Tennessee advances to Sweet 16

Tennessee may have finally buried the specter of Ball State after dominating Dayton and breaking through to the Sweet 16, but a swing of a baseball bat by Dean Lockwood didn't hurt either. The Lady Vols, having endured a year's worth of frustration over its early exit in the NCAA tourney, advanced to the Memphis Region a year to the day of the worst loss in program history.

No. 1 seed Tennessee, 32-2, didn't waste any time going to work to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16 and claimed a double-digit lead over No. 8 seed Dayton, 25-8, in less than four minutes thank to seven quick points from Alicia Manning.

The Flyers opted to face guard Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen and also collapse inside to double the posts. That left Manning unattended, and she made the strategy backfire with 13 points before halftime before finishing with a career-high 17 points.

When freshman guard Taber Spani took the floor in the first half, she also didn't attract as much attention, and she answered with a 4-4 performance from the field and 10 points by halftime before finishing with 17 points, one short of her career high.

"We knew we had to take away their inside game, so we were hoping that those two didn't go crazy on us, and they went crazy on us," Dayton Coach Jim Jabir said. "If we had to pick our poison – and we did – that was the result. We tried doubling down, but they were prepared for it. They attacked us on the kick-out and were very, very successful."

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt could tell her players were ready to take the floor.

"I could feel the energy in the locker room, and they were wanting to get out on the court ASAP with all of that energy," Summitt said. "I thought they were ready to play. I just reminded them that they had to commit to their defense and our board play and take care of the basketball, and we are going play from the inside out. Let's get as many touches as we can to our post game. That's our bread and butter.

"They wanted to really take our post game away, so we had a lot of inside-out, and they (the guards) knocked down shots. I was glad to see that because we are going to have other people try to take away our post game. So our perimeter game has to be there and be efficient."

Three other Tennessee players joined the pair in double figures with Alyssia Brewer tallying 14 points, Kelley Cain adding 12, and Bjorklund contributing 11, including a 3-4 stroke from behind the arc to tally 100 three-pointers this season and just three away from tying the single-season record of 103 held by Shanna Zolman, with at least one more game to reach it.

Monday's win puts the Lady Vols in Memphis, where they will face Baylor in a regional semifinal on Saturday in a rematch of the season opener, a game that Tennessee won in Knoxville, 74-65.

Before the Lady Vols could reach Memphis they had to dispatch Dayton and also exorcise the demon of Ball State once and for all. On March 22, 2009, Tennessee fell in the first round of the NCAA tourney for the first time in program history.

On March 22, 2010, they held a shoot-around that afternoon and then went to the locker room for a review of the scouting report by Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick. Unknown to the team, Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood was holding the original videocassette coaches' copy of the Ball State game.

"Holly gave the report and gave the summary," Lockwood said. "She said, ‘Remember where we were this time last year?' They said, ‘Lost to Ball State.' She said, ‘Well, what else?' They said, ‘We did conditioning.' She said, ‘What else?' They said, ‘We were practicing.' She said, ‘You're dang right, and none of us were happy. We were mad at you. You were mad at us. What a difference a year makes.'

"I came forward and I said, ‘You know what? I'm tired of hearing about it! Last year is over! It's finally over!' And I swung the bat and there were pieces all over."

The players exploded in laughter and cheers.

"We finally put it behind," Briana Bass said. "We destroyed the tape. Dean destroyed it. He put it on Pat's stool, and he got a bat, and he beat it to death. We were excited. We were pumped up after that. It's over."

"I love it when it does that," Stricklen said. "He is so aggressive with it and pieces just went everything. It's out of our minds. Out."

"It gets us pumped up whenever the coaches get into it just as much as we do," Brewer said.

"It was over for that cassette," Spani said. "It's powerful. It's demolishing. That cassette had no chance. It pumped us all up. It was exciting. It was a good message because last year is completely over."

The Lady Vols carried that energy into Monday evening's game and pounced on Dayton from the opening tip when Manning, finding herself with ball and all alone, buried a baseline jumper.

On Tennessee's next possession, Stricklen drove to the rim, hit a reverse flip layup and was fouled for the 5-2 lead. Then, a doubled Brewer kicked the ball to Manning, who drove into the paint and dished to Cain, who hit the layup for a 7-2 lead. Next, Manning rebounded a Brewer miss, grabbed the ball and completed the layup in one motion, much to the delight of most of the 10,022 in attendance, for a 10-2 lead at the 17:11 mark of the first half.

Dayton called a timeout, and Manning was met with a chest bump off the bench from Spani.

On the Flyers' first possession out of the timeout, Brewer and Cain extended their defense to the arc and forced an air-ball three-pointer. Manning drove to the rim, gave a head fake and then completed the layup for a 12-2 lead at the 16:19 mark, and Tennessee would not lead by fewer than double digits for the rest of the game.

The Lady Vols continued to pour it on – Summitt used nine players in the first half because of the up-tempo pace – and scored in a variety of ways – stick-back from Brewer, transition three from Bjorklund, and Manning either dishing to teammates or getting to the basket herself. She even bounced the ball off the back of a Flyer player on the in-bound pass and hit the layup, though she doesn't get credit for assisting herself.

By halftime, Manning had 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.

"A-Town came out on fire and with that type of energy we feed off of it and that helps bring our morale up," Cain said. "I am loving the way she's playing. She has so much more confidence. She doesn't go out there and worry about what's going to happen or what's happened in the past. She's out there doing her thing."

Spani came off the bench to keep the energy buzzing and hit all four of first-half shots – a long three to extend the lead to 28-11 with 9:53 left before the break, a turn-around in the lane, a step-back three in the right corner and then a fall-away baseline jumper for a 39-19 lead with 6:54 left in the first half.

In between those shots, Spani got a steal and passed the ball ahead to a sprinting Stricklen, who hit the layup.

On Dayton's next possession after Spani's fourth made shot, Stricklen fought her way through a screen and blocked a three-point shot, which forced a shot clock violation. The crowd cheered that play as much as the offense.

"We wanted this game really bad," said Stricklen, who had seven points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. "We were really fired up for this game. How we started the game, too, you could see that, how bad we wanted it. Our defense really helped out. They hit some threes, but not as many as they're usually known for."

Dayton was 3-10 from behind the arc in the first half and rarely got a good look at the basket.

"I felt offensively that we looked nervous," Jabir said. "Justine (Raterman) doesn't shoot a lot of air balls, neither does Kendel (Ross). I think both of those guys had rim bypasses a couple of times. What troubled the coaches more than anything was the missed defensive assignments. I think they threw the ball off our backs twice for layups on inbound plays. That doesn't happen. I think they made their run on mental mistakes that we made, initially.

"When I was at Providence, we'd play UConn. You could hang with them for a while but then at some point they were going to have a spurt. You have to play near perfect to keep it close. When you have mental errors and you give them layups and jump shots and putbacks, that's tough. To be honest, they shot the ball very, very well today. It was one of those days, but they're so good. We have to play much, much better for longer stretches to stay in a game like that."

Tennessee shot 56.4 percent in the first half and led 50-30 at halftime. The Flyers were even on the boards with the Lady Vols at 20-20, but had shot 38.2 percent overall and 30.0 percent from long range.

"They're really big but we've played a lot of big teams before, and we have a lot of length on the perimeter, so we were ready," said Dayton forward Justine Raterman, who led the Flyers with 17 points and was 1-2 from behind the arc.

Dayton started four players over 6'0 – including the 6'4 Casey Nance, whose father Larry Nance, a former NBA standout, was in attendance – so the Flyers weren't outsized but Tennessee still opted to turn the game into a track meet, and it paid off after the Lady Vols bolted to the first-half lead.

Before the half ended, Dayton stopped the face guards and doubling inside and instead when to its matchup zone, so Tennessee found the soft spots. Glory Johnson passed to Manning just behind the elbow – the corner of the free throw line – and then Manning found Stricklen a step in front of the same spot. Bjorklund hit a three-pointer to end the first-half scoring.

Tennessee started the second half in the same fashion, as Brewer hit a layup to start play and then got a putback, and Cain ran the floor with Stricklen and got the layup. Brewer did a catch and shoot move across the lane and then Manning ran step for step with Stricklen on the fast break and received the ball on the right wing for a driving layup and a 60-30 lead – the also happened to lift Manning to a career high – less than three minutes into the second half.

On Tennessee's next possession, Stricklen couldn't grab the offensive board, but she made a perfect tip to Spani, who was under the basket and hit the layup for a 62-32 lead with 16:44 left in the game.

The Lady Vols kept the ball moving around as Stricklen pushed the ball in transition and then stopped, circled around as if to start the offense and then flipped the ball to Bjorklund, who hit a three-pointer.

Spani fed the ball to Johnson, who made a spin move and finished at the rim for a 69-35 lead at the 14:59 mark. Johnson returned the favor on the next possession, and Spani buried a jumper from inside the top of the key for a 71-38 lead. When Manning got a defensive board, she went end to end without resistance for a layup and a 73-44 lead.

When Manning got double-teamed about 30 feet from the basket, she dribbled out of it and fired the ball to Brewer, who hit the layup, and then Spani hit a step-back three for an 82-54 lead at the 6:33 mark.

"There were a couple of shots where the shot clock was at one, and we're up in their face and they're hitting threes fading away," Jabir said. "I don't know if they do that usually. If they do, then you should raise the ticket prices because that's some really good basketball. Maybe that was just our luck today or maybe it was our poor defense. I'm not sure; we'll have to go watch."

Spani hit her first three shot attempts of the second half to go 7-7. She finally missed a jumper in the lane that went off the back iron.

"I knew I hadn't missed," Spani said. "I was just trying to take the shots that they gave me. When they were doubling the other people, I tried to take advantage and pop out when I could."

When Manning left the game at the 5:47 mark, she got a standing ovation from the crowd. It was especially sweet for Manning, because she had struggled in Saturday's game and fouled out.

"The interesting thing about Alicia is that I know that she was pressing (Saturday)," Pat Summitt said. "The only thing I said to her was when we were walking down to the pressroom (Sunday) was to let that go. You are going to be just fine. Focus on what you have to do in this next game. … Been there, done that, forget it, move forward and you're going to play great."

Spani was right on Manning's heels at the 5:42 mark, and the crowd came to its feet and roared again for her effort.

"It's great," Brewer said of the duo's stat line. "We've been looking for that all year and it's fine with me for it to be able to show up now when it counts."

The reserves kept the lead for Tennessee, as Briana Bass got a steal and fed the ball to Johnson for the layup, and Kamiko Williams hitting a driving layup, snuck in behind Johnson, used her for a screen and buried a wing jumper and then hit another layup. Brewer hit a turn-around jumper for Tennessee's final basket, and the 92-64 final score.

"When everyone can contribute to a game and know that when you put certain people in and we're not going to drop off, I think the coaches feel comfortable playing everybody," said Johnson, who had eight points, one block and a steal. "When we're able to do that, we become pretty successful."

Tennessee out-rebounded Dayton, 44-37, for the game, with Cain grabbing nine and Brewer claiming eight behind Manning's game-high honors of 10. Tennessee also got 22 points off of 15 Dayton turnovers, while losing the ball just nine times for nine points. The Lady Vols shot 53.9 percent (41-76) overall and 54.5 percent (6-11) from behind the arc, with Bjorklund going 3-4 from long range and Spani nailing 3-3.

Bjorklund's marksmanship from long range is expected, but Spani, who has battled turf toe all season, has struggled with her outside shot because of limitations on her court time to protect the foot, which has affected her ability to push off and jump.

But Spani was 7-8 from the floor and also added three boards, two assists and a steal.

"I am so happy her shot is back," Stricklen said. "I was over there jumping, clapping. I am excited for her and I am happy for her. I know she gets frustrated because her shot hasn't been on for a long time. But, oh man, it's back at the right time, and I hope she keeps it up. Her shooting the ball well, it helps out a lot."

Stricklen was as energetic in the locker room after the game, as she was on the court, and the win clearly meant a lot to a Tennessee team that had endured last season's tourney loss and its aftermath.

"We've been through a lot together with ‘Iron Will,' with Amber's situation, said junior Sydney Smallbone, referring to the stroke teammate Amber Gray suffered last summer. "I think the off-season really brought us all together and I think our chemistry is so good. I think right now we're peaking, and it's showing, and we're ready to take on any opponent. If we focus on us, and we play our game then whatever opponent is thrown at us, we're ready for them."

Cain, who tallied six blocks and now has 160 for her career and 111 on the season, reiterated that the players were thrilled but not satisfied with a Sweet 16 berth.

"It means a lot, but our ultimate goal is the national championship, and we're just taking it one game at a time," Cain said. "This is just one more step that we've got to take on our way to a national championship."

Bjorklund picked up her Second Round pin – the pins look almost like pilot wings and have the NCAA basketball logo and the round of play – as she entered the arena Monday and was looking forward to collecting the Sweet 16 one on Saturday. Players get pins for each round they reach, and Bjorklund stared at the single one earned from last season for months.

"The pins mean a lot to me personally, because I always look at my pin," Bjorklund said. "For three months straight I looked at that pin every day, and I was like, ‘That's all I got.' We got two, and we're going to get another one. We're all excited to go to Memphis."

Manning is a major reason why Tennessee took the suspense out of the second round game early. She finished with a double-double, 17 points and 10 rebounds, and also added seven assists, two steals and a block.

"She brought the energy for everybody," Stricklen said. "She was fired up. We all followed her. She was doing it all, rebounding, scoring, dishing off, assists, everything. They face guarded me and Angie and then they wanted to double on the posts and they were just leaving her open. Everyone on this team can play and step up, and that's what she does."

Bjorklund said Tennessee is most dangerous when offense comes so smoothly from places unexpected by the other team. With Dayton committing its resources to the post players and the dynamic guard duo of Bjorklund and Stricklen, that left a fifth player unattended at times.

"They were, for some reason, leaving (a player) open a couple of times," Bjorklund said. "That is what is great about Tennessee. Take your pick. You're going to double Kelley Cain and Lyssi and then Alicia and Taber are going to knock down shots. I think that is what is so great about this team is everyone steps up at different times whenever we need it."

Manning nodded when asked if she was motivated on Monday to make up for Saturday's off game against Austin Peay.

"After Saturday I feel like I really let the team down getting in foul trouble, but Coach told me to let that game go, it's over with, you can't do anything about it, just get the next game," Manning said.

The next game meant protecting "The Summitt" court – Tennessee now has a 19-game win streak at home – in the NCAA tourney, where the Lady Vols entered Monday's game with a 47-0 record in postseason games played in Knoxville.

"I give that completely to the fans," Bjorklund said. "We were so excited when we saw that much orange in the stands. We're just looking forward to seeing our fans travel with us to Memphis."

That record is now 48-0 with Tennessee being on the right side of history in this postseason.

"That means everything," Cain said. "It felt like another home game. The crowd out there was phenomenal. I am glad we can keep the streak going."

The players have assiduously avoided talking about the lingering effects of Ball State, but Monday's win felt almost cathartic after what the players had endured to get ready for this season.

"It's a great feeling," Manning said. "Every one of us put in the time and invested. Our attitudes changed. Everything changed from last year. To get to this next stage it's really exciting, and I'm really pumped about it."

"Our game speaks for itself obviously," Cain said. "We are not thinking about last year. Most people are because they're comparing us from last year to this year, but we're not thinking about it. We just want to keep getting better."

"We have high expectations," Bjorklund said. "What people say (about last season) doesn't mean anything to us. It's what we say within our family, and we know that we're a completely different team. We're the only people that have seen the effort that we put into the off-season. We know where our expectations are at."

Lockwood sounded like a proud father in the locker room after the game.

"It's growth. It's growing up. It's moving forward. It's competitive maturity," Lockwood said. "It's a sign of them embracing responsibility. It's a sign of them committing to values and principles that are time-tested and success-proven. It's very, very encouraging for us, and it's thrilling for us to see.

"We love these kids, but we also are very tough and demanding on them to stay the course and climb the mountain. Sometimes that involves tough things. It's great to see. If you had said to any of us at this point you'd be right here right now with the exact record and the two SEC titles, we knew we were capable, but we thought there might be a bump or two more along the way.

"This group, it's just great to see them embrace the things that winning is about and success is about. Today I even saw them really put the juice to the game. We took the juice and the gas to the game. That is what charges us. As coaches, that gets you. I can go another 10 hours."

Lockwood can get a little rest Tuesday. The team will take off Tuesday and then return to the practice court on Wednesday.

Lockwood is Johnson's position coach, and she enjoyed his baseball bat shattering of the game film.

"That's one of Dean's little rituals, and it shows what he thinks about last year, and how we should think about it, and it gives us that aggression to go play hard on the floor," Johnson said.

"One year made such a huge difference and impact on our team."

BEST HAIR: The red-tipped spiked 'do of the drummer for the Dayton band. He was almost out-done by the sparkly blue and red jacket of the band director. The band members marched in and circled their section of seats before taking them and were often the recipients of applause from the crowd, who enjoyed their energy throughout the game.

ODDEST CALL: The foul called on Alyssia Brewer, who dove to the floor to tie up a loose ball. But the Dayton player didn't go with her and instead remained upright. Brewer grabbed the ball and ended up with her arms wrapped around the player's feet. But it wasn't a jump ball. Instead, Brewer was whistled for the foul.

STOP TOUCHING ME: Alicia Manning and Justine Raterman were holding their positions along the free throw box while Kelley Cain shot free throws. They kept knocking each other's hands away to the point that both started smiling. When they broke contact, Raterman lost her balance and committed a lane violation.

The official spoke to both players, and they smiled and stayed in their own space better for the next free throw.

DON'T TREAD ON ME: Alicia Manning and Glory Johnson dove to the floor to try to at least force a tie-up with Dayton's Casey Nance, who rolled over partly onto Manning, leaving the partial imprint of the bottom of a basketball shoe on the back of her shorts.

Manning played the rest of the game with black streaks on her shorts that looked like tire tracks.

"I thought that was pretty interesting. I was like, ‘What is on your shorts?' " Angie Bjorklund said. "We were laughing."

LOUDEST FAN: The one who yelled "We love you, Smallbone" when Sydney Smallbone took the court after a stop in play. Since the arena was more or less quiet, Smallbone heard it loud and clear and sort of smiled.

"Usually, we don't hear things, but I couldn't miss it," Smallbone said.

The same fan yelled, "We love you, Pat!" when Pat Summitt came courtside to do a post-game TV interview with ESPN2.

LADY VOL ROYALTY: Former Lady Vol Chamique Holdsclaw was in attendance at the game. She sat behind the bench more or less underneath the banner that commemorates her retired No. 23 jersey at Tennessee.

Holdsclaw has played overseas for years, along with playing in the WNBA, so it is rare for her to be stateside during college basketball season.

Holdsclaw came to the locker room after the game and talked to the current players and posed for photos with them.

"It was a great honor. It's very neat to be a part of (the long orange line)," Vicki Baugh said.

"It just speaks to the tradition of Tennessee that people would want to come back and still support us," Taber Spani said. "It speaks to them and who they are. It was a real honor."

When Angie Bjorklund was in middle school, she would sneak Pat Summitt's "Raise the Roof" book – an account of Tennessee's perfect 39-0 season when Holdsclaw was a junior and Tennessee's third consecutive national title – behind her textbook so she could read it in class.

"At first I didn't recognize her and then I was like, ‘Wait, that's Chamique Holdsclaw,' " Bjorklund said. "I was like, ‘Wow,' because I really looked up to her when I was little, so it's neat to see her come back and support us and encourage us."

But the current Lady Vol player who acted like a fan was Shekinna Stricklen, who idolized Holdsclaw as a youngster.

"It's when I really started watching Tennessee, and I just loved her game," Stricklen said. "She played every spot. She could play guard, she played inside, she could handle the ball."

When Stricklen saw Holdsclaw in the stands – she got to her seat about four minutes into the game – Stricklen reacted like young fans do when they see the current players.

"I really did," Stricklen said. "It was the first media timeout, and we were in the huddle. I looked, and I saw her and I was, ‘Oh!!'

"I saw her during the game and then she came in the locker room. I could not be still and then she asked to take a picture with me, and I really just flipped out."


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