Lady Vols bow out to Baylor

MEMPHIS - Tennessee got farther than it did a year ago but not as far as the Lady Vols wanted to go with the season ending in the Sweet 16 in a 77-62 loss to Baylor. Just like a year ago, the Lady Vols will return to Knoxville and get back to work but with a different vibe this time from the players, who made a vow immediately after the game to get better.

The team returned to Knoxville on Saturday evening, and the coaching staff planned to meet later to consider using the two hours of court time allowed by the NCAA at some point soon. This time, the players won't see it as punitive and were already talking among themselves about the work that remained to be done.

"It would be well used - improvement again," Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said. "The same principle that took us from last year to here, now we could sit back and say, ‘Oh, wonderful. You were 32-3, you won the SEC.' We know where we want to go in this program, and we didn't get there, so why should we stop doing something that worked for us to get to this point? That took us from a first round exit to a Sweet 16.

"Bottom line, basketball is a skilled, habit game with athleticism being close, and right now our skills and our habits need to improve so why should we not take advantage of the time that we've got. We've got work to do still."

Sophomore forward Alyssia Brewer, who handled her media interviews with tears streaming down her face, said the 2010 loss in the NCAA tourney hurt her as much as the 2009 one.

"It does, because of all the work we put into it, but we made a promise as a team that we're going to go right back to work like we did," Brewer said. "You guys saw the progress that was made. This is not how we wanted to end it. We wanted to continue to progress, but you've got to take it as it's given to you.

"You saw the things that we made happen this year winning both of the SEC championships. I think that speaks volumes about our team, and I think at the beginning of the year you saw a new Tennessee team from 08-09, and then from then until now you still saw a whole different team. I think you're going to see a different one in the fall as well."

After the 2009 loss, Pat Summitt was livid. In 2010 the defeat will gnaw at her, but she also noted she was proud of her team for its turnaround.

"Well, obviously, we're very, very disappointed - our staff, our team," Summitt said. "For me, I really feel for this team. They've invested, and they've worked extremely hard. They played a great Baylor team, and, unfortunately, what has been pretty solid for us has been our defense and board play, and we just didn't defend. And I think when they went up on us, we had a little bit of panic in us. We're still young. We're predominantly a sophomore group. But I've always told them that the game knows no age.

"And I think today we got a little bit rattled. But we'll continue to learn from it. But I will tell you I love this team, and I hurt for this team. I really do. I'm just sorry our coaches couldn't get more out of them at a time like this."

No. 1 seed Tennessee, 32-3, had its season conclude in the FedEx Forum against No. 4 seed Baylor, 26-9, in a game that the Lady Vols lost inside as they didn't consistently get the ball to the paint and couldn't keep the Lady Bears from scoring there.

Brittney Griner led all scorers with 27 points. She was 8-18 from the floor and 11-13 from the free throw line. Tennessee, a weak free throwing shooting team all season, especially among the post players, left points at the stripe with a 7-15 stat line (46.7 percent) while Baylor hit 22-25 (88.0 percent) from the line.

"That's been a problem all along," Summitt said.

Tennessee also didn't get there enough as the guards lofted outside shots - Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen combined for 39 shots - because the inside game got stifled.

In the guards' defense, the inside game was suffocated by the location of Cain on the bench in the first half and Griner's defense in both halves. The 6'8 freshman had 10 blocks. The two Tennessee guards also were trying to get the ball to their teammates as they combined for 11 of the Lady Vols' 13 assists.

When Baylor had the ball, the Lady Bears got it into Griner without too much resistance.

"I still blame myself and the guards," Stricklen said. "We didn't give the posts the touches they should have had. We completely went away from our game and they carried us all year. They were throwing the ball into Griner too easy. We didn't have ball pressure. I hold myself accountable and the rest of the guards. It's disappointing."

Stricklen led Tennessee with 18 points and four assists and connected on 3-6 from long range. Bjorklund tallied 12 points and seven assists and was 2-6 from behind the arc, giving her 102 three-pointers, one shy of the single-season record of 103 set by Shanna Zolman in 2006. Cain had nine points and 10 boards. Brewer collected seven boards and eight points.

Tennessee shot 29.5 percent in the second half and 32.9 percent for the game.

"Obviously our jump shooting wasn't on tonight," Alicia Manning said. "We shot a really low field goal percentage, and we're not a jump-shooting team. We're an attack, get to the posts, let them do their thing, and I think that hurt us a lot."

Baylor shot 51.9 percent in the second half and 49.1 percent for the game. Morghan Medlock had 12 points for Baylor on 6-9 shooting, and Kelli Griffin added 10 points despite going 1-7 from the field because she was 8-8 from the line. Freshmen Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden and sophomore Terran Condrey accounted for all 21 of Baylor's bench points by shooting a combined 9-13 from the field, including 3-3 from Condrey.

"We tell her every game, ‘T, you have to shoot the ball, they're never going to come out of that zone if we don't start hitting perimeter shots,', and she just got a little excited today and shot it and she came up huge for us," Medlock said.

No team shot 50 percent or better against Tennessee this season - Alabama was the next closest at 45.9 percent - but the Lady Bears barely missed it.

"Deep down it came to the second half and what they were executing and what we weren't executing," said sophomore forward Glory Johnson, who had seven boards and four points. "We should have been doing the same things they were doing, which was getting in the paint. Shots were falling early, so we kind of relied on our outside shots.

"If you're making them, keep shooting, but they were consistently jamming it inside, because they knew that's where their strongest points were. Kelley Cain is strong. Lyssi Brewer is strong. I expect us to do the same - get them in foul trouble like they were getting us in foul trouble, but we didn't do that."

"We didn't get (to the line). They did," said Cain, who absorbed a lot of contact in the paint but got to the line just three times in 23 minutes of play.

Johnson played 17 minutes in the first half but just three in the second half as the coaches tried to find a combination that could be effective on both ends. Johnson was solid on defense and on the boards, but she struggled on the offensive end. Spani hit a long three the first time she touched the ball, but her foot hindered her mobility on defense, and she played just six minutes in the second half.

Bjorklund and Stricklen played the entire game, Cain played the entire second half, and Brewer logged 34 minutes, as the bench shortened considerably.

"It was a real, real struggle because the boat had leaks at each end," Lockwood said. "We weren't scoring and then also defensively we weren't good. We were trying to find our best group that could be productive at both ends of the floor.

"(Johnson) had the three turnovers, and we just felt like Lyssi had scored a little bit so we went with Lyssi and Kelley down the stretch. With Kelley we thought we could at least get the ball inside to her. Honestly, it's a gut decision on who we felt was our best group at that time."

Tennessee edged Baylor on the boards, 42-41, and took care of the ball with just eight turnovers, but the defense faltered - and was hindered when Cain played just 148 seconds in the first half with two quick fouls, one on defense, the other on offense - especially down the stretch when the Lady Vols lost a five-point lead and then couldn't get stops.

"It's the first thing our team talked about when we went into the locker room after the game," Summitt said. "We just didn't defend the way we needed to and the way that we defended when they came to our place. They're a much-improved team."

With Cain on the bench in foul trouble, Brewer played the entire first half with Johnson logging 17 minutes. Johnson helped provide stiffer defense on Griner, who was 3-7 for nine points in the first half, but she also had three of Tennessee's four turnovers before halftime with an offensive foul on a screen and two travel calls.

Cain returned to the lineup to start the second half, and Tennessee immediately went to work inside with Brewer getting an offensive board after Griner blocked her shot and hitting the layup to tie the game at 30-30. Brewer converted a half-hook shot on a pass from Bjorklund for a 32-30 lead, and when Hayden answered for Baylor with a jumper, Bjorklund hit a three on an assist from Manning to put Tennessee back on top, 35-32.

But Baylor answered with its own run and took a five-point lead, 42-37, with 14:23 to play. Tennessee chipped away by getting the ball to Cain, who hit layups and gathered offensive boards off teammates' misses to get Tennessee a five-point lead, 51-46, with 9:47 left in the game.

At that point Tennessee appeared to finally be seizing control of the game and had a chance to extend the lead again with three offensive boards on the next possession, but Tennessee missed three shots and then was stripped of the ball. Instead of leading by eight had Bjorklund's three attempt fallen on that possession's first shot, Madden hit a jumper for Baylor, which trimmed the lead to three points, 51-48, with 8:36 left to play.

Tennessee twice got the lead back to five points, 53-48, on pair of Stricklen free throws with 8:11 left, and 55-50 on a Cain layup with 7:53 left. But Griner answered for Baylor with two consecutive layups to cut the lead to one point, 55-54, with 7:19 left.

"We didn't do a good job," Summitt said. "She was able to go and find her spot. We wanted to keep her off the block. She did a great job even when she got there. She had to spin or work across the lane. She was very, very active and got a lot of touches. And again, if I had to say one thing that sent us home today, it was our lack of commitment to defense."

Griner got a block on the other end and then Melissa Jones hit a three-pointer for Baylor to give the Lady Bears a 57-55 lead with 6:48 left that they never relinquished.

Tennessee trimmed the lead to four but missed from the field and the line.

"When we really got into a little bit of a panic mode they looked at the scoreboard, and when Baylor started to separate I think our guards got really anxious," Summitt said. "We got Kelley some really good touches at times but not enough."

"If the posts are killing, you've got to keep giving them the ball," Stricklen said. "And then our defense kind of let down. When you've got a run you've got to keep it going, but I give a lot of credit to Baylor."

Forced to foul to stop the clock, the Lady Vols kept sending Baylor to the line, and the Lady Bears converted to seize a double-digit lead and extend it for the final 77-62 outcome.

During each team's runs, both coaches saw a bit of panic in their players.

"Absolutely, we were rattled as was Tennessee," Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey said. "It was a game of runs and rattles I guess you could say. There were moments that we got rattled, but we just made enough plays at the right time of the game both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor to win it. As I told Pat after the game, Pat's a legend in this game, and we want our program to be where Pat's program is, has been and will continue to be. She's just class."

The Lady Vols got away from Summitt's system in the second half, and that was what especially frustrated the coach after the game.

"We had higher expectations," Summitt said. "What disappoints me is that every player who comes to our program hears constantly that defense and rebounds win championships. We didn't defend today. They were the more determined team across the board. Does that concern me? Yes. Are we still young? Yes. Do they have an excuse? Well, if they want to say that's the excuse then they can have it, butt I can't make any excuse."

The players wanted no part of any excuses either. After the coaches addressed the team, the players had a few minutes to themselves before the media was allowed in the locker room.

"After the game we came together and we all looked each other in the eyes and were like, ‘Yeah, this game happened. There is nothing we can do about it now, and we've got to work even harder than we ever have, and we're going to have to do it together as a family,' " Manning said.

Manning finished the game with five points and six rebounds and started a Tennessee rally in the second half by getting into the paint and around Griner and hitting the layup to tie the game at 46-46 with 10:31 left and converting the free throw for the 47-46 lead.

A wing jumper from Stricklen pushed the lead to 49-46, and the crowd of 6,577 roared its approval with Baylor taking a timeout. Whenever Tennessee made a run, Mulkey quickly called timeout.

"I felt like I called the timeout because we needed to stop momentum right there," Mulkey. "The crowd is not a factor because we play in a conference that draws more fans than any other conference in the country.

"The crowd was never even discussed in our film room. You are so attuned to what you are doing on the floor that you don't even hear the crowd. The thing that was most impressive was the (orange) color. You see that, but you don't hear it."

Summitt cited those fans after the game on her list of people that the performance disappointed.

"I'm proud of what they did throughout the season," Summitt said of her team. "But I was very disappointed for them, for our staff, for our fans, just for the program."

Freshman forward Taber Spani was playing in her first NCAA postseason tourney, and she was despondent after the loss with Vicki Baugh sitting down with her and offering some comfort.

"Give them all the credit because they played great," Spani said through tears. "It was a fun game because it was back and forth. We went up by five, they went up by five, back and forth. It's just sad for us because we know that the game was lost on the defensive end, and we let them get 20 paint points in the first half. That was frustrating. The free throws, those are just focus, too.

"As a team we're heartbroken because we know we let down each other and our fans and of course the coaching staff."

Baylor got 20 of its 30 points by halftime in the paint. Only four of Tennessee's 28 first-half points came in the paint. Griner was a big reason why Tennessee struggled inside and especially so with Cain pacing at the end of the bench.

"She was terrific today," Summitt said. "And I think just her presence really affected us. I think of players in the past. Obviously, Michelle Snow comes to mind as far as having her size and her shot blocking ability. I just think she's a very mobile player, and she can cover a lot of ground. She's got a great wingspan, blocks a lot of shots, and that's what she did today. She was the X factor, I think."

A year ago when Tennessee lost in the NCAA tourney, the players were in a state of shock in the locker room. A tough season had just ended at the absolute bottom with a first-round loss. Saturday's loss wasn't at that depth, and the players were already talking about off-season workouts.

"We're very disappointed," Bjorklund said. "Last year was a shock. I think the hardest part is we have such high expectations, and we expect to go to the Final Four. We expect to win it. I think anything falling short of that we're going to be disappointed, but at the same time we brought it in when the coaches left (the locker room), and we were saying we are committing again this off-season."

For Spani, the end of the season means she can finally rest her foot and fully address a painful and chronic case of turf toe.

"I really wish I didn't. I wish that never had to happen right now," Spani said of her upcoming break from basketball.

The coaches saw how the loss affected the players in the locker room, and the profound disappointment was encouraging for them.

"We're all in this together," Summitt said. "I'm just disappointed. Our staff is disappointed. Our players are disappointed. But with that disappointment, we will find accountability and move forward. It is what it is. Are we happy about it? No. Am I mad at my team? No. Am I disappointed in our defense? Yes. I think that our entire coaching staff wishes we could have done more.

"When you play the game and the players take the court, they have to take ownership for how they play this game. I thought we panicked a little bit. I thought, rather than going inside to Kelley and getting good touches, our guards tried to do too much. I'm not going to fault them. They didn't cost us the game. Angie and Stricklen have been our go-to players, and they kept trying to find shots and knock down shots, and I think they got a little overanxious at the end. Maybe a little bit of panic set in, and that's not uncommon. We're still young, and we're going to learn from this."

Every player in the locker room will be back next season with two guards on the way from high school.

"This team is going to work as hard as we did last year to be even better and with the couple of girls we're adding and with the people coming back, this team is going to be very strong next year," said Spani, who also listed the injured players, Vicki Baugh, Faith Dupree and Amber Gray.

"In this moment it's really hard to (look at the future) because everybody is such a competitor in this room and we all wanted it this year, but as hard as we're going to work each of us is going to get so much better over the off-season and then with Vicki and Faith and Amber and our two freshmen coming in, this team could be scary good next year.

"But it's going to be all about our commitment level."

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