Tennessee holds off UCLA, 61-47

Some of the best energy on display Saturday came at halftime from two sources – the Frisbee dogs and the fans' evaluation of the officials as they left the floor. Unfortunately for Tennessee fans, the Lady Vols spent most of the first half sputtering on offense and slipping on defense, though they did enough in the second half to secure the win over UCLA, 61-47.

They didn't do enough to keep a planned day off, so the team will be in Pratt Pavilion on Sunday for practice, and they heard about why from Pat Summitt and the opposing coach, Nikki Caldwell, who left Tennessee after the 2008 national title season to take the top job at UCLA.

"Yes, we will practice tomorrow," Summitt said after Saturday's game ended. "We've got to make a different commitment. They go on the road and win a couple of games and obviously must have been reading their press clippings."

The post-game press conference format was a little different because the Bruins were trying to catch an early evening flight out of Knoxville to return to Los Angeles. So the Lady Vol players came in with Summitt – she usually is alone for her session – and then she left for her radio show. While the players were still on the dais, Caldwell entered, so the players were asked to stay in the room to handle additional questions after Caldwell was done.

"I want to hear this," said Angie Bjorklund, who sat to the side with Glory Johnson and Taber Spani and listened to her former assistant coach.

When Caldwell was informed that the Lady Vols' effort had resulted in the rescinding of a scheduled off day, she turned to the players and said, "Ladies, I probably would be in agreement with her if I were still on staff here, that we would come back the next day, because there were some things that we (UCLA) were able to exploit, and I know that didn't please her."

"I think Summitt looks at the future," Caldwell added. "Everything that she does is for a reason. … If we weren't traveling and we were staying the night I would probably try to get gym time, too. But we've got to catch a plane and get back to LA."

As Caldwell left the dais she spoke to the Tennessee players again and said, "Ladies, good luck the rest of the season."

Afterwards, Bjorklund said she clearly understood why Summitt was upset with the overall effort and why Caldwell agreed.

"She knows Coach. She's been here long enough," Bjorklund said. "After that game there was no question (the off day would go away)."

The first half was a lethargic one for the Lady Vols as they shot 29.0 percent – 20 percent from behind the arc – and had nine field goals and 12 turnovers. Briana Bass and Kamiko Williams entered the game to provide a jolt of energy. Bass' on-ball defense and Williams' strip of the ball and dash for a layup helped the Lady Vols get defensive stops and trim a 10-point UCLA lead, 24-14, with 4:54 to play, to just two at halftime, 27-25.

The crowd of 14,176, already annoyed with the home team's performance – though they gave Caldwell and Assistant Coach Tasha Butts, also a former Lady Vol, a rousing cheer when they were announced before the game – directed its wrath at the officials after two calls, one questionable, one awful, against Tennessee.

After Tennessee had cut the lead to one, 24-23, on a feed from Bjorklund to Spani for a three pointer, Bjorklund appeared to be in position on UCLA's end to take a charge. But she was called for a block with 1:12 left.

Johnson secured the offensive rebound when Markel Walker missed the second of two free throws and as Johnson turned with the ball, Walker fell to the floor, and Johnson was called for the offensive foul, her second of the game with 52 seconds until the break. Summitt erupted from the sideline and when replays showed no contact between the players, the crowd let loose with a crescendo of boos.

UCLA got the ball out of bounds and when Spani got the defensive board on the missed shot, she was fouled, and the fans sarcastically cheered the call. Spani tied the game, 25-25, with two free throws – she was 6-6 from the line for the game – but Walker drove through the Tennessee defense with six seconds left to give UCLA the two-point halftime lead.

As the officials left the floor at halftime, boos rained down again from the stands. The fans' ire quickly turned to cheers as three Frisbee dogs came onto the court with their human handlers and the once-shelter dogs delighted the crowd with their antics and all-out effort to run down the Frisbees.

When Summitt was asked after the game what she said at halftime to her team, she replied, "You couldn't hear me? I said a lot of stuff. I was just so disappointed. …

"Now, we have upperclassmen. We don't have any seniors, but they all have to take accountability for bringing the intensity all the time, and they didn't do that. You've got to give Nikki and her staff credit and their team. They were far more motivated, outplayed us in the first half, and I'm the one that's responsible because I'm the head coach, but the accountability of the players was not there, and it's got to get there."

Tennessee, 5-0, started the second half with more effort, and took its first lead of the game, 29-27, on a Johnson putback barely more than a minute into play. Tennessee never trailed again, although UCLA, 4-2, kept the lead in single digits until the 6:35 mark when Bjorklund hit a three-pointer on an assist from Johnson to give the Lady Vols a 50-40 margin. Bjorklund, who was 0-3 in the first half, and 4-8 in the second half, kept hitting shots late to snuff out any hopes of a UCLA comeback.

"Well, it certainly wasn't pretty," Summitt said. "We had a lot of ugly possessions. I don't know why our team didn't come focused, competitive and driven. Why do you come to Tennessee and wear an orange uniform if you aren't about competing on every possession?

"Obviously we started out slow. We had spurts. We fouled when we shouldn't have fouled. There wasn't a whole lot that I liked except the final score."

Tennessee was led by Spani with 16 points. The freshman forward played with poise throughout the game – she scored eight of Tennessee's final 11 points in the first half – and also had six boards, one assist and a steal in 32 minutes of court time. Despite her youth and lack of experience she had a good read on how the game started.

"I just think that as a team we need to be consistent with our energy, whether it's practice or a game," Spani said. "In the first half, we didn't bring it consistently every possession, energy-wise. We talked about that at halftime. We (did a better job) in the second half, but that cannot happen against any team, especially a team like UCLA."

In Summitt's estimation her team didn't regard UCLA with enough respect, though considering who coaches the Bruins that would have been a miscalculation. But it was clear the team opened the game with a rather listless approach and then took considerable time to adjust when UCLA came out firing on all cylinders.

"I don't why we were low energy today," Summitt said. "I have no idea. It wasn't like we've been training really hard. We've just been preparing and doing scouting report defense and shooting.

"It appeared they didn't respect UCLA. I'm sure they'll go to sleep tonight knowing they were fortunate to win. Hopefully we can grow up and know that you've got to get ready for every opponent."

Bjorklund doesn't think the team underestimated the Bruins, but she was at a loss to explain the start.

"It was just low energy," Bjorklund said. "I don't know what our deal is. I think when we sense that right from the beginning we need to turn around and fix that right away, not wait until halftime when Coach is getting on us about it. We need to bring it together and change that right away.

"UCLA did a great job with their defenses of getting us out of our rhythm, getting us to hold the ball too long, not getting it inside. I think our energy has got to start from our defense, not our offense."

At one time Tennessee was shooting 10 percent from the field in the first half, and the shots not falling clearly disrupted the team. Bjorklund was an exception as she focused on getting the ball inside – she had three of the team's six first-half assists – and started driving to the paint and dishing to an open teammate.

"Angie did a lot of good things," Summitt said.

Bjorklund found her shot in the second half – she finished with 12 points and hit three 3-pointers after the break to go with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. She is now tied with Shannon Bobbitt for fourth place in the Tennessee record books with 147 career three-pointers. Third place belongs to Brittany Jackson with 161.

"I would've liked Angie and Taber not to have hit as many jump shots, but we left them open and they killed us," Caldwell said. "They're two great players and great teammates, too. I think they're going to do very well this year. I am looking forward to seeing how far they go."

Bjorklund and Spani were joined in double figures by Johnson, who had 11 points and was 5-10 from the field to go with seven boards. Kelley Cain added eight points and tied a career high with 11 rebounds.

Tennessee's board play was a bright spot. The Lady Vols won that battle, 49-35, and had 30 second-chance points to just four for UCLA.

"We've got to do a better job," Caldwell said. "Tennessee has always been known as a team that defends and rebounds. They got all over the offensive glass, which gave them second and third opportunities and I thought that was an area we struggled in in defending.

"But I'm pleased with our effort. We're going to take this game and learn from it. We wanted to come into one of the more hostile environments to help prepare us for Pac-10 play."

UCLA was led by Walker, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds.

"Walker has been very consistent for us," Caldwell said. "She's a kid that pretty much averages a double-double. I like her ability to take the ball off the glass and penetrate and look to kick. This is one of the bigger crowds that she's played in, and I thought she accepted the challenge."

Walker, a freshman forward from Philadelphia, has a sister, Marcedes Walker, who starred at Pitt, but the younger sibling opted to leave the state and play on the opposite coast.

"She will probably call me and tell me what I did wrong and what I should have done," Markel Walker said.

The freshman certainly wasn't cowed by a crowd of orange.

"I like big crowds and my coach told us, from her playing and my assistant coach playing, that it was going to be rowdy," Walker said. "So we had to come to play or go home."

Caldwell did have considerable support in the crowd, and her family members – diehard Lady Vol fans when UCLA is not in town – were decked out in Bruin blue behind the visitors' bench.

"They are loyal fans," Caldwell said. "I threatened my mom today. I told her, ‘Three-hundred-and-sixty-four days out of the year you can be all about Tennessee, but this one day that we play you have to wear the blue and gold.' "

"I knew they wouldn't have on orange because Nikki told them she wasn't going to give them tickets if they had orange on," Summitt said. "I love her family. I remember from the time I started recruiting her and got to know the entire family. And they can cook some food, too. I am just surprised they didn't call and invite me over before the game. They're great people, wonderful people.

"Nikki is a class act all the way. I am really proud of her and proud for her. (But) she gave them really strict orders that there had better not be anything orange on their bodies or she wasn't going to give them tickets."

Summitt was smiling when she was talking about Caldwell and her family. Despite her disappointment in her own team, Summitt was proud of her former assistant.

"Nikki has done a great job," Summitt said. "I never doubted that she would not be successful there. I think she'll definitely win some games in the Pac-10 because she's got her team believing, and they're playing with a lot of confidence. Their guard play is really good."

Tennessee saw a lot of UCLA's guards in the first half on their way to the paint, where they would dish to Walker or kick out to an open shooter. Erica Tukiainen hit 2-4 from behind the arc in the first half.

The Lady Vols opened in a zone and then quickly went to a man defense, but the Bruin guards attacked either one.

"They did a great job of breaking us down," Summitt said. "They got dribble penetration to the middle, to the baseline. Wherever they wanted to go they got there in the first half. I thought we did a better job in the second half."

Tennessee's defensive effort improved in the second half, as the players shook off the earlier missed shots and focused on stops.

"If shots aren't falling, you still need to contribute to the team as much as possible," Bjorklund said. "Everything starts from defense and rebounding, and I think that's what got us going in the second half. We came out strong and with a little bit more energy, but not quite (enough), but I think defense and rebounding is what helped us get back into it, and the shots came later."

UCLA cooled off considerably in the second half – the Bruins shot 42.9 percent in the first and just 20.0 percent in the second to finish at 31.0 percent for the game.

Tennessee shot 41.4 percent in the second half to finish at 35.0 percent for the game and got control of the ball. The Lady Vols had just four turnovers after halftime. For the game, Tennessee got 18 points off UCLA's 18 miscues, while the Bruins converted the Lady Vols' 16 mistakes into just seven points.

Tennessee's offense got much better when the ball started moving instead of getting stuck on the wings on one half of the court. It also started going through the paint, with Cain getting touches. She struggled from the field at 3-9 and missed shots she usually makes, but she drew a crowd of defenders. As the ball moved more, the offense perked up.

"I think it did, because it was still in our heads to get it to Kelley because she is bigger than most players, and Kelley is really confident with her game," Johnson said. "Once we got it into Kelley it kind of opened up the shooters on the outside because they were trying to double down on Kelley."

Bjorklund said the lack of ball movement goes hand in hand with the sluggish opening to the game.

"That is what else got us off to a slow start – our ball movement, not getting the ball inside," Bjorklund said. "In order to do that, we need to get open on the wings, work the ball around and then get it inside. It just got stuck in our hands for too long. Like Coach said, Strick and I need to step up and take leadership in that and reinforce that."

Summitt had some of her harshest criticism for Shekinna Stricklen, which is unusual as the coach is often pleased with the sophomore guard. But Stricklen never seemed to get out of her funk – she was 1-9 from the field – though she did grab eight rebounds and had three assists to just one turnover and was 4-5 from the line.

"Shekinna (Stricklen) didn't come in and run our team," Summitt said. "She looked like she was absolutely about to go to sleep just sitting there in the huddle."

Bjorklund said the starters have to set the tone as a whole. She also pointed to herself, as the junior leader on a team with three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.

"Just like Coach said we just came out with low energy," Bjorklund said. "I take that upon myself as a leader. We have to come out and set the stage right in the first four minutes.

"We have to pick it up on D and have our energy created from our steals, from our rebounding. You can't rely on shots. You can't rely on hitting shots. You've got to rely on making stops and getting rebounds."

The team also was hindered by foul trouble on Johnson – she got her third foul, a questionable one, with 14:48 left while in position for a rebound and then inexplicably reached in four seconds later for her fourth.

She left the game for more than five minutes and then was whistled for the fifth one at the 4:08 mark.

"Me picking up a couple of fouls early and then at the end of the game fouling out wasn't helping my team at all," Johnson said. "I was trying to help them by going for loose balls, but it wasn't the smart thing to do when I had three or four fouls."

Alyssia Brewer came off the bench to replace Johnson, and she had four points and three rebounds in 10 minutes of court time in the second half.

Johnson is the team's most energetic defender, and she had three steals in the first half to at least keep Tennessee from getting into too deep of a hole.

"Whenever we would get a steal or conversion from defense to offense, we weren't scoring," Johnson said. "We didn't do a very good job of getting it inside-out early, and we were letting them drive. When they were penetrating, we weren't taking charges.

"We just had to keep supporting each other and telling each other to keep playing your game and keep shooting shots and eventually they'll fall. If we weren't scoring, we needed to play good defense. We were kind of struggling with that in the first half. We weren't scoring, and we were letting them score."

Alicia Manning came off the bench to provide a spark on defense – she also had two boards in eight minutes of play – and she batted down a pass in the second half and headed to the other end on a breakaway. But she collided in the lane with a UCLA defender as she tried to pass and suffered a contusion to her right knee.

Manning left the floor in considerable pain but returned to the bench later. According to Jenny Moshak, Manning could have returned to play, if needed, but the game was in hand by that time.

The losing coach was pleased with her team's overall effort but still noted areas that need work.

"I am pleased with their effort," Caldwell said. "I wish the outcome could have been different, but we will take every possession and break it down and look at where we can get better. Tennessee did a great job of exploiting us on the boards. They really came after the ball hard. That's where we can learn from them and rise to the occasion."

"I thought we played hard, but didn't always play smart. We didn't finish on our defense. I thought we threw different looks at them, but we didn't capitalize because we didn't keep them off the boards. We gave up second and third opportunities and I think that really hurt us. … All in all, I'm very pleased that we did not give up and that we fought on every possession."

The winning coach was not at all pleased with her team's overall effort.

"I'm just not happy right now with this team," Summitt said. "I'm glad we won. (But) I'm disappointed. I thought our maturity level was way beyond what it was today. It should have been."


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