Tennessee rolls past Louisville

When Pat Summitt walked onto the court ahead of her team and grabbed a microphone, a buzz went through the crowd of 11,084. The head coach said she had been overwhelmed with fans wanting the names back on the jerseys, so with that she said, "Merry Christmas," and the players ran onto the court with their monikers on their backs. The Lady Vols then went on to run over Louisville, 86-56.

The fans got to see all the names as Coach Pat Summitt used all 10 players – nobody logged over 25 minutes – and got double-digit scoring from two starters and a reserve.

No. 3 Tennessee, 9-0, jumped out to a 20-point lead, withstood a Louisville rally midway through the first half that Summitt blamed on herself and dominated on the boards with guards and posts cleaning up the glass.

"I thought in the first half we had trouble when we extended our defense," Summitt said. "They did a good job of taking us off the dribble and getting inside. I think the worse thing that I did was (allow the game to open up midway through the first half) with a full-court and a three-quarter press.

"That's why after halftime, I just said, ‘We're going to grind it out in the half court.' I thought we executed (defensively) a whole lot better."

A 14-point lead at halftime was more than doubled by the end of the game, as the bench again played extended minutes. After the game, Summitt was focused on the breakdowns in the first half that allowed Louisville to briefly get close.

"I blame myself but certainly in the second half, we buckled down," Summitt said. "I thought we did a lot of good things in the half-court. When you are going against teams as athletic as Louisville and they attack you off the bounce so well, I should have thought about that earlier in the first half. I was really pleased with our second half intensity and execution overall.

"We got a lot of quality minutes from off the bench so I am pleased about that as well."

The Lady Vols opened the game with their best four minutes of basketball of the season, forcing Louisville to call a timeout with the score 17-3, at the 16:19 mark. Shekinna Stricklen had three consecutive assists on passes to Kelley Cain underneath twice and then to Angie Bjorklund behind the arc.

Cain also deflected a pass near the top of the press, which Stricklen corralled and was fouled as she drove to the basket during the early burst. Stricklen threw a lob from the wing into Cain for a basket and after getting a cross-court pass from Taber Spani on the next possession, Stricklen caught the ball and passed in one motion to Cain underneath. On the next possession Stricklen found Bjorklund at the top of the key, and Louisville Coach Jeff Walz called timeout to regroup.

"We just came out with a lot of energy," Stricklen said. "Everyone was pumped about the game, and our intensity was up. Our defense really started it. The posts were denying the high post. I saw Kelley deny all the way out to half court, and she made them turn it over. We all just followed along behind her. When one person is working hard on defense that makes everybody else (work), and I think that really turns us on."

The timeout didn't help as Tennessee continued to pressure and pour in points with Stricklen finding Alicia Manning on a fast break and Bjorklund using an Alyssia Brewer screen to drive to the rim.

Meanwhile, Louisville, 6-4, was spraying the ball all over the place – out of bounds or into Tennessee's hands. At the 11:21 mark of the first half Louisville's nine turnovers numerically exceeded its 8.2 percent shooting percentage.

"I think in the first five or six minutes of the game we turned the ball over six times in our first eight or nine possessions," Walz said. "I'm not saying I'm a really smart coach, but I know if you don't shoot it's hard to score. When you keep throwing it to the other team, it doesn't give you a very good opportunity to put points on the board.

"Once we figured out that it's a better idea to throw it to your own team, we actually started to do some good things. We started to score."

Summitt substituted early and often in the game – at the 12-minute mark Bjorklund was the only starter still on the floor – and the Cardinals started holding onto the ball and attacking Tennessee's pressure.

"I am not going to blame anyone but myself, but I will say that my staff really wanted us to extend our defense full court and three-quarter," Summitt said. "Looking back at it I think playing a team that is that athletic … if you think about it in the Rutgers game we extended it in the second half, not in the first half as much … sometimes you're better served not to … there are too many gaps.

"It was time to get back in the half-court game once they started their dribble penetration and getting by us and getting in the paint."

Louisville managed to pull to within seven points, 31-24, with 5:02 remaining after Becky Burke drained another three-pointer – she was 7-9 for the game from behind the arc – but then Stricklen, Manning and Spani went to work on the boards and by halftime the Lady Vols led 43-29.

Stricklen had a full game-worthy stat line by the break – 12 points, six rebounds and four assists – and she played just five minutes in the second half, as Summitt opted to get Briana Bass extended minutes at the point guard spot.

With a cross-country trip to California on Thursday and No. 2 Stanford waiting in Palo Alto on Saturday, it was a game in which the Lady Vols were grateful for the chance to go deep in the bench.

"It's great to know that our whole team can help," forward Glory Johnson said. "Having the whole bench play and us being able to use our bench to our advantage, it helps. Sometimes teams struggle using their bench, and they can't go long. I think that helped us a lot and having two hard games coming up, I think that will help our team a lot. We won't be tired going into the game."

All 10 players for Tennessee scored, and the Lady Vols bench out-dueled Louisville's, 30 points to 14. Brewer accounted for 12 of those points plus 10 rebounds for her second double-double of the season, and Sydney Smallbone was 3-4 from the field and finished with eight points. Manning and Kamiko Williams added four apiece, and Bass hit two free throws to account for the other 10 bench points.

Tennessee was led by Bjorklund with 19 points, including 5-10 from behind the arc to give her 158 career three-pointers, just three spots behind third place, which is held by Brittany Jackson with 161.

Stricklen added 15 points and was 6-7 from the free throw line, as she continued to attack the rim.

The Lady Vols dominated the boards, 54-37, led by 10 apiece from Johnson and Brewer. Stricklen tallied eight rebounds, and Manning and Spani each grabbed six. Williams had four rebounds to go with four assists, two blocks and a steal.

"I thought we were committed to it," Summitt said. "Obviously Glory and Shekinna did a great job. Lyssi did a great job. Taber. I think we're just far more committed to rebounding."

Tennessee was relentless on the offensive glass with 24 boards on that end. The attitude was typified by a first half possession in which Manning fought for the rebound and battled with Johnson to keep the ball from going out of bounds to retain possession. In the second half, Tennessee got three offensive boards on one possession.

After Spani lost the ball in the second half, she hustled down court on the fast break and got the defensive board when the Louisville player missed the layup after being challenged by Bjorklund.

"It's not just one or two going to the boards," Stricklen said. "Our whole team is going, and we're all committed about rebounding. Coach stays on us about that a lot. Go to the board. We're not just rebounding on defense but on offense. I feel like we're getting a lot of points off our offensive putbacks, too.

"That's a big confidence (boost) for us because on the road we're really going to have to rebound against Stanford on offense and defense."

Tennessee also will need Cain on the court for that game because of the size of the Cardinal. Against the Cardinals on Wednesday, Cain logged seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and picked up her third at the 14:12 mark with Tennessee leading, 60-37.

"We're going to talk about it," Summitt said. "But people are going right at her, and she's got to play on her feet and get her hands high and not move on the screens."

Cain was 4-4 from the field with eight points, three boards, a block and a steal and with the game well in hand Summitt opted to let Brewer get the post experience for the final 14 minutes. All three post players, Cain, Brewer and Johnson, will have one-on-one time with Summitt on Thursday's commercial plane flight across the country.

"The good news is while we're flying out to California, I have my three post players all lined up to watch film with me. I know they're thrilled," Summitt said to laughter in the post-game press conference. "They just can't wait. I am sure Lyssi Brewer is crying about now over it.

"But I think it's quality time for us to really get together and let them see a lot of repetition of what they're doing."

Summitt was content to let the entire bench play the final 11 minutes of the game after the starters reestablished the lead quickly in the second half behind two layups from Cain and two three-pointers from Bjorklund. Tennessee had a 27-point lead when all five reserves were in and they not only maintained it but increased it by three for the final 30-point margin of victory.

Tennessee shot 48.5 percent in the second half and finished at 42.5 percent for the game. After shooting 23.1 percent from behind the arc in the first half the Lady Vols fired away at a 66.7 clip in the second half and finished at 40.9 percent.

"Getting the ball inside and Strick penetrating a lot I think that really opens things up to the outside game," Bjorklund said. "Once we start playing inside and then going outside that helps us a lot."

There was one exception. Johnson won the opening tip, as she usually does, and the ball ended up in Spani's hands on the right wing. There was no Louisville player within 10 feet of her – the Cardinals had packed the paint – and Spani lofted the three and drained it. Did Summitt, who had been preaching about scoring inside before shooting from long range, object?

"Did you see me move? I was OK with it," Summitt said with a smile.

Summitt was in a jovial mood during her post-game press conference, and offered a detailed explanation of why she had the names put back on the jerseys. She had removed them before the 2004-05 season, and Summitt said then that she wanted a team-first attitude. The move coincided with the heralded arrival of the first Six Pack, and Summitt was seeking to offset any friction that such an influx of talent could cause.

The move was met with much resistance from the fans, but Summitt vowed to leave off the names as long as she was the coach at Tennessee.

"I lied. Sorry, Mrs. Cronan," Summitt said, addressing a smiling Joan Cronan, the women's athletics director, who was in the back of the room. "I don't lie, but I did lie this one time."

Summitt said she decided to make the change while flying last Friday to New York to play Rutgers in Madison Square Garden.

"We were flying to New York and I was (sitting) beside my staff," Summitt said. " I didn't say anything to anyone other than Kathy Harston (director of basketball operations), because I wanted to keep it a secret. I said, ‘Kathy, I am really thinking about putting the names on the jerseys.'

"She said, ‘Well, I'm sure people would be pleased.' I can't tell you how much mail that we've opened that said, ‘Please put the names on the jerseys.' We've had text messages, all kinds of e-mails. ‘We're upstairs. We can't see. It's hard for us to distinguish the new players as they come in.'

"I thought one thing we can be proud of is that we have the greatest fans in the women's game. They come, and they're loyal and they sit in the upper deck. They cheer. They give us an edge. We have a lot of people go on the road. So I said, ‘For whatever reason I am going to do it.' "

The uniforms had to get to a tailor quickly for the names to be added for Wednesday's game.

"That's quick sewing," Summitt said. "We've got people around here that love the Lady Vols."

That 2004-05 team made it to the Final Four – half the Six Pack was injured and unable to play with two having taken redshirt years – but lost to Michigan State in the semifinal after surrendering a huge lead. Summitt decided to keep the names off the jerseys.

"Certainly I'm not blaming the players, but we never seemed to come together and play well together," Summitt said. "It kind of stuck in my gut, and I said, ‘We're not going to do it.'

"But this is all about our fans. I've had some not so nice mail. I've had some beggars. I told Alberta (Randles) and Cindy (Connaster), who work in our office, about it, and they were like, ‘Thank goodness. That will take away about half of our workload,' because about half of their workload was the mail and the email and the phone calls. So, Merry Christmas for those two."

The players were excited about the change, but at first Johnson had a moment of panic. Before the players got dressed for the game, Summitt spoke to them in the locker room.

"She held up my jersey, and I was like, ‘Oh, man, what did I do?' " Johnson said. "And then she turned it around. It was incredible. We were really excited. We were shocked more than anything."

"We are so used to playing with it not on there," Stricklen said. "Yeah, it's on there, but it's all about what's on the front, anyway. It feels good to have your name, and the fans have been wanting it.

"They kind of mix us up. Some people call me, ‘Glory.' Some call her me. They call Angie, Alicia, and Alicia, Angie. So it really helps the fans out."

After the total team effort on Wednesday the players gave Summitt no reason to regret the change.

"At halftime, Coach really emphasized getting the ball inside and keeping the energy up," Bjorklund said. "We started off with great energy, which was an emphasis this game. We just need to have a 40-minute game. That's what we're working towards."

Walz saw better play from his team in spurts, and he kept a steady rotation at the scorer's table to keep fresh bodies on the floor. Burke scored a career-high 23 points with 21 points coming from behind the arc, and Monique Reid added 13 on 6-13 shooting from the field.

After a terrible start the Cardinals regrouped to shoot 31.0 percent in the first half and 31.7 percent for the game. Behind Burke's marksmanship, the shot 53.8 percent from long range.

"I'm not pleased at all because I hate to lose, but I thought we showed glimpses for five-or-six-minute stretches, where we were pretty darn good," Walz said. "You take out the first six minutes of the game and we played them even the last 14 (minutes of the half). But unfortunately, you can't let a team like this go up on you 23-3 and expect to have a chance to win."

Louisville had 24 turnovers to Tennessee's 16 for the game – the Lady Vols got 19 points off miscues to 11 for the Cardinals – but the damage was done in the first half. Of Tennessee's 19 points off turnovers, 15 came before halftime.

"We're very good at that," Walz said with a smile of the team's turnovers. "We practice that a lot and it's something we have perfected."

On a serious note, Walz said the team has been particularly hurt by the lack of a point guard.

"We don't use this as an excuse and won't, but we just don't have a point guard right now," Walz said. "Our starting point guard from last year (junior Deseree' Byrd) just had surgery today, and she is out for the year. Our junior college point guard (LaToya Jackson), who was doing a nice job for us, is out six to eight weeks. And now I'm playing a freshman in Nikki Burton, who actually played the four for her high school team at 5'10, at the point guard spot.

"She's learning the game. It's a whole new approach to playing the game of basketball at the point guard position when you are being asked to see everything in front of you. Any other position on the floor you are looking back at the one person with the ball. At the point guard spot, you've got to look at everybody. There are eight people that you are trying to read. It's a new challenge for her.

"That's when you look at us and see we only have five assists. You've got a split second as a point guard to deliver the ball as (your teammate) is getting open. Right now for us, we don't have someone that's used to that, so we try to throw it once they're open. It's too late then.

"You've got to get them the ball while they're getting open, so when they get it they can make the move and score. I look at what Pat's group did and they had 19 assists on 31 field goals made. That tells you they're getting the ball to players as they're getting open so when they get it, they can score and finish."

Tennessee had its issues at the point spot a year ago when Summitt had to use two true freshmen in Stricklen and Bass. Stricklen had never played the position before coming to college and she reluctantly accepted the role. This season, she has embraced it.

"Did she play tonight?" Walz deadpanned. "I didn't notice her. No, she does a great job. For her size, I think she really does a great job of being able to distribute the basketball. She got it inside a lot. She got it to Bjorklund on some nice shots where she was coming off of the screen. The ball's in the air as she's coming off the screen.

"It's just like in football. A quarterback has to throw it before the wide receiver breaks. If they throw it before (the receiver) breaks, it's not going to be a completed pass. That's what we're trying to get to. I'm pleading with my kids to watch more basketball on TV, to watch football on TV, so they can watch a quarterback throw it before their receiver even turns because they know they're going to be open. It doesn't sound like much, but when you are trying to lead a team that means a lot. That's what we lost in Des Byrd. She knew how to get the ball to people and when to get it to them."

Stricklen now has a team-leading 38 assists on the season to just 19 turnovers – Bjorklund has 26 assists to just 16 turnovers – as the guard play for the Lady Vols has made a big leap from last season. Stricklen is second on the team with 13 steals, and Johnson leads in that category with 16.

Johnson struggled from the field Wednesday – she started the game 0-8 – but she snared 10 boards and had three blocks and two steals. She also had an assist by finding Cain in the high-low game to open the second half.

"That's not a percentage that any player wants to have but just knowing that there are things I can help myself, like my defense," Johnson said. "That's passion. That's effort. My rebounding. I can do that. If I am not doing well on offense I've got to play defense. Otherwise, I'm not helping my team at all."

Summitt said Johnson being active on the boards is vital for Tennessee.

"We have to have that," Summitt said. "And one thing about Glory a lot of it has to do with her competitive attitude and her athleticism. She's going to keep playing regardless. She just sometimes is her own worst enemy because she plays too fast."

Oddly enough, Johnson made her first shot of the game in the second half after losing her left contact. She picked it up off the floor and flung it towards the bench, where Manning retrieved it and handed it to Jenny Moshak for cleaning and safekeeping.

"Last time I lost a contact in another game Pat got mad when I stopped so I just threw my contact to the side and kept playing," Johnson said. "I have to squint. It's OK when I squint. (After hitting the shot), I thought about not putting my contact back in. I really did."

Williams also lost a contact at mid-court – Bjorklund spotted this one from the bench and retrieved it when play was stopped – and Johnson had to dash from the bench to pick up Brewer's hair band when she lost it during play. Brewer put it back on at a timeout.

The hustle wasn't limited to the retrieval of teammates' items. The Lady Vols set the tempo from the start, got recalibrated midway through the first half and continued to give effort until the final buzzer as the bench finished the game.

Although Summitt wanted to adjust how, or when, she uses full-court pressure, Bjorklund said the team feeds off the energy when it's executed properly.

"Just like Strick was saying, when Kelley is going hard, when our point guard is playing great defense on the ball, that makes everybody want to work hard," Bjorklund said. "When we have five players committed to going hard on the press, I love pressing. That's what it takes, getting five players to really commit."

This was the first time the Lady Vols and the Cardinals had ever met on the court, and Tennessee will play next season at Louisville when a new 22,000-seat arena opens on the riverfront. The goal is to have a sellout crowd.

"We're excited about that," Walz said. "We're very appreciative of Pat agreeing to do a home-and-home. We're really excited that it's going to be the first official game in our new arena. It will be the first men's or women's basketball game in our new arena.

"I think that says a lot about the commitment that our athletic department has for women's athletics, in general, to allow us to open up our new arena. It's going to be fantastic."

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