Duke (21-3) scored 10 of its first 12 points off of seven Tennessee's turnovers in the first seven minutes as the Lady Vols struggled to get the ball up court while Bass watched from the sideline for most of that stretch. Afterwards, Coach Pat Summitt questioned her decision to not start Bass.
"It goes back to guard play," Summitt said of the start to the game in which the Lady Vols were immediately in a hole of their own making. "Our guard play was not good opening up. I made the decision not to start Bree. Looking back and how we opened up it might have been a mistake on my part."
Tennessee (18-7) had hoped to use the game to springboard to better postseason seeding but instead the Lady Vols must regroup and close out the regular season to hold onto fourth place in the SEC.
"This week, our practices have basically been mental, trying to get to know Duke and what they do and for us not to win it's obviously disappointing because we know this could have helped us, not only now, but in the postseason," senior forward Alex Fuller said.
"As far as where we go from here we can't really linger on it too long because it's (near) the end of our season. We have Kentucky coming up, we have LSU coming up, we have Vanderbilt again and Mississippi State. Not any of those four games are easy at all, so we can't dwell on it. We can't come to practice and sulk about it. We have to keep working hard and get better."
Summitt's opening remarks indicated she is not sure the team knows how to get better – or won't commit to the process.
"I don't think our basketball team really gets it," Summitt said, nearly spitting out the word, "gets."
"We got outworked. We got outplayed. We played a team that's a veteran team, but aside from that they just wanted it more than we wanted it. They were a lot more physical. They got to every loose ball, won every hustle play. Our guard play versus their guard play; we didn't match their guard play. We can't win against a team that is as talented as Duke playing the way we played tonight, playing in spurts. "We went nine minutes in the second half and did not score. We got out-rebounded by 13, shot 32 percent from the floor. Angie and Kinna were 4-of-23. You're not going to win that way. Glory Johnson was 0-for-6. Brewer was 0-for-5 from the free throw line. Kelley was 2-for-6 (on free throws). I'd like to tell you that we can fix this thing right away. I think our players have got to really understand what you have to do and how much you have to invest in being a great player for 40 minutes, and we're not there.
"Am I disappointed? Absolutely. Our whole coaching staff is sick about this. We had an awesome crowd. But I have to give all the credit to Duke. We've got a lot of work to do. We need to grow up. When I say grow up I mean we need to understand when you go play basketball and you have that uniform on, everybody wants to beat you, and everybody thinks this is the year to beat us. We're 25 games in; we should have figured it out by now what you have to do possession by possession.
"Now that I've got all that off my chest you can ask me any questions you want to ask me."
Those questions centered on Bass' performance at point guard – lauded by Summitt – and her team's defensive commitment – a major source of concern for the coach.
"I just don't think we have the competitive drive every possession and having passion to make stops," Summitt said. "Obviously, we recruited a lot of offensive players, and when their offense is struggling, it affects their defense. That where the mentality has to be we can't expect to shoot the basketball well all the time, but we know that defense is heart and desire and commitment. And we lack the heart and desire a lot of times to really buckle down and make stops.
"We're talking four-minute segments; we're talking you've got to make stops. And invariably someone is out of position. I know we're young, but after 25 games, we should have an awareness of what this system is all about and we should commit better."
Tennessee was led by Bass' 14 points – she went 2-2 from behind the arc – with Kelley Cain adding 10 points. But Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen went a combined 4-23 with Stricklen 0-3 and Bjorklund 1-7 from long range.
Glory Johnson was 0-6 from the field. Alyssia Brewer was a healthy 3-6 from the field but 0-5 from the free throw line. Cain misfired from the stripe at 2-6 to contribute to an abysmal team performance at the line of 56.0 percent (14-25), though Bass was 6-6 and Bjorklund was 3-4.
"Angie and Kinna should be putting up numbers for us every night," Summitt said. "Glory should be a better player. We've just got to get better individually and come together to play collectively, and tonight, the ball got stuck in people's hands, and we really didn't share the ball the way we needed to."
It was an assessment that Bjorklund agreed with, and she noted that the ball needed to go inside to Cain. Alex Fuller's two assists both came in the second half when she found Cain under the basket.
"We needed to get the ball inside a lot more, especially the outside game when we're not hitting," Bjorklund said. "We've got to get the ball inside and work the high-low. We started doing that towards the end and it was working. We've got to do that earlier.
"When we're not scoring, we need to get the ball inside and we need to make stops and we need to rebound a lot better than we did. If we're not scoring that well, we need to get it done on the defensive end and we need to get some rebounds, especially offensively."
Duke dominated on the boards, 49-36, and essentially beat Tennessee at its own game with physical play, offensive glass work and defense.
"In my career I have always valued physical play in terms of trying to be strong with the ball and strong in positions," Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I think you've got to be able to out-tough teams when those shots just don't fall down. I can tell you 49 to 36 on a home floor is very substantial. … We definitely are going to preach toughness, and loose balls, and rebounding, and strength, and weight room and things of that nature. The credit really goes to players for meeting us halfway and really believing in playing extremely physical."
That made the loss all the more galling for the Lady Vols, especially Bjorklund who saw how last year's team won a national title.
"Definitely," Bjorklund said. "They outworked us. We needed to bring it back just as strong and just as hard. We're definitely going to take this and learn from this and like Alex said we can't drag our heads about this. We have SECs to finish here and we need to finish strong."
Duke's defensive strategy was also to bottle up Bjorklund and force someone else to make shots. Bjorklund played 36 minutes and ended up with eight points late in the game, but she needed someone else to hit from the outside to lessen the attention on her. Tennessee had scoring droughts in both halves – Bass and Brewer came off the bench to handle that one – but the second half struggles buried Tennessee.
"I just remember us keeping up our intensity, focusing on what we were trying to do," Blue Devil Jasmine Thomas said. "Abby (Waner) did a great job on Number Five (Bjorklund) and everyone else just helped and played tough defense and tried to put it away."
Duke was led by Thomas with 19 points – she had 13 at the break but was guarded well by Bass in the second half and four of her points after the break came from the line when she was fouled late in the game – and Chante Black with 18 points. The Blue Devils struggled offensively – they shot 41.8 percent overall (23-55), 14.3 percent from long range (1-7) with Abby Waner going 0-5 from three-point range after torching Tennessee in Knoxville two years ago, and 51.7 percent (15-29) from the line. They also had 22 turnovers.
But their defensive pressure kept Tennessee out of sync for most of the game and an 8 minute and 21 second scoring drought after Tennessee had rallied from a 28-23 halftime deficit to tie the game at 28-28 proved to be fatal.
Alicia Manning hit a three-pointer to open the second half and then Fuller hit a shot from just above the elbow – both were on assists from Bjorklund – but then Duke went on a 16-0 run to push the score to 44-28 with 8:51 left. A Cain layup on an assist from Brewer finally stopped the run, and Tennessee managed to chip away at the lead, even getting to within four points, 58-54, with 48.7 seconds left.
Duke clanked free throws late to give the Lady Vols a fighting chance but twice got the offensive rebounds off misses and held off Tennessee for the 62-54 win in a game that left the pink-clad crowd of 16,990 likely fatigued by the offensive futility, as it was the Lady Vols' lowest output of the season.
"It was just a hard fought game," McCallie said. "It always is here. It's a very physical environment. I'm extremely proud of Jas and her composure as a point guard on the floor in terms of her directing things and the choices that she made in the amount of time that she had to handle the ball and make decisions.
"From Te's point of view (Chante Black), just her savvy, her presence, her attack mode, her defense and all the many things that she offers to us. We really need to get the ball more to Te to be quite honest. We're a work in progress. Great crowd – it was a great pink celebration."
The Duke team has "Yow" patches on their jerseys to honor the late Kay Yow, the coach at North Carolina State. Duke wore blue uniforms with pink trim and ribbons and pink Nike shoes. Tennessee wore white uniforms with pink trim and ribbons – the numbers were pink with blue trim – and several players wore pink adidas headbands.
The crowd wore T-shirts – pink and white ones were alternated between sections – and the coaching staffs wore outfits with pink.
"That's fantastic to see the Knoxville folks – they sure know how to do it right – with everybody wearing pink," McCallie said. "It was a great night that way, and I think Kay Yow would have been very, very pleased and very, very tickled to see all of the pink. We'll take this, and we'll learn from it and go from here."
McCallie meant the game overall, not how to stage a pink event, and her remarks were intended to summarize the atmosphere.
Bass also said she would learn from the game, and her defense on Thomas in the second half indicated she had already learned from past games.
"(Pat and I) have actually watched tape together of Shannon Bobbitt and she was telling me how Shannon really got in people's grill, and that's what I'm trying to do," Bass said. "My teammates are always telling me that it starts with the point guard, so I've just got to step up and step up to the challenge.
"Every loss is a tough loss. We just need to regroup ourselves and we need to figure out a way to play hard the whole game and play together as a team. We've just got to find our way."
Summitt opted to not start Bass because she was afraid Duke would post her up to take advantage of the size mismatch on the 5'2 point guard. But Tennessee had 13 turnovers in the first half – Bass had just one of those – and only four in the second half when Bass played 15 minutes at the point guard position without a single turnover despite Duke's stiff defense.
"Bree did a nice job," Summitt said. "I was pleased. I thought she was the best guard on the floor for us tonight. I thought she defended well and I thought she was very, very aggressive defensively, and they really didn't exploit her size like we had anticipated and I think a lot was because of her aggressiveness. I've got one guard. Can we win with one guard? No."
Summitt was referring to the start of the first half and the scoring drought of the second half when her guards struggled. Stricklen, who subluxed her right kneecap last Thursday, was out of sync most of the game – through she did drive to the basket in the second half to pull Tennessee to 44-32 – and ended up fouling out with 4:02 left to play and the Lady Vols down by 10.
"A lot of that was guard play and a combination of Angie, Kinna and Glory just not making shots," Summitt said. "And again if you don't make shots, you'd better make stops. But Duke, I give them the credit. They were tougher. They were physically more aggressive, got on the boards. They played like a veteran team."
Tennessee is still playing like what it is – a team of seven freshmen with three in the starting lineup. The Lady Vols' schedule has been difficult – the bye games built into the SEC schedule were used to play top 10 teams Oklahoma and Duke, and both were losses – but Summitt thinks it should help the maturation process at this point in the season.
"I don't think it's been too much," Summitt said. "We've won 18 ballgames. All seven losses hurt. Some were closer than others. But I think we have learned from playing a tough schedule. Now, it doesn't mean that we've bought it to how much better we have to be. But I'm not bothered by that. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is where we are right now – at this point in time in the season we should be a lot better, and we should be a lot tougher."
A consistent starting lineup might be the next step as Summitt has used 10 different ones both because of injury and trying to deploy two point guards after losing Cait McMahan for the season to a bum knee. But the start to the Duke game – more turnovers, seven, than points, six – underscored the need to open with ball security as the Lady Vols were immediately crawling out of a hole by the second media timeout when the score was 12-6.
"I thought our turnovers were very careless and costly," Summitt said. "We had to defend and we had to do a better job on the boards. As we progressed obviously challenged them to get open shots. We were running a lot of screening action, but I didn't think we were able to get the shots that we needed to get, even coming off screens. But they were very physical. Duke was a lot more physical than us. A lot of times they rode us off screens just by being more physical."
When Summitt was asked to compare this Duke team to some of her better ones of the past, she smiled and declined.
"I try not to think of some of my better teams right now," Summitt said. "I'm trying to think about how this team could get better, because that clouds my thinking. They (Duke) are a very good team, and they deserve their ranking. They've got a toughness about them, and that's what veteran teams have – they have a toughness.
"I think our team is pretty fragile at times. When things don't go well for them, especially young players, they don't shoot the ball well, then they don't defend. They worry about trying to get it back on the other end of the floor. I guess it takes time, but I'm kind of impatient right now. I'm about over it. Something has got to change."
Black said the Blue Devils sensed the Lady Vols were tiring in the first half and McCallie used nine players in the first half to keep the pace up-tempo.
"We set the tone early in this game to go up tempo, and you could see it midway through the first half that they were wearing out," Black said. "I was able to outrun their posts. Once we saw that we just continued to push it and of course that was going to carry over second half. It's hard to keep up for 40 minutes when a team is pushing up-tempo."
Black also indicated she was not meeting much resistance to score. Black went 8-11 for the game, a stat that stood out because of how poorly nearly everyone else on the floor shot the ball on both teams.
"I think it's just the attack mindset," Black said. "I knew that if I caught it and they didn't double team to attack them. I probably saw the double team maybe once early on, but after that I found buckets."
Tennessee, meanwhile, was misfiring from the outside deep in the shot clock. Fuller rebounded an air-ball shot from Johnson from behind the arc – not the shot Tennessee wanted – and made a nifty reverse layup with a second left on the shot clock. Bass hit a three-pointer with two Duke players collapsing on her – she made a step back to get open – with the shot clock at two seconds to tie the game at 23 in the first half. That bailed out Tennessee those times, but it was not what the Lady Vols had worked on in practice all week.
"I don't think we got the shots we wanted at all," Bjorklund said. "We should have taken the ball inside more, worked the ball more. Me included, the ball got stuck in our hands too much and we needed to move the ball more to get better shots."
Duke becomes just the third team to win three consecutives games in Knoxville. The other two were Texas (1983-87) and Louisiana Tech (1982-86.) Duke's wins came in 2004, 2007 and 2009 with the first two under former Coach Gail Goestenkors, who is now at Texas.
"Gail was a part of those and creating a program and all of the wonderful things at Duke, and it just speaks for excellence," said McCallie, who also used the question to salute Summitt's 1000th win this season. "We certainly know how excellent Tennessee has been over the years. I told Pat I can't believe how much she's handled with this 1,000-win thing. Obviously it's the greatest thing ever, but not for her. She's got a lot to handle and talk about, and the way she's been able to distribute it (the credit) and bring so many things into it I think it's been remarkable.
"If you look at the history of Duke basketball, it's been great. We're very proud to work hard and be very, very good. I wasn't able to be a part of those teams of the past that did well. All I can comment on is this team this year and how hard this team has worked. We're proud on all counts."
Summitt is waiting on her young team to realize how hard it has to work to be successful. She is seeking a 40-minute effort, and Bass seemed to realize the challenge is not so much physical as mental.
"Anybody is capable of doing anything," Bass said. "It's just more mental. We've just got to go out there and do it."
The team will return to the practice court Tuesday afternoon.
"I'd practice tonight if it was legal," Summitt said to much laughter as she left the press room.