In the first four minutes of the game the Lady Vols had five fouls and two turnovers, and Texas took advantage by taking an early lead, 9-2. But Tennessee got three-pointers from Briana Bass and Angie Bjorklund to draw closer and stayed within single digits before tying the game at 31 apiece on a free throw by Alyssia Brewer.
"I was really very pleased with our first half of play overall," Coach Pat Summitt said. "I felt we executed better in the first half. I don't know, we would have been better off if we didn't have halftime, maybe."
The second half started with Tennessee getting its first lead of the game, 33-31, on a post feed from Bass to Glory Johnson but then the Lady Vols committed three consecutive turnovers followed by a free throw, missed jumper and yet another turnover.
Texas, 9-0, took advantage by taking a 39-34 lead and never trailed for the rest of the game, much to the delight of the 8,567 in attendance for the afternoon game, although the bright orange color of Tennessee was sprinkled throughout the burnt orange of the Erwin Center, known locally as "The Drum" because of its shape.
"Coming out of halftime I just didn't really feel like we did a good job overall," Summitt said. "The things that were costly for us were not taking care of the ball. Certainly that is costly. You don't shoot well from the line and you're turning the ball over and you're getting beat on the boards. I thought in the second half we didn't have a sense of urgency. We didn't play as well together.
"We missed so many easy, easy shots in the paint. And you've got to give Texas an awful lot of credit. They were tough. They definitely had the advantage on the boards. This team today was not committed to rebounding and you cannot go on the road and play against quality opponents if you don't bring your defense and your board play."
Tennessee, 7-2, could look to the stat sheet for an explanation of the loss – out-rebounded 52-41 and an 11-24 (45.8 percent) performance from the free throw line. The Lady Vols also had 18 turnovers, which Texas converted into 23 points. Another factor that the box score doesn't quantify – mental breakdowns on both sides of the ball.
"I do give Texas a lot of credit with their defense and their pressure, and also they were hitting shots," Tennessee sophomore forward Angie Bjorklund said. "I think our defense just broke down. When things weren't going our way, we weren't there mentally. We just need to stay in it and hopefully we'll learn from this."
Johnson led Tennessee with 13 points – all scored in the second half – and Bjorklund added 11 on 4-7 shooting, including 3-4 from behind the arc.
But both players were in foul trouble for most of the game. Bjorklund had three in the first half and picked up the fourth foul less than four minutes into the second half with the score tied at 39-39 off a steal and layup by Shekinna Stricklen. Bjorklund returned at the 7:54 mark and fouled out less than four minutes later.
"I think with the fouls, that's just something you have to play through and be smart with and adjust to how the officials are officiating." Bjorklund said. "I think that's just something I learned from. I can't let that affect the rest of my game and I need to stay in it more mentally. I thought first half our bench came in and stepped up."
The bench accounted for 11 of Tennessee's 31 points in the first half. Sophomore guard Sydney Smallbone hit a three-pointer playing inside-out with Vicki Baugh, and also had two boards and two assists in six minutes of play in the first half. Brewer, Kelley Cain and Alex Fuller each hit a shot in relief. Fuller faked right, left and then finished right to draw the Lady Vols to 31-30 before Brewer tied it with a free throw. When Texas in-bounded the ball under its basket with 0.5 left, Summitt hustled Cain to the scorer's table to check in, and the 6'6 center tipped away the pass to end the half.
But Bjorklund's ability to get open and hit shots – she has shot well in her last two games after coming back from a back injury - was missing for long stretches of time because of foul trouble.
"Obviously we needed Angie on the floor," Summitt said. "Overall I thought Angie moved well without the ball. She's got to be more aware. She just ran over a couple times, just tried to run through defenders. I thought that was something as Angie continues to play she's got to recognize that when you're a great shooter and your team and your staff is counting on you, you can't take yourself out of the game with fouls. You just can't do it. We have a lot of players right now that don't quite understand that."
Bjorklund and Stricklen fouled out. Baugh finished the game with four fouls. Johnson had two fouls in the first two minutes and sat until the 5:02 mark. She got her third foul 52 seconds later.
To Johnson's credit she didn't pick up any fouls in the second half.
"I just had to play smarter," Johnson said. "I knew what I could do and I knew what I couldn't do. I knew what the refs were going to call and I knew what they weren't going to call, sort of, kind of. I just wasn't as physical, wasn't as aggressive, but I still tried to play my own game."
Johnson's game relies on her interior quickness and she was getting inside against the Longhorns and drawing fouls.
"Glory Johnson basically kept them in it in the second half," Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We need to do a much better job with our post defense."
Unfortunately for the Lady Vols, Johnson was misfiring from the free throw line. She was 7-14 after shooting well from the stripe in the past several games.
"Once again the free throw shooting problem is back," Johnson said. "I've just got to get back in the gym and keep shooting about 100, 200 free throws a day like I normally do. Like I said before it's mental. I've just got to take my mind off of it and shoot. I know I can make them. I've just got to do it."
Tennessee as a team was misfiring, including four straight misses by Johnson and Baugh when the Lady Vols were trailing, 62-54, and could have cut an eight-point deficit in half.
Tennessee was missing from the field, too – 33.3 percent for the game – and that combined with the missed free throws took a toll on the defensive end.
"When you don't make shots, if you are a young basketball team, a lot of times that will deflate them," Summitt said. "I thought not making shots really affected our defense and our board play. And that's where a veteran team, say our team a year ago would say, ‘We've got to make stops.' And they would make six, seven, eight consecutive stops.
"We didn't make those stops, and I think that's a focus and a mental toughness, as well as a commitment on the defensive end and on the boards."
Texas, meanwhile, started making shots. After shooting 29.0 percent in the first half the Longhorns hit 44.1 percent in the second to finish at 36.9 percent for the game.
"At halftime, I talked to the players," Goestenkors said. "I said, ‘What is the most important stat to me?' And they all said rebounding, and I said, ‘OK, what's the second-most important stat?' And they said assists. I said, ‘OK, we have two. That's not going to get it. I do not like that kind of basketball. It's not any fun for you, it's not any fun for me, and it's not going to be good for our team, so we have got to share the ball and penetrate to make other people better and find the open player.'
"That was really the difference. We had 10 (assists) in the second half and that was the difference for us. Offensively, in our flow, we must share the ball to look good."
Nash started the game 0-5 but was 3-5 in the second half.
"Coach always tells me to keep shooting it," Nash said. "Usually when I make one shot it helps for the second. Our whole flow on offense changed in the second half and I think that really changed my shot."
Cortijo played just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble but stayed on the floor for 15 minutes in the second half.
Her ability to run the offense and pressure the perimeter are keys for Texas, and it showed in the second half.
"I just felt like we were being a little bit more aggressive (defensively)," Goestenkors said. "I thought we settled down a little bit (offensively) in the second half. Carla only played six minutes because of foul trouble in the first half. I think she's one of the best at really digging in and causing some problems defensively. It was nice to have her out on the floor on both ends for us."
Tennessee was still within three points, 45-42, with 14:31 left to play despite its horrific start to the second half but back-to-back three-pointers by Raven and Nash – both set up by assists – gave Texas a cushion that it never surrendered.
"Just whenever we drive and kick, it really opens things up for us," Nash said. "I know, as a shooter, it's a lot easier when Brittainey draws the defense away from me. They were really playing us tight, so I just think that when we move the ball, it really helps."
"Like coach said, at halftime, she told us that we needed to share the ball a lot more, and that's what we're good at," Raven said. "That's what we're known for - driving in and kicking out to our shooters. Once we got that going in the second half, we hit those two threes, and we continued to drive the ball. It was hard for Tennessee to read whether we were going to drive-and-kick or drive and go all the way to the basket."
When Goestenkors and Nash were asked about the magnitude of beating the defending national champions, neither took the bait – the coach noted Texas is a power in its own right and the player responded by pointing out the Lady Vols' youth. None of the players who started in the NCAA tourney last season are on this year's team for Tennessee.
"We've always been legitimate," said Goestenkors, who didn't want to minimize the win but didn't want to overemphasize it either. "I think everyone knows Texas women's basketball. But it continues to legitimize what we're doing, how we're growing and that we are going to be a national power and a team to always be reckoned with."
"We've been waiting for a game like this," Raven said. "Tennessee, they're young, they're going to continue to grow and continue to improve. But this is a good win for us. We worked hard for this, and we just have to continue to work from here."
"I think we had a really good mentality going into this game," Nash said. "We knew we could win, and we knew if we played our hardest, we'd win."
Texas doesn't look remotely similar to the team that lost 92-67 against Tennessee last season in Knoxville.
"This year, we had a lot more confidence going into this game than we did last year," Raven said. "Last year, we didn't have Erika, and this year we had Erika back. Although it wasn't a good shooting night for her (Erika Arriaran was 0-9 from the field), when she was out on the court, I think it still helped us. They didn't want to leave Erika to help off on the drive."
Summitt raved about Raven after the game. The junior guard led all scorers with 21 points and also had three boards, a steal and a block. Her energetic style of play set the tone for Texas.
"She's explosive," Summitt said. "She's tough. I think she is such a confident player. She can get others involved. Very, very impressed with what she brings and when you have a player like that everyone else can relax a little bit more. They got the ball moving, they got good open looks against us and playing off the dribble drives they are tough to defend off the bounce. I think she's certainly has a very strong influence on getting everyone else to play at the level that she plays at."
Tennessee, meanwhile, was playing in spurts. Freshman point guard Briana Bass logged 30 minutes because Cait McMahan's knee was too sore for her to play in the second half after playing five minutes in the first. McMahan looked a little gimpy in pre-game warm-ups and had an ice pack on her knee in the second half on the bench.
"She (Cait) said she couldn't go in the second half," Summitt said. "I think it's important for us to get another guard that's comfortable there because I think Cait, it's going to be touch and go with her knee. Those are two true point guards so that leaves us with only Bree.
"We need to go back and really work with point guard by committee even more. Shekinna Stricklen can do that for us. Alicia Manning can. So we just have to probably spend more time with those two in that position and just work them."
Bass struggled from the field with 2-9 shooting and also had five turnovers. Despite all the fouls called in the game – 26 against Tennessee and 22 against Texas - Bass didn't benefit as she was knocked to the floor several times and twice got called for the foul.
"Bree wasn't the same player (as in past games)," Summitt said. "She has to come in and really establish how we want to play, particularly on the offensive end. I thought she was just not as driven to push the ball. She makes everyone run when she's in transition. It was almost like throughout the second half it was more about coaching effort.
"As a coach I can tell you that drains everyone. We're going to learn. We're going to learn a lot from this game."
Bass did get on the boards. She was tied with Cain at four apiece at halftime and finished with six rebounds. But when the 5'2 point guard is among the leaders on the boards that indicates a problem underneath.
Johnson had nine rebounds in 23 minutes of play and Baugh grabbed eight, but on several occasions the post players – starters and substitutes – didn't secure the ball and had it knocked away or slip through their hands. Johnson said she altered the way she crashed the boards.
"For me I was more hesitant because of the fouls that I was getting," Johnson said. "The third foul I got was over the back. … So I decided to only go for rebounds when no one's around."
But Johnson noted the players should not let up in intensity, which happened Sunday.
We've still got to be aggressive and still play our game, whether we're going to get the fouls or not," Johnson said. "We've just got to play smart and go for rebounds even if. … There's no way to let up."
Bjorklund glanced at the stat sheet, noted she had zero rebounds and shook her head in disappointment.
"I think we just need to make it more of a priority and we definitely didn't do that," Bjorklund said. "I definitely didn't do that in the second half or in the first half. I think for all of us, as a team collectively, we need to make rebounding definitely more of a priority, especially in games like these."
Tennessee's size should give the Lady Vols an edge on the boards, but Goestenkors got board production from her frontline – Earnesia Williams had seven and Ashley Lindsey and Nash grabbed eight – including the freshman Ashley Gayle, a 6'4 post who tallied a career-high seven boards off the bench to go with six points.
"I thought our freshmen gave us great minutes, in particular I thought Ashley Gayle on the inside – they've got so many big post players; they just keep bringing them in and bringing them in – I thought she really competed," Goestenkors said. "That was the greatest thing to see them not back down and compete. Yvonne (Anderson), Ashley, those two in particular I thought had a really positive impact on the game."
Tennessee has three freshmen in the starting lineup and with that comes significant growing pains. Bjorklund, a sophomore, is the most-experienced player on the roster from last season in terms of minutes and games played. Baugh made tremendous strides in the last two months of the season – she performed well in the post-season – but she missed an entire off-season of work to recover from ACL surgery last May and missed most of the preseason practices.
A young team is vulnerable to what happened Sunday – lapses, offensive impatience, defensive miscues and an inability to adjust to the officiating. The calls, however, perturbed Summitt, too.
At one point she engaged in discussion a group of Texas fans sitting near Tennessee's bench, and they nodded in agreement.
"Well, the officials wouldn't listen. No, I shouldn't say that … ," Summitt said. "No one would listen to me so I started talking to some of the fans behind me and they were pretty funny actually. They could officiate, too. They were calling what they saw. I was just trying to make light of something when things weren't going well for us."
Summitt made it clear that Texas earned the win on the court and her team failed to adjust. She also noted the turnovers to start the second half caused her team to play catch-up again.
"I thought that hurt us," Summitt said. "I didn't think Bree was as sharp coming out of the locker room with her leadership at the point. Things just started to break down for us.
"Still, we had spurts of doing some good things. I thought the one thing in the second half – and obviously watching the tape again will confirm it for me – but I just thought we played so overanxious offensively."
Tennessee had 15 assists on 21 baskets. Amber Gray recorded the sweetest one after getting a baseline pass from Baugh, which Gray delivered no-look to Cain. The Lady Vols tallied seven blocks – four from Baugh, who swatted away two shots after another player got beat on drives to the basket – and eight steals.
But the missed shots snowballed on Tennessee and affected the subsequent possessions on offense and defense.
"At some point I do think it affects us individually, but as a team after we miss shots you have another teammate pumping you up and still trying to push the ball," Johnson said. "We shouldn't worry about what shots we miss and what shots we make, we should just keep on trying to push the ball and keep on playing hard."
Goestenkors, who is 6-5 against Summitt while at Duke and now Texas, was overall pleased with her team's performance. The win was No. 399 in the Erwin Center for the Longhorns and the 9-0 start is the best perfect slate since the 1987-88 season.
"I'm really proud of the team. It was a hard-fought win," Goestenkors said. "Tennessee is an excellent team. They've got so many outstanding players. They just kept coming at us. But I thought we withstood their runs and then we make a run of our own.
"I was most impressed with our rebounding. We knew that was going to be a huge key to the game. That's what we talked about and worked on really all week long. I'm just really proud of the rebounding effort, and it was a team effort. It wasn't one person, it was everybody, and that's what you need against a great team like Tennessee. Overall, I'm just really pleased. We've got a lot of things still to work on and we will learn a great deal from this game – both, the good things that we did and the things we still need to do better.
"We just have to continue to do a better job offensively. We had some good moments in the second half, but overall for the game, we weren't executing. We didn't set good screens. When you're playing athletic teams that really fight hard on defense and work hard on defense, you've got to make sure to set the good screens, to use your screens. Little things like that make a big difference in big games. We got away with some things I thought today, not doing the little things well."
Summitt described this year's Texas team and last year's as "night and day."
"They're playing really, really tough on the defensive end but also they can break you down off the dribble, tough on the boards," Summitt said. "I was very impressed when I watched them on tape and probably even more so watching them in this game. They move with the ball and without the ball, and they defend. I think Gail's done a great job here. I know she's excited about this team, and she has every reason to be."
Summitt left the floor already thinking about how to get her team to improve. In fact, she was too engrossed in thought.
"I picked up the stat sheet, started looking at it, went down and talked to Gail and then I turned around and I thought, ‘I didn't even go speak to Coach DeMoss,' " Summitt said. "So I met them and the players in the back hallway and apologized. I made it a point to go back and talk to the players. I told Mickie, ‘I'm sorry Mickie. I was looking at the stat sheet and analyzing it.' I have tremendous respect for Gail and the staff and players and this series. This has been a great series."
Summitt stayed in the hallway before entering her locker room and greeted the Texas players on their way to the Longhorn locker room.
The media asked Summitt about her exit in the post-game press conference because it was so unusual. As Summitt walked off the court she had her head buried in the box score.
"I'm just focused on how I'm going to help these young players get better," Summitt said.
As she stood to leave for her radio show, Summitt asked if there were any other questions.
"Y'all need anything else? I'm not going to walk off this time," Summitt said to laughter.
The Lady Vols flew back to Knoxville after the game and will reassemble for practice Monday afternoon. There are two more games this week – at Old Dominion on Thursday and hosting Stanford on Sunday – before the team breaks for Christmas.
Among the areas to improve are offensive composure, board play, ball security and defense. Mental toughness will make the list, too.
"I really think the major thing is staying in it mentally," Bjorklund said. "When things aren't going our way or if we're missing shots we need to just go to the next play and take it one possession at a time, especially on defense. If we don't hit a shot we need to go back and get a stop in order to stay in the game.
"I think we'll take this and hopefully grow up fast and learn from it."