Tennessee opened the second half with a 32-4 run and the Lady Raiders were down by at least 30 points for the duration of the game.
"Obviously I thought we were much better in the second half than the first half, but I liked the intensity overall and felt like the people who had to step up early stepped up early," Coach Pat Summitt said. "Shekinna Stricklen has been doing a great job for us. It's good to see Glory Johnson playing around the rim and getting a lot of scoring opportunities for us. That took a lot off of Kelley Cain, who has been terrific for us as well.
"Overall I liked the balanced scoring, I liked our commitment to defense in the second half and to our board play. I think it was good for us to be able to experiment with different looks in our zone and in our man defense."
After the game Texas Tech Coach Kristy Curry saluted the effort of Tennessee.
"You know what? You just have to give Tennessee credit," Curry said. "I thought we missed a lot of open looks, but I think you have to give them credit. This doesn't define our season. We're trying along the way to use every moment as a learning situation and when we were called with this opportunity, do you turn it down? No.
"It's the right steps to take as we try to get Tech back to where we want it to be. It's about getting better every day, and we'll be better from today as hard as it's been."
Attendance at the AT&T Center was 4,586 - the majority of them in either Tennessee or Texas orange since the Longhorns played in the second game vs. Connecticut - and although the ones that were there were boisterous it was not what the Lady Vols are accustomed to hearing when they take the court. It was so quiet when the game began that the coaches could easily be heard speaking to their teams from the sideline.
"I think this really helped us because when we first started out it was really dead in the gym and we realized we're not at home, so we had to pick each other up and bring our own energy and that's what we did," Stricklen said. "That's what we're going to have to do on the road."
That's another indication of the team's maturity from last year, and several players have made a significant leap. Among them is Johnson, who has played under control and around the rim.
Johnson was 4-5 in the first half and scored in the half-court offense and in transition. After getting a pass inside that was a little hard to handle, the ball was bobbled and could have been tied up by a Texas Tech defender, but Johnson wrestled it away and went in for the layup.
Johnson, who eschewed her left hand last season, and will hear "Left hand!" yelled by the coaches in practice this season if she uses her right hand on the left side of the basket, opened the scoring in both halves with a short left-handed bank shot in the first and a left-handed layup in the second.
"When I had that left-handed layup I had some time to think, ‘Man, are the coaches going to be mad at me if I use my right hand?' " Johnson said. "So I went ahead and went up with my left."
Johnson injured her left shoulder last week in practice and has been wearing a protective sleeve/brace.
"I don't like the brace too much, but it helped me a lot and it protects me, and that's all I need," Johnson said. "I'd rather have the brace on than be sitting out."
Tennessee needed Johnson's defense and scoring in the game, and she responded with 17 points on 7-8 from the field and 3-4 from the free throw line. She also had six rebounds, two steals and a block.
Tennessee opened in its traditional man defense - the Lady Vols also played some zone - and Johnson often teamed with Stricklen, who is 6'2, for perimeter pressure. Stricklen also had two steals, one of which she tipped on a pass to the middle and took the length of the court for a layup.
After playing the entire game against Baylor, Stricklen logged 18 minutes in the first half and just five in the second for a total of 23 minutes. She finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and one block and spent the rest of the game as a spectator.
"I was really happy about that," Stricklen said with a smile.
Summitt went to her bench early and often - she kept the scorer's table busy with a rotation of players until slightly less than eight minutes were left in the game and she left in a lineup of Briana Bass, Sydney Smallbone, Alicia Manning, Taber Spani and Faith Dupree, all of whom had logged minutes earlier.
The strategy seemed to be to keep fresh bodies on the floor, especially in the second half, so that Tennessee could push tempo. No player logged more than 28 minutes.
"Coming out of timeouts and knowing what we had to do and we needed to separate ourselves from this team," Johnson said. "Just knowing that we could run on them and we could do it well and we had a lot of people that could run the floor. They had slower guards, and all our guards can run, so we pushed it the whole time.
"Bree is one of the fastest point guards I've ever seen. We just kept pushing the ball until they got tired. They had the same guards and posts coming back. With our guards switching and putting me in and putting Taber in as a post and putting Faith in we were able to push it on them."
Texas Tech was in striking distance at halftime despite shooting just 18.5 percent from the field to Tennessee's 46.2 percent, and the Lady Raiders had made it to the line 12 times and hit six.
"You look up and you're only down 13 at half and you missed six free throws," Curry said. "It was disappointing. Our two seniors (Ashlee Roberson and Jordan Murphree) are 0-10 at halftime, but, again, you give Tennessee credit for that. I was proud of our young kids. I thought they competed. We just couldn't make some shots. You have to credit Tennessee's defense for that as well."
Tennessee's strategy in the second half was to play better position defense and to stop the forays to the basket.
"They tend to move the ball around more and penetrate our gaps and we weren't doing the same thing coming down and we should have been because they were drawing fouls, and we weren't doing the same thing, although we could've," Johnson said. "Late in the game we started fouling some more but eventually in the middle of the game we started figuring out helping and moving our defense around, shifting our defense and stop them from being able to penetrate and stop us from getting fouls."
Texas Tech freshman guard Monique Smalls, who was 0-4 and scored three points from the stripe, said Tennessee's size was a factor.
"They had a good advantage because of their height and wingspan," Smalls said. "To me, their defense we could have beat it every time. We just fell apart and just didn't work hard. Their defense was decent, but we still could have beat it and drove through it."
Texas Tech, 1-1, was led by sophomore center Kierra Mallard with 15 points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Curry indicated the Lady Raiders, who are trying to restore their program to its previous levels of success, will need a youth movement and a surge in recruiting.
"I don't think there's any doubt it starts in recruiting so we've got to continue to work hard and win the wars in recruiting," Curry said. "I think these two kids, one on my right (Smalls) and one on my left (Mallard) were two good gets for us. We've got to continue to build around these two. You look down our roster and we've got 10 freshmen and sophomores. We're just trying to put the wheels back on the bus one wheel at a time."
Tennessee had an uncharacteristic season a year ago with 11 losses and a one-and-done exit from the NCAA tourney, and its sophomores now seem to understand what it takes to compete in college.
"Just knowing that I have a bigger role and we lost our only senior and we still don't have any seniors," Johnson said. "Knowing that we have three freshmen coming in and I have to play a different role. I need to know more things. I need to be able to tell the freshmen what to do and I need to be able to speak to the freshmen and tell them what to do as far as the offenses and defenses.
"I no longer have room for mistakes because I am a sophomore. I am not a freshman anymore. Having a year under my belt I can't make mistakes as much as I used to."
The team lost its locker room last February after a desultory effort in a loss to Kentucky. The privileges have not yet been restored.
"I told them they had to win something," said Summitt, who was pleased enough with their play to give the team the day off Wednesday. "We've got a couple of games coming up here. We'll see what they do and hopefully we'll be back in the locker room."
"Same old answer," Johnson said with a smile as Summitt got up to leave the post-game press conference for her radio show. "For the past few games she's said the same thing. She wants us to win something. We won a couple of things and she's still giving us the same answer, so we'll see. Me personally I think she's waiting on a huge win, something amazing to happen."
The Lady Vols' next game is Sunday at Virginia, a team that beat Tennessee in Knoxville a year ago in the second game of the season. After that the Lady Vols travel to Murfreesboro to play Middle Tennessee. Of the first four games this season, three are on the road so the 2-0 start was the best start for Tennessee.
"I think it was very important, especially this first game being away from home," Stricklen said.
The sophomore is a big reason for the start as she has provided solid play at the point position. Johnson drew laughs with her response when asked if she could sense that Stricklen was more comfortable at the spot this season than a year ago.
"Yes, actually. She never complains about it anymore," Johnson said as Stricklen laughed out loud. "She didn't really like it. I enjoy her being at the point because she can drive. If she's not scoring then she's drawing fouls. It's something Bree might not have because of her height but Strick can score or draw a foul. She's quick. She's almost as quick as Bree."
Stricklen was 1-2 from behind the arc in Tuesday's game and got the bulk of her points on drives to the paint and short jumpers. She cleaned up a bad pass to Cain by swooping in, snaring the loose ball and hitting a reverse layup.
Dupree connected with Stricklen in the high-low game in the first half, and Stricklen hit the layup, was fouled and converted the free throw. Stricklen also got a defensive board, headed down court and found Bjorklund behind the arc on a fast break in the second half when the Lady Vols were making their run.
"She's at a different level," Summitt said. "I like what I've seen in her commitment to push tempo for us. A year ago she did not want to run the point, but she's terrific at that position because she can see, she's got the vision of seeing the court and at the same time I think she finally realized she can make one pass and she's just a player.
"Her efficiency overall, she has been shooting the ball well and getting in the paint. She's got a great pull-up game. I think she's got the complete package. Yes, she can get better, but I like what she's bringing to our team right now."
When asked if she felt like she had leapt to another level, Stricklen said, "Yes, I do. I feel like I can improve more, though. Last year the point position I wasn't really confident about it but this year I have a lot of confidence and actually I am enjoying playing point guard and pushing the ball and pushing the tempo for the team and penetrating and getting teammates open. I am really enjoying that."
Bjorklund did quite a bit of damage from behind the arc on one series of plays with Tennessee getting eight points before Texas Tech even got the ball back.
Bjorklund hit a three-pointer - again on an assist from Stricklen - and was fouled after the shot. The shot counted, and Tennessee got the ball back, and Bjorklund hit another three-pointer off the in-bounds play on an assist from Cain. This time, she was fouled as she shot. Bjorklund missed the free throw, but Johnson got the offensive board and converted the layup for a 53-21 lead.
Johnson had a knack Tuesday for being around the ball, along with the rest of her teammates. Tennessee won the rebounding battle, 49-28, with Manning grabbing nine boards and Cain adding eight. Dupree and Spani also got on the glass with six apiece, and Bjorklund tallied four.
"I love rebounding," Johnson said. "Like Pat says it's passion and heart and it takes hard work to go up there and board. It takes hard work to take a charge. It's just something that you commit yourself to and boxing out is another thing.
"Boards is something I love to do. It's something that comes easy for me, but it's still a lot of hard work. Put yourself in the right position when the ball comes off the rim and the backboard."
The teams both had 17 turnovers, but Tennessee converted Tech's miscues into 32 points, while the Lady Raiders got just 12 off the Lady Vols' mistakes. Tennessee got 20 second-chance points to just seven for Texas Tech, as the Lady Raiders had trouble keeping the Lady Vols off the boards.
"Number one is wishing we had more size," Curry said when asked how to contend with Tennessee's height. "I'm not going to sit here and make excuses for it. There are a lot of folks across the country that don't have the size that they have, but I thought (Mallard) really competed. We've got to get her some help down low. We understand we need size down low."
Curry also cited the size of Stricklen at point.
"She's special," Curry said. "I had a chance to watch her in high school and I know her high school coach. She's a tremendous talent with her size and her perimeter skills are a rare combination."
Tennessee got 29 points from its bench as Summitt used all nine available players - Alyssia Brewer and Kamiko Williams didn't travel because of a one-game suspension for violation of team policy - and everyone who played scored at least three points.
"That was good for us," Summitt said.
Summitt wasn't particularly pleased in the second half with Dupree as she struggled to get up and down the floor with the increased minutes, so she directed Bass to bring the ball toward the sideline and then called timeout. The timeout consisted mostly of Summitt talking to Dupree, who nodded and repeatedly said, "yes ma'am." Summitt inserted Dupree back in the game after a brief rest.
"Faith Dupree goes in and she's having a little trouble getting up and down the floor," Summitt said. "Somebody must have pushed a hot button because she started playing well. It was good to see her come off the bench and get some quality minutes as well."
The Lady Vols shot 52.5 percent for the game, and Spani shook off some early misses and ended up with 18 points to lead all scorers. She was 5-9 overall and 2-4 behind the arc.
"I told her tonight, ‘You just need to relax. You're trying to will it in. You have got to just relax and shoot the ball the way you shoot it every day in practice,' " Summitt said. "With our schedule that we play, it's going to get tougher and tougher, and she's going to have to work through that. I am confident that she will be able to play in the big games and knock down the big shots."
Summitt attributed the overall shooting percentage - the Lady Vols also were 47.4 percent (9-19) from long range - to the time spent over the summer in the gym.
"I think that goes back a lot to our off-season, as well as our practices and the amount of time that we have devoted to getting in the gym and making shots," Summitt said. "Repetition, there's no substitute for repetition on the offensive end. Our team has invested in that and our coaching staff has made it a point of emphasis. What this team did in the off-season has made a big difference for where we are right now as a basketball team versus one year ago."
Texas Tech is relying on young players this season - the Lady Raiders start a freshman backcourt - and Curry said her approach after the game was to show the team some game film Tuesday evening and keep working. Tech did improve its shooting in the second half to 42.3 percent and finished at 30.2 percent for the game.
"I think you stay positive with them and you keep teaching and working and keep growing with every day," Curry said. "(They) believe in the plan that we have in place at Tech, and they're committed to that. We've got to get some help around them."
"This game has been a big learning experience for everybody," Mallard said. "We've got to take it and practice and get better each day."
Smalls, a freshman point guard, said the game was a learning experience for her, too.
"First time ever having a crowd and a team this big before," Smalls said. "I've got to learn what I've got to do and feed Kierra and my post players and give them the opportunity to score."
The Lady Vols are relying on a young team - four sophomores and one junior started the first half and Spani, a freshman, replaced Manning to start the second half - but they still hope to make a return trip in April to San Antonio. Among those watching Tuesday were 2010 signee Meighan Simmons of Cibolo, Texas, who attended with her Steele High School team, and former Lady Vol guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who won two national titles and was in attendance with her mother Quan Hornbuckle.
The Alamodome will be the venue for the 2010 Women's Final Four in April, and the Lady Vols could see the dome from their downtown hotel.
"They are all aware, and we're just excited that we could be here and get them a little taste of what it's all about," Summitt said. "Clearly our goal is to be back here for the Final Four. It kind of wets your whistle a little bit and so we want to be here."
"Like Coach said I think that, as a team, that is our main goal to come back here," Stricklen said. "Being here for the first time we really enjoyed it, and we really do want to come back. We know what it's going to take to come back."