Pat Summitt hadn’t brought her Lady Vols to Middle Tennessee since Nov. 26, 1979, when assistant Holly Warlick was a senior. Only 1,500 showed up that night for a Tennessee win. This time, Summitt came to play old friend Rick Insell’s program, and 11,802 turned out to easily top the 10,010 when top-ranked Maryland visited Nov. 10, 2006.
Angie Bjorklund had 16 points and Shekinna Stricklen 12 and 11 rebounds for Tennessee (4-0).
Alysha Clark, the nation’s leading scorer last season, finished with 23 for Middle Tennessee (2-2). Jackie Pickel added 16.
Insell has taken the Blue Raiders to the NCAA tournament in three of his first four seasons, and they were ranked No. 24 before a road loss to then-No. 7 LSU last week.
But Tennessee improved to 18-0 against Middle Tennessee, a program that just played its 1,000th game last weekend. Compare that to Summitt, whose career record now is 1,009-193.
Clark averaged 27.5 points per game last season and was coming off a 38-point performance in a win last weekend. Tennessee had the size advantage on the 5-foot-10 forward who found herself mostly guarded by 6-6 Kelley Cain. Clark didn’t hit her first bucket from the floor until 2:54 left in the first half, and she had only three points before the break.
The Blue Raiders led only once, at 3-2 on Chelsia Lymon’s 3-pointer. Taber Spani scored on a layup to put Tennessee back ahead, and the Lady Vols never trailed again. The Lady Vols seemingly couldn’t miss, hitting 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) in the first half.
Middle Tennessee too often settled for outside shots over the taller Lady Vols and couldn’t hit enough.
Brandi Brown’s 3 with 7:18 left pulled Middle Tennessee within 22-20. Tennessee responded with eight straight points as Stricklen and Johnson each scored twice. Alyssia Brewer’s layup with a minute left gave the Lady Vols their biggest lead at 35-22, and Tennessee took a 35-24 lead into halftime.
Clark finally got going in the second half, scoring 11 straight points for Middle. Her bucket at 8:31 pulled Middle within 54-42. Bjorklund scored, then Stricklen hit a pair of free throws to pad the lead.
The Lady Vols eventually led by as much as 20.