Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spani Leads UT Past Rutgers, 87-51

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Rutgers' trouble reaching Knoxville and fifth-ranked Tennessee's refusal to reschedule the game left coach C. Vivian Stringer fuming after the Lady Vols routed her Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers' players were scattered around the country during their 11-day holiday break and bad weather in the Northeast delayed many of them from returning to campus. After Tennessee dominated the Scarlet Knights 87-51 Thursday, an angry Stringer said she sought to reschedule the game when it became clear Rutgers would have to charter a plane to Knoxville late Wednesday without holding a single practice.

"They never saw a tape (of Tennessee) or anything," Stringer said of her team. "I tell you we could have had far better representation of ourselves. It could have been worth the money, worth the time to come here if we'd had a little bit more (time)."

Tennessee women's athletics director Joan Cronan said she spoke with Rutgers athletics director Tim Pernetti about rescheduling the game, but said it wasn't feasible with the upcoming schedules of the school's men's and women's teams.

"I called Tennessee, and you see we're playing, don't you?" Stringer said. "They couldn't do it. I would have done it anyway. I would have done it if we played every day back to back. I back down from no one."

The lack of preparation became clear early as Tennessee (12-2) jumped out to a fast lead, and a 3-pointer at the baseline from Angie Bjorklund with 18:34 left in the first half capped a 9-2 run to open the game. That shot gave Bjorklund her 267th career trey, pushing her past Shanna Zolman and making her Tennessee's career leader in 3s.

The Lady Vols used strong shooting to build an 18-point margin but cooled off with about four minutes left before halftime. Leading scorer Taber Spani had 12 of her career-high 22 points in the first half.

Rutgers (7-6) found some rhythm and used a 11-4 run to close out the first half, cutting Tennessee's halftime lead to 40-29, but the Lady Vols scored nine unanswered points out of the break and gradually pulled away.

The Scarlet Knights were playing without Khadijah Rushdan, who averages 14.3 points per game. Rushdan bruised her knee in Rutgers' 79-50 loss to then-No. 8 Texas A&M in the Maggie Dixon Classic on Dec. 19.

Rutgers also got only one half of play out of leading scorer April Sykes, who had cramps early in the second half. Sykes still led the team with 15 points, while Nikki Speed had 11 and Erica Wheeler had 10.

Without Rushdan, the Scarlet Knights were without one of their better defenders, and Tennessee took advantage of its size inside. The Lady Vols outrebounded Rutgers 46-27 and scored 36 points in the paint and 20 second-chance points.

Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen added 12 points each for Tennessee, and Bjorklund and Kelley Cain both had 11.

"Our bench outscored Rutgers' bench 24-1," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "That was a key -- our depth."

Tennessee's uniforms sported patches with a No. 35 on them in honor of former Lady Vol guard Melissa McCray-Dukes, who died Monday after a battle with breast cancer. McCray-Dukes played on four consecutive NCAA Final Four teams and started on Tennessee's 1987 and 1989 national championship teams.

Summitt, who wore a No. 35 pin on her lapel during the game, spoke at McCray-Dukes' funeral Thursday.

"Once you're a Lady Vol, you stay a Lady Vol," Bjorklund said. "You continue to be a part of this family, and (McCray-Dukes) will always be a part of our family."

Tennessee owns a 17-3 advantage in the series with Rutgers and has won the last seven meetings. The rivalry hasn't been without controversy or close games, though.

In the last meeting at Thompson-Boling Arena on Feb. 11, 2008, then-No. 1 Tennessee got the win on two free throws by Nicky Anosike with 0.2 of a second left. Television replays showed the game clock seemed to pause when Anosike came down with the ball and was grabbed by Kia Vaughn.

Officials reviewed the play, but only to determine whether or not Vaughn's foul came before the buzzer.

The following season, the Lady Vols trailed 33-13 at halftime at Rutgers on Jan. 3, 2009. Rutgers led by as many as 23 points in the second half before Tennessee rallied for the 55-51 win.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Melissa McCray-Dukes Passes Away

She was a Two-time Lady Vol Basketball National Champion

The University of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball family learned on Monday, Dec. 27, that Melissa Ann McCray-Dukes had lost her long and hard fought battle with cancer. McCray-Dukes was 43 years old.

Nicknamed "Emma" by her Tennessee teammates, McCray-Dukes played on four consecutive NCAA Final Four teams (1986-87-88-89) and started as a guard on coach Pat Summitt's first two national championship teams in 1987 and 1989.

"Melissa was one of the most incredible people you could ever meet," Summitt said. "She fought cancer with the same determination and tenacity she showed on the basketball court. She went into every single day of her life as a winner. Melissa had incredible optimism but she also knew she was in God's hands at the end of her fight. She has taught me so many life lessons over the last four years and she will be missed.

Our prayers and thoughts go out to her family and many friends."

McCray-Dukes lived in Knoxville and remained close to her former teammates over the years. It wasn't unusual for her to drop by practice.

When she played, her teammates called her the "mother hen." Said Lady Vol teammate Sheila Frost on Feb. 11, 1989, "She kind of pulls us together as a family," Frost said of McCray. "We need a core like that. She's been called the mother of our team since she was a freshman." In the same interview about McCray, Summitt said, "She exemplifies so much of what I want Tennessee women's basketball to be all about."

The biographical sketch in the 1989 Tennessee Lady Vol Media Guide summed up number 35 in a nutshell. "If there was a war, the first person you would want in your foxhole was Melissa McCray...A durable player, she has not ever missed a game...When you think of Tennessee pressure defense, the picture that pops up is Melissa hawking the ball from sideline-to-sideline and all 94-feet of the basketball court...She does the little things that don't always pop up in an NCAA box score...Her aggressive defensive style of play causes great consternation for her opponents...Usually they are totally denied the ball and if they happen to get a pass there is nowhere to go with it because Melissa is like glue...From the first day of practice of her rookie season, it was apparent that Melissa was special."

McCray-Dukes was special. Even when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2006, she wanted to fight it privately at first and not "burden anyone" with what she was going through. However, her friends and former teammates coaxed her into revealing her fight and she served as an inspiration to others. She was the guest speaker many times at churches, women's cancer support groups and at the UT Cancer Institute. When the cancer returned in 2009, she shared the importance of always fighting to the young 2008-09 Lady Vol basketball team - "whether it was basketball or your life, you fight." She was always the Lady Vol.

She started her foray into the world of hoops at Rutledge High School after her parents moved from Miami, Fla., to East Tennessee when she was in middle school. She was lucky to have Coach Doug McBee, father of current Vol basketball player Skylar McBee, as her head coach. She said the lessons she first learned from Coach McBee about toughness and not giving up served as life lessons later reinforced by Science Hill High School Coach Gary Scheuerman and Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt.

McCray's family moved to Johnson City after her sophomore year of high school. Melissa didn't think she wanted to play at Science Hill but she said her guidance counselor and Coach Scheuerman persuaded her to continue the sport. Behind her play, the Lady Toppers fashioned a 28-7 record and made its first appearance in the state tournament. McCray averaged 18.3 ppg and 11.3 rpg and was named the Upper East Tennessee Player of the Year beating out Jefferson County's Carolyn Peck. As a senior, SHHS repeated at state with a 28-5 record as McCray averaged 19.9 ppg and was offered a scholarship to play for the Lady Vols.

Her teammates voted her as the "Best Defensive Player" for four consecutive seasons at UT. She didn't throw up gaudy numbers in the box score but she was always the one to get a critical basket or make a game-changing play. She was a member of the first class of players (men or women), to play in the NCAA Final Four all four years of her career joined by Lady Vol classmates Bridgette Gordon and Sheila Frost.

As a rookie at Tennessee, she nailed a bucket against Georgia putting the Lady Vols ahead to stay in the upset win over the Lady Bulldogs in the 1986 NCAA Regional. In the 1987 NCAA Final Four semifinal game against Long Beach State she played lockdown defense and surprised the 49ers with 14 points. As a senior, she unselfishly dished out 10 assists against Auburn in the 1989 NCAA Final Four Championship game in her final collegiate appearance. Always giving, she averaged an incredible nine assists per game in the Final Four in Tacoma, Wash.

For her career, she scored 874 points, grabbed 376 rebounds and handed out 289 assists in 139 career games with 87 career starts. McCray-Dukes was always precise and took pride in the way she played and tried to keep her teammates accountable. It is no surprise that for her career, as a guard, she committed a total of just 164 turnovers in 2,892 minutes of unmatchable statistic.

She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's in political science in 1989 and was a longtime employee of Knoxville law firm Lewis, King, Krieg & Waldrop, P.C., and served as the Client Services and Marketing Director. She also was very active in her husband's churches, the New Life West (Knoxville) and Faith Temple (Morristown).

She was the wife to the Reverend Johnny Dukes and mother to daughter Stephanie McCray, 20, and son Chandler Dukes, 16. She was the daughter of Charles McCray Sr., the late Reverend Fred Kyle (stepfather) and Mrs. Clara Kyle. She is survived by sisters Sharon Perez and Kim Williams and brother, Charles McCray, Jr. She was born on Jan. 27, 1967 in Savannah, Ga.

Funeral arrangements are pending at this time.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tyler Summitt Stepping Out of Legendary Mom's Shadow

When Tyler Summitt was playing high school basketball at Webb School in Knoxville, he could hear the chants from the stands.

"Ma-ma's boy! Ma-ma's Boy!"

Road games, home games. Didn't matter.

His mother, the winningest coach in the history of college basketball, she heard them too. And on more than one occasion, Pat Summitt would go over and have a seat in the section where all the noise was coming from.

"It didn't seem to have the same spirit after that," Pat Summitt said.

Uh, yeah.

It doesn't bother Tyler Summitt that he's got perhaps the most famous last name in town, or even that his last name is painted on the court where he practices every day.

His perspective about legacy is as clear as his future goals. Pat Summitt's only son, the boy who was nearly born on a recruiting trip and was practically raised in Thompson-Boling Arena, is a walk-on on at the University of Tennessee basketball team.

His goal is to become a coach like his mom. He is willing to absorb the ribbing and the doubts that come with his ambitions, particularly when they are countered by the unbridled support of his teammates and his coach.

"I think it works both ways," Tyler Summitt said. "I know the ins and outs around here. I know there might be fans or friends talking behind my back, saying I don't deserve to be on the team. It's the same for Steven Pearl (coach Bruce Pearl's son, who is also on the Vols' roster). We are probably in the biggest spotlight you could possibly be in.

"But I think I've earned the respect of my teammates and I honestly don't care if I play another minute on the team. I love being a part of this."

Tyler Summitt is at practice every day, running scout defense, paying undivided attention to the X's and O's on the white board. He hustles, he lifts, he puts in the same time as stars Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris.

Summitt was not what you would call a high school star. He was cut from the sixth-grade basketball team in middle school, as a matter of fact. Last year, he spent his time as a practice player with the women's team, traveling with the team, sitting on the bench during games, participating in workouts.

But he knew that at some point, he would like to walk on with the Vols' men's team. He and his mother sat down with Pearl to talk it over. Pearl was wide-open to the idea, knowing that Tyler Summitt wants to parlay the experience into a coaching career.

"Part of our job is to provide opportunities," Pearl said. "I see him taking notes. He's always evaluating and studying and watching."

Every class he takes, he said, he is trying to relate to a future career in coaching. He has been keeping a folder full of drills since he was in high school. Call his time on the Vols' roster a kind of interactive research project.

"I want to coach, but I'm not done playing," Summitt said. "I'm not done pushing myself."

He's made two appearances so far, playing the closing minutes of an exhibition game and a decisive win over Middle Tennessee State.

In each game, he hit a 3-pointer. Summitt is 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.

His mom got to see the first shot, not the second. She's been busy with her own team, ranked No. 5 in the country and preparing for a big weekend with a game against No. 3 Stanford.

Pat Summitt was a proud mother in the stands the day she watched Tyler hit that first shot.

"I told him he better quit shooting," Pat Summitt said with a chuckle. "I know this is something that he's wanted to do since he was a little boy. Bruce has one of his best teams here, but he funny thing is, when Tyler hit those shots, his teammates were hugging him. He's a hard worker."

Pearl said Summitt has been an important contributor to his program, a positive influence in the locker room with a strong ethic on the court and in the classroom as well. Tyler is in the Honors Program at Tennessee.

"It goes without saying that Pat Summitt's son would be a hard-working kid," Pearl said. "We are getting something out of this as well. He says the right things, he does the right things. He takes care of his business in the classroom. That stuff can be infectious in the locker room, just being around people like that."

Pearl said he's already testing Tyler's coaching instincts. At one point, he asked the sophomore to come up with three things that his mother does that coach Pearl does not and vice versa.

"It's been everything I could have hoped for," Tyler Summitt said. "My end goal is to do anything I can do to become a Division I college basketball coach."

He knows the next question.

"I don't know yet whether I want to coach women or men. I do know that I want to stay in the men's game as long as I can, because it's easier to go from being a men's coach to women's basketball than from the women's game to men's basketball."

Lady Vols Drop ETSU 102-53

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt thinks the Lady Volunteers got a good reminder that all opponents, ranked or otherwise, need to be respected.

Three days after playing passionately in an overtime win against then-No. 3 Stanford, the Lady Vols (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) came out flat against an East Tennessee State team that had only won one of its last five games. They turned up the heat in the second half and pulled away for a 102-53 rout on Wednesday night.

"I lit into everybody at halftime," Summitt said. "They didn't come in with the level of respect that they should. They had one foot out the door."

Tennessee (11-2) scored the first five points and used a 9-0 run to take a 23-11 lead with 12:30 in the first half. The Lady Buccaneers missed some open shots but were able to make it inside to the basket and pulled within eight points twice, but a 3-pointer by Kamiko Williams with 1:42 in the first half helped the Lady Vols take a 46-32 halftime lead.

That wasn't good enough for Summitt.

"Halftime was ... it wasn't pretty," said Angie Bjorklund, who led Tennessee with 16 points. "She definitely got on us, which we needed. Before she even came in we were getting on each other. She basically said we didn't come out with any energy and that the second half needed to be different."

It was definitely different. The Lady Vols turned up the tempo and did a better job of getting the ball inside, where they had a definite size advantage and scored 42 points. After shooting 44.1 percent in the first half, they shot 60 percent after the break.

Bjorklund hit her fourth 3 of the night with 12:30 to go, which tied her with Shanna Zolman as Tennessee's all-time 3-point shooter with 266 treys.

Taber Spani got a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Kelley Cain joined her with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Glory Johnson added 15 points and Meighan Simmons had 13, extending the number of games she's scored in double figures to 13.

ETSU (3-6) struggled with Tennessee's physical play in the paint and was called for 25 personal fouls -- 10 more than the Lady Vols, who hit 21-of-33 from the foul line.

Tennessee outrebounded the Lady Bucs 53-34 and got 20 second-chance points. ETSU also committed 20 turnovers, which Tennessee turned into 26 points.

"We came out and did three of the four things I told them we had to do and that was be smart, play hard and take care of the basketball," Lady Bucs coach Karen Kemp said. "The fourth one unfortunately we were not able to accomplish, and that was knock down open shots. Overall I was pretty happy with the majority of the ballgame."

Destiny Mitchell and Gwen Washington led ETSU with 10 points.

It was the 21st meeting between the two teams, whose rivalry dates back 1924, when the Lady Vols were known as the Volettes. Still, schools took a break from playing after a 98-39 victory by Tennessee on Jan. 8, 1986, and a string of 10 games under Summitt in which Tennessee outscored ETSU by an average 38 points.

"Honestly, I like playing ranked teams because I like the spotlight on our team," Washington said. "Even though Tennessee is the home team, the crowd does get our team into it too. I just like playing in the big crowds. It doesn't make us nervous or anything like that."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lady Vols Beat Stanford 82-72 in OT

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had plenty of strong messages for her players in practice this week following an embarrassing loss at Baylor. After the Lady Vols had squandered away their lead against Stanford, she called a timeout to give them one more.

"She just said, 'We're not going to lose this game,' " Meighan Simmons recalled. "I just think that everybody thought about what they needed to do to help the team win, and we just brought all of that together."

Simmons did her part with 23 points and by hitting a 3-pointer to force overtime, and No. 6 Tennessee used free throws to pull away in the extra session and beat Stanford (No. 2 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) 82-72 on Sunday night.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer was denied her 800th career win again after the Cardinal lost at DePaul (No. 25 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) on Thursday. Her next chance comes Wednesday against San Francisco.

The Cardinal (6-2) held a 63-57 lead with 6:21 to go in regulation, but the Lady Vols' defense gave them trouble and several players drew their fourth fouls as time ticked off the clock. After Toni Kokenis was called for her fourth, Simmons hit a pair of free throws to tie it at 63 with 4:59 to go.

"I was very, very proud that we didn't panic when they went up by six," Summitt said. "We kept our composure."

Jennette Pohlen, who led Stanford with 24 points, hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 1:07 to go to give the Cardinal a 70-67 lead, but Simmons charged down the floor and answered with her own 3 that sent the crowd of 14,197 into a frenzy.

Glory Johnson stole the ball back on a sloppy pass from Kayla Pedersen, but Stanford got the ball back on a tie-up when Shekinna Stricklen lost control of it. VanDerveer called a timeout, and Kokenis drove the court and attempted a mid-range jump shot just before the buzzer against Kelley Cain, who blocked it.

Stanford struggled with sloppy play early in overtime. Pohlen fouled out less than a minute into OT, and Sarah Boothe committed two turnovers before committing her fifth foul and joining Pohlen on the bench 16 seconds later.

"We just needed to lock down on defense, not foul," Pohlen said. "We needed to keep our hands up, box them out and not let them get second shots."

The Lady Vols (10-2) went 8 of 14 from the foul line in overtime. Cain missed back-to-back foul shots with 2:41 left but grabbed the rebound off the second and hit a jump shot in the middle of the lane to give Tennessee a 75-70 lead that again had the crowd screaming. The Cardinal's only overtime points came on a pair of free throws by Pedersen.

"I thought we got some good looks, and we didn't knock down shots that we needed to," VanDerveer said. "When they got good looks, they made shots."

Early in the game, it was all Tennessee. The Lady Vols were coming off a brutal loss at Baylor (No. 3 ESPN/USA Today, No. 2 AP) when they shot 25 percent, the worst percentage in program history.

Against Stanford, they hit five of their first six 3-point attempts and grabbed a 30-16 lead -- their largest of the game -- on a jumper by Kamiko Williams with 7:21 in the first half. Tennessee shot 48.5 percent in the first half but cooled off to 35.5 percent in the second.

Both teams went cold for 3 minutes, but a 3-pointer by Pedersen broke the spell and a pair of baskets by Pohlen helped chip away at the margin some more. By halftime, Tennessee's lead was 39-31.

Stanford used 62.5 percent shooting in the second half after hitting just 33.3 percent of its shots in the first to cover the rest of the margin, and a 3-pointer from Pohlen tied the game at 49 with 13:25 left.

"The way Stanford came out [of halftime], I thought they had been shot out of a cannon," Summitt said. "They came to play. We didn't respond well."

Angie Bjorklund added 16 points, Stricklen had 15 and Taber Spani 10 for Tennessee.

Nnemkadi Ogwumike scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Stanford. Pedersen added 10 points.

These two teams have gone to overtime in six of their 28 meetings. The Cardinal's last visit to The Summitt court at Thompson-Boling Arena went into overtime, with Tennessee winning that one 79-69 in a similar manner.

In that game it was Pohlen who knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game, but Stanford didn't get a single point in OT.

The Lady Vols lead the annual series 22-6, although the teams have split the last five meetings.

"I think it just shows we both have really competitive teams, and they are hard-fought battles that are disappointing to lose," VanDerveer said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lady Vols Fall 65-54 at No. 2/3 Baylor

Brittney Griner and No. 2 Baylor were too big of an obstacle for No. 6 Tennessee.

Griner had 21 points, nine blocks and disrupted nearly everything the Lady Vols wanted to do, lifting the Lady Bears to a 65-54 victory Tuesday night in a game that was rarely even close.

Playing before a crowd of 10,569 -- the most ever for a basketball game at Baylor, men's or women's -- the Lady Bears (10-1) never trailed. They broke it open for good with an 11-0 run to close the first half and led by as many as 15 points.

Tennessee (9-2) never got closer than seven points in the second half.

Odyssey Sims led Baylor with 24 points. She scored 14 in the second half, while Griner had only five. Melissa Jones scored eight points, Brooklyn Pope and Kimetria Hayden both had six and Pope had four blocks and nine rebounds.

Meighan Simmons led the Lady Vols with 22 points and Angie Bjorklund had 10. No one else had more than five. Tennessee shot only 25 percent from the field.

Fans lined up more than three hours before tipoff, excited by the matchup and lured by free bobbleheads of coach Kim Mulkey. Griner gave them plenty to shout about from the start.

The 6-foot-8 center had 16 points and six blocks by halftime. The Lady Vols had only eight field goals at the break, their accuracy snuffed by the shots she swatted and those she altered.

Part of her inspiration was seeing the majority of the football team sitting behind the basket Baylor defended that half. She growled toward them a few times, sometimes flashing a smile and a little wave in their direction. Star quarterback Robert Griffin and all-conference safety Byron Landor swept the court during one break, with Griffin taking a microphone and firing everyone up by saying, "We're here to support the Lady Bears. We know you're here to support the Lady Bears. This is our house!"

Griner shot a few glances toward the guys during the second half, too, when Baylor was shooting at that basket. Things weren't all that intense, though, because Tennessee could never mount much of a rally.

The Lady Bears simply cruised to their second straight victory over one of the premier programs in women's college basketball, another reminder of what a force they have become. Their only loss was by one point at No. 1 Connecticut.

Tennessee's only other loss was by 11 to Georgetown, which is now No. 20.

At game's end, Mulkey got the microphone and told the crowd, "Thanks for doing this. ... Football team, go win a bowl game. Thank you!"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lady Vols Beat Texas 92-77

Tennessee's tough, two-game Texas swing got off to a rousing start.

Angie Bjorklund scored 20 points in the first half and Meighan Simmons added 18 and the eighth-ranked Lady Vols pulled away in the second half to coast to a 92-77 victory over No. No. 21 Texas on Sunday.

Bjorklund provided the early punch with four 3-pointers in the first half, then Simmons took over in the second as the Lady Vols (9-1) sent Texas (5-3) to its third consecutive loss.

As soon as it was over, the Lady Vols turned their attention to their big Tuesday night showdown with No. 2 Baylor just 100 miles north in Waco. Baylor knocked Tennessee out of the NCAA tournament last season.

"We've been looking forward to (Baylor) for a while," Bjorklund said. "When that game ended, my mind went to Baylor. I'm not going to lie."

Kathleen Nash scored 21 points to lead Texas, which committed its season average of 20 turnovers that led to 23 Tennessee points. The loss also snapped Texas' 27-game non-conference winning streak at home.

Texas was hamstrung by suspensions and illness and coach Gail Goestenkors used only seven players. The Longhorns didn't have the stamina to keep up with the deep and talented Lady Vols, who had five players score in double figures.

"The guard play we have allows us to be out and bring the heat early. Watching them on tape, Texas does a great job of pushing tempo. We knew we had to match that intensity," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "Our depth definitely helped us in this game, being able to rotate and keep people fresh."

Tennessee shot 51 percent in the first half. Bjorklund made a variety of shots, hitting 4 of 8 3-pointers or driving at will. Her reverse dribble around the perimeter and burst along the baseline for a reverse layup put the Lady Vols up 38-29.

Tennessee led by as many as nine points in the half and kept finding the shots it needed to end Texas rallies. The Longhorns got within 40-37 on Yvonne Anderson's 3-pointer before Bjorklund made her fourth 3-pointer of the half in a 6-0 run.

Nash kept making the shots that kept the Lady Vols from pulling too far away. Nash was 6 of 8 from the field in the first half with four 3-pointers. A defensive lapse by the Lady Vols let Nash slip into the right wing for a wide-open 3-pointer with 5 seconds left to pull the Longhorns within 48-42.

"We made them pay for being in their zone. In the second half, we made too many turnovers and that led to transition for them," Nash said.

Texas clamped down on Bjorklund in the second half, holding her to just one shot over the first 12 minutes. But the Lady Vols finally pushed to their first double-digit lead on consecutive fast breaks after Texas missed shots.

Bjorklund fired a long pass to Simmons for an easy layup and 20 seconds later, Simmons was out front on another break. She missed the contested layup but Kelley Cain was there for an easy putback and a 65-54 lead with 13:43 to play.

The lightning-quick Simmons was on the run in just about every Tennessee break. Her layup started an 11-1 Tennessee run that put the game away. Taber Spani made a 3-pointer from the left corner and Shekinna Stricklen had a fastbreak layup and a three-point play to put the Lady Vols up 82-64 with 6:38 left.

Simmons is from the San Antonio suburbs about 60 miles away. She played in three high school state tournaments on Texas' court but never won a title.

"I was nervous" about the chance to play so close to home in front of a lot of family, Simmons said.

She didn't look it when she had a steal and layup for the Lady Vols first basket of the game and hit a 3-pointer moments later.

Simmons said she always dreamed of playing at Tennessee for Summitt and never considered signing with Texas.

"When I first saw her in high school, I was like 'Wow.' If we could get a player like her, she could be a difference maker," Summitt said.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Lady Vols Cruise Past Old Dominion 74-44

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has seen just about everything in her career. She still takes delight in the success of her freshmen.

Meighan Simmons scored 14 points and Tennessee (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) cruised past Old Dominion 74-44 on Sunday, closing the first half with a full-court press that fueled a 30-14 run.

"It's been pretty amazing to see a freshman that is just fearless and just loves the game," Summitt said. "Did I think Meighan would come in and be a freshman and start? No. I thought, 'It'll take her a while.' It didn't take me long to figure out we didn't need a while.

"We needed yes," Summitt said, "right now."

Tennessee (8-1) led 40-22 at halftime after holding Old Dominion (3-3) almost 3 minutes without a basket during its big run. The Lady Monarchs opened the second half with more energy but still struggled from the field, shooting just 31.6 percent and going 4 for 21 on 3-pointers.

"I have surprised myself," Simmons said. "Like Pat said, she didn't expect it, and neither did I. I don't know. I really can't explain it."

The Lady Monarchs (3-3), who opened the season with a 65-63 win at Georgia Tech and beat Louisville 69-65 on Nov. 26, shot 32 percent for the game and were outrebounded 41-33.

Tennessee, by contrast, heated up behind senior guard Angie Bjorklund, who was scoreless in the first half. She hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Lady Vols' lead to 48-29 about 4 minutes into the second half. Kelley Cain's basket stretched the lead to 21 with 13:10 left.

Simmons, who was 5 of 13 from the floor, came into Sunday's game shooting 48 percent from the floor and 37 percent from long range. She scored 28 points in Tennessee's 99-55 win against Lamar on Dec. 1, setting a single-game record for the Lady Vols with eight 3-pointers.

"She's probably their most versatile offensive player, in that she can take it off the dribble, she's got a mid-range game, and she's got the long ball," Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry said. "It's real difficult to play her anything but straight up."

Shekinna Stricklen had 11 points and Kamiko Williams added 10 for the Lady Vols, who shot 47 percent and committed 18 turnovers -- but forced 22 of them.

Simmons, leading Tennessee with 17 points per game, has scored in double figures in all nine games. Her performance Sunday, which also included a team-best four assists, was highlighted by a spectacular off-balance jumper while falling out of bounds in the first half.

Simmons scored 28 points in Tennessee's 99-55 win against Lamar on Dec. 1, setting a single-game record for the Lady Vols with eight 3-pointers.

Tennessee is now 35-9 all-time against Old Dominion, which got 16 points from senior guard Jasmine Parker. That made her the 28th player in school history to score 1,000.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lady Vols Cruise Past Lamar, 99-55

KNOXVILLE -- Meighan Simmons opened the game with consecutive 3-pointers. When the final buzzer sounded, the freshman had broken Tennessee's single-game record for 3s, most recently set by teammate Angie Bjorklund.

Simmons, making her first career start at point guard, scored 28 points and sank her eighth and final 3 with 2:03 left as the Lady Volunteers (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) beat Lamar 99-55 on Wednesday night. She surpassed the previous record of seven, most recently set by Bjorklund against Arkansas on Jan. 24, 2008.

"I think we'll have a little competition now to see if Angie can get Meighan a little fired up and pass her back," coach Pat Summitt joked after the game. "[Simmons] is so light on her feet, so aggressive offensively and defensively. That just speaks volumes to have a freshman do that. She just loves the game of basketball. I think she really inspired everyone else."

Simmons has scored in double-digits in every game this season, and her shooting helped Tennessee overcome a sloppy start wrought with the kind of turnovers that plagued it in a 69-58 loss to No. 12 Georgetown on Saturday in the Paradise Jam, the Lady Vols' first loss of the season. They committed 29 turnovers in that game and had 10 in the first half against Lamar.

But the Lady Cardinals couldn't convert them into points, and Tennessee (7-1) jumped out to a 12-0 lead. Lamar, a team that returned three starters from last year's squad that reached the NCAA tournament, missed its first nine shots before Monique Whittaker hit a layup with 15:12 left in the half.

Lamar had problems hanging onto the ball, committing 29 turnovers that led to 33 points for Tennessee, which also got 26 second-chance points by outrebounding the Lady Cardinals 54-40.

"We are not a bad rebounding team, but I had people standing under the basket instead of pushing and fighting and clawing," Lamar coach Larry Tidwell said. "In our five-game winning streak we outrebounded everybody."

The Lady Vols' early points came mostly from the perimeter and mostly from Simmons, who had 17 points by halftime on 6-of-10 shooting and five 3s. The Lady Cardinals (5-2) couldn't keep up, and Tennessee took a 49-27 lead into halftime.

"[Simmons] is one of the most confident players I've played with, and I have complete respect for her on the court," Bjorklund said. "When she's hitting like that, it opens up a lot for everyone else."

After the break, Simmons cooled off a bit, giving her teammates a chance to light up the scoreboard. Shekinna Stricklen fought her way into the paint, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Kamiko Williams had 13 points, and Glory Johnson had 12 rebounds.

Bjorklund, who came off the bench, took over in the backcourt with 15 points and set a record of her own. Her nine attempts from 3-point range gave her 633 career tries, breaking Shanna Zolman's previous record of 626. She needs 13 3-pointers to tie Zolman's career record of 266.

Tennessee pulled away in the second half and led by as many as 45 with 2:10 left as Lamar shot 30.6 percent. Ang Green led the Lady Cardinals with 15 points.

"I wouldn't say we were nervous, but maybe a little anxious," Whittaker said. "We just wanted to do our best. We really couldn't control what they were doing, but we have to make sure we play within ourselves."