. That's how they compare right now because I really don't think we are a bad team. I think we're a pretty decent team this year. And Coach even mentioned, ‘You're going to fine this year. You're going to be OK.' "

Carson-Newman was without two frontline players, including starter Lindsey Eggleston, who injured an ankle in Tuesday's 114-64 exhibition loss to North Carolina.

"There's no doubt it would have helped," Walsh said. "I don't know if it would have helped cut into 80 (point deficit) or not. … We can make it to Division II Final Four, and we won't see anything near this. We won't see the depth, the size, the athleticism at any level.

"We can break down the DVD, pull out some positives and show them what they've done and if you can do this against a Tennessee or a North Carolina, then you should be able to do it against anybody you play. They feel like we can compete with anybody."

"It makes our games seem really easy," said senior guard Ashley Tipton, who is from Knoxville, and tallied three points and four rebounds.

"I don't think I shot well, period, regardless of what UT did, but their size is just unreal," Tipton said. "I didn't get that many looks – maybe four or five, anyways. It's hard to get a look off when you have to look through someone who is half a foot taller than you and that's coming at you. That's kind of intimidating. In the past they put (Nicky) Anosike on me, which wasn't that much easier. Physically, they were really big this year. It was hard."

Carson-Newman was led by Mandy Mendenhall, who scored 13 points and had eight rebounds. McKenzie Wampler, who played at nearby Lenoir City, was 3-3 from the field with a three-pointer and finished with seven points.

"When I was a little girl I always dreamed of playing here at Thompson-Boling," Wampler said. "I actually went to Pat Summitt's camp in the fifth grade, and I just loved the experience. Getting to be able to play on the floor as a college athlete is beyond my dreams. It's been fun."

The Lady Eagles could not counter the frontline or backcourt size of the Lady Vols, but a 72-27 edge on the boards even got Summitt's attention.

"That's unbelievable when you combine our offensive and defensive output," Summitt said. "But I do like the fact that we have people who have a nose for the ball. Lyssi Brewer really pursued the ball well. Manning pursued the ball. As a team we've got a nose for the basketball.

"That's something I'm going to continue to emphasize. I think when you have a team that has that it's a good thing. I think they've got to get a little bit more determined on the defensive end of the floor as far as rebounding."

Fuller, who was needed for just 15 minutes and had a nifty spin move and finish with the left hand on her way to eight points, reached double digits in rebounds with 10, with eight coming on offense. That's expected from a senior, but the freshmen also made a dash for the glass. The result was 37 second-chance points with 80 of the team's 135 points coming in the paint.

"This is definitely a team that can get to the glass," Cain said. "Coach emphasizes it in practice all the time – rebounding wins championships, so that is our goal."

The second part of Summitt's equation references defense. The ball pressure was adequate, and the full-court attack showed promise, but the team defense – reacting to screens, switching and bringing help – was scattershot.

"It's just us trusting each other on defense," Cain said. "We are a completely different team with 12 great players, and we need to communicate a lot more on defense and trust that your teammate is going to have got your back."

"And get the system down," Manning said.

And get the system down," Cain repeated with a smile.

The other part of Summitt's mantra mentions offense – that it sells tickets – and the box score listed 11,781 in attendance. Last year's senior-laden team scored 90 on Carson-Newman. This year's team had 100 points at the 8:07 mark after a Manning putback that brought the bench to its feet.

"This is a completely different team this year," Cain said. "I think we're a lot faster than last year definitely. We like to run the ball, and we kept the tempo up throughout the game. Our team was just excited that our season has finally started."

That's not good news for opponents who were hoping that Tennessee would be significantly weaker this year with the loss of five senior starters. But it's a long season and a drubbing of a Division II team won't cause Summitt to relax. Or ease off the throttle, which has been engaged since late August when individual workouts began.

"The coaches did a really good job of preparing us during preseason and getting in the weight room and getting everything done," Manning said. "This was a good game for us to get started out, get some confidence and get used to the big crowd, all the pressures that come with being a Lady Vol."

Summitt has clearly heard the rumblings that foes think her young team is vulnerable this season.

"I know a lot of people think this may be the year they're going to get us, and we've got to get better so that doesn't happen," Summitt said.

The freshmen don't want to be the reason that the Lady Vols slip.

"You can ask any freshman," Manning said. "It's definitely a motivation. Regardless of how young we are people have always been gunning for our program and we've got to play hard every game. As freshmen … we're going to prove ourselves."

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