No one was better than Kelley Cain, who came off the bench to shoot 6-6 from the field and grab six rebounds in just 17 minutes of play. Cain didn't start the game because she had missed the past game and a week of practice after sustaining a concussion, and Pat Summitt wanted to limit her minutes.
"I wasn't sure how much she was going to get to play," said Summitt, who had been awaiting the medical OK from Jenny Moshak and Dr. Rebecca Morgan to play Cain. "I knew I didn't want to play her that many minutes so I just told her I would bring her in off the bench, because she hadn't gone though (full practices) with us the last three days."
Cain entered the game for Alyssia Brewer at the 17:05 mark of the first half with the score 3-2 in the Lady Vols' favor. Taber Spani got Tennessee on the scoreboard with a three-pointer after the Lady Vols had trouble getting the ball inside.
"I didn't like what I saw early," Summitt said.
After Texas' Ashleigh Fontenette scored off a turnover to give Texas a 5-3 lead, Cain went to work and scored six of Tennessee's next eight points to get the Lady Vols a lead they never relinquished. Spani sent a perfect lob inside to Cain to start the spurt.
Cain scored over 6'4 post Ashley Gayle and when 6'5 center Cokie Reed entered the game, Cain scored over her, too.
"I think she does the best job of any post we've played thus far of really sealing on the inside and the guards do a great job of looking for her," Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors said. "She does her work before she even gets the ball, so when she gets it, she's got a layup.
"She does the best job I've seen of getting two feet in the paint and sealing, and the guards do a great job of knowing when she's going to be open and giving her the ball in the right position."
Cain also created problems for Texas on the defensive end, as she blocked four shots and altered several others.
"It's nice to have that big body on both ends," Goestenkors said. "She creates havoc on the defensive end as well with her size and shot blocking ability."
Tennessee also got shutdown defense from Glory Johnson, who attached herself to 6'2 shooting guard Kathleen Nash, who entered the game hitting 51.7 percent from behind the arc. Nash was 2-7 from the field and finished with five points.
"Obviously, I was pleased with what we managed to do on the defensive end and on the boards, in particular," Summitt said. "From an offensive standpoint, I thought we really had great ball movement for the most part. Obviously Kinna and Angie play so well together, but we did a nice job of playing with the inside folks and, in particular with Glory and Kelley Cain, I thought they really stepped up and played very big for us on both ends."
Shekinna Stricklen and Angie Bjorklund combined to shoot 12-24 from the field – Stricklen was a perfect 2-2 from behind the arc – and were part of a balanced offensive attack from Tennessee. Bjorklund led Tennessee with 15 points while Stricklen added 14. Johnson accounted for 14 points to go with Cain's 12.
"We ran a lot of different sets trying to get Angie the ball," Summitt said. "Stricklen is doing a great job of getting in the paint. She has got a great pull-up game. I think it was a combination of us running set plays and then just playing three-out, two-in. We've been using that look a lot. I thought with the size that we have in the paint we could be effective in scoring."
With the players both more familiar with each other and more familiar with Tennessee's offensive philosophy, Summitt has given them more freedom this season to make decisions based on the defense, instead of having to run a set play. That led to better ball movement, ball reversal and an extra pass to find the open player.
"I would attribute that to playing three-out, two-in and not running set plays, but giving them more freedom on offense," Summitt said. "Because they look to play inside-out. They know they've got the size and the skill in the post game, and the post players have done a great job of when they're doubled kicking the ball out. That's been very effective for us.
"We put in a lot of sets and sometimes I am like, ‘How many more sets are we going to put in?' I am more comfortable because I trust this group to make the decisions and be able to have freedom in playing in the half-court game. Tonight, I thought they were really good at it."
The Lady Vols got 24 points from behind the arc after going 8-16. Bjorklund hit three 3-pointers, and Taber Spani was 2-4 from long range. Spani was left wide open at one point in the second half – and screaming so loudly for the ball from Johnson that the fans in the upper deck among the 13,434 in attendance likely heard her – and drained the shot.
Johnson didn't remember the specific scream of her first name after the game, but she got the ball to Spani during the game.
"It's really hard to actually hear things," Johnson said. "Normally when Pat is yelling at me you hear that. But Taber has a loud voice, and that helps so much. A lot of people are kind of soft-spoken, but Taber, no. She's very loud and that helps us communicate, because when she's talking it helps everyone else out."
The Lady Vols had 23 assists on 32 made baskets and got 38 points in the paint. Stricklen led the way with five assists, and Bjorklund and Alicia Manning had four each.
One combo of that – assist and paint bucket – came on a hook-up from Stricklen, who fired a 45-foot pass to Cain in transition. Cain caught the ball and finished in stride, a play she likely could not have completed last season when she was hobbled by knee pain.
"Definitely, she is more confident," Summitt said. "We're looking for her. That was when she ran right down to the rim. Kinna gave her a beautiful pass, on the dime, so that was good."
Summitt calls that path "the post highway," and it's the route the post players are supposed to take to the basket.
"The difference in the first half and the second half, first half, (Cain) was running to the block," Summitt said. "In the second half I told her to run straight to the rim. She got a lot of really good looks going to the rim. As I told Dean (Lockwood), we've got to be on the post players to make sure – we call it the ‘post highway' – that they're going rim to rim."
Cain just smiled when asked how many times the coaches go, so to speak, down that road.
"I don't even know the number, fifty million times a day, in a few hours," Cain said. "It's almost like ingrained in our heads."
The status of Cain's head was in question all week after she sustained her fourth concussion in three years at Tennessee. The latest came in the UCLA game on Nov. 28. But she warmed up with the team Sunday, got cleared to play and entered the game early in the first half.
"In that (UCLA) game I just got elbowed in the back of the head and all that matters is I'm good now," Cain said. "I just try not to think about it, but I'm good."
It didn't take long for Cain to get hit in the head Sunday and she left the game twice for Moshak to check on her, but was able to return both times.
"I think it's like three times, but nobody's counting. I don't remember," said Cain, laughing at the irony of her answer. "I just try not to think about it, but I'm good."
Cain makes a difference on both ends of the court for Tennessee – the offense flows better in the inside-out game, and the players knows they have someone at the rim on defense who can erase penetration.
"Tremendous difference," Summitt said. "If you look at our inside game and with Kelley and with Glory, and we can play Taber in there, we can play Lyssi in there, we've got a lot of size in the paint. And when we get Vicki Baugh back, imagine. We might have the biggest lineup in the country."
"With Kelley, anyone really, when Kelley is guarding them and they're trying to make a layup, normally they either just throw it into Kelley's hands, or they try (to get the ball up)," Johnson said. "It's hard for me when I'm practicing against Kelley to get it up because of her arm span. All of us being tall I think that definitely goes to our advantage."
Summitt used all 10 players available for the game, and every player tallied double digits in minutes. The coach started substituting some five minutes into the second half after Tennessee was up by 22 points, 53-31, when Spani hit a three-pointer – the one in which she called for the ball from Johnson, who delivered it.
Manning made use of her 16 minutes with eight points, four assists, three rebounds, one block and a steal. On the second-half takeaway, she passed ahead to Briana Bass, ran the floor and got the ball returned to her from Bass for the layup.
But it was Tennessee's defense that Summitt was especially pleased with, because the Lady Vols set the tone in the first half. On one sequence early in the game, Cain blocked the ball out of bounds, Johnson tied up a Texas player on the in-bounds pass with possession back to Texas, and Manning forced a timeout on a corner trap to avoid a five-second call.
"I thought we did a very good job of defending them," Summitt said. "They're going to get some points off penetration. They've got quickness. They've got size. We knew that we would really have to play great defense, but I really wanted to challenge them in man-to-man. We had talked about it, and Holly (Warlick) wanted to go man to man."
Texas stayed close for most of the first half – thanks to the efforts of Brittainey Raven off the bench – and Tennessee's lead was in single digits, 26-18, with 8:52 left. But after a media timeout the Lady Vols turned up the defense and were scoring inside and out and by the break, Tennessee led 41-24.
"I don't know how much we rushed them, because I thought they had some good open looks, too," Summitt said. "Obviously we started out early, our defense was very, very strong, and they didn't have a lot of options. I just think they didn't shoot the ball as well. Sometimes you're on the road and you don't shoot the ball as well."
Texas started out shooting 42 percent, but that had fallen to 29 percent by halftime with a bucket-load (9-31) of missed baskets.
"We missed six layups in the first half and six layups second half, so there's 24 points we really could have used, and we missed free throws as well in the first half (5-10)," Goestenkors said. "When you come to play a great team, you've got to take advantage of the little things and do the little things well, and one of the little things is making layups and free throws. They took full advantage."
Tennessee started the second half with a layup by Johnson on an assist from Bjorklund, and built its lead to 27 points, 60-33, with 13:23 remaining. Summitt continued to use her bench with Sydney Smallbone logging 13 minutes and Bass getting 10 minutes, all in the second half.
Kamiko Williams had two assists, two steals and a block from behind in her 13 minutes of court time. Former Florida and Ole Miss Coach Carol Ross, who now does radio for Texas, didn't get credited with an assist, but she should have. When Williams took the court late in the first half she was chewing gum, and Summitt directed her to get rid of it immediately. Ross held up a hand at the scorer's table, and Williams pitched it to her while Summitt just shook her head.
Cain started in the second half but said the team doesn't focus on that.
"It doesn't matter if you're coming off the bench or if you're starting," Cain said. "All that matters is that you're giving it your all while you're out there. That's just what I strive to do, because I know my role on the team and I know what I need to get done to help this team win. I just keep that in mind and go out there and do what I need to do to help everybody do their part."
Texas shot better in the second half – 5-10 from behind the arc after 1-9 to start the game – but the hole was too deep.
Raven led Texas with 19 points on 6-20 shooting and 11 boards. Lauren Flores had 11 points off the bench on 4-7 shooting. No starter for the Longhorns reached double digits, and Ashley Gayle, Erika Arriaran and Kathleen Nash were held to five points each. Gayle, in particular, seemed frustrated by Cain, but she did manage seven boards and three blocks.
"Kelley Cain is a great player and being 6'6, and having a good body, it's a challenge to guard her but that's why we're here, to play against great teams and play against great players," Gayle said.
Raven was frustrated after the game by the missed shots.
"If we would have made those shots we would have won the game," Raven said. "I think it's going out being focused, taking one thing at a time, executing and getting stops. We were definitely rushing, not being focused, worried about contact. Layups are what we make every day in practice and so height and them altering shots is not an excuse for us."
With the game well out of hand in the second half it was Raven who continued to implore her teammates to play hard.
"We just needed to keep playing," Raven said. "No matter the score, no matter what's going on in the game we have to stick together and continue to fight. That shows a lot about the team, and we don't want to go out looking like we don't have good character or we could care less about the game because that's definitely not the attitude that we have."
Tennessee got its attitude from its defense and spent the entire game in man-to-man after playing a lot of zone in the first six games. The versatility of Tennessee's defense is a new wrinkle this season.
"We worked all preseason on defense," Bjorklund said. "That was definitely the focal point for our team, and I think it's really paid off. Coach always says you win with defense and rebounding."
Tennessee edged Texas on the boards, 42-41, with Brewer leading the way with seven rebounds. Stricklen and Cain had six boards apiece, and Johnson and Spani tallied five each.
Goestenkors opened her statement to the media in the post-game press conference by saluting the Lady Vols.
"Congratulations to Tennessee," Goestenkors said. "They played a great game. They were hitting on all cylinders, and we didn't give them a good game. We're all disappointed."
Tennessee's offense was firing inside and outside and the guards fed off the posts and vice versa. Cain was doubled in the first half and found Stricklen all alone behind the arc for three. With Cain attracting so much attention in the paint, Johnson twice stepped out to the baseline and hit the short jumpers.
Stricklen also established some inside scoring – paint points and stick-backs – before attempting shots from long range. Cain's presence also seemed to relax the guards.
"I think it definitely opens up the inside and that's why we always go inside-out at first, so her making those shots inside at the same time helped each other out," Bjorklund said of the stellar numbers put up by the guards. "We always try to go inside-out, and it worked well for us. I would definitely say just our ball movement, like I said before, starting out getting the ball inside and then that really helps open up our outside shot."
"Can I answer that, too?" said Cain, who can be a woman of few words when asked about her game but volunteered to talk about her teammates. "I think it's because they're more confident. You can tell we have a different swagger about us this season and you can tell our guards are a lot more confident in what they do.
"Them shooting well, of course, helps open up the inside for me, and them being patient and having confidence in me always helps, too."
Tennessee won't play again for a week when the Lady Vols take on Rutgers in Madison Square Garden in New York. The players have exams to finish this coming week so there is a gap between games.
"They're excited," said Summitt, who walked onto the court arm in arm with Goestenkors with both wearing pink cowboy hats to bring awareness to breast cancer and the Kay Yow Foundation that raises money for research. Summitt and Goestenkors told the cheering crowd that for that cause everyone is on the same team.
"The team is excited, but they know that this is one game. We've got to get ready for our next game, and our preparation starts (Monday). We're not going to waste any time. I expected it would be a lot closer, but you never know. Sometimes when you're on the road it's different. It will be different for us when we go on the road.
"I think this will be good for us in preparation for our next game, because Rutgers plays off the bounce all the time. They hunt paint points. This was obviously a good test for us and we'll have another test very similar with Rutgers."
It should be a confidence booster for the Tennessee players to go into this week with a win over a Texas team that beat the Lady Vols last season.
"I think she was extremely pleased about this game and our effort and how much we put into this game and prepared for it," Johnson said. "And I think she'll be not so hard on us for the week coming up until we go to Rutgers."
"Practice still will be hard. Trust me. It's just a little different after a win," Cain said as Johnson smiled and nodded.
Goestenkors said, in her estimation, the Lady Vols played as well as they have all season. She also saw a different team than the one the Longhorns beat in Austin a year ago.
"I've seen all of their games (on videotape) and I thought this was really their best overall game so congratulations to them," Goestenkors said. "It's a combination. Kelley's such a steady force. They know that if they get her the ball inside, she's going to score more often than not.
"Definitely that has made them better, but I think all of their guards are much more confident. Last year you could see that they weren't sure. They were questioning sometimes if they should shoot it, if they should not. They have a better flow this year about them and they all seem very, very confident with themselves and with one another. They trust one another more."