Tennessee powers past Arkansas

Tennessee had to run the point guard spot by committee Thursday, but the post players imposed their will inside – led by 20 points by Alyssia Brewer and 17 rebounds by Kelley Cain – and the Lady Vols started the final month of the regular season with a 74-57 win over Arkansas. The boards were a career high for Cain, and she added 14 points and a career-high eight blocks for a near triple double.

Tennessee (20-2, 8-1) started the game a little slow – the Razorbacks went right at Kamiko Williams, a freshman point guard making her first start – but the Lady Vols got their inside-outside attack working better in the second half and separated themselves from Arkansas (9-13, 1-8) before a crowd of 11,817 that was anxious for the knockout punch.

It was enough to put Pat Summitt in a jovial mood afterwards – she opened her press conference by talking about leaving her keys in her car with the engine running – and to give her players the day off Friday after two tough practices this week.

"The thing I want to say right off is we get everyone's best shot," Summitt said. "I told them you need to understand when you come to Tennessee you're going to get everyone's best shot, and you've got to be ready. We have a few people that just haven't quite figured that out."

Summitt's mood was lightened by Tennessee's post play, which was led by 20 points, nine boards and two blocks from Alyssia Brewer and 14 points, 17 rebounds and eight blocks from Kelley Cain.

"I was really pleased with our post game," Summitt said. "Lyssi and Kelley, they're doing a great job."

Cain, who is 6'6, and Brewer, who is likely closer to 6'4 than 6'3, present formidable size inside and it turned the Razorbacks into a team that liked to penetrate into the paint into one that was content to loft three-pointers.

"I don't think we did as well as we would have liked, but I thought we tried to settle so much for the three-point shot that we need to try to get it inside," said Charity Ford, who led Arkansas with 18 points and was 2-7 from behind the arc.

"I don't think we can beat teams that way. I think we have to try to get it inside. With only nine three-pointers, that's not a good shooting night for us. We just have to take the time to try to get it inside."

Arkansas was 9-25 (36.0 percent) from long range with Lyndsay Harris hitting 4-10 for 12 points. C'eira Ricketts, Skye Rees and Quistelle Williams hit one each from behind the arc.

The way Coach Tom Collen saw it, outside shots were his team's outside shot to beat Tennessee.

"I knew that they were going to let us throw it inside all night long, and I felt like we were going to struggle to score over the top of her (Cain), and we obviously did when you look at our field goal percentages with our post kids," Collen said.

The two starting posts, Ashley Daniels and Ashley McCray, were 0-6, and Sarah Watkins and Rees were 2-16 off the bench.

"I felt like we were going to have to play inside-out, and we had some kids step up and makes threes, and that's probably what kept us in the game offensively," Collen said.

Arkansas got 27 of its 57 points behind the arc. Just 12 of Tennessee's 74 points came from long range shots. Tennessee was 4-8 (50 percent) with Angie Bjorklund leading the way at 3-6 via the three ball. The Lady Vols got 40 points inside the paint – to just 16 for Arkansas – with Cain and Brewer leading the way.

"We always emphasize getting the ball inside and that's because we have two of the best posts in the country," Bjorklund said. "I have complete confidence in them. They work really well together with the high-low game. I thought Kelley really battled inside and so did Lyssi. I was proud of them, and I just hope they continue to play like that."

Brewer was credited with just one assist in the box score, but she twice found Cain with high-low passes late in the second half for back-to-back layups.

"It's definitely effective," Brewer said. "Sometimes, Coach just wants me to play squarely inside and we do cross screens and stuff, but if I see Kelley has a seal, I go to the high post and I'm confident in giving her the ball down there."

Despite her size, Brewer played on the perimeter in high school and she has refined passing skills for a post.

"She sees the court very well," Cain said. "She reads me well, as you could tell on those last two plays. We were doing a lot of that in practice. She's just a very good passer."

The two combined for 18 of Tennessee's 31 first-half points – 12 for Brewer and six for Cain at the break – but it took a little while to get the team going as a whole as Tennessee was breaking in a new starting point guard in Kamiko Williams.

Arkansas went right at the youngster with some pressure and after back-to-back turnovers and Tennessee leading just 7-5, the freshman took a seat at the 15:35 mark but was back on the floor a few minutes later and had a nifty wing drive and spin move to the middle before flipping the ball in left-handed.

Williams ended up with three points, two rebounds and two assists in 17 total minutes of play in the game. All but one rebound came in the first half.

"I really thought she'd be a lot better, but this is her first start at that position, so we've got time," Summitt said. "We really need for her to be doing a better job of getting the ball out of her hands. She had a few possessions where she played pretty much by herself.

"At halftime I thought we got a little bit better because we had better ball movement. We wanted everybody touching, especially the posts. We wanted to play inside-out. Obviously, Angie picked it up in the second half and that took a lot of pressure off of us."

Arkansas had scouted the lefty point guard well and took away the middle of the floor for drives and forced Williams to the right. Williams did get a drive to the left early in the game, was fouled and hit one of two free throws.

"I can tell you we watched a lot of tape on her and I know she's been coming on," Collen said. "She played quite a few minutes against South Carolina and had a great game, and she's going to be a good player in this conference for a long time. I just think sometimes making that transition from all of a sudden. ‘OK, you're going to be my starter now, and it's time' – the bottom line is she's still a freshman, and I know, because I've got some freshmen that I roll out there and even some sophomores that are still learning to deal with the intensity of this league.

"I don't think we did anything special, but I think we got out there and we guarded her pretty hard, and she's going be a great player, but she's probably got more work to do than Shekinna Stricklen, who's been out there now for a year and a half."

Stricklen also had reps at point guard, along with Briana Bass, who had three assists and pushed tempo. Bass also showed some patience in the half-court offense when she waited on Bjorklund to weave through the paint and peel off a Cain screen. Bass fed the ball to Bjorklund as she popped free, and the junior drained the shot. There also were times when Bass and Williams were on the floor together.

"By committee," Summitt said of the point guard play. "Kamiko started out there, and Bree played there, and Strick played there. She (Alicia Manning) got caught up top a couple of times, but she was not put there to be the point guard."

As has been typical for Arkansas this season, the Razorbacks hung close for most of the game, but faded down the stretch. They are dependent on the perimeter production of Ricketts, Ford and Harris – they accounted for 43 points Thursday – and the trio like to score by getting to the paint, though Ford and Harris also can loft from long range.

Tennessee's first-half lead remained in single digits until Brewer hit a seven-footer in the paint – she drove, spun and then counter-spun – to go up 10 points, 26-16, but then Ricketts answered with a three-pointer, her third in nine SEC games, to cut the lead to seven, 26-19.

Brewer got a stick-back basket off a teammate's miss and Sydney Smallbone hit a three – only the second attempt for Tennessee in the first half from behind the arc – and the Lady Vols led at halftime, 31-23.

Smallbone's shot had put Tennessee up 31-19, but Arkansas scored on a Ford jumper from 17 feet and a Ricketts steal of Stricklen's flat pass on the wing that Ricketts converted into a layup.

"I think we've got to be a lot more efficient early," Summitt said. "The group that starts needs to really come out and get us off to a really fast pace and defend better. I knew they were going to put it on the floor and dribble drive and come at us, and we struggled with that because they are very good off the bounce."

Cain had a lot to do with stopping Arkansas' scoring in the paint, and the Razorbacks didn't venture deep too often. Cain had eight blocks – a career high and tied a school record for most swats in a single game with Ashley Robinson (Dec. 11, 2003 vs. Rutgers) – and altered several others. She passed Chamique Holdsclaw on the career blocks list and is now in eighth place with 114. Teresa Geter is in seventh place with 135.

Cain recorded the blocks with takeaways out of the shooter's hands; a volleyball spike, the force of which knocked the shooter off balance and to the floor without Cain making contact with anything but the ball; and deflections in the air to keep the ball in play.

"She's a beast," Brewer said.

The series of blocks made the Top 10 plays on SportsCenter on Thursday night.

"If I don't block the shot, I hope to alter it in some way," Cain said. "I don't always go for the block but as long as I can get my hands up and basically scare them, I'm fine."

Arkansas shot 14 three-pointers in the first half and lofted 11 more in the second half. Since the Razorbacks connected on nine of them total, the strategy kept them in the game.

With 4:10 remaining in the second half, Tennessee had just a 10-point lead, 65-55, and just eight players available for the game. Taber Spani was already out with turf toe, and Manning took a hard hit to the head on a loose ball scramble and had to leave the game and go to the locker room.

"I think she'll be OK," Summitt said.

Arkansas scored the first basket of the second half on Rickett's 15-footer to cut the lead to six, 31-25, but Bjorklund, who was 0-2 in the first half, erupted after the break for Tennessee with 17 points.

Bjorklund put Tennessee up 43-30 with 15:23 left in the game after hitting two 3-pointers and a 17-footer.

"She has to hunt shots," Summitt said. "She has to do a better job of using screens. It's not like we don't set a lot of screens for her. She gets more looks than anyone else coming off screens. I think she just started shooting the ball better, relaxed. She knew we had to have her."

Bjorklund was 5-9 in the second half and her 17 points left her 12 shy of 1,000 for her career.

"Instead of creating my own shots, I was getting my shots within the offense and playing inside-out," Bjorklund said. "Coming off of screens, too. Kelley had a lot of screen assists. I thought my teammates did a great job of getting me open, too, in the second half."

Two Cain screens resulted in back-to-back baskets for Bjorklund, one on an out-of-bounds play and another in which Cain stepped out of the paint and sent Bjorklund's defender sprawling. As Bjorklund curled free, Bass fed her the ball.

Arkansas continued to hover in the second half – the Razorbacks' momentum was briefly stalled by technical fouls in each half, one on Dominique Robinson for throwing an elbow and another on Sarah Watkins for slamming the ball – but couldn't hit enough shots.

"I think you're always disappointed when you lose, but I think we came in here knowing this is a pretty hard venue to play in," Collen said. "We came up here two years ago and got roughed up pretty good. I think the most impressive thing for me tonight as a coach was that this team has struggled to win some games and they had every reason to come in here and lay down. They didn't do that – they battled.

"We talk about winning the battle of effort. There are not many teams in this league that play much harder night in and night out than Tennessee, but I honestly thought we won the battle of effort tonight and I think that's what allowed us to at least stay in the game.

"So I was pretty happy with that. We got beat up on the boards a little bit. We're just not as big and strong and physical as Tennessee is and I give them credit for that. But we kept it close – you know, close enough that maybe we had a chance if we'd have shot the ball a little bit better."

Tennessee put the game away in the final four minutes with Stricklen getting on the offensive glass, Bjorklund hitting a three-pointer and Cain scoring consecutive layups on passes from Brewer for the final 74-57 margin.

"They've got a great feel for each other," Summitt said of the connection between the sophomore posts. "Lyssi, she has been playing very smart. I am really pleased with her."

The Lady Vols also scored 14 more points in the second half than the first half by getting better ball movement.

"In the first half, it looked like people were trying to do too much individually," Summitt said. "I told them the best thing you can do is just get the ball moving. Think about your 11-pass drill that we do a lot in practice. You've just got to move the ball.

"I think sometimes when we're not scoring well they press a little bit. Somebody like Angie is going to try to make every shot and Strick is going to try and step up and make every shot instead of just letting the offense come open and when they have open looks, take them."

Tennessee also used its size to dominate on the glass in the second half. The Lady Vols had a 24-21 edge in the boards in the first half and that extended to 51-41 for the game. Cain led the way with 17 rebounds, 12 on the defensive end, Brewer had nine, and Stricklen added seven from the guard spot. Glory Johnson had six boards, five coming on offense.

Arkansas countered in the post with Rees – she had four blocks – and McCray, who spent most of the game battling with Cain for paint position. It got so physical inside that official Bryan Enterline brought the two together for a brief conference.

"It's nothing I'm not used to," Cain said. "That's a part of the game, getting in position and having foot fights in the post."

Cain tweaked her right knee while playing defense in the second half and had to leave the game, but she returned with 6:33 left in the game.

Cain and Brewer combined for 34 points and 26 rebounds, but the stat line that stands out even more is minutes played – 35 for Brewer and 33 for Cain.

It's notable for Cain because it's her first truly extended minutes since knee surgery in December 2007, and it left an even more positive note on the game for her.

"It does because I know I can play it now," Cain said of the length of time on the court. "Last year I know I couldn't have done it."

It was also an indicator of what a healthy Cain can do.

"I think so," Summitt said. "She's been doing some rehab on her knee that's been very effective for her. I think she's very invested in helping this team. The fact that she's feeling better – and her mobility shows that she's better and obviously sprinting the floor better.

"I think Kelley is doing a lot better, and I communicated with her throughout the game (about how her right knee felt). I thought she moved; she was very mobile. She did a good job of using the glass. She knows to play to her strengths. She's not a player who makes a few layups and then she wants to get outside the paint. She wants paint points. And that's what we want her to work for constantly."

The minutes were notable for Brewer because she was limited last season because of conditioning and fatigue issues. She reported this fall in better shape and has steadily improved all season.

"She has a good skill set and a good touch off the glass," Summitt said. "I would say she is one of, if not our most improved player from last year to this year. I am sure she's thinking what a difference a year makes. She thought the only name I knew was Lyssi last year. Now I have to talk about Miko and A-Town and Bree and everybody else."

After the game, Brewer was more inclined to talk about missed opportunities in the game, but she did allow that she had gotten better.

"I'm never going to be satisfied with what I do on the court because I know I can always go back to the game and think, ‘I could have got this rebound,' or ‘I could have made this shot,' " Brewer said.

"I actually did that today when I did a swim move to the right and that shot should have gone in. I think that I definitely have improved from last year and since the beginning of this year. My greatest achievement so far is being consistent."

The players were done with the press conference, but Cain, who was on the receiving end of two Brewer's passes, wanted to give her post partner a post-game assist.

"Can I talk about that, too?" Cain said. "Lyssi, she is a completely different player from last year. Obviously, Coach sees that in her, too. She's starting and she played 35 minutes. She's getting more and more minutes, and she's able to stay in there more and more minutes.

"Like she said, her consistency is a big thing, because with the posts, us three, we try to shoot over 50 percent, and we aim to take good shots and kick the ball out to people. Lyssi, her game has elevated to a completely different level. She has just gotten so much better."

Johnson, Brewer and Cain are the only three true posts on the team because of injuries. Cain and Brewer combined to shoot 15-25, and Johnson was 2-8, so collectively they were 17-33 (51.5 percent).

Cain said Brewer's improved play has made her better.

"Definitely. She's showing me out right now," Cain said with a smile.

Brewer's development this season has allowed Summitt to go athletic inside with Johnson or huge in the paint with Brewer and Cain. Arkansas had trouble accounting for both of them inside.

"We just can't put two big kids out there like that, and when they put her and Kelley Cain out there side by side, they take up a lot of space and if one of them shoots it on one block, the other one rebounds it on the other block," Collen said. "They're a little bit of a nightmare to defend in the post. You can choose your poison. You can sit behind them and hope that they miss shots, but they're going to get it deep in the paint – both of them are. Or, you can get out and try to deny them the ball, and when you get out and deny them the ball, you're vulnerable to the lob, and you're vulnerable to offensive boards.

"So, I think they probably beat us on the offensive boards. I think that's where they got most of their high percentage shots – after they shot it and missed it, and then got easy layups. So, they're just big and strong and physical when they have those two in there."

Tennessee got 18 second-chance points to 16 for Arkansas. The Razorbacks shot 30.7 percent (23-75), and Tennessee shot 46.0 percent (29-63).

Arkansas had three players in double figures – Ford with 18 points, Ricketts with 13 and Harris with 12. Tennessee had four in double figures – Brewer with 20 points, Bjorklund with 17, Cain with 14 and Stricklen with 12.

The Lady Vols had a very manageable number of turnovers at 13 – the same for Arkansas – but the Razorbacks had 11 steals to three for Tennessee. Ricketts led the way with five takeaways.

"Well, we just practiced going over the plays and how Angie comes off screens and who they look to get the ball to," Ricketts said. "And when you just keep going over and over it, you start to read their passes. And that's just what I was doing – just reading where they were going with the ball."

Tennessee reached its 20th win on the season – four weeks ahead of last year's pace – and it's the 34th consecutive season of at least 20 wins for Summitt. Arkansas is trying to get to double figures in the win column – the Razorbacks have nine – and a second conference win.

"We did an interesting thing," Collen said. "We met as a team and re-did our goals a little bit. Every team has got a record board in their locker room and I think we got tired of looking at ourselves in 11th place with only one win, so we just erased that board.

"We're starting a fresh start tonight. This wasn't an easy place to start, but I felt like we got better tonight and I feel like if we play with this kind of effort and knock down a few more shots I still feel like we're going to be a factor in the race. We may not finish up in the middle of the pack at this point, but I think we're going to knock somebody off that wishes that they wouldn't have got knocked off by us that is going to keep them out of the NCAA.

"We're just playing one game at a time right now trying to get those wins. We feel like we are more than capable of doing it."

Tennessee will take off Friday from practice – the players still have a scheduled weight session – and with just eight able to finish the game, the rest is needed. Three of those players, Johnson, Cain and Stricklen, needed ice on their knees during the game.

"We lift, and we'll take advantage of not having practice, but I'm sure a few of us you'll still see us in the gym getting up shots," Brewer said.

"Definitely," Cain said. "We'll get treatment in, but you'll still see some of us in the gym."

Summitt was in a good enough mood afterwards to laugh about leaving her keys in her Mercedes, which is provided by Sam Furrow, who owns the local dealership. Summitt parks close to the arena, and Furrow, while heading into the game, noticed the engine idling on his client's car. Apparently, Summitt was too focused on the game to notice she was exiting her car without her keys or her purse. Furrow cut off the engine and brought the coach her keys.

"This is a nice car," Summitt said. "It's not like the pickup truck I drove when I was younger. You can't hear it. It makes no noise."

When the team returns to practice Saturday, guarding the three-ball, especially after Arkansas made nine of them, will be a point of emphasis.

"I think just communicate more, especially when we go to our switching defense – or any defense, even in the zone, they were hitting threes," Bjorklund said. "Communicating more, making it a priority.

"I thought Arkansas did a great job of knocking down shots. We were playing them for the drive, and they came out shooting. I think it's just adjusting. If they start shooting we need to adjust a lot quicker than we did."

Tennessee next plays on Monday against Vanderbilt in Nashville (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2). The Commodores both drive to the paint and loft three-pointers, and they play very well at home in Memorial Gym.

"Any time you play Vandy, you better be able to guard the three-ball," Summitt said. "And when we don't guard it, we get beat. When we do guard it, we have a chance to come home with a win. Let's just hope we guard it."


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