Tennessee takes out Stanford in OT

Shekinna Stricklen scored a career-high 25 points – including the first eight in overtime – and Angie Bjorklund added 16 points – the first time in three games she has scored against Stanford – as the Lady Vols clipped the Cardinal, 79-69, on Sunday. Pat Summitt joked afterwards that she would have preferred to win in regulation, but her team wanted to play some more before the Christmas break.

A year ago Stanford beat Tennessee in overtime in Palo Alto, and Pat Summitt stewed over the loss during the holidays and her sour mood lingered when the team reassembled at practice after the break, including one session in which she opted to not even speak. Summitt expects to have a much merrier Christmas this year.

"This is so much better. So much better," Summitt said with a smile. "I may even buy somebody a gift. Who knows?"

She would have preferred that Tennessee, 9-2, close out the game in 40 minutes, but she saluted her team for its performance in the extra five minutes, in which the Lady Vols shot 50 percent and Shekinna Stricklen hit back-to-back three-pointers, both on feeds from Angie Bjorklund, who had four assists for the game.

"Obviously, really pleased when we got to the overtime that I thought we understood what we had to do," Summitt said. "If we had played defense like that all night, we wouldn't have had an overtime."

"I told them, ‘We've got to close it out,' " Summitt added. "Of course I was hoping to close it out in regulation but I guess they wanted to play a little longer. I didn't. I was ready to go to the locker room.

"Overall, we're still growing because of our youth, but we have a lot of options. Certainly I feel like we are getting better at understanding how we have to compete."

Stanford, 8-3, scored one point in overtime after Jeanette Pohlen had hit a three-pointer from deep in the corner to tie the game, 68-68, in regulation.

"I kind of hoped it was (in)," Pohlen said. "I definitely felt set, and I felt like my feet were under me and I wasn't off balance. It was a good screen."

Tennessee had one last possession late in regulation, but Glory Johnson got called for a charge, and Stanford had a chance to win the game in the end. Point guard Mel Murphy drove to the basket, but was tracked step for step by Alicia Manning, who blocked the shot.

"Alicia really stepped up and was guarding the point guard down the stretch," Bjorklund said. "They cleared out, and she locked her down. She also had some key rebounds." Tennessee added 11 points in the extra time with eight coming from Stricklen, who missed the last game against Old Dominion because of a stomach illness.

"I was well rested because I didn't play against Old Dominion," Stricklen said. "I'm 100 percent now. I was really sick the ODU game. I didn't go to breakfast to eat, I didn't go practice. I didn't eat pre-game with them. I slept the whole time."

"She was really sick," Bjorklund said. "She was bad."

Bjorklund picked up the slack in that road game with a career-tying 29 points and six three-pointers.

Stricklen, who had shot very well in preseason practices and from well behind the arc, showed that form in the game in a 10-17 performance from the field with three 3-pointers.

"I thought Shekinna when I watched her play from the ninth grade on I thought she was going to be a very special player," Summitt said. "She's got deep range on her three-ball. She has the quickness, but she also has the composure and the combination of her offensive skill set – she can shoot the three, take it off the dribble, has got a nice pull-up game, just good court awareness overall offensively.

"I think she has a calming effect with her on the floor. I like her at the point position, but with Briana (at point), it does free up her to get on the wing and us run more sets to try and free her up. But she did a good job of just getting herself open tonight. We didn't have to run a lot of things to her."

Briana Bass set the tone behind the arc for Tennessee – as a team the Lady Vols were 46.2 percent from long range – by hitting her first two attempts in the first half.

"Wasn't that Bobbitt out there again," Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer said, in reference to Shannon Bobbitt, whose threes in the first half of the national championship game in Tampa opened up the game for Tennessee last April.

Bass is 5'2, so the comparisons to the 5'2 Bobbitt, who now plays in the WNBA and for a team in Turkey, have been frequent this season.

Tennessee fell behind early, 6-2, but Bass hit two three-pointers sandwiched between a layup by Johnson, to give the Lady Vols a 10-8 lead at the 15:51 mark.

Johnson finished with seven points – thus halting her consecutive games of double-figure scoring at 10 for a rookie campaign – but the Lady Vols were more concerned about the status of her right leg after a collision in the overtime period with Stricklen after Johnson got tangled with Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike and ended up on the floor.

A boisterous crowd of 14,763 gave Johnson a round of applause as Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine, helped her to the locker room.

"They just handed me a note that Glory has a right leg thigh contusion," Summitt said during her post-game press conference. "For me personally, knowing other things that could have happened, we may have dodged a big bullet. This will take some time, but it could have been a lot worse."

Tennessee has dodged several serious injuries this week – Kelley Cain and Alyssia Brewer nearly sustained major knee injuries against Old Dominion but both were able to get their leg up at the last minute so the foot was not planted at the time of impact.

Cain has been nursing a sore right knee all month but came off the bench to score six points and grab four rebounds.

"I thought Kelley's size and presence was obviously much needed," Summitt said. "I think Kelley's getting better. I thought this was one of her best efforts. Not that she scored a lot of points but I think her presence alone really was solid for us defensively."

Cain had three blocks, none bigger than when Tennessee was clinging to a 66-65 lead and Stanford's Jayne Appel missed the front end of a one-and-one. Ogwumike got the offensive board under the basket, but Cain blocked the shot.

On the next play Stricklen hit a 15-footer to give the Lady Vols a three-point lead, 68-65, that they would need after Pohlen's long-range shot.

"It was a big shot," VanDerveer said. "Jeanette's a young player, came off the bench for us last year and played a role. And now she's got to be a primetime player for us. She's having a great season. I'm really proud of Jeanette and how much she's improved and how hard she works."

Pohlen, who hit four 3-pointers, finished with 16 points. Appel led Stanford with 19 points and 14 rebounds and Kayla Pedersen added 15 points and 11 rebounds. As a team Stanford shot 36.2 percent overall and 35.7 percent from behind the arc.

The rebounding stat – 50-43 in favor of the Cardinal – had Summitt's attention, especially the 21 offensive boards for Stanford. Ogwumike had 12 rebounds with seven on the offensive end.

"First half we struggled defensively on the boards," Summitt said. "We just didn't do as good a job as we needed to do on both ends. As a team as athletic as we are, we should really fix our situation with our boards. If we do that gives us so many more opportunities. We are much better on the offensive glass, than the defensive glass.

"We go into overtime, and I think Stanford scored one point. It was, for us, just a great effort and that's when we really buckled down and played good defense and had good ball movement and good ball security overall."

Tennessee had just 13 turnovers for the game – and none through nearly the first six minutes – despite playing three freshmen at point guard with sophomore Cait McMahan unavailable because of chronic knee pain.

Manning entered the game on the wing – she had been playing some point and got a few reps later in the game – as Summitt wanted to get her in a groove first. Manning responded with solid defense and four defensive rebounds by slipping in among the bigs. She took one board coast to coast and finished with a drive to the basket. She also added a steal and the key block at the end of regulation.

"I was pleased with Alicia," Summitt said. "I think having an opportunity to meet with her one-on-one and talk about what she could bring to our team (helped Manning). She'd been playing a lot at the point for us, and I think just overanxious at that spot.

"So we talked about moving her to the wing and not feeling like she had to go in and make something happen but just get in the flow of the game. She really worked hard on the defensive end and with boards. I thought she responded really well. She's an athletic guard that can keep athletic players in front of her (on defense). I liked her commitment there and I thought she had a good strong drive, as well, on the offensive end. You've got to guard her."

Manning is an example of why Tennessee can be difficult for opponents to scout as, once again, Summitt played all 11 on the roster. Stricklen entered the game hitting 20 percent from behind the arc and 36.4 percent overall – she is a much better shooter than that – and lit it up from outside.

"For someone shooting 20 percent from three, she really hit some big shots," VanDerveer said. "But I'd seen her play before at USA tryouts. She was a top recruit. She had a big game, and she was kind of sick for last game. She made me sick in this game.

"She's really just a tremendous talent as I think a lot of the freshmen are. They'll just get better and better. She and Bjorklund were the keys to the team. They knocked down some really big shots."

Bjorklund missed nearly the first month of the season to be treated for a bulging disc in her lower back, but she has found her stroke and in a display of her offensive versatility this season, she scored 16 points and took just one three-pointer, which she made. The rest of her points came from the line (3-4) and an assortment of mid-range shots and step-back moves to get open.

"I'm starting to get back, starting to get the feel and getting back into game shape is key and I think I'm getting there," said Bjorklund, who had been held scoreless in two previous games against Stanford last season.

The storyline of the night was the perimeter shooting, but Tennessee got 32 minutes from Vicki Baugh, who is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery after tearing her ACL in the national title game win over Stanford last April. Baugh had six points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals.

More importantly for Baugh, she was more mobile on the court than she had been in past games and was able to leave her feet with ease.

"I felt incredible," Baugh said. "I told Jenny today after we did treatment that my knee never felt better. Stanford's a great team, and I was looking forward to going in and playing them. I was excited, so I wasn't thinking about my knee at all."

Tennessee lost five starters from last season – when Summitt was asked if she was glad not to see Stanford's superstar of last year, Candice Wiggins on the floor, the coach quipped, "I didn't miss Candice Wiggins, and I'm sure they didn't miss Candace Parker."

Summitt replaced five senior starters with three freshmen and two sophomores in the lineup. The young Lady Vols maintained their lead in the first half and led at halftime, 41-32, but started the second half with a turnover and then a wide-open Pohlen hit a 20-footer after Bass lost her footing and fell.

Layups by Appel and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude cut the lead to 42-39 less than three minutes into the second half. Summitt called two timeouts within a minute of each other with the second one coming when Stanford took the lead, 49-48, on a Murphy layup.

The team regrouped, and Tennessee never trailed again in the game, which remained tightly contested until the overtime period. The Lady Vols had a seven-point lead, 65-58, with 4:30 left and in a late play similar to the end of the Virginia game, Stricklen threw a cross-court pass that was picked by Stanford and Pedersen hit a three to trim the lead to 66-65. But, this time, the Lady Vols didn't fold.

"We've been growing as a team," Summitt said. "We closed out the first half of the Texas game (to tie the score) and after that I just thought we had some players hit the wall. A lot of that is youth. We had some great film to watch, and we had some great practices and some very demanding ones.

"I think they are much more invested as a team in defense and trying to really make stops, especially in transition. We go to Old Dominion, and we got better there. We close out that game, and I think that gave them some confidence coming into tonight's game."

Stricklen was unable to play in the last game, and Summitt thinks that provided some extra motivation for the freshman on Sunday.

"Missing the game at Old Dominion I think that was probably good for her because I think she wanted to get back on the floor and prove her worth to our basketball team," Summitt said. "She's got a little bit of what I call a laidback style and personality off the court, but I think she's starting to dial it up and have a lot more intensity and just really attack more from an offensive standpoint."

It was Tennessee's defense that sealed the win as Stanford went 0-7 from the field in overtime and got its lone point from an Appel free throw.

"This was a huge growing experience for us, especially in that overtime and shutting them down," Bjorklund said. "That was huge for our team because we've been working on defense since day one and Coach has been pounding us on defense and rebounding, and I think this game our defense really we grew, definitely on defense."

Summitt opted to have her team drop back and defend in the half-court – a stark contrast to the game in Tampa in which the Lady Vols brought the heat for 94 feet – and eschewed the full-court pressure, minus a few flashes of it after a made free throw.

"They handled it better," Summitt said of Stanford. "I'm sure they learned from Duke, because they struggled at Duke. They spaced a lot better. They played more off the dribble. They made the long passes. They handled it a lot better and maybe Duke's press is that much better than ours, but I felt like that we needed to get out of the press and late in the game we slowed them down but it was more just matching up player to player."

Tennessee also found a way to put the ball in the basket by shooting 40.3 percent from the field (27-67) and 73.1 percent from the free throw line (19-26) with Alex Fuller hitting 4-4 from the stripe to account for half of her eight points in relief. Alyssia Brewer was 2-2 from the line and Cain was 2-3. With Cain, Brewer and Fuller coming off the bench, Tennessee can send a wave of post players into a game.

"I think that we almost expect that at Tennessee – that they are going to have one after another coming at you and having to prepare for it mentally more than even physically," Appel said.

Tennessee's post defense was spotty at times as Stanford executed its high-low game with Pedersen and Appel.

"Tennessee plays very aggressive and up-tempo defense," Appel said. "They really pressure out, which opens up that lob. We knew coming into the game to look for that pass. We worked on it all week, and it's a part of our offense. I think it was just there for us."

Stanford went to a zone defense late in the second half – Stricklen loosened it up in overtime – and Summitt listened to her staff to adjust personnel on the floor.

"That's when we had in really three bigs, three post players," Summitt said. "The staff was the first to say we need to go with two post players and three guards. We didn't execute very well with three posts. We ran a little triangle on the inside, and I probably haven't practice it enough, so we went back to three out, two in, and we were much better."

With shooters like Stricklen, Bjorklund and Bass – who drew tight defense after uncorking two threes early – Tennessee is showing the offensive firepower it looked capable of in preseason.

"I think when you've got three shooters on the perimeter because Briana can definitely make shots as well, it makes it hard for people to zone us if we've got really good ball movement," Summitt said. "It also gives us a chance to open up the inside game when you have three players that can shoot the three ball."

"Our first look is always getting paint points and pounding it inside, but it helps I know for the posts if the inside-outside game is there, too," Bjorklund said. "We can take a lot of pressure off of the posts if we're hitting those shots like that, and I think ‘Strick' really stepped up in overtime."

"Shekinna was great," Baugh said. "She looked at the end to be a go-to player, and that's a big role for a freshman. Shekinna stepped up big for us."

Tennessee now leads the series with Stanford, 21-5, in a rivalry that has escalated of late with the Cardinal's overtime win a year ago in Palo Alto and the two teams meetings for a national championship in the last matchup.

"I don't think we've really held up the bargain in terms of making it a great rivalry," VanDerveer said. "I feel that our team came off of a great season last year and obviously playing for the national championship maybe sparked it back. We did have a great game in Palo Alto (last year). I thought this was a great game.

"Excellent turnout by the fans, which really is excellent here in Knoxville. They love women's basketball, and we really appreciate that great support. Hopefully, we have rejuvenated and made it more of a battle."

A festive crowd was engaged in the game from the opening tip and gave the Lady Vols a standing ovation as the players walked down the floor in the final seconds to shoot a couple free throws with the outcome decided.

"Oh my gosh, unbelievable, just that environment was amazing to play in, especially toward the end," Bjorklund said. "It was an exciting game. That's just Tennessee tradition getting that kind of crowd so thank you to the fans definitely."

The team will reassemble Monday morning for practice and then the players will scatter for home for the holidays. They are due back in Knoxville – minus Bjorklund and Baugh, who live on the West Coast – on Friday and will depart Saturday for Spokane.

"I'm looking forward to going home," Bjorklund said. "We're all going to enjoy our Christmas break."

"Eat, eat, eat," said Stricklen, who apparently wants to make up the meals that she missed in Norfolk, Va., at the ODU game.

"Me and Vick are going to spend an extra day out there," Bjorklund said, referring to her and Baugh getting an extra day off so as to not have to fly back to Knoxville and then immediately return to the West. "We got a little lucky there. A hometown game. I'm really looking forward to it."

Summitt was asked about the next two games on the schedule after Christmas – road games at Gonzaga and then all the way across the country at Rutgers – and expressed her excitement.

"Gonzaga sold out the day that tickets went on sale," Summitt said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere, probably not a lot of orange out there. They are really just a very skilled team and execute so well. A lot like Stanford – they pass the ball well, probably not the size inside. But that's going to be a good test for us. After that, playing Rutgers, that's always a battle. When two athletic teams like that match up and go at it, it will be a big challenge for us.

"I'm excited about it. I really am, but as I told the team when I went to the locker room, I'm so proud of this team. They could have folded at Old Dominion, they could have folded tonight, and they found a way to win both those games. My coaching staff has just been tremendous. They've just done such a great job of keeping everything really positive when I was probably about ready to scream out loud."


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