Tennessee crushes Old Dominion

The Lady Vols closed out 2009 with a dominant 102-62 win over Old Dominion, shooting 67.2 percent and hitting triple digits on the scoreboard for the first time in three years. Four players reached double digits, including Briana Bass, who piled up minutes at the point guard spot after Shekinna Stricklen went down minutes into the game with a right knee injury but is expected to be OK.

"I thought overall we did a lot of good things," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said in her opening remarks at the post-game press conference Wednesday evening.

"I asked Pat for a fire extinguisher at halftime," Old Dominion Coach Wendy Larry said in her opening remarks.

Tennessee led 57-31 at the break after shooting 70.3 percent in the first half, tallying more steals at five than turnovers at four and weathering the loss of Shekinna Stricklen, who landed awkwardly after grabbing a long rebound off a missed three-point attempt and injured her right knee three minutes into the game.

Briana Bass replaced her on the floor, and the Lady Vols continued the up-tempo pace and had the lead in double digits, 11-0, at the 16:05 mark.

No. 4/4 Tennessee, 11-1, got its points inside and out to open the game. Alicia Manning, who started in place of Glory Johnson because Summitt wanted to send a message about practice effort, sent a pass into Kelley Cain right at the rim for the Lady Vols' first basket of the game. That was followed by an Angie Bjorklund three-pointer on the next possession and then a Taber Spani drive to the rim for a layup.

Bjorklund then scored on a layup off a feed from Spani and followed that with a short wing jumper. Alyssia Brewer got a layup after establishing deep post position, Bjorklund connected from 17 feet, and then Spani got three consecutive assists on passes to Manning and twice to Cain for layups, one coming on a perfect lob.

Kamiko Williams hit a short baseline jumper after using a Johnson screen, Bjorklund connected from 16 feet, and halfway through the first half the Lady Vols already had 27 points and six assists.

By the time the half ended Bjorklund had 16 points in 16 minutes of play. She hit a three-pointer on Tennessee's first possession to increase the lead to 60-31, played for four minutes and was done for the night with 19 points, two assists, two rebounds and a block.

"I think Angie Bjorklund distinguished herself as one of the best there is," Larry said. "She certainly put on a clinic in the 20 minutes that she played."

Summitt attributed the performance to Bjorklund's season-long willingness to work on her game outside of practice by lofting extra shots.

"If you said one player who you think has worked the hardest to get where they are right now, it's Angie Bjorklund," Summitt said. "It's paying off not only for Angie but for our team, and I think other players are recognizing what she can do on the floor. I think that's why we're getting better because other people are putting time in as well."

Tennessee cooled off slightly in the second half, shooting just 63.0 percent to finish at 67.2 percent for the game.

Bjorklund had plenty of help as four teammates joined her in double digits. Brewer tallied 16 points, Johnson had a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards, and Williams and Bass had 11 points each.

Bass logged 32 minutes in relief of Stricklen and was 4-5 from the field and 3-3 from behind the arc. Her last three-pointer sent the score from 99 to 102 and brought a roar from those fans remaining among the 12,503 in attendance on a cold night in Knoxville with a forecast of freezing rain.

Bass' best cheerleader is Johnson, who celebrates, especially if on the bench, when the 5'2 guard hits a shot.

"A lot of players try to take advantage of the smaller players, and seeing Bree taking advantage of other people with her crossover that gets everybody going in the opposite direction, it's a little player doing a lot," Johnson said. "A lot of people underestimate what she can do and when you see her do things it's my highlight of the day."

Johnson's game day work got a slightly delayed start – she entered at the 13:39 mark of the first half – after Summitt opted to start Manning on the perimeter and move Spani to the power forward spot because she was peeved about Johnson's practice performance on Monday and was still chewing on it the day before the Old Dominion game.

"I'm very proud of Glory," Summitt said after the game. "She came in the other day and wasn't focused. She wasn't very focused in the San Francisco game, and I just decided to bring her off the bench and send her a little message.

"She's our best athlete. When she is motivated to play at both ends of the floor, we're a much better basketball team. I just reminded her of that, and I hope she'll keep working hard and stay focused on what she has to do to be in the lineup."

Johnson delivered her message with her play. She was 6-8 from the field and aggressively pursued rebounds. She also had four assists and two steals. Johnson prefers to start, but she offered an answer post-game that indicated a maturity she didn't have a year ago.

"Coaches start specific people that start the game off strong, but at the same time, the people on the bench are just as important, being significant for your team, helping your team out, anything to help your team out, whether it's rebounds or points," Johnson said. "You do have a role when you're on the bench and you do have a role when you're on the court.

"I feel like I can help start off the game right. I know what I can do. And if not, that's OK. I still think that even coming off the bench I can be a significant player. I can help my team out."

Johnson's leaping ability on the boards even left an impression on Larry.

"I can't say enough about Johnson," Larry said. "I saw her go up in the air after a rebound tonight I thought she was going to throw it down with both hands. That's how high up she was. She comes off the bench and obviously there's a reason that she came off the bench, but she certainly made a statement with a double-double."

Old Dominion, 2-8, was led by Jasmine Parker with 13 points, Shadasia Green with 12, and Tia Lewis with 11. Lewis also had 10 rebounds, seven of which were offensive. The Lady Monarchs struggled to get inside early in the game – just 10 points came in the paint in the first half – and couldn't hold off the offensive onslaught from Tennessee to open the game.

"It's one of those days when you allow a team to get a lot of confidence, and it's tough to stop the bleeding," Larry said. "We are in a situation right now where we're trying to find some confidence in the schedule that we've played. … With young kids and a couple of players who haven't been back 100 percent, we're just trying to find our way."

Old Dominion, which plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, played No. 2 Stanford to open the season and also lined up against three SEC, two ACC and two Big East teams. The Lady Monarchs begin CAA play on Sunday against Delaware and hope the tough slate will end up helping them in conference play. ODU has dominated the CAA but didn't win the conference title last season for the first time in 18 years after 17 consecutive championships.

"The intention with a young basketball team is to see a light at the end of the tunnel," Larry said. "I'm not sure when that light is going to shine real bright for our team, but there's also something real good about playing that type of competition because at some point you turn the corner and the light comes on, and all of a sudden you are competing, too.

"We have a number of young players on our roster that we would like to cultivate and condition to play some of these games in the future that are a lot more competitive."

Lewis, a transfer from Central Florida who sat out last season, is a key player for the Lady Monarchs, and she battled for 33 minutes against the Lady Vols.

"I haven't played in the CAA. I have only watched it, but from what I've seen it's aggressive but it's not as aggressive as the teams that we have played," Lewis said. "For our team, it should help us a whole lot because we have played some of the best teams by far."

Tennessee had its best shooting performance of the season – the previous high was 54.5 percent against Middle Tennessee – and all nine players got in the scoring column.

Both teams wanted to play an up-tempo pace and push the ball. The difference was Tennessee connected on its shots, 43-64 (67.2 percent), and Old Dominion misfired too frequently, 24-68 (35.3 percent).

Sydney Smallbone was a perfect 2-2 from the field and finished with five points. Spani was 4-6 for eight points, Manning was 4-7 for eight points, and Cain was 4-6 for nine points. The only player who didn't score was Stricklen, who had one assist on a pass to Bjorklund for a three-pointer and three rebounds.

Stricklen was grabbing an offensive board when she went to the floor and clutched her knee. Jenny Moshak reached her quickly, and Stricklen needed help getting to the locker room from Moshak and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood.

But she returned to the bench before the half ended with ice on her right knee – she wasn't even safe there as an ODU player nearly crashed into her while pursuing a loose ball – much to the relief of the crowd, which applauded as Stricklen emerged from the tunnel.

"She is such a valuable member of our team," Summitt said. "She's a great player. I think she's got a chance to be one of the best to play here. My first thought when I saw it is, ‘I've seen this two other times and now this is the third time and hopefully we dodged a bullet again.' And fortunately, we did.

"Our orthopedic staff looked at Shekinna, and she is OK. She landed funny. We'll see (Thursday), and we'll treat her and see if she can go in practice but right now it's day-to-day. The weird thing is that is the third time that has happened in that area. Almost the same place on the court (on the left wing near the visitor's bench). Maybe we'll look to see what's going on in that area and tell her, Run right.' "

Stricklen's exit brought Bass into the game, and she answered the call.

"I try to always stay ready because you never know what's going to happen," Bass said. "Whether my role is to sit on the bench and cheer my teammates on or get out there and make a defensive play, I'm always trying to be ready."

Summitt, who had been critical of Bass' play in earlier games this season, nodded her approval after Wednesday's game.

"I thought Bree had some really good minutes and overall did a great job," Summitt said. "She tried to get to the paint too early at times, but I thought she ran the offense really well and overall very pleased with her play."

The paint play brought a smile to Summitt's face, because it was almost a great move. Bass faked the pass to the wing, drew the defense away from her and went in for the layup, but the ball just rolled off the front rim. The crowd applauded the miss almost as heartily as they cheered Bass' three-pointer with 28.8 seconds left and the shot clock winding down to put the game in triple digits.

Bass also got confidence when her shots fell. She was left alone behind the arc and drained the long-range shots three times.

"I think it helped a lot," Bass said. "I have Angie to thank for that. She's been helping me to stay focused and believe in myself and don't put so much pressure on yourself and just take that open shot."

Tennessee had a lot of open shots, a function of its ball movement and willingness to share the ball. The Lady Vols had 27 assists on the 43 made baskets.

"One thing we talked about is the ball is getting stuck in players' hands," Summitt said. "Once we looked at that and talked about it I think they grasped it and understand that we want quicker ball movement and player movement, and it's not that difficult to do, but I think we have a lot of player who sometimes think it's my time. It's not your time. It's our time to move the ball and get the best shot available."

Williams had a career-best six assists and played catch with Johnson on a fast break, giving the ball back for the layup. Manning had five assists, and Spani and Johnson had four each.

Johnson found Cain inside for a layup in the second half and later in the game found Bass all alone on the perimeter. Brewer had three assists, including a pass to Johnson in which she shifted her upper body to find the better angle to deliver the pass. Manning had the longest assist in which she stole the ball on the baseline and fired a length-of-the-court pass to Smallbone, who finished the layup.

"In the Stanford game, I think we only had four assists," Bass said. "One of our goals was to share the ball and be a team. That's something that we've been really trying to work on, whether it's going out to eat together or just hanging out together, just working on little things to be a team."

That has included getting into Pratt Pavilion on their own to take extra shots with Tyler Summitt, the coach's son, who is also a Tennessee freshman and practice player for the team.

"I think there's no question that they have been in the gym, and they've been getting a lot of shots," Summitt said. "`I know from Tyler, they just blow his phone up, and he meets them over there. He said, ‘All they want to do now, Mom, is get in the gym.' I said, ‘Go son. Get in the gym with them.' "

That was a source of contention for Summitt when she found out during the West Coast trip that very few players had been shooting on their own as the season went on.

"I think this team is a lot more invested in getting in the gym now," Summitt said. "Coming off our trip to Stanford and realizing they haven't been getting into Pratt, Larry Pratt wouldn't be happy, and Coach Summitt isn't happy to hear that, but I think it opened their eyes and obviously they understood that that they could be a whole lot better.

"Some people are in there a lot. Angie Bjorklund, there's a reason she shoots the ball as well as she does. She's been very invested in getting in the gym. And Taber Spani. And I think Shekinna now is much more dedicated to getting on the court and getting up a lot of shots. The team across the board it was a good lesson."

The team just returned to Knoxville on Sunday and held two intense practices that day and Monday with a lighter workout coming on Tuesday. Still, Bjorklund estimated they had time to loft a few hundred extra shots.

"Coach really emphasized getting in the gym after that Stanford game, and I am pretty sure everyone took it seriously, and everyone has definitely been getting in the gym," Bjorklund said. "It really shows just getting an extra 200, 300 shots before or after practice really helps."

Bjorklund saw immediate results. She hit from long and midrange, off a loose ball scramble and then with a step-back move at the top of the key over the 6'3 Lewis.

"Getting in and getting extra shots really helps my confidence, and my teammates did a great job," Bjorklund said. "Like Bree said we were working the ball a lot more and getting each other open shots.

"I think it helps mentally, too. In your head you're like, ‘All right, I've been in the gym.' That builds confidence – confidence in each other and confident in your own shot. I think also we've been focusing on getting the ball inside, and that's been opening things up on the outside, too."

Summitt had a lot to like on the stat sheet. The Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 39-29, and took care of the ball with 13 turnovers, with just four in the first half. They had nine steals and eight blocks with Cain leading the way with four blocks and two steals. Technically, Cain is credited with a block, but she often just takes the ball out of the shooter's hands.

The 57 first-half points were the most scored by Tennessee since the 2006 season opener against Chattanooga on Nov. 12. That was also the last time the Lady Vols scored 100 points in the 102-72 win. The shooting percentage was the seventh-best in program history. The record is 72.1 percent against Old Dominion, in a 61-44 win on Jan. 4, 1989.

Tennessee got 50 points in the paint and 23 off turnovers. The bench accounted for 58 points, and Summitt was able to spread minutes around with the nine available players.

"Glory coming in off the bench and doing a great job for us in the paint, getting a lot of people quality minutes, which I wanted to do and not ask Kelley Cain to play extended minutes," Summitt said. "I thought just looking at the stat sheet we got contributions from about everybody on the floor. They played much better defensively I thought in the second half, but that's a place where we've got to be committed all the time with our defense and our board play."

Tennessee played man defense for the first 14 minutes of the first half – the plan from the coaches going into the game was to challenge the team to stop dribble penetration with its man defense – and then switched to its matchup zone for significant portions of the second half.

This was the first game coming out of the Christmas break, but Summitt wasn't concerned about a slow start, because she set the tone in practice the day the players returned.

"I wasn't that concerned about it just because I thought we had two very, very challenging practices, and I thought they responded very well," Summitt said.

The Lady Vols will return to practice Thursday to begin preparations for No. 14/15 Oklahoma, which plays in Knoxville on Sunday (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2).

Old Dominion will turn its attention to the CAA and restart its season with a focus on conference play.

"We're going to hit the reset button," Larry said. "I like that. We'll use that tomorrow after we lift (weights). One of the purposes of the schedule that we play is that we've had some good success in our conference. This was the last year that we didn't win our conference, so now we're having to be in the posse instead of being chased by it.

"We're hopeful that these types of experiences will do nothing but afford us an opportunity to play a lit bit harder and a little bit more aggressive and a little bit more physical the next time we take the floor."

Larry was in Knoxville last May to speak at the salute to Summitt's 1,000 wins, and the coaches have been friends for years.

"I have a great deal of respect for everything that she's done for our game, not just for Tennessee, but for our game," Larry said. "It was a great honor for me to come in and be a part of that celebration and to recognize her as one of her peers for what she's done. I appreciate the fact that our relationship has evolved over the years, and I do consider her a very, very good friend.

"The fact that Old Dominion and Tennessee have had a history for years and years of playing home and home, I appreciate Joan (Cronan), and I appreciate Pat for that. I'd like to see Tennessee and Old Dominion continue to play because I think it's probably one of the greatest rivalries in the game."

Larry wore an orange blouse and had an orange purse and orange-and-white tennis shoes during the spring event after vowing to never wear orange following a crushing loss to Tennessee in the 1997 national title game. When asked what she did with the items, Larry said to much laughter, "I took it back (to the store). I left the tags on."

"Did you really," Lewis asked.

"I did," Larry said.

"She has been a friend for years," Summitt said. "I know this (season struggles) has got to be very difficult for her. In coaching, we've got the highs and we've got the lows, and she's got to weather the storm. I'm going to go visit with her tonight. We had talked and she said, ‘I would really love to visit with you after the game.'

"I've got a lot of respect for her. I feel for her. I know she'll get through this. Last year when we had all those freshmen it was not fun a lot of the time."


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