Lady Vols come back to beat Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Pat Summitt's directive to her team at halftime was clear - either play better in the second half or dread every second of the flight home. The Lady Vols did her one better by overcoming the largest deficit in school history to beat Rutgers, 55-51, and they did it with four true freshmen on the floor, including one who started in the second half because Summitt was mad at her.

CBS had its camera in the locker room at halftime and apparently aired Pat Summitt's more serene moments Saturday. When the media asked Summit why she was so calm at the break the looks of the players at the press conference with her – Shekinna Stricklen, Alyssia Brewer and Angie Bjorklund – were wide-eyed and incredulous.

"I was screaming. I wasn't happy," Summitt said. "They showed me screaming?"

No, CBS aired a calm coach.

"Oh, good. Thank you CBS," said Summitt, who added she might have never signed another recruit had her outburst been broadcast to a nationwide audience.

"The last thing I told them coming out of the locker room is you do not want to go home with me tonight having played this way so we better at least show up and play with some Tennessee pride," Summitt said. "And we did that. It was just a great second half effort, a lot of intensity."

It was the greatest comeback in school history after Tennessee, 11-2, set two dubious records at halftime – fewest points scored in a half at 13 (the previous record was at Virginia on March 25, 1996) and the biggest halftime deficit at 20 points (the previous record was 19 points at Ole Miss on Feb. 4, 1996, and against Southern Cal in the Final Four on March 28, 1986.)

Tennessee's two halves could not have been more disparate – the Lady Vols shot 22.2 percent overall, 14.3 percent from behind the arc and 44.4 percent from the free throw line in the first half and trailed Rutgers, 33-13. They had more turnovers at 15 than points, and the throwaways were scattered among everyone who played.

At one point Tennessee had seven straight turnovers in a variety of ways – bad passes, backcourt violation, double dribble and an offensive foul.

"You look at how we played in the first half and I don't know but I think Rutgers really made us speed up all of our action offensively, and we weren't waiting on screens, we weren't reading our defense, we let our offense affect our defense and that happens sometimes," Summitt said. "Board play (18-14 in favor of Rutgers in the first half) was not what it needed to be."

Meanwhile, Rutgers was firing at a 48.1 percent clip from the field overall and 75 percent from behind the arc. Epiphanny Prince had 16 points at halftime, and the Scarlet Knights were coasting in a game in which Tennessee looked completely overmatched.

"I give a lot of credit to Rutgers," Bjorklund said. "They did a great job defending us and we just didn't know how to handle it. They were shooting lights out and not making stops and then going down and not scoring that just killed us."

Summitt's halftime speech was a combination of calm and fury.

It was a mixture," Summitt said. "We were disappointed and we were challenging, but at the same time we just knew that we had to come back out and try and get something going in a positive direction. That's why the last thing I said was, ‘You don't want to go home with me if you don't play.' "

The Lady Vols responded to the challenge. They shot 51.9 percent from the field overall, 50 percent from behind the arc and 75 percent from the line in the second half. They committed just six more turnovers for a game total of 21 and won the battle of the boards, 36-27, by out-rebounding the Scarlet Knights, 22-9, in the second half, including key offensive ones by Brewer and Glory Johnson. Rutgers had 17 points at halftime off of Tennessee's turnovers and zero points that way in the second half.

When Summitt was asked if she had ever seen a team play such completely different halves she shook her head while the three players started snickering.

"Never in 35 years of coaching, but I am learning a lot from these young players, some good, some not so good," Summitt said. "But they showed me in the second half they've got a lot of grit."

That performance earned them a day off Sunday from practice – had the game continued the way it started they might have gone to the gym upon landing late Saturday night in Knoxville – and after a nearly eight-day road trip the team can use the rest.

"Obviously a tale of two halves," Summitt said. "I have to give this team a lot of credit because at halftime we regrouped and got things turned in a better direction by committing to our defense and our board play."

Those are staples of the Tennessee's program, especially on the road, but the Lady Vols had to summon a lot of offense to complete the comeback and they did so with 42 second-half points while holding Rutgers to 18.

Tennessee was led by Stricklen, who recorded her first career double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Bjorklund with 12 points on 4-6 shooting, including 2-3 from behind the arc. Johnson had a solid game with nine points, eight rebounds and zero fouls – she played under control on both ends – and Brewer added eight points and seven boards in her best overall game of the season on both ends.

Tennessee's strategy in the second half was to push tempo and not waste clock time by setting up an offense but instead try to score quickly. Briana Bass fit the bill perfectly for that game plan.

"I thought Briana pushed the ball as hard and as well as she has all year and that really helped us because initially coming off of halftime we didn't want to run an offense," Summitt said. "We wanted to just try to score in primary. But it at least got us moving and then we had some good execution. Shekinna did a great job and I challenged Angie in the second half, and she responded, just like Lyssi did. It's all about players making plays and making a commitment."

Summitt also thought her team could make a comeback because she wryly noted that they should have been well rested from their play in the first half.

"Oh, no," Summitt said when asked if she thought the game was lost by halftime. "I thought we had some fire left because we didn't expend a lot of energy with our defense in the first half. I knew we had a run or two in us. But at that time I don't think about winning and losing when I'm coaching a game. I think about trying to help the players execute.

"And my staff did a great job. Dean (Lockwood) and Holly (Warlick) and Daedra (Charles-Furlow), they were in my ear the whole time. I like to gather a lot of information and then try and figure out what to say. I've never felt that way at halftime and I never thought, ‘We're going to lose this game.' We've got to find a way to win."

The Lady Vols managed to cut into the halftime lead within five minutes and get it down to a more manageable 11 points, 33-21, with 15:49 left in the game.

"We told each other in the locker room that the first four minutes is the most crucial part of the game and going out there with our intensity and defending and you've just got to think about what you've got to do to cut that lead," Brewer said.

But Rutgers, led by Brittany Ray, who hit 3 three-pointers, and Prince, answered the run and got the Scarlet Knights to a 14-point lead, 40-26, with 12:47 remaining.

But Stricklen hit back-to-back three-pointers, including one from about 25 feet, to get Tennessee to 40-32, at the 11:56 mark and the momentum suddenly shifted to the Lady Vols as the bench came alive on the sideline.

"Obviously she's got great three-point range," Summitt said. "I'd been telling her get to the paint, but I think she told me she needed to shoot some three ball. And obviously when we were down we needed to have big plays and those were huge for us. They were really big."

"With 11 minutes left we scored almost 20 points," Brewer said. "That was a big thing."

But Rutgers again had an answer as Prince got loose – by now the Lady Vols had stayed in their zone defense for the duration of the second half – and hit a three-pointer to pad the lead to 11 points, 43-32, with 11:34 left.

In the first half, Prince had picked Tennessee apart by getting to the rim and nailing short jumpers.

"They're so good off the bounce," Summitt said. "They can break you down off the dribble. I really felt like, just watching them on tape, we probably would be better to start out in our man, but then go zone. I thought it was a good changeup for us. We went to our 2-2-1 back to our matchup and had some success in the second half with that and I think that gave us a lot more confidence because we didn't have anything to be confident about in the first half."

The Lady Vols continued to battle as Kelley Cain scored under the basket off a perfect feed from Johnson, and Brewer went to the rim after Tennessee broke Rutgers' pressure. Johnson made a spin move and stuck the turn-around jumper and then Bjorklund hit a three-pointer on an assist from Johnson, and Tennessee trailed by just four points, 49-45, with 4:47 to play.

Brewer was called for a foul on Kia Vaughn – officials waved off the basket and ruled the contact was on the floor – but Vaughn missed the front end of the one and one. Tennessee committed a turnover on its next play by tossing the ball out of bounds, and then got the ball back on Rutgers' end by forcing a turnover in the paint, but Brewer was once again called for a foul on Vaughn, and the Scarlet Knights retained possession.

Vaughn again missed the front end of the free throw and this time Tennessee scored – Johnson hit a layup on her third effort under the basket to cut the lead to 49-47 with 3:10 left.

A Rutgers' turnover gave the ball back to Tennessee and Stricklen was fouled on a shot attempt. She made the first, missed the second and Brewer got the offensive board, shot and was fouled. Brewer made one of two free throws to knot the score at 49 with 2:26 left to play.

A missed jumper by Ray gave Tennessee the chance to take its first lead of the game and Brewer, who was double-teamed in the paint, dribbled away from the defense, spun and found Bjorklund alone on the baseline. Bjorklund stuck the jumper to give the Lady Vols a 51-49 lead with 1:28 left, as the scattered pockets of orange-clad fans in attendance among the 8,079 roared and the Scarlet Knight fans sat stunned.

"Lyssi is one of the best at seeing the court for her position," Bjorklund said. "I think that's just another instance of her getting double teamed and looking out and kicking it and finding the open person and she does that well."

"That was huge," Summitt said. "We had some good interior passes I thought because they really put a lot of pressure on us. I thought in the second half we handled their pressure better."

Prince missed a jumper, and the Lady Vols padded the lead, as it were, to 53-49, with 40 seconds to play, but then Prince hit a runner in the lane to bring Rutgers to within two again, 53-51, with 24 seconds left. Bjorklund got tied up on the in-bounds pass and Rutgers got the ball via the possession arrow, but Vaughn, who was guarded tightly by Brewer and Glory Johnson, missed the layup.

This time, Tennessee threw a longer pass to Bjorklund, who headed down court and was fouled. Bjorklund hit both and grabbed the defensive board off Rutgers last shot attempt to seal the 55-51 win.

Bjorklund was extremely quiet in the first half – she had one shot attempt from behind the arc and three turnovers – but she got loose in the second half and drained two three-pointers. She also grabbed two boards, had two assists and a steal and just one turnover after the break.

"They were keying on her big time," Summitt said. "We had a little conversation, one-sided, but she stepped up. I didn't think Angie was as aggressive without the ball or with the ball and when she was at Gonzaga she was terrific in just reading things. But they had that screening action on the top of the floor to the wing – they had scouted that pretty well – but I thought we did a better job of screening in the second half for her on that, too."

Rutgers, 8-3, wanted to keep the ball out of the hands of Bjorklund and Stricklen. It was an effective plan in the first half as Stricklen went 1-3 from the field and had two turnovers.

But Stricklen also got open in the second half and drained two 3-pointers.

"Hers and Angie's were game-changers, each and every one of them," Brewer said. "You can't just single one of those out. I just think we came together and we knew that we could get this done. It was just one possession after another."

The players talked among themselves at halftime and opted to start over, regardless of what the scoreboard indicated.

"I think we came in and regrouped in halftime," Bjorklund said. "We said, ‘You know what? It doesn't matter how much we're down. It's a zero-zero game.' That's what we always say. And when we came out it was a completely different game after that."

Brewer started the second half, but it was for an odd reason. She played 14 minutes in the first half with a stat line of 0-3, no rebounds, two fouls, one block and a turnover.

"Lyssi had played a lot of minutes and had nothing to show for it, so I was mad at her so I decided to start her," Summitt said as the assembled media laughed, thinking the coach was joking.

"I was mad at her. I was mad at you, too," Summitt said, looking at Bjorklund, who smiled and nodded.

Brewer tallied eight points in the second half, including 4-6 from the line, seven rebounds and the assist to Bjorklund that gave Tennessee its first lead.

"I'm afraid to tell you. I'm afraid she'll think she's arrived," Summitt said with a smile when asked about Brewer's improved play, especially on this road trip. "Lyssi's been good. I watched Lyssi play a lot in AAUs, and I knew that she had a great shooting touch, and she's got a good skill set.

"What we've tried to do is get her to take ownership in the paint and she's really bought in. At first I don't think she was all excited about it. She would like to step out or maybe shoot a 20-footer. That's what she wanted, but now I think she knows that she can really impact her team if she gets paint points."

Brewer has practiced better of late and worked one on one with the post coaches, Dean Lockwood and Daedra Charles-Furlow, on getting position on the low block and finishing at the rim. She came to Tennessee with a face-up game and the ability to pass the ball and is now learning to play better with her back to the basket.

"I think I am just getting more comfortable with my game and playing," Brewer said. "It's just something that has come. I think I'm starting to know how I need to play here and what my role is."

Tennessee needed Brewer and Cain, who had four points – including the first basket of the game for Tennessee on a reverse layup after eight minutes had elapsed in the first half – because of the absence of 6'4 sophomore forward Vicki Baugh, who sprained a knee ligament in practice Thursday and was out for Saturday's game.

"I didn't want that to happen to any of our teammates at all, but it opened a couple of doors for a couple of people on our team and it's a good thing because you know how people can play now whenever somebody is down," Brewer said. "It's a huge statement that we won this game without Vicki and just imagine if we would have had her for this game how it would have been."

Baugh became a vocal cheerleader on the sideline, as did the rest of the bench. Summitt saluted the bench after the game – it accounted for 12 of Tennessee's 55 points – for contributing to the outcome.

"I thought we got good play off our bench," Summitt said. "Obviously Kelley got in (foul) trouble but I thought Alicia (Manning) went in and was solid as a defender in the second half and also I thought Amber (Gray) did some good things for us as well."

Bjorklund also noted after the game that it was a team win and individuals stepping up to make up for what was lost with Baugh out of action.

"The second half, learning how to fight through, especially with our freshmen stepping up huge, Strick picking up the rebounds for Vick with 11," Bjorklund said. "Vicki is always getting like 15 boards a game. Just little things like that. Lyssi coming in off the bench and just fighting and then starting the second half and taking over. I thought for the younger players every game we're growing up a lot more so this was good."

When Tennessee made its comeback the Lady Vols had one sophomore, Bjorklund, and four freshmen on the floor in Brewer, Stricklen, Bass and Johnson. When Bass picked up a fourth foul Gray came in for her and Stricklen moved to the point.

"I give the freshmen a lot of credit for stepping up," Bjorklund said. "I thought everyone who came into the game from Manning to Alex (Fuller), everyone, Amber, everyone, it was a team effort this game and I thought we came together and finally pulled it out."

Summitt, who notched her 400th win against a ranked team and career win No. 994, hugged Stringer before the game and offered some words of comfort afterwards.

"I wished her the very best for this year and told her she has a great team, and she does have a great team," Summitt said. "She's one of my dearest friends and I want nothing but good things to happen for Vivian. She's super."

Rutgers was led by Prince with 25 points and Ray with 14 points. Vaughn, who had been effective against Tennessee in previous matchups, was 1-4 from the field and faced a variety of defenders.

"Just defend as best you can," Brewer said. "Front, if she's too high, play behind her. We did our best."

"Just watching film on her she's a great player," Bjorklund said. "We really keyed in on her tonight and that was a goal for us was to stop her and also Prince obviously."

Prince had a field day from the field in the first half with 7-12 shooting but was stymied by Tennessee's zone in the second half.

"I think that zone really worked in the second half," Stricklen said. "It slowed them down. I think they were a little confused about what to do on offense at first because we threw that zone at them. It cut down on penetration and a lot of their shooting. I really think the zone helped."

After the game Prince said she should have kept attacking the basket and on two occasions she found a soft spot in the zone near the free throw line and buried the mid-range jumper.

"I think in the second half I was just a little too relaxed," Prince said. "I was being passive instead of trying to attack like I did in the first half. We just didn't knock down open shots that we had. I missed a lot of layups, and I missed a lot of open jump shots and I just played passive in the second half."

Prince also thought that perhaps Rutgers got too content with the lead, which was unexpected by both teams.

"I think we just got too relaxed with our lead," Prince said. "I don't know. I guess we just figured our defense would be the key to us keeping our lead. If we didn't score and we stopped them from scoring then we can still win, but we didn't stop them from scoring. They kept scoring."

Stricklen said the difference for Tennessee was simply settling down.

"I think in the second half we just came out with more composure and we came out very confident," Stricklen said. "Our defense was great in the second half."

Meanwhile, Rutgers' defense was breaking down. Bass got the ball in her hands and was ordered to push tempo and she did her job by beating the Scarlet Knights down the floor.

"You know what's amazing?" Stringer said. "With the defense that we were playing it just meant the person at the top had to run the floor harder and it didn't happen. Because we would have been fine in controlling the tempo if we had controlled her a little bit better."

Bass running free led to breakdowns on defense against Stricklen and Bjorklund, who were supposed to be contained in a triangle and two.

"But there were too many times that we had to (leave them) because the person who was supposed to be playing the top wasn't there quick enough, somebody (covered) for her and the wrong person is guarding the other two out there," Stringer said. "We could have controlled Bass. We should have controlled her, but I thought she did a great job. She was quick."

The Scarlet Knights were content to drop back and not bring their full-court pressure because Stringer wanted the attention focused on the shooting guards.

"I didn't want to ever lose Bjorklund nor did I ever want to lose Stricklen because if they were going to arrive to the party on time it would be Bjorklund and it would be Stricklen that would bring them there," Stringer said.

"So we had two people whose business it was to know where they are and, better still, deny them the ball the whole time. Then somebody else would have to show up for (Tennessee). Yes, Bass knocked the shot down but her percentage we'll gamble on that, and we didn't need to send a big person out. Let her go ahead and take the drive if she wanted to. Let the weight fall on her. That was our best bet, but we had some miscues. We left to come out and pick her up."

Stringer said the other breakdowns on defense occurred in the paint.

"The other big point is that we were doubling the posts, effectively the first half," Stringer said. "The second half when we doubled on the block there needed to be the rotation down to the opposite block. They did that against us in the Final Four game so it wasn't new.

"We had a mental breakdown. In fact a couple of times it was the wrong person that was doubling. If we learn from that and really talk and communicate … and we're going to work that much harder to be that much better, each person contributing, then all is not lost. If we just work hard for this moment Tennessee is coming in here and we go back to thinking that halfway doing something is OK then we're going to be in trouble again. … Hopefully we can commit ourselves to doing what we need to do."

Stringer saw what her team could do in the first half and it was quite a revelation after a road trip to California – and losses to Cal and Stanford – in which the coach said "just take back the flights … but in this one we see the improvements."

"I thought that we were crazy mad the first half," Stringer said. "I thought that we were on fire. We couldn't miss. The second half we played not to lose. … It turned and I don't think it was because we were being lazy. I think it was because we probably couldn't believe we were that far out in the lead. And we could have been out further than that if we had just buried them right then.

"But for whatever reason Stricklen is free as a bird. We didn't change anything defensively on her so how did she get free? She was shooting the ball from a high wing position. She did not get a screen. Maybe we were a little tired, too. It could have been a lot of things."

Stringer sounded exhausted after the game – she said Saturday's defeat "stings as much as when we lost at their place" – and she made a bizarre comment about the officials, who called 18 fouls on Tennessee and 17 on Rutgers. The call in which Vaughn's basket was waved off was questionable but so was the foul call against Brewer on Rutgers' next possession – the media wags in attendance called it a makeup one – that sent Vaughn to the line for a one and one.

"Those officials are about as sick as they can be so I'm just tired of looking at it," Stringer said. "I don't have any comment on it so go ahead and write it so I can get in trouble."

The game itself was blessedly free of controversy after the clock game at Tennessee last season and several signs were held up that were all tame in tone: "Scarlet Knight Time is the Right Time" and "The Clock Doesn't Stop Here! Go RU!" and "Our Clock Works! Go RU!" and the most clever one, "Vols Get Clocked By Scarlet that played off CBS broadcasting the game and had the CBS eye as the "o" in the word clocked.

Tennessee's players were booed by the fans but it was rather muted. When Summitt was announced before the game she was cheered and many fans even stood up to applaud. It certainly was a warm reception after the controversy in Knoxville a year ago in which Nicky Anosike hit two free throws with .2 seconds left to win the game.

As the game unfolded the crowd of 8,079 – a few hundred of whom were wearing orange scattered about the center – was wildly enthusiastic as Rutgers took a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes. Tennessee had seven turnovers in a row and 11 throwaways in its first 14 possessions.

Stringer said her team should have snuffed out Tennessee even more in the first half but had some drop-off when she went to her bench. Then, Tennessee made it moves to open the second half.

"I thought we dodged a bullet a couple of times in the first half because we weren't as alert when we made some substitutions and we made them think that they could have life, number one," Stringer said. "And, number two, knowing that the clock was their enemy and they needed to knock down threes, dribble penetrate and do what they do best, which is to rebound, and attack to stop the clock and go to the free throw line, which is what they did, and we knew that.

"But for reasons unknown to me – we had Bjorklund, as well as Stricklen on lockdown – but for whatever reason we started miscommunicating and didn't take the switch and there she is and there goes Stricklen. When you let people like that believe that they can – these group they're champions and they didn't have a hesitation about playing and taking it to the basket and taking shots. They are an excellent rebounding team anyway so they started going up instead of us blocking out as we did before, it wasn't happening. We were playing a little too tentative. We hesitated on the press, which speaks to the same issue we had in the first place, that was how confident were we going to be with our guard situation, which has normally been our strength. It's clearly not."

Rutgers' players also thought the big lead ended up working against them.

"Definitely, and instead of us trying to stretch the lead we got too content with it," Vaughn said.

"I think we came out a little bit sluggish in the second half," Ray said. "We didn't have the same intensity as we did in the first half. I think when they scored those quick eight points we got a little bit complacent on offense and we weren't moving the ball enough like we were in the first half."

Rutgers' scoring was pretty much limited to Ray and Prince, and Stringer said that is a major issue for her team. She compared it to a recalcitrant child in a patented Stringer analogy – rather rambling and requiring explanation.

"The willingness of anybody else to step up and score is the key," Stringer said. "It's just like you have a 2 year old, a 3 year old and they're in a room and you close your eyes and you say, ‘Don't touch those potato chips,' and you hear the bag start to rattle and then you look around and they've got chips around their lips and you say they look real funny and they know that you know.

"And in this case what I'm saying is you can pretend all you want to but in the rotation you can't tell me you don't recognize that the shot is there. You've got to get yourself ready. You've got to be willing to win or to lose. Everybody on this team has the right to shoot it and that ball has been distributed well enough that there were shots that should have been taken."

Rutgers was left to regroup from a bitterly disappointing loss as it enters Big East play with three road games at Syracuse, Louisville and Villanova.

"Of course I'm concerned," Stringer said. "I think it's more important that they see. I can lead us to the things that we need to do. I think each person, in thinking about it, will say there wasn't anything that they did that we weren't prepared for. Me, my coaching staff, we've got to do better, but likewise the people on the floor could do better. All of these, if you will, are correctable errors. Now, how much do you really want to get it done? We need to have more leadership. We need to have more follower-ship. We need to be better as a team.

"It's important that we hurt but we do something about it. So now how mature are we? I don't know. I really don't know. Because that part is the part that is frustrating to me. We need to grow much faster, quicker, faster, and we need to be focused on what we need to do. If so, we can arrive to our destination on time. If not we'll see some bad things happen. This is all an adventure to me."

Tennessee completed a week-long road trip with two wins on opposite coasts and now enters SEC play with a home game against Kentucky on Thursday and a road contest vs. Vanderbilt on Sunday.

Bjorklund pointed out that the Lady Vols need to enjoy the win but realize the beginning needs to be much better.

"I also think it's an eye-opener for us that we need to learn how to start a lot better, especially in big games like this," Bjorklund said.

Summitt will remember the game for the way it ended.

"I've been in a lot of games. I've been behind a lot in my career. We've had a lot of comebacks," Summitt said. "This one right now stands out as one of the most special ever."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories