Tennessee falls to Stanford on the road

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Tennessee hit its first three shots against Stanford, seemed ready to settle in before a crowd poised to let loose and then let the game unravel in a combination of misses, passive defense and a somnambulant pace that little resembled the Lady Vols first nine games this season. The result for the players was a 67-52 loss and an evening spent in a film session with Pat Summitt.

No. 3/3 Tennessee, 9-1, fell short in three critical phases of the game - offense, defense, and rebounding - and No. 2/2 Stanford, 9-0, took advantage by beating Tennessee on the boards, 44-34, and getting behind the defense for easy baskets.

When told that the media was trying to come up with a word to describe Tennessee's play in the first half - unengaged, deliberate, uninspired - Pat Summitt said to much laughter, "I have a word but I'm not going to say it."

Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer was happy after the game - she called any win over Tennessee a great one - but she noted that her team would have to play much better against UConn next week.

"This really lets you know where you're at," VanDerveer said. "I think it's a win, whether it's a big ‘W' or a little ‘W,' you understand what you have to do to get better. I know our team, they're not going to be complacent. Is this a great win for our program? Yes. Is this a great win for these women here and all the coaches that put a lot of time in it? Yes.

"They're a terrific team, but I think we can play better, and we're going to have to where we're going next week, and it will challenge our team, but that doesn't take away from the satisfaction of playing well today. It's a big ‘W.' It's always big against Tennessee because they help you get better. They are the barometer. They always let you know what you need to work on."

When Summitt was asked about the upcoming game between Stanford and Connecticut, she said, "It's going to be great. I'm going to pop some popcorn and watch it."

When asked if Stanford was good enough to beat the Huskies, Summitt smiled and said, "Boy, that's a loaded question."

Summitt did say that the Cardinal had the ability to do so, "but they're not playing here. They're playing there. Both are great teams, and I'll be anxious to watch that game. I think it's going to be a great game."

Summitt was engaging with the media - and showed her sense of humor - but the disappointed looks on the faces of players Angie Bjorklund and Glory Johnson indicated they knew the next few days could be less than pleasant.

After Tennessee lost to Stanford two years ago, the players and coaches scattered across the country to their homes for the holidays. Summitt's mood was also tempered that evening by the news that she knew she had to deliver to Alexis Hornbuckle, whose grandmother had died. Hornbuckle's parents had called Summitt the morning of the game to inform her of the death, and they asked her to tell Hornbuckle after the game.

But Tennessee has another game in California this year - San Francisco, coached by former Lady Vol Tanya Haave, on Tuesday - and the team has got to remain on the West Coast.

"We get to stay, not got to," Summitt said. "We get to. That's good news. We've got that game film waiting. They're going to go shower, and we're going to watch film. And we've got to get a whole lot better, and they've got to have a different level of commitment with defense and board play. That's the hard part of it.

"They want to play the easy part of it - that's offense. Of course it wasn't so easy today because Stanford was so good defensively. We fell apart. Sometimes that happens."

Bjorklund, who hit her first shot of the game - her first points in Maples Pavilion after going 0-5 as a freshman - took the blame after the game for not displaying enough leadership on the court.

As Tennessee misfired - the Lady Vols shot 21.9 percent in the first half and four players combined to go 0-11 in the first half - the game began to unravel for the Lady Vols, and the lack of offense affected the effort on the boards and on defense.

"I think that's a telling statement," Bjorklund said. "We can't let our offense affect our defense. It needs to be the other way around. As a leader I take that upon myself. We have to get our defense going and turn that over into offense. If we're not shooting well then we've got to get it done on the defensive end, and we need to rebound a lot better, too."

The Cardinal took advantage and went on a run behind Kayla Pedersen and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude to lead 30-18 at halftime. Gold-Onwude had nearly doubled her scoring average at halftime with eight points as Tennessee left her open behind the arc, and she hit 2-3 in the first half.

It took Stanford awhile to find its stride as the Lady Vols held the lead, 13-12, with 8:27 left before halftime. The Cardinal went ahead on a three-pointer from JJ Hones, but Kelley Cain responded for Tennessee with a layup to knot the game at 15 with 7:34 left before the break.

But Tennessee would score just three more points on a layup by Shekinna Stricklen and a free throw from Glory Johnson, while Stanford added 15 points on free throws by Jayne Appel, three-pointers from Gold-Onwude and Jeanette Pohlen and a layup by Pedersen.

At the break, Tennessee had zero points on the fast break, two points off turnovers, just six in the paint and nothing from the bench.

The situation didn't get much better in the second half as Stanford either maintained or added to its lead, with the high point being two 18-point margins - 56-38 at the 6:22 mark and 60-42 at the 4:45 mark.

Tennessee staged a mini-rally late and sliced the lead to 60-49, behind a three-pointer and free throws from Bjorklund, but Nneka Ogwumike beat the Lady Vols to an offensive board after two missed free throws from Pedersen, and the lead went to 13 points, 62-49, with 2:27 to play.

Bjorklund managed to hit another three-pointer - she now has 161 for her career, tying her for third place with Brittany Jackson - but her teammates were either fouling or throwing away the ball, and Stanford secured the win before a delighted crowd of 6,809.

Tennessee got back in the game late by applying some full court pressure, which was missing for most of the game. Stanford was able to bring the ball up the court unimpeded and work deep into the clock before lofting a shot.

Summitt said based on her players' performance on the court, she opted not to bring pressure.

"No, based on what I saw at halftime and early second half," Summitt said. "We could have opened the floor up, and I think Stanford would have been able to say, ‘thank you.' I don't think that would have mattered. They were the best team today in all aspects of the game. We just had a butt-kickin.' Don't forget it. I won't."

Withering full-court defense has been a trademark of Tennessee's program, but it has been on display only in spurts for the past two seasons. With considerable size the Lady Vols have sacrificed some speed, but they still have players who can bring some heat, when in the proper gear. Tennessee never seemed to find that gear on either side of the ball Saturday.

"We wanted to go up and down, but the pace was too much for this team because they weren't ready to play at that pace, and they have been (in the past)," Summitt said. "I don't want this one game to take away what we've done up until this point, but it's going to give us a blueprint now.

"OK, here's when we play the way we need to play, and here's when we let the opponent take us out of what we want to do, and Stanford clearly did that."

Stanford focused its defense on Bjorklund, cutting off her angles to the basket and taking away open looks in a strategy that looked similar to how teams guarded Tennessee a year ago.

"They're really tough to guard," VanDerveer said. "I want to compliment JJ and Ros and Jeanette at the times that they were guarding Angie Bjorklund. She is a really terrific player. When she is open she can knock down her shot, and they all worked really hard on her."

In previous games this season another guard had stepped in the void when Bjorklund drew so much attention but on Saturday, Shekinna Stricklen and Taber Spani combined to shoot 6-20, and Stricklen had one assist and four turnovers at the point guard spot.

Stricklen had handled the point duties well so far this season, but she struggled in a game in which she never seem to get fully engaged or play with sufficient energy.

"Our guard play was way below average," Summitt said.

Bjorklund led Tennessee with 15 points but was 5-16 from the field and kept getting the ball passed to her with the shot clock in low single digits, so she had to rush. She was joined in double figures by Johnson, who had 13 points and seven boards.

Stanford was led by Pedersen with 16 points and Nnemkadi with 14. Appel and Hones had 10 apiece.

Neither team shot particularly well, but Stanford was consistent at 39.3 percent in both halves to finish at 39.3. Stanford was 5-16 (31.3 percent) from behind the arc and 18-23 (78.3 percent) from the free throw line.

Tennessee shot a healthy 44.8 percent in the second half - that score was just 37-34 in Stanford's favor - and finished at 32.8 percent for the game after the dismal first half. The Lady Vols were 3-13 (23.1 percent) from behind the arc - Bjorklund accounted for all the makes - and 9-13 (69.2 percent) from the line.

The deficit Tennessee faced after the first half proved to be too much to overcome as Stanford maintained its preferred pace, and the Lady Vols opted not to bring pressure.

"You shoot 21 percent in the first half and now you know you've got to climb out of a big hole," Summitt said. "In the second half they only beat us by three. … But I want this to be loud and clear: Stanford was by far the best team on the floor today. They looked like a Final Four team. They gave us a blueprint. We've just got to use it.

"We've got to go back, and we've got to look at this, and we've got to think about how much we have to invest. I am not sure we have players getting into the practice facility and putting up the shots because the shooting, this doesn't all fit. This team has got to make a decision here real soon - are we totally committed to getting to San Antonio because right now we are way, way … we're miles and could be years away."

Summitt was especially galled by the stat of four assists on 20 baskets. Tennessee had shown much better offensive flow in earlier games this season.

"We only had four assists in this game," Summitt said. "They may be an all-time record at the University of Tennessee for any Lady Vol basketball team. The ball got stuck in players' hands. A lot of that I would credit Stanford because they did such a great job with their intensity from a defensive standpoint.

"The ball gets stuck in players' hands. We played by ourselves a big part of the night. Give Stanford credit because they did a good job of taking away passing lanes. In the paint they were so much more physical than us. Our posts didn't match that intensity."

Tennessee was getting some good looks at the basket on the low block and on the perimeter, but they misfired often. Summitt wasn't focused on those shots after the game. She recalled all the ones that were taken out of offensive sync with teammates.

"Not many," Summitt said when asked if she liked the shots the team got. "I could probably count them on one hand and have some fingers left over."

Summitt also said that the scouting report was spot on, and Stanford's game plan was expected. She indicated that the team wasn't invested in the report.

"They didn't surprise me," Summitt said. "I think they surprised our team. I've been watching them. I knew they were going to come at us and hit the high-low action and take advantage of that. They just play so well together and that is what disappoints me so much about our team and only (four) assists.

"We did not play together. It was like, ‘my turn,' every time, and that hadn't been the way that we played and it will not be the way we play in the future."

Johnson said essentially the same thing when she was asked to explain the first half, in which Tennessee played like it had missed its wake-up call for the 11:30 a.m. local tip time.

"I don't think that we really stuck to our game plan that we had and our scouting report," Johnson said. "We knew our guards and our posts were a lot more athletic, but we didn't sprint the floor like we told ourselves we were going to and knowing that we should have ran on them and didn't. Their shooting percentage was a lot better than ours and like Coach said, a lot of us need to get in the gym. We have a lot of things to work on."

Stanford, on the other hand, absorbed its scouting report, which was prepared by Assistant Coach Kaye Paye.

"Our team really focused on the scouting report," VanDerveer said. "Kaye did a great job putting the scouting report together. Our red team in practice ran the Tennessee offense really well and I think prepared our starters for the game.

"There are a lot of little things that I thought our team did pretty well. For me when we've played Tennessee in the past every scouting report is the same - rebound and take care of the ball. There are subtle things you have to do against different players but for us to have 12 turnovers - and some of those I'm mad about because they're totally avoidable - but we did a great job of taking care of the ball."

Tennessee's lack of pressure in the half, three-quarter or full court until the very end meant the Cardinal had time to get into its offenses. Summitt was pleased with the post defense by Cain, Johnson and Alyssia Brewer at various times in the game on Appel, who was 3-12 from the field, but its defense was porous at other spots on the floor.

"Tennessee, they're big," VanDerveer said. "Especially with some of their post players out (they lack the depth to press). Vicki Baugh would help their press, and she's not healthy. Kelley Cain is terrific at what she does. I don't know that pressing is what she would be the best at. They gave us a handful, whatever they did, that was a handful."

It wasn't much by Summitt's standards and Stanford teed off, even getting by defenders on the perimeter and getting to the rim. Pohlen went end to end in the second half, stumbled on her drive and still scored a layup before a Tennessee player reacted.

With Appel struggling with the size of Tennessee's defenders, Pedersen went to work inside and out and was 7-11 from the field to lead all scorers with 16 points. She also had eight rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal.

"She's a player," Summitt said. "We tried to recruit her. I've watched her play a lot. She can play off the bounce. She can get to the paint. She's got good passing skills. She's a scorer. She's just a great utility player because she just does so much."

Pedersen was the only player on both teams to play the entire 40 minutes - though Bjorklund came close for Tennessee at 38 - and VanDerveer said she was vital to the team's success.

"I was just telling her I needed more," VanDerveer said. "I am not taking her out unless she comes over and asks me to and then I might even argue with her. She's been playing really, really well for us. She's so smart."

Stanford has been to the past two Final Fours - they lost to Tennessee in the title game in 2008 and Connecticut in the semifinal in 2009 - and Summitt was asked, given the longevity of the series, where this Cardinal team ranked.

"I think it's one of her best teams," Summitt said. "It may be her best. It's certainly top one or two. Playing together. It's the passion with which they play. It's with a passion of setting and using screens and getting people open inside, outside. Their post game is so good right now. It's really, really good, and so they can play inside-out if they want to. To me this probably is her best team."

Tennessee now leads the series, 21-6, and the two teams have played to a 5-5 tie in the past 10 games at Maples Pavilion.

In the locker room before the game when a Stanford player asked who was keeping count of the series record, VanDerveer replied, "I am," according to Appel.

Appel said she entered the game with a sense of confidence that she had not enjoyed in previous matchups with Tennessee, because of the overall preparation.

"I think it's one of the greatest thing about the coaches in this program is every game we go into we study our scouting reports," Appel said. "That might be a trademark of Stanford kids, but we learn every detail of what teams do, what each player's tendencies are, what the plays are, situations that they might show in certain games. I give all that credit to our coaches, because I feel like we're the most prepared team coming into every game.

"I think it was a big win, but in terms of how hard our team has been practicing and focusing I don't think I really expected anything different. I was telling Ros this morning I wasn't that nervous coming to the game like I have been to play Tennessee in the past. I have a lot of confidence in our team and we've been playing really well lately."

VanDerveer believed that confidence was generated by the out of conference schedule that she put together this season.

"I think that tough schedule has helped our team's confidence," VanDerveer said. "I think the Duke game really helped us getting ready for Tennessee and going to Rutgers helped. Every single game has been great."

VanDerveer used her team's abysmal board play against Duke to get the Cardinal ready for Tennessee. Stanford had been out-rebounding teams by +10 going into that Duke game and the performance got their attention in ways that out-rebounding a lesser team would not have.

Tennessee is not accustomed to being beat on the boards - they have played a tough schedule and out-rebounded all teams before Saturday - but Stanford put a whopping +10 margin on the Lady Vols. Johnson believed that was derived from scouting report defense.

"I think they knew, as far as rebounding, they had the advantage, because they played behind us a lot," Johnson said. "And by playing behind us they would already have the position in front of the post player (to rebound). When they have their guards crashing the boards, it's kind of hard when they already have us boxed out.

"I think they knew that we needed to out-rebound them to win the game, and we kind of struggled on that. We really needed to pick up our defensive rebounds, and we didn't."

Two players reached double-digits on the boards for Stanford - Pedersen with 11 and Appel with 14 - but Johnson and Cain topped out Tennessee's individual tally with seven each. Spani added six rebounds.

"It was a physical game, but we knew we had to rebound coming into this game," Appel said.

Appel and Cain battled in the paint, though the collisions in the game were tame by Tennessee standards. Still, the Cardinal was more physical than the Lady Vols, another difficult sight for Summitt to watch.

"I felt like a lineman, kind of," Appel said. "I was told to meet her at the free throw line every time, and I tried to do my best job of doing that. It was very physical and I think tomorrow will be a recovery day for both of us because we were both going at each other a lot."

Both players got into foul trouble - Brewer did a respectable job in relief of Cain but joined her teammates in defensive lapses - so other players had to step up. Stanford, with its arsenal of scorers, found more cohesive offense and had 14 assists on its 22 made baskets.

"When they did a graphic of the Tennessee-Louisville game they pointed out the fact that we did more assists than them," VanDerveer said. "All the stats were really close and that was one thing that we did have for us. This particular team they're very unselfish. They don't care who scores. As long as our team wins they're happy. This is a great group to work with."

Besides the lack of defensive intensity, poor board play and offensive sluggishness, Bjorklund added one more factor to the outcome of the game.

"Lack of leadership, and I take that upon myself," Bjorklund said. "Especially with a hostile crowd like that, if we see our energy being sucked out, Strick, myself, some of my other teammates, Glory, Kelley, we need to pick each other up. If they're making a run we need to stop that run and get it going on defense and rebounding and doing whatever it takes. Like Coach said we're going to take it and learn from it today."

A year ago Summitt fretted that the losses bothered the coaches more than they did the players.

"We took it a little better (a year ago), because we knew that we had stuff to work on and slowly but surely our shooting percentage was going down, and obviously we knew that people weren't in the gym and me included," Johnson said. "I needed to be in the gym way more than I was. I know I had stuff to work on. Being able to play a 40-minute game and normally we'd pick it up the second half or we'd play a good first half and we struggled the second half.

"I think we are (better equipped to respond to loss this season). We take it, we learn it, we go to practice, and we work on what we did wrong. Next game it will probably show. We'll come hard next game."

Bjorklund also thinks the team will rebound better from a loss this season.

"Totally," Bjorklund said. "Especially having a year under our belt we kind of have the bigger picture of things. You can sit and hang your head, but we're going to get in and learn and take everything we can. We're not letting this game go to waste. We're going to take everything. I think it really told us where we're at and where we need to get better."

Bjorklund added the team was "much better along (than a year ago). Youth isn't an excuse at all. We have high expectations for ourselves."

The team will have a weights and conditioning session with Heather Mason on Sunday with Monday being a preparation session for San Francisco.

Summitt varied her conversation after the game into a mix of praise for Stanford, annoyance with her team and the realization that she wouldn't toss out the results in the Lady Vols first nine games of the season.

"What they have to understand as a basketball team, they exposed their game to all of women's basketball today, and it wasn't pretty," Summitt said. "If there is a sense of urgency for them to invest individually and collectively this team has a great upside.

"Is our goal to be in the Final Four? Absolutely. But we've got a long way to go to get there, and everyone has to be invested. And those that are not have to be great cheerleaders. Pretty simple."


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