Lady Vols romp over Carson-Newman

Carson-Newman knew it was running into a buzz saw by being the first team to face Tennessee since its loss last spring in the opening round of the NCAA tourney, and the Lady Vols spit out a 124-34 win over the undersized Lady Eagles. Pat Summitt and her coaching staff went into the game hoping to see better leadership and composure than a year ago, and her team delivered.

The box score was full of double-digit scorers – all five starters plus Glory Johnson off the bench with 22 points. The sophomore forward, who didn't start after being late last month to a team photo shoot, entered the game as if on a mission to make up for lost time.

She sprinted rim to rim, shot 8-12 from the floor and 6-8 from the free throw line and had 10 rebounds, four steals and a block. She rebounded a missed three-pointer from Angie Bjorklund, hit the stick-back and was fouled.

"And one!" Bjorklund yelled at Johnson as she helped her off the floor. That made the score 25-5, and on Tennessee's next possession Johnson rebounded a Kelley Cain miss to add two more points to the tally, 27-5.

Later in the first half she leaped so high to snare a long rebound with one hand that the crowd grasped. Johnson came down and went right back up for the putback, and the Lady Vols led 33-5. On Carson-Newman's subsequent possession, Johnson got a steal in the open court and fed the ball to Alicia Manning on the break to push the margin to 35-5.

By halftime the Lady Vols led 64-18, much to the delight of the announced crowd of 12,363. They allowed Carson-Newman to score just 16 more in the second half for the final 90-point margin of victory.

"Coming off the bench you've got to prove something, although she didn't start me, it's OK, because I can still play the same," Johnson said. "It's just motivation. Just playing hard all the time no matter if you're coming off the bench or you're going in in the last 30 seconds of the game. Always play hard.

"Just starting the season off strong and this being the first game, although it is an exhibition game, it would be the first time we got to show off our talent to the rest of the world, anyone who hadn't seen it, just basically put it all out there for them and show them what our team has to offer."

The remarks from the sophomore Johnson brought nods of agreement from the junior Bjorklund, and it was another indication that this year's team has bought in to Pat Summitt's system. Carson-Newman Coach Dean Walsh, who closely follows Tennessee – he thus knew of last season's debacle – wholeheartedly agreed.

"Pat has gotten the message across to them that it's her team and not theirs," Walsh said. "I see a different dynamic out of their freshmen. There is no doubt their attitudes changed.

"I think they played more within themselves and within the system. I thought their intensity defensively was much better. I think their attention to detail on the offensive end was much better than I remember them doing from last year. These last few months I think she's gotten their attention since Ball State."

Carson-Newman was Tennessee's first opponent since the loss last March to Ball State.

"We knew we were in a buzz saw," Walsh said. "They've been chomping at the bit. We knew that we weren't the reason, but, by gosh, they were going to make an example for all the effort they've been putting into earning their locker room back."

The team remains in a spare locker room for visiting teams – Summitt said after the game, "We'll move on eventually. This was just an exhibition game."

"This is a step," Walsh said. "They have a very strong, solid program that I think is better than where it finished last year. That's just from an outside observer who is very close to program and the staff. She is definitely getting their attention."

Sophomore point guard Briana Bass entered the game in the first half with Johnson and immediately pushed tempo to another gear. Those had been her preseason instructions, and Bass took them to heart. She made an immediate impact on the game by running off turnovers and starting the fast break off missed baskets.

Bass was calling for the ball from Spani on one in-bounds play in the second half, but Spani pointed to the official behind Bass who had not yet whistled for the game to restart. Bass hopped up and down, got the ball and took off down the court.

"Little Bree Bass, she will push it any time," Johnson said. "Right out of the TV timeout, she's going to push hard. And when we play our hard defense and get steals and deflections like we were, it'll be incredible. The tempo is always quick for us. As long as we're fresh and don't fall into fatigue, we're good to push it all the time."

Tennessee capitalized on Carson-Newman's 37 turnovers to the tune of 49 points. The Lady Vols tallied 68 points in the paint and got 27 on second-chance points. Despite shooting 62.3 percent from the game and 45 percent behind the arc, the Lady Vols still had 54 rebounds to 28 for the Lady Eagles.

The Division II school didn't have a starter over 5'11, so Summitt was aware of how lopsided the box score should be. In this case, she was more interested in seeing how her team responded to live competition after a demanding off-season and preseason.

"I think when you're in that situation you really have to focus on what your team brought at both ends," Summitt said. "Did we play down to the level of the competition? I felt like we kept our intensity and maintained it pretty much throughout the game. I was excited about that because in the past and last year, in particular, we'd get a lead and we'd think, ‘Game over.' And this team was thinking execution."

Walsh was thinking effort for his team. Carson-Newman lost to Tennessee, 135-55, a year ago, and the coach thought his team caved in at times instead of fighting.

"I thought tonight our effort was really good, and I was pleased with that," Walsh said. "That's one thing I can't complain about. We talked to the girls about it when we came in here. Last year, I was very disappointed with our effort.

"We had a really good showing Monday against Middle Tennessee, and then tonight – we knew we were overmatched, outsized, that's a given – but the thing you can control is your effort. I thought we had good effort. I thought we had a lot of good open looks, and shots just didn't fall. There's not a thing I can do if shots aren't falling. The obvious size and speed are going to be a difference, but we can control effort and I thought we did that tonight."

Carson-Newman was led by Tasha Phillips with 10 points on 3-6 shooting and seven rebounds. The 6'0 freshman forward is from Clarkrange, Tenn., and was a mainstay in state title tournaments, including MVP one year.

"As a team we're still learning each other," Phillips said. "For a team that's been together two months, we're meshing pretty well. I think we've got a lot to look forward to our season as far as when we get into our division.

"(Playing against Tennessee is) a definite learning experience. You see how good you aren't, but you also see how good you can be. You notice the little things more, the little mistakes that you make."

"I think this just helps her confidence level," Walsh said. "I felt like, and the staff felt like Tasha would come in here and play well. She's used to this type of environment. I thought she brought her game tonight and showed absolutely no fear.

"Our team is starting to come together. There are a lot of new players with personnel from last year's program, but I also feel like we've got a lot to look forward to with this bunch. Of course it doesn't get any easier with North Carolina on Tuesday. My wife can tell you there's no sense in what I do half the time."

Walsh schedules the heavyweights in exhibition games because he has reasoned that once his team tries to execute against some of the best teams in women's basketball, its regular season schedule won't seem so daunting.

"I thought our tempo was good; we didn't hesitate to push it," Walsh said. "We had several fast break opportunities but we fumbled the ball or missed the shot. I actually liked our tempo and how we were able to push the ball. That's a positive I'm going to take from this game because we were able to get it up and down, and we weren't overly fatigued.

"Because I knew (Summitt) was going to push and run. That's what she wants to do. She's got the size and speed to do it. She's got better shooters. Taber can shoot it. She definitely did tonight."

Taber Spani is a freshman in class year only. She took the floor Thursday without any visible case of nerves and had eight points by the break. She ran the floor after a Carson-Newman turnover and was hit in stride by Bass for the layup. She scored on another layup in the half-court offense when she cut to the basket from the baseline and received the ball from Bjorklund, who was on the wing.

Does Spani ever act like a first-year player?

"No, absolutely not," Bjorklund said. "She came in with so much confidence. That's tough to start as a freshman like that, and she came in like a veteran."

"First, it was an absolute blast," Spani said. "Us freshmen have been waiting our whole lives to play our first college game. Our team was really focused. That next step. I keep saying practice and then the first game. It's just a whole different ball game. It was so fun. We were just all trying to enjoy the moment.

"I was just trying to make an impact whenever I was on the court. I was so proud of the way our team fought. It was stressed every possession: ‘You have to fight,' and I think we really tried to focus on that."

One of Spani's classmates, forward Faith Dupree, was held out of the game because of back spasms she has suffered for the past week. The third freshman, Kamiko Williams, didn't enter until about six minutes were left in the game. Spani logged 25 minutes, but she was the only freshman to compile significant minutes in stark contrast to last season.

"It makes a big difference when you're not relying on freshmen," Summitt said. "Taber is not your typical freshman. She is still learning, but she's very receptive. You only have to tell her one time, ‘Here's what we need you to do in this situation,' and she's going to do it. She wants to do anything she can to help the team. Hopefully (Dupree) will be back with us very soon. Kamiko has just got a lot to learn."

Williams was followed into the game by sophomore forward Alyssia Brewer, who also logged just six minutes.

Was Summitt sending a message to the pair after noting several times in preseason that they needed to show more effort every day in practice?

"Yes ma'am," Summitt said.

What was the message?

"They know it, and we know it, and that's how it's going to stay," Summitt said. "But I have a feeling we won't have to deal with it again. Kamiko didn't quite seem to understand it, as well as Lyssi."

Before Brewer entered the game Summitt spoke to her on the bench, and Brewer, who has splendid offensive skills, nodded.

"Make all your minutes count," Summitt said of her advice. "I told her, ‘Just go play hard.' Gotta get up and down the floor. Don't have to worry about coaching effort. Kamiko missed out on the memo."

Summitt was smiling when she spoke about Williams – the guard has athleticism, shooting ability and can get to the rim – and she did push tempo during her floor time, but she will have to focus on defensive lapses.

Brewer tallied seven points, five rebounds and a block in her six minutes of play to make productive use of her time on the court.

"She did. I was really pleased," Summitt said. "She's really had some great practices (lately). Last year, we had to pick and choose when we could put her in, and couldn't play her very long because she gave in to fatigue. She's really stepped up her game and her intensity and her commitment to running the floor and playing hard."

Running the floor is a major emphasis this season, and Summitt certainly was pleased with the motor skills of Cain and Johnson.

"We call it the ‘post highway.' They just flat-out sprinted rim to rim," Summitt said. "I thought that was one of the best things about our post game tonight was their commitment to going rim to rim."

Cain was one of the five starters in double figures with 16 points. The other four were: Bjorklund, 21; Manning, 18; Spani, 17; and Shekinna Stricklen, 12.

Stricklen got the start at point guard – Bass will start there in the next exhibition game – and the two combined for 15 assists with eight for Bass and seven for Stricklen. Both were freshmen point guards a year ago, and both are clearly more comfortable at the spot as sophomores.

"The point guards this year have really stepped up," Bjorklund said. "Bree Bass has done a great job. When she came in the game, she just took control. Shekinna Stricklen had experience last year at point. I think just having a year under your belt playing with Pat's system and understanding her system – every year it gets easier."

Bass and Stricklen were on the floor together for stretches of both halves and that moved Stricklen to the wing. Summitt indicated after the game that the coaches would likely continue to use the dual system.

"I think Bree is playing really well," Summitt said. "Obviously, she can push tempo. That frees up Stricklen to get more shot opportunities on the perimeter. I think we'll have to play it game by game and different matchups and decide what to do, but we do have a lot of options this year so that's something that our staff is really excited about, and I know our fans are going to be excited about this team as well."

The perimeter players shot well – Manning was 5-8; Stricklen, 5-9; Bjorklund, 9-14; Spani, 6-10; and Bass, 2-2 – and Summitt said it was the result of a summer spent in the gym.

"Our perimeter game is so much better and more efficient because of the time invested in Pratt Pavilion," Summitt said. "I can tell you they spent a lot of time in there this summer. That's a facility that we're very glad that we have. It has made a big difference for our players to be able to know that they can get in and get a lot of shots and just work on their skill set overall."

Junior Sydney Smallbone was 1-3 from the field, but she also tallied five assists, the most of any perimeter player besides the point guards. The coaches used a three-out, two-in offense for much of the game and that allowed the players the freedom to make decisions on offense.

"We did play a lot of three out, two in and I thought they played with a lot of freedom, and that's exactly what we have been talking about, them making decisions and communicating," Summitt said. "There will be games that we may want to slow the tempo down, but in this situation we wanted to really challenge them baseline to baseline. That is why we wanted to work some on our press, seeing how rotations worked."

The result was an up-tempo pace, excellent ball movement and the outstanding shooting percentage, plus 28 assists.

"I think that just says how much we worked over the summer," Bjorklund said. "I know everyone has been getting in the gym, even up until now, and I think if we continue to do that we'll see more numbers like that.

"We stressed getting in the gym and playing a lot of pickup together (over the summer). I think our team chemistry, this is basically the same team as last year, so with great team chemistry like that we're able to do that. I think the more freedom we have the more we can utilize what we have, our skills. It's great."

Summitt pronounced herself to be pleased overall with her team.

"I just thought we did some a lot of good things tonight," Summitt said. "I am really pleased with how our upperclassmen have matured and their composure. Angie has obviously been shooting the ball really, really well, and then we get Alicia Manning in the mix. She did a great job of getting to the paint, good pull-up game. Our perimeter game with Shekinna, those three got us off to a great start. I thought Bree really pushed the tempo well, too, when she came in. So I am really pleased with the perimeter game in that regard.

"Glory Johnson played big for us off the bench. Around the rim she has gotten so much more efficient, which helps us a lot. Kelley Cain's size, great shooting touch. It was good to see Taber. I thought she played with a lot of composure to be a freshman, and definitely pleased with that.

"Overall, I think pretty much everyone came in and contributed in some way. We had some lapses defensively, but we had a lot more good things happen, so it was a good start for us."

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