Tennessee takes out Alabama

Tennessee took care of Alabama while unveiling an effective high-low game between Alex Fuller and Kelley Cain, and Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone combined for six three-pointers in Thursday's 80-61 win over Alabama. The Lady Vols also got good news after the game – guard Shekinna Stricklen suffered a knee injury, but it was not season ending as initially feared.

The first-half injury to Shekinna Stricklen – she collided with Crimson Tide player Tamara Williams on a drive to the basket and clutched her right knee as soon as she hit the court – brought a pall over the crowd of 12,907 while the Lady Vols huddled in front of their bench.

Alex Fuller was the first to reach Stricklen and immediately motioned for Jenny Moshak, the team's chief of sports medicine.

"Personally, that's the first thought when somebody goes down for me is I hope it's not their ACL because I've been there, done that type thing," Fuller said. "Especially when Vicki (Baugh) went down that was kind of a shock to me because I know what she is going through. We all just prayed that nothing was wrong or that it's something that's really acute."

It did turn out to be an acute injury and one that Pat Summitt was visibly relieved over afterwards. It was the first question she fielded in her post-game press conference, an indication of how valuable Stricklen is for the team.

"All I can tell you is that we dodged a bullet," Summitt said. "We probably need to get Jenny Moshak to come in here and speak to it. When she hit obviously it was a hard fall for her, but I think she's going to be all right. She's going to be doing a lot of rehab with Jenny here in the next few days."

Moshak, who handles medical information by school policy, followed Summitt into the media room and delivered the news

"The good news is she did not tear her ACL," Moshak said. "The bad news is that she subluxed her patella. The major ligaments of the knee are fine. Now it's just a matter of wait and see so it depends on how much swelling she has (Friday), how much her quadriceps responds. We're treating her again right now. We treated her in the first half. We let her watch the game in the second half because we're not cruel, and we're going to treat her again right now. It's just a matter of how the knee responds, but our goal it to get her ready for Duke so we'll see.

"Subluxation means it (the kneecap) comes off of its track partially and then comes back on, and the rest of the (knee) system doesn't really like that. I have not seen the film yet and it was so far away (from the Tennessee bench) that I am not really sure yet (how it happened)."

The players learned at halftime that Stricklen would be OK – Alicia Manning started for her in the second half – and finished what they started in the first half by attacking Alabama's zone inside and firing shots from the perimeter. Manning became the backup point guard to Briana Bass and had 10 points and three assists in 25 minutes of action.

Manning had barely had any repetitions at the point spot lately but handled the assignment.

"Kinna going down was a big hit for us but that just means I have to step up my game," Manning said. "Coach just told me basically get us in the offense, pass and cut. That was basically what we were doing."

Kelley Cain had one stint at point guard after stripping a guard of the ball away from the basket and then leading the break. Cain dribbled into the paint and then found Sydney Smallbone in the lane for a short jumper.

"That's just another threat that we have on the inside and it's not only her passing, her ball handling is good, too," Fuller said. "She led the break for us. That's something else Kelley does – get steals on the low block."

Her reaction to the 6'6 Cain in the open floor was, "Do your thing, girl," Fuller said.

"Alex said, ‘Take it all the way Kelley,' " Manning said.

Cain found Smallbone in the lane for the five-footer late in the first half.

"And she had five assists," Fuller added.

"Put her at the point guard," Manning said.

Tennessee (18-6, 7-3) had a season-high 26 assists on 32 baskets in an indication of movement with and without the ball.

"I thought our guards did a great job of just moving the basketball," Summitt said. "We played with a lot more freedom with our three out, two in and just our cutting. For the most part I thought Angie moved well, Syd moved well. Actually I thought Alicia did a nice job, even having to run some point, which certainly she's not a true point guard, but we're going to have to have her and in particular if Strick can't play on Monday. We're hopeful that she can."

Sharp cuts and moving without the basketball had been points of emphasis in practice this past week.

"We've been working on our ball movement for a while, especially with the guards, and also, the inside-outside game was awesome," Angie Bjorklund said. "We were trying to get it into the high post a lot, and Coach was really getting on us to move without the basketball. I thought we did a good job with that, and that it created a lot of offense for us."

Fuller led Tennessee with 18 points, one shy of her career-high 19 against DePaul last season. Bjorklund was 3-4 from behind the arc and tallied 13 points. Smallbone connected on three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points, and Manning added 10 points. An effective combination for Tennessee was the high-low synergy of Fuller and Cain, who was 4-8 from the field and scored nine points.

"It's something we've worked at and the fact that we have the size that we have and we can play four deep in the post," Summitt said. "That really puts a lot of pressure on the defense because if you don't take away the high-low obviously you're going to get paint points over and over and over. We've had a lot of experience in defending it as well. We should be able to know how."

Cain and Fuller set the tone early when Cain, on the high block, found Fuller under the basket for the bucket and the foul to give Tennessee a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

"Obviously it was effective," Fuller said. "Kelley is a big post to guard so I think it's kind of hard for smaller teams to guard her, especially when you have a high post who can shoot the jumper so when they collapsed on me the dump is there."

Fuller got her points in an assortment of ways – feeds under the basket, a three-pointer and a 15-foot turnaround jumper from the elbow that has been particularly effective for her this season.

"When Alex and Kelley are playing together I just think we have a lot of composure on the floor," Summitt said. "The two of them they don't seem to be rattled. They don't get in a rush. I think the other players when they see that I think they play better together as well. We didn't get as many minutes off the bench maybe because I wanted to play them a lot but overall really pleased with the high-low game between Alex and Kelley."

Glory Johnson, who had started every game this season, came off the bench and entered for Cain eight minutes into the game. She finished with seven points and 10 rebounds and provided the spark off the bench that Summitt had been seeking. She had two steals and a block and played solid defense inside.

"I thought Glory came in with a lot of composure, played tough on the defensive end," Summitt said. "I know she didn't shoot the ball as well, but she had 10 boards. She battled. I think how she responded her game indicated that she wanted to come in and compete and help us out."

The fourth post player, Alyssia Brewer, also played some solid minutes. She cleaned up a miss in the first half and went right to the basket to give Tennessee a 29-17 lead.

Brewer finished with six points, four rebounds and two assists. Johnson had one of the sweetest assists of the game when she found Cain under the basket with a perfect pass as the shot clock was expiring for a 73-50 lead. Brewer also got involved in the high-low game in the second half and found Johnson underneath for a 77-52 lead.

Cain gives the Lady Vols a true center with size and presence. She got the opening baskets of both halves with baby hooks, including a left-handed one in the second half. Cain, a redshirt freshman, is coming back from major knee surgery and three knee mishaps this season but was able to log 23 minutes in the game and also had a block and the aforementioned steal.

"Kelley is just getting better and better," Summitt said. "In watching her in high school and going to the rim she likes to play in the paint. There are a lot of bigs that don't like to play in the paint, and she's not one of them, and she doesn't mind the contact. I think she's getting more and more comfortable, and I think she's gained a lot confidence because she's had some success.

"I think she and Alex really play well together. I'm pleased because that's a tough defensive assignment for about anyone we're going to face all year and hopefully she'll continue to improve."

Tennessee was having some defensive issues of it own as Alabama (12-13, 0-10) got scoring primarily from two players – Dedrea Magee with 21 points and Varisia Raffington with 19.

"I just noticed that I was kind of open, and I just took the shot," said Magee, who was 10-18 from the field.

Raffington had been averaging 15.1 points per game in SEC play and she continued that trend against the Lady Vols.

"Raffington has been playing the best for us all through the conference play," Alabama Coach Wendell Hudson. "She has been at another level for us. Magee really has stepped up and played really good. She's the point guard and she played 40 minutes, and I thought played very well. We are, as you can tell, a guard-oriented team and don't have that inside presence yet to just go inside and dump it in there and score so our perimeter players get a lot of shots and fortunately tonight a couple of them made a lot of shots."

The two guards also were on the boards for the Crimson Tide – Raffington and Magee had eight rebounds each. Freshman guard Ericka Russell grabbed five.

With guards leading the way on the boards for Alabama that meant Tennessee should have dominated on the glass, and the Lady Vols did. Tennessee out-rebounded Alabama by 20 boards, 51-31, and limited the Crimson Tide to just four offensive boards.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, had 17 boards on the offensive end and 20 second-chance points to five for Alabama. Cain's size was a big factor in the Crimson Tide's lack of production on the glass.

"Very difficult," Hudson said when asked about dealing with Cain's size on the interior. "There were times when we thought we had her blocked out, had a body in between her and the basket and the offensive rebound came down, and she is just so much bigger than everybody else and just reached over the top, especially when the little guards were trying to block out, which was not a foul even though I was complaining to the officials she was going over the back. I realized it was not a foul.

"Just that size makes so much difference. She was able to get those offensive rebounds. I thought the second-chance points actually were the difference in the basketball game."

Bjorklund had just one offensive rebound, but it was worthy of the highlight reel and probably should have been credited as a steal. After the sophomore missed a layup, Alabama's Katie Hancock came down with the rebound, but Bjorklund grabbed it away and nearly corkscrewed Hancock into the court with the force with which she swiped the ball. Bjorklund then drained the short wing jumper.

At the next media timeout the first person to greet Bjorklund was a beaming Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow, who has been seeking more toughness from the team.

"I couldn't believe I missed the layup and the ball was right there so I just grabbed it," Bjorklund said. "I think I was a little upset after missing that layup."

It was Fuller's offensive rebound with one second left before halftime that gave Tennessee a 41-30 lead at the break. That gave the team the chance to check on Stricklen after having to play without her for the final 11 minutes of the first half.

"I thought they responded very well," Summitt said. "Anytime a player goes down there's always concern. I told them I thought we dodged a bullet and I thought she'd be OK. I think when they saw her, they were relieved and she was sitting in the locker room when we came in.

"I think they picked it up. I think they knew they had to. Somebody had to step up, and that's why you have a team, and everyone on the team has to be accountable and for the most part I thought we responded pretty well."

The other nine players in uniform all logged double-digit minutes. Amber Gray, who had missed the past two games because of illness, actually took herself out in the first half but shouldn't have. Summitt made a substitution and Gray assumed it was for her and took a seat on the bench. When Summitt turned around she saw Gray sitting down and motioned for her to hustle back on the floor as the whistle had already blown.

"I guess she thought that I didn't think she was playing very well, and I was trying to substitute for somebody else and she came and sat on the bench," Summitt said with a look of both amusement and exasperation. "Just remember we have seven freshmen. I can't wait to write this next book. There will be a lot of highlights on this group."

Every played who logged minutes had at least one assist. The Lady Vols also shot 45.1 percent for the game and hit nine 3-pointers, a boost for the guards after shooting struggles in the game against Florida.

Manning, Smallbone and Bjorklund hit back-to-back-to-back threes – all three assisted by Cain passing out of the paint – to give Tennessee its largest lead of the game, 71-46, with 8:18 left to play.

"I think it's huge," Bjorklund said. "Coach has challenged us to get our shooting percentage up. We've been getting in the gym and getting extra shots up and I think that will really help with our confidence going into the Duke game."

That game is part of ESPN's "Big Monday" matchups and is also Tennessee's "Live Pink – Bleed Orange" promotion to raise awareness for breast cancer. The Lady Vols will wear white uniforms with pink trim.

"Really? You just burst the bubble," Fuller said. "We didn't know about that. Oh, I like it. I don't know about everybody else."

"We haven't seen them," Bjorklund said.

"I want them to wear them all season," Manning said.

Stricklen's availability for the Duke game wasn't yet known, and Summitt was coaching Thursday with that in mind. She left her team in its matchup zone, despite the breakdowns, to collect some film clips.

"I was disappointed in the first half, in particular," Summitt said. "I thought we were a little bit better in the second half. When we went to our matchup we knew we might miss an assignment, but I wanted to work on it because it's something that I think we're going to need as we move forward. Probably going to need it against Duke because they play off the bounce so much and they're so good at getting paint points. I was willing to give up a shot or two here or there just to have the experience and then we can go back and watch tape on it.

"I would definitely favor a zone maybe sooner rather than later if she can't go, but I hope she'll be ready to go," Summitt added.

The team bounced back from Stricklen's injury quickly and also got a much-needed boost after surrendering SEC position in the standings on the road in the loss to Florida.

"We've been working hard all week to prepare for Alabama, and now, we're going to get back in the gym and keep working to prepare for Duke, and I think this was a good confidence booster for us," Bjorklund said.

Tennessee continues to rely on its underclassmen with Fuller, whose knees likely welcomed the 24 minutes of shorter playing time, leading the way. No Lady Vol player logged more than 28 minutes – Bass hit that number with 19 minutes coming in the first half with Stricklen down. Even with all the youngsters on the floor Tennessee remains a formidable matchup, especially with Cain now able to play.

Hudson, who is in his first year as Alabama's coach but has extensive roots in the SEC and played for the Crimson Tide, said he enjoyed being back in Knoxville.

"This is not my first time being in Knoxville at a basketball game, and what I really like about it here is the atmosphere," Hudson said. "This is a great place to play, and I look forward to coming here. I know that sounds crazy from most people's standpoint, but I think it's a great place to come play basketball, and I've always enjoyed it.

"I've been in and out of the SEC for a long time and I just think it's a good place to come play basketball and also to play a team as talented as Tennessee – that's what you hope your team will one day be able to aspire to come here and play against a team like that and walk out of here with a victory."

When Magee was asked if it was not as intimidating to play Tennessee this season with the departure of major stars such as Candace Parker, Hudson smiled and said, "They're not?"

"I look at it as Tennessee is going to be Tennessee," Magee said. "They always have a good program and a good team."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories