Kelley Cain delivers against Delta State

Tennessee's second exhibition game – a 79-46 win over Delta State on Monday evening – left a lot to be desired as far as Pat Summitt was concerned and outside of a dominant performance from Kelley Cain and the effort of freshman Taber Spani, the coach spent most of her post-game press conference pointing out where her players needed to get better – and soon.

Kelley Cain had a double-double before halftime and finished the game with 20 points, 20 rebounds, seven blocks, two steals and an assist in just 19 minutes of play.

"Kelley has great composure, has got soft hands, has got a great shooting touch," Coach Pat Summitt said. "She plays to her strengths. She doesn't try to do anything out of the ordinary. It's just, ‘Get the ball on the glass,' and she does it so well.

"She just understands her role. I think when players really understand their strengths, then they're going to play to their strengths if they're really passionate about being good in that area and not just going out and playing the game and being loose with it. I think she's playing with a lot of confidence.

"I think she understands as well as any post player that I've coached, she knows that she's going to run the ‘post highway,' and she's going right to the rim, and she's going to use the glass. She simplifies her game, and she's so efficient because of that."

Freshman Taber Spani also recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and collected several baskets on stick-backs of teammates' misfires.

"Taber is just a player," Summitt said. "She's just a player. She doesn't care where you play her she just wants to play. She has just got a really good feel for the game."

Delta State, a Division II Final Four team last season, provided a much stiffer test for Tennessee than the exhibition opener against Carson-Newman, but the Lady Statesmen had no answer for Cain, who scored around the basket, from the free throw line and in transition.

"I don't think many people are going to have an answer for her," Delta State Coach Sandra Rushing said. "She's a tremendous player and they do a great job of getting the ball to her. We thought about possibly doubling her, but then you throw it out and somebody is going to shoot it. They're just tremendous all the way around.

"Going into the game we wanted to make sure that we stayed in front of her and not let her walk us up too high, but she kept getting in front and getting some easy baskets. We just didn't do a very good job."

Summitt also offered some words of praise to her other two freshmen, Faith Dupree and Kamiko Williams. Dupree was making her debut as a Lady Vol and has missed most of practice for the past 10 days because of back issues. She did record two steals and a block and ran the floor well in 10 minutes of play.

"I wanted to give Faith some minutes," Summitt said. "I didn't want to giver her extended minutes (because of her back). I thought she got up and down pretty well. And of course being out of practice she's a little rusty."

Williams had four points, six rebounds and two blocks and showed a knack for being around the ball in her 16 minutes of floor time.

"I thought Kamiko came in and got some quality minutes," Summitt said. "Good to see her active and I think that's some quality minutes that she needed. I thought she did a pretty good job overall."

But the bulk of Summitt's remarks after the game was a clear directive to the rest of the team to come prepared to play, a process that starts in practice. Summitt had not been pleased with the team's overall effort in the last two days of practice, and that seemed to carry over to Monday's game.

"Obviously, not real impressed with a big part of what I saw in the first half and even playing in spurts in the second half," Summitt said. "A very bright spot is Kelley Cain and Taber Spani.

"I was really disappointed that (Shekinna) Stricklen didn't come ready to step up and be a leader and play. Shekinna has got to do that, and Angie Bjorklund. Those two, we look to them as go-to players offensively and just have got to get better. Those two have got to be more consistent game in and game out. From the first game to this game, night and day. I think they know it."

Summitt changed the starting lineup in the second half, but Stricklen and Bjorklund were still in it. That's because Summitt was also unhappy with the first half play of Briana Bass and Glory Johnson. Alicia Manning and Spani started instead.

"I just felt like those two (Manning and Spani) played hard and played with great intensity," Summitt said. "Glory Johnson goes from being all-world (against Carson-Newman) to not being effective consistently. What we are looking for is players that understand you've got to bring it every game, every possession and have a level of commitment to do that. It's a mindset.

"Bree was not as sharp until the second half. It's a 40-minute game, and we did not bring it for 40 across the board. I was disappointed."

Summitt's expressed dismay after the game for the drop-off in post play after Cain left the court in the second half. That was an issue last season – when Cain wasn't on the floor the post game could sputter – and it was an issue again Monday.

"I am concerned," Summitt said. "(Alyssia Brewer) has got to play a different role. She goes in and doesn't even go and follow a rebound. She's backpedaling. So do you think that makes us happy? No.

"I told her, ‘We handpicked you to come to the University of Tennessee. And we did it because we thought you could help us win a championship.' Right now, I am not impressed. So, does that have to change? Absolutely, in order for her to play a bigger role and give us more quality depth in the paint.

"Because Kelley can't do it all by herself, and Lyssi is very capable, as long as she commits."

Delta State didn't have a player to match up with Cain, but the Lady Statesmen did have some scrappy guards and were led by Sarita "Bug" Cooper with 15 points, including 3-5 marksmanship from long range.

Her nickname came from her ability to be fleet of foot as a child.

"When I was young my mom always told me when she got ready to whip me I used to run around like a little bug, and they started calling me ‘Bug,' " Cooper said.

Cooper got around the Lady Vols at times on forays to the rim and after surviving the initial onslaught – Tennessee jumped out to a 11-0 lead before Cooper drained a three-pointer – Delta State settled down, took the shot clock down to single digits on offensive possessions and put more defensive pressure on Tennessee.

Tennessee's bursts of points to open the game came mostly on fast break opportunities, and Rushing quickly called a timeout after just 76 seconds had elapsed.

"We wanted to come in and we really wanted to try to work on our transition defense," Rushing said. "As you saw I called a timeout a couple of times, because I just have a problem giving up easy transition.

"Tennessee really pushed us around. Of course, we didn't block out. When somebody is bigger, you are going to have to do a better job of blocking out. I did like that when the ball was on the floor, we were making hustle plays."

Spani and Williams showed an inclination to scrap for Tennessee and even Cain, who is coming back from a knee surgery, lunged to the floor to tie up the ball, but the effort was uneven from the rest of the team.

"I think we kind of came out flat, especially in the first half," junior guard Angie Bjorklund said. "We need to really be consistent on every possession."

Sophomore guard Shekinna Stricklen didn't start with her usual hustle and energy – she also struggled from the floor – and that put more pressure on Bjorklund to produce. Both players ended up in double digits – Bjorklund had 12 points and Stricklen added 10 – but they both were 4-13 from the field. Bjorklund did hit 2-5 from behind the arc, while Stricklen was 0-3.

As a team Tennessee shot 41.1 percent from the field, 25.0 percent from three-point range and 58.3 percent from the line. Spani was a very uncharacteristic 0-3 from the stripe, as she is an excellent free throw shooter. Cain, who struggled from the line last season, was an encouraging 4-6, and even banked one in after yelling "Off" to her teammates as the ball left her hand.

Cain didn't realize she had a 20-20 line – and 12-12 at halftime – until she was told in the locker room afterwards.

"It's all because of my teammates," Cain said. "Everything I do is for them and because of them. I just like playing with them and it's very comforting."

It's also comforting for the coaches to see Cain running the floor so well. Stricklen fed her with a pass from about 25 feet away on a fast break that the 6'6 center caught in stride and then hit the layup. It was a play Cain would not have been able to make last season because of her aching knee.

Cain also scored on a nifty bank shot in the second half from the edge of the paint. She frequently got deep position and, without taking a dribble, simply turned and finished at the rim.

"Her playing that way, you can't stop it," Bjorklund said. "You can't stop her inside and having that inside presence really helps, especially with the outside game and especially when she's dominating the boards like that. Coach Summitt says that you win with rebounding and defense, and Kelley Cain is a huge part of that."

The challenge for Tennessee is to determine how to get consistent post production when Cain needs an in-game break.

"Certainly that's a time in which I think Taber can go inside and especially working the high-low game," Summitt said. "Glory Johnson has got to do a better job of finishing about the basket and being efficient with that.

"We're a little smaller there, but Glory is so athletic and if she will just really focus on her presence in the paint as opposed to facing up and trying to do a lot of things off the dribble that is where I think we can play Taber and Glory together."

Summitt was willing to give a pass to Dupree, who had been solid in practice prior to having back spasms and missing so much time, but the freshman forward shook her head when told of the coach's reprieve.

"I definitely think I can," Dupree said when asked if she could help Cain in the paint, while Cain nodded her head. "I just have to work this whole week before Baylor. I definitely think I can be a threat in the paint."

Dupree, who is from Knoxville, saw her first action in orange before an announced crowd of 10,619.

"It was really exciting to be able to play in front of family and friends and the big crowd," Dupree said. "It was a lot faster than I'm used to and I have to get used to that. My post game needs to step it up."

No. 4/7 Baylor comes to Knoxville this Sunday for the State Farm Women's Tip-Off Classic, and Summitt was grateful for the challenge presented by Delta State. Although they were undersized compared to the frontline of the Lady Vols, the Lady Statesmen had some athletic players who could penetrate to the basket and run the floor.

"They did a great job in transition and they attacked well off the dribble," Summitt said. "Very well coached. I think they're headed for a good season, and I think this experience for them will help them."

Delta State made the Division II Final Four for the past two seasons and is trying to claim another national title for a school with a storied history in women's basketball.

Before the game started, Summitt spent a few minutes chatting with Rushing, who played guard for Alabama in the 1980s. Margaret Wade, for whom the Wade Trophy is named – the most prestigious award in women's basketball – was the legendary coach of Delta State when the school won three consecutive national titles in the 1970s.

Daedra Charles-Furlow, now a Lady Vol assistant, was the first Tennessee player to win the award in 1991.

"I was talking about Margaret Wade and the Wade Trophy," Summitt said. "I went back to when Daedra wasn't playing very well and we were trying to win a championship. I sent everyone out (of the locker room) except Daedra and I wasn't supposed to tell – Joan Cronan will probably still be mad at me – but I went ahead and told her that she had won the Wade Trophy and that if she didn't hurry up and get out and do something they were probably going to change their mind."

A gracious Rushing paid tribute to Tennessee after the game.

"The atmosphere was amazing," Rushing said. "Right before the game I'm looking into the stands and I was like, ‘Wow.' I did play against Pat Summitt. I have a lot of respect for the program and Coach Summitt. You try to share a few things (with her current players), but you've got to live it to really understand it."

Cooper was grateful for the chance to play at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"That was a great experience," Cooper said. "That was a dream come true, playing Tennessee. We're going home and we're going to work harder and improve on our mistakes – our blocking out, turnovers, executing our offense. We are going to try to win a national championship."

Delta State absorbed Tennessee's blow in the first half – the Lady Vols led 46-24 and would have led by much more if they had hit some open shots – and came out in the second half with more spunk.

"It's still early," Rushing said. "Our chemistry is not there offensively. I did see some hustle plays, and that was huge for us tonight. I think we were a little intimidated in the first half, and I just thought we did a little bit better job in the second half.

"Having the opportunity to play Tennessee this early, they're going to pull out your weaknesses and they're going to pull them out early, and we definitely have got a lot to work on. But I am proud of my players. I really am. We made our mistakes, but I thought they fought hard, and we were just outsized. It was amazing. (Tennessee is) just strong, they're big, they get up and down the floor. If you just even blink for a second, they're laying it up on the other end."

"We got in the locker room (at halftime), we talked about what we needed to improve on when we get back out there in the second half," Cooper said. "We listened to our coaches and we went out there and tried to do the best we could."

Delta State had one other player in double figures – Jessica Collins had 10 points off the bench – but shot only 26.2 percent as a team. The Lady Statesmen did, however, connect on seven 3-pointers and were 36.8 percent from long range. Although the Lady Statesmen had 19 turnovers, they caused issues for Tennessee, too, which had 18. Delta State converted those into 14 points, while Tennessee tallied 23 points off miscues.

"Delta State did a great job," Bjorklund said. "They really disrupted our offense with 18 turnovers, and they really got in our face and made us work hard."

Tennessee owned the boards by a 64-33 margin, with nearly half of those coming from Cain (20) and Spani (10).

Perhaps the most valuable outcome of Monday's game will be the film.

"I think we needed a better challenge," Summitt said. "I think it was good for us. I think seeing that and having an opportunity to pick and choose what we want to show them on tape and some of our breakdowns and obviously some of the good action, as well, but I liked having a better test. That's for sure."

Bjorklund sounded as if the team was already getting prepared for practice this week.

"We just take what we didn't do in this game and put it in practice," Bjorklund said. "We have a few days for preparation, and we have a huge game coming up. We have to go in every practice working our hardest and be ready for this next game."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories