Tennessee falls to Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – One milestone was put on hold – Pat Summitt's 1,000th win – and another came to a halt – Courtney Paris' streak of double-doubles – as Oklahoma survived an early onslaught from Tennessee and got its first win over the Lady Vols, 80-70, at the Ford Center in a "Big Monday" matchup tailor-made for television.

The game was both encouraging and maddening for Coach Pat Summitt because she saw how well her team can play but she also witnessed what happens when they get rattled – turnovers, poor shot selection and porous defense.

"We've had some good quick starts," Summitt said. "We've had slow starts and we finished strong. I just think (it's) the lack of consistency that we're willing to commit to and I do think we let our offense affect our defense. That's not uncommon in this game, but it's not likely that we're going to win a lot of these close games unless we figure that much out.

"You're going to have some empty possessions and that's when you must, as a team, commit to making stops."

When the shots stopped falling Tennessee lost its defensive focus and the Sooners pounced late in the first half and never trailed again.

No. 12 Tennessee (16-5, 5-2) and No. 2 Oklahoma (19-2, 7-0) stayed within a few points of each other in the first eight minutes of the game – there were 10 lead changes in the first half – but then the Lady Vols went on a 16-0 run to lead 33-18 with 7:58 left in the first half.

Courtney Paris was out with two fouls – a knock to the head of Shekinna Stricklen on a rebound and a hold on Stricklen after a steal – and the Lady Vols took advantage as the Sooners offense stymied. Stricklen had 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and four steals in the first half to fuel the run.

"Well, we stopped throwing them the basketball," Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale said when asked about the comeback. "We threw it to them about four out of five consecutive possessions. And we decided to not let Shekinna Stricklen shoot any more threes. That was key as well."

Paris also returned with the two fouls – even if she is not scoring she commands so much attention inside that other players can get open – and the Sooners responded with a 19-1 run, during which Tennessee did not score until Vicki Baugh hit a free throw with 2:39 left to cut the Sooners lead to 37-34.

"We played possession by possession and kind of pulled from that reservoir of comebacks that we have and got it back in check where we could do something with it and then Courtney comes back in the game, and of course when she's on the floor, the flavor of how they defend you changes immediately," Coale said. "Just great balance and great team effort and unselfish play. I'm really, really proud of our kids and I'm really, really proud of fans and the state of Oklahoma for the way they supported women's basketball tonight."

It was an offensive and defensive collapse that Tennessee could not recover from despite trailing by just five points, 41-36, at halftime.

"We are a long way from being a 40-minute team," Summitt said. "We are a long way from understanding what ball security means. So with that said, hopefully lesson will be learned. It's not like this hasn't been a pattern for us, so that does concern me."

The Paris twins were one storyline for Oklahoma – Ashley Paris had 19 points and six rebounds and Courtney Paris added nine points and 12 rebounds to stop her streak of double doubles at 112 – but the other was the Sooners guard play from Danielle Robinson with her own double-double of 17 points and 12 assists and Whitney Hand, who hit 8-9 shots – 4-5 from behind the arc – to tally 20 points.

"It wasn't like we didn't watch her on tape," Summitt said. "I just want y'all to be aware that we did look at tape and we knew who she was, we knew her number, and we knew that she was a great three-point shooter. Now for what reason that our guards did not defend – I think scouting report defense has to be a priority for any basketball team, particularly when you are playing outside your conference."

Alex Fuller, who had done a tremendous job guarding Courtney Paris in the first half and into the second half, shifted to Hand later in the game after she had scored on all of Tennessee's guards, who lost her on the floor several times.

Fuller played denial defense on Paris and when she did get the ball, the undersized Fuller held her ground until help arrived. Paris finished 4-12 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line to fall one point short of double figures. Kelley Cain guarded Paris late in the game, and Paris had a turnover, missed layup and a layup to get to nine points.

Oklahoma called a timeout with 1:27 left in the game – Paris had just picked up her fourth foul – but she missed the jumper and Bjorklund got the rebound. When Paris picked up her fifth foul with 41 seconds left a streak of double-doubles that started Dec. 5, 2005, against UCLA ended 1,159 days later.

"That's the only thing that we did well," Summitt said. "What a streak she's had and she will continue that, I am sure. I do want to say while Courtney has done a great job with the double-double, Ashley has really elevated her game. I think maybe Courtney inspired her, but I really am impressed with her game and where she is now versus a year ago. Obviously, she has invested a lot of time in working on her skills and her face-up game is really strong, too."

Ashley Paris, who had three steals and two blocks to go with her points and boards, got emotional when talking about her sister's streak and its end.

"I think I'm physically the closest thing to Courtney because we share the same DNA, and I've been trying to get to four double-doubles," Ashley Paris said. "I don't know if you all know how much weight I've lost in the past year, but I've lost over 30 pounds to meet the goal of getting a double-double every game. And I can't do it. I know how hard it is to do that. I'm so proud and I'm proud to have that (Paris) as my last name. It's tough. It's hard. It's just unbelievable what she has done."

Courtney Paris also got emotional after the game. When she fouled out the fans – 12,552 were in attendance and the overwhelming majority was pulling for Oklahoma – chanted her first name and stood and cheered.

"It's just overwhelming," Courtney Paris said. "I came here – and sorry if I cry – and I wanted to win a national championship. In the midst of it I've gotten this streak, I've had scoring records, I did all these other things. And tonight I wish I would have played better, but I realize that we have all the tools we need to do what I really wanted to do. It's overwhelming, and I'm just happy that we beat Tennessee.

"I'm so grateful to have the support I've had. You have no idea how it feels to have all those fans shouting my name and just to appreciate the last two years I've had here. It makes me just want to finish off strong for them."

Paris also felt a weight lifted from the expectation of the streak.

"Honestly, yes," she said. "I don't even know how to feel right now. I feel free. I feel like there's so much pressure off. I think the best thing about it is tonight I didn't play the way I wanted to, tonight I didn't get in double figures, and we won. We won handily. I am just excited about the future of our program and our team."

The play out of the timeout was designed to get the ball to Paris but she missed the short jumper with stiff defense from Cain.

"She rushed it just a little bit," Coale said. "There were a lot of obstacles between her and the rim."

Coale compared the streak to some of the legends in the game of basketball.

"It had to end some time," Coale said. "It's still the most remarkable streak in the history of college basketball. I told my guys in the locker room, we're all going to wake up one day and you guys will be 30 and I'll be 72 I think was the math they did, and we're going to look around and go, ‘Wow, she was on our team. We played with her.'

"She's going to be one of those icons the way we all talk about Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. That's what people are going to say because of that streak. Please don't misquote me and say I said she was Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. … She missed it by one point. We got done what we needed to get done." Tennessee was led by Stricklen with 21 points, though she only scored six after the break with four of those coming from the free throw line. Stricklen played 38 minutes for the Lady Vols and was blanketed by defenders after her first-half flurry.

"They did put some pressure and I did get a little tired, but that's really not an excuse (for not scoring more in the second half)," Stricklen said.

Glory Johnson added 12 points and eight rebounds for Tennessee and was 8-11 from the free throw line. Angie Bjorklund, who was saddled with four fouls for much of the second half, finished with 10 points, three assists and two steals.

Vicki Baugh added 11 points and five rebounds and made some nifty moves to the basket, but she left the game late in the second half after landing on her left leg and re-injuring her knee. Baugh made a move to the basket, briefly lost her balance, gathered the ball and finished the layup. After the landing she had to be helped to the sideline and left the bench in a wheelchair.

Summitt said after the game that Baugh's condition was not known yet and she would be examined by doctors after the team returned to Knoxville. If Baugh is out of action again – she returned this season from ACL surgery and then sprained another ligament in practice Jan. 1 in the same knee – it is a major setback for Tennessee. She elevated the play on both ends Monday – Baugh started in the second half for Johnson – and logged 24 minutes, her first extended time since the team played at Gonzaga on Dec. 30.

"Vicki makes a big difference for us because she competes really hard at both ends," Summitt said. "She doesn't pick and choose when she plays hard like some of the people that we're trying to motivate still. I think just her experience in the past and her composure really helped us a lot and her quickness. She's got great quickness to the ball. She makes a difference defensively when she's in there and that obviously makes a difference for us offensively."

Turnovers were the storyline again for the Lady Vols as they had 14 in the second half and 24 for the game. Poor decision-making and sloppy passing on the wings and into the post accounted for most of the miscues. That was the number that was on Summitt's mind, not her quest for 1,000 wins.

"I am not concerned about a number for me," said Summitt, who has 999 career wins. "I am concerned about this basketball team investing in our system and not picking and choosing when they want to play hard and understanding ball security. Some of those turnovers were just, quite honestly, ridiculous."

Oklahoma built an 18-point lead in the second half, 72-54, with 6:00 left to play after the ball squirted free from Tennessee on three out of four possessions.

Johnson had seven turnovers, and Stricklen had five. Three players, Fuller, Bjorklund and Briana Bass, had three each. Miscues also allowed Oklahoma to wipe out the Lady Vols lead in the first half.

"I just think that we let down and we started turning the ball over," Stricklen said. "We were starting to rush things. We were not moving – we started out moving on offense – and we were just standing a lot. That really messed us up the first half."

Both teams scored off turnovers – 30 points for Oklahoma and 27 for Tennessee off 19 Sooner turnovers. But the Lady Vols miscues were ultimately more costly as they squandered the chance to pad the first-half lead by not taking care of the ball.

"I think we were just getting too anxious with the ball," Alyssia Brewer said. "We tend to do that sometimes. We've just got to learn how to not do that. Turnovers were a big factor. We also have to get back in transition."

Summitt also cited that transition defense – or at least slowing down the ball so the defense can get set – and said the team misses a perimeter defender such as Alexis Hornbuckle. The Sooners had 14 fast break points to six for the Lady Vols.

"I think some of our players give in in the transition," Summitt said. "They backpedal, where Hornbuckle she's on her toes, she's getting the ball turned at least once or twice and allowing us to set our defense. That's a place where we've got to get better.

"I like our personnel, but our personnel has got to much more committed to what we can do to slow down the transition game and obviously take care of the ball and when we have to have stops, we've just got to have them. They've got to figure out how we're going to get them."

Coale said the difference in Tennessee this year was who was missing – Candace Parker and Shannon Bobbitt.

"It's different because Candace Parker is not on the floor," Coale said. "That's a tremendous difference. And Bobbitt. That point guard by committee that they have going on now makes them very different, too. They're not real sure who's running that boat every time down the floor."

Oklahoma, meanwhile, was finding scoring inside led by Ashley Paris and outside by Robinson and Hand. Nyeshia Stevenson came off the bench to score 11 points for the Sooners.

"If we don't have our inside game going those guys step up and do things," Courtney Paris said. "We can spread the court. We can take one dribble and get to the basket with Danielle being so fast and Nyeshia being able to get to the rim. Whitney is just a pure scorer. It changes everything for us, and I finally feel like we have all the pieces to really be successful. That's personally exciting for me. I came here to win a national championship and I feel like if we keep getting better every day and keep working hard and keep figuring this thing out we might have a chance to do that."

Summitt also cited the guard play of Oklahoma as key in the game and she noted the Sooners have balance this season and are not relying on the Paris twins to lead the team in scoring.

"They've just got great support," Summitt said. "That is where I thought Whitney did a great job of taking pressure off. Robinson is good and she is smart, she's heady, she's tough. I thought that she really did a great job. They have balance and they obviously like to play inside-out but I think as a team, overall, they've got the balance and the depth and their starting five in particular. That is a very positive thing for them in the Big 12.

"I think they're playing with a lot of confidence. They've got good balance. I like their guard play. They got the post game and they're solid at every position."

Hand led the Sooners with 20 points – and played well enough for Summitt to single her out in her opening remarks. Hand also mentioned Summitt after the game and apologized for her pre-game remark about wanting to "kill" Tennessee by 30 points.

"I have the utmost respect for Coach Summitt and everything they've accomplished and I wasn't at all trying to be forward," Hand said. "I think we all come here to play the schedule we play and to be on the big stage. I think Tennessee is one of the most incredible programs in the country.

"It was a big game and a big win and I'm just grateful that I was on tonight."

Coale singled out Hand, a freshman, and Robinson, a sophomore, for their poise, but she was quick to add that it's the veterans on the floor with them that allow the pair to just relax and play.

"Fabulous. Wise beyond their years. Poised," Coale said. "Two of the strongest students of the game that I've had at Oklahoma. They watch film every day; they want to work every day. When they have a great game they want to figure out what they can do better the next day, what did I do wrong.

"But let me also say this. You don't get freshmen and sophomore performances like that without the stability and confidence of the older guys. They know, ‘Hey, when we need a basket, I can throw this thing to Courtney at the block. I can throw this thing to Ashley at the block. And something good is going to happen.' So that allows them to play with that poise and that freedom and that confidence."

Tennessee has the issue of relying almost entirely on freshmen and sophomores. The exception is Fuller, a redshirt senior.

"We just haven't figured out to be able to keep it like that for the entire game," said Brewer, who had six points and four rebounds and scored on a coast-to-coast basket after Oklahoma didn't pick her up in the open floor. "We've been able to play better minutes and longer minutes than what we have at the beginning of the season, but now we've just got to put it all together."

Brewer, a freshman forward from Sapulpa, Okla., got to play in her home state.

"It was great coming home, being able to see my family and be able to come and play in my home state was a great opportunity," Brewer said.

The Ford Center was filled with fans – nearly all clad in Oklahoma colors but orange was scattered throughout, as usual when Tennessee goes on the road – who carried signs both confident of Summitt getting 1,000 wins and questioning. Perhaps the smartest ones were: "1000?" and "999 wins and counting."

An Oklahoma fan held up a sign saying she was there to see Coale's 273rd win. The Sooners players may have been motivated to not be No. 1,000 in Summitt's countdown.

"I think it did a little bit because you hear about it on TV and there's extra cameras that are going to be at the game and there's a whole bunch of hype around it but at the same time we mainly focused on what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish," Courtney Paris said. "They're a great program and they've got great tradition, and we want to get our program to that level. It was a big win for us. We just focused on what Oklahoma is trying to do and make our year special."

A bag of basketballs was kept behind the scorer's table, and several were used during the game in case Summitt hit the milestone. That way the distribution of game-used balls – to Summitt, Tennessee, halls of fame, et al – would be guaranteed. The Lady Vols will have a short turn-around time to get ready for Georgia on Thursday, the next chance for Summitt to hit 1,000.

"Georgia is playing well," Summitt said. "I think they're playing their best basketball right now. They're getting their post players a lot more involved and scoring a lot more in the open floor. I know Coach (Andy) Landers will have them ready. They beat Vandy. They beat Auburn. That's enough for me. That's two teams we couldn't beat."

Summitt applauded her team's start in the Oklahoma game, but she remains concerned about her team's breakdowns during the game.

"I'm pleased with how we started the game but we've yet, as a young basketball team, to realize how important it is to play possession by possession and we are a long way from being a 40-minute team," Summitt said. "As I said, first half we did a lot of good things. Our guard play, our turnovers were very, very costly and when you're not scoring you've got to defend and I just thought we did a below average job of taking away their post action and also the perimeter game as well. … I want to do nothing but give credit to Coach Sherri Coale and her coaching staff and her team."

Tennessee did win the rebounding battle, 33-29, but Summitt pointed to the shooting percentages. Oklahoma shot 53.4 percent for the game and 50 percent from behind the arc. The Lady Vols shot 42.9 percent for the game, though a very respectable 45.5 percent behind the arc.

"We obviously missed a lot of shots so we should be rebounding a little bit better," Summitt said. "We had a lot of opportunities."

Tennessee did do a good job guarding Courtney Paris – of her 12 rebounds, none were on the offensive end and she was 4-12 from the field so she was one and done after the shot. The size of Tennessee was a factor.

"I don't think I ever really figured it out the whole game," Courtney Paris said. "They're strong and they're tall and they're physical. I don't think I've seen that many this year and in my career where they can come off the bench and the next girl is the same way. Part of it is I didn't finish the way I needed to. They're so tall and athletic and they crash the boards so hard. Every single rebound you get, you've got to work hard for it."

Twin sister Ashley Paris was 7-10 from the field and cleaned up two misses on the weak side.

"This year she changed her body and her mentality most of all," Courtney Paris said. "She has so more confidence and she feels like, ‘OK, they can't double team both of us. Let me go to work.' I think that's a huge difference for us."

"I'm a lot more confident in my ability and obviously over the off-season I worked on getting in physical condition and being more sure of myself," Ashley Paris said.

Oklahoma also did not panic when it fell behind. The comeback from 26 points down at halftime against Cal earlier this season seems to have been a defining moment for the Sooners.

"I think the main thing for us is we had that game at Cal-Berkeley where we were down 26 at the half and came back and won that game," Courtney Paris said. "I feel like in any situation we're in we never feel like, ‘Oh gosh, what are we going to do?' That's where our team has gotten so much more mature and we can just look at the situation and say, ‘Hey, here's what we've got to do and let's just go out there and execute.' "

"The Cal game, where we came back, we learned from that game," Robinson said. "That showed that anything is possible. We're very versatile, and we like to compete."

Although Courtney Paris didn't produce the numbers she has in past games Coale noted that just having her on the floor changes the game. That was apparent in the 19-1 run that Oklahoma made to wipe out the first-half deficit and claim the lead.

"Our balance has been our ace all season," Coale said. "Again, it's Courtney's presence. That's important to note. One of the reasons Danielle gets to the rim is because people don't want to leave Courtney. And one of the reasons Whitney gets threes is because people don't want to leave Courtney. It changes the complexion of the game. Her impact on the game is no less; it's just in a different way. She impacts every possession of the game."

The win was a relief for Coale, she said, because now the local media would stop writing about how the Sooners had not arrived until they got a signature win against UConn or Tennessee.

"I said on the radio we didn't just win a national championship, and we didn't win the Big 12 either and so it's just another game in the middle of the season," Coale said. "At season's end you look back and say that was a great game but the most important thing that means is that you guys quit talking about."

Coale also said it would likely take until after the season ended to appreciate Paris' streak and Summitt's march to 1,000.

"I've been comparing her streak to Courtney's in that they're both incomprehensible," Coale said. "While they're active you can't even really completely appreciate it the way that it deserves to be appreciated. I don't know that anyone will ever broach either one of those. The thing about Coach Summitt's is it's not a streak. She can skip a few and still get it. Courtney's was a streak so that's the difference there.

"But Coach Summitt is obviously one of the pillars of our sport. We wouldn't be here in front of (12,552) people, in front of a national television audience, the stage that this generated for ESPN, you don't do that without somebody who's grown this game and that somebody would be her."

Summitt also saluted the fans at the Ford Center. The venue may be technically considered a neutral site, but the Sooner fans made sure it felt like a home game for Oklahoma, and the pre-game introductions and video images were the same as if the game had been played in nearby Norman.

"It was a great crowd," said Summitt, who chatted with some Sooner fans during the game, as she has done quite often this season – engaged the fans, especially when she finds the officiating particularly annoying.

"I know that when we were here (in the NCAA regional) people came out and supported the tournament, which just tells me that you've got a lot of great basketball fans here. Certainly tonight a great environment and I love being a part of this type of commitment to women's basketball. It's good for our game and obviously being on television tonight, we are always trying to promote this game and when you see the people come out that's a big statement for us. I'm excited about how our game has grown in terms of the fan support throughout the country."

Tennessee will step back into conference play this week – Georgia at home on Thursday and then Florida on the road on Sunday – as Summitt again goes for No. 1000, but of greater concern to the Lady Vols right now is the health of Baugh. She scored on the layup off a feed from Bjorklund but buckled her left knee on the landing with 2:37 left in the game and Tennessee trying to make a late run.

Coale had recruited Baugh – she took an official visit to Oklahoma – and said the Lady Vols are a different team when she's on the floor.

"I think Vicki Baugh is really good. Really good," Coale said. "We have a great deal of respect for her and we recruited her. We've very familiar with her game. I thought her play in getting them to the Final Four and to the championship game was huge. She's more versatile than maybe some of their other post guys so offensively she's a tremendous threat, and I hope she's OK."


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