KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is ready for her third-ranked Lady Volunteers to start playing hard for an entire game. She’s still waiting.
The Lady Vols (25-2, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) overcame a slow start to beat Mississippi State 72-46 on Sunday, their second come-from-behind victory over the Lady Bulldogs (16-12, 4-9) this season.
“They play in spurts,” Summitt said. “As a coach you want every possession to be played.”
The Lady Vols shot just 38 percent from the field and made only 3-of-8 free throws in the first half. However, Tennessee’s defense held Mississippi State without a field goal for over 10 minutes.
Candace Parker scored all but five of her 19 points in the second half and set a new Tennessee record for blocks.
Just days after announcing she would skip her final year of eligibility to turn pro, Parker blocked five shots to set a new Tennessee career record with 247, surpassing Shelia Frost’s total of 246.
Shannon Bobbitt and Alexis Hornbuckle each added 11 points for the Lady Vols.
Alexis Rack led Mississippi State with 15 points, and Marneshia Richard added 11. The Lady Bulldogs shot only 28.8 percent from the field during the game.
Despite the strong defense, the Lady Vols only held a 27-22 halftime lead.
“We weren’t intense or inspired in the first half,” Hornbuckle said. “We have to learn to play up. In postseason, we won’t have time to flip a switch when we are in that position.”
Mississippi State was trailing 47-40 after Richard’s layup with 7:39 left.
The Lady Vols answered with a 10-1 run capped by Shannon Bobbitt’s 3-pointer to extend their lead to 16 and put the game out of reach with 5:04 left.
Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said she’s also looking for more consistent play from her Lady Bulldogs.
“We have played harder, but we have not played for the 40-minute stretches that we need,” she said. “In this league it takes 40 minutes. Against Tennessee it takes 40 great minutes.”
Tennessee built a 16-5 lead in the first half on free throws by Parker with 9:47 left before the half, but the Lady Bulldogs went on a 13-0 run. Rack made a 3-pointer before stealing the ball from Bobbitt.
Rack was fouled by Nicky Anosike and sank both free throws to give Mississippi State a 18-16 lead with 4:25 left in the first half. Tennessee closed the half on a 11-4 run to take a 27-22 advantage at the break.
Tennessee overcame the slow first half with 50 percent field goal shooting in the second half while Mississippi State shot 27.3 percent during the half.
“They were getting out to all the shooters, so we were trying to find open shots,” Richard said. “They did a good job preventing us from having those open looks.”
It was the second time this season Tennessee had to rally against Mississippi State, a team that has never beaten the Lady Vols.
The Lady Vols won 87-69 in Starkville on Feb. 7 after trailing by as many as nine points in the first half.
“They are a very aggressive team,” Hornbuckle said. “They are very active and physical.”