Tennessee coach Pat Summitt expects Shekinna Stricklen to be a team leader and an All-American. Problem was, she wasn't playing like either.
So Summitt had what she called a "prayer meeting" on Saturday with Stricklen, who averaged just 6.5 points and three rebounds in wins against LSU and Alabama, to remind her of her role. Stricklen responded with 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Lady Volunteers to an 86-46 victory over Mississippi on Sunday.
"All I can say is coach chewed me out," Stricklen said. "We had a good long talk." Stricklen admitted she thought her role had changed a bit this season since she's playing inside more and the Lady Vols (15-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) have been scoring more consistently. Summitt assured her she's still allowed to shoot from wherever she feels comfortable and is expected to be aggressive on defense.
"I had a prayer meeting with her, and my prayers were answered," Summitt said. With Stricklen playing well, Summitt had no complaints about Tennessee's 21st consecutive win over the Ole Miss. The Lady Vols are playing with the kind of consistency she has demanded of them for nearly two seasons and have been dominating their opponents as a result.
Tennessee logged their fourth blowout in five games, outscoring opponents by an average 37.6 points and shooting 50 percent or better in that stretch. "We want the team to set the bar at the same place our staff has set the bar," Summitt said. "They're starting to buy in and take ownership, and when you take ownership great things happen."
The Rebels (8-6, 1-1) have recorded at least 40 rebounds in 10 games this season, but the Lady Vols limited them to 31 while grabbing 53 of their own. They also held Mississippi to 26.6 percent shooting.
Tennessee also brought a balanced offense that shot 50 percent with Meighan Simmons also getting 18 points, Taber Spani adding 14 and Glory Johnson contributing 10.
Tennessee led 16-12 with 9:13 in the first half when they launched a 15-2 run that began and ended with a 3-pointer by Stricklen and gave the Lady Vols a 31-14 lead. A layup by Kamiko Williams just before the buzzer sent Tennessee to the locker room with a 42-22 lead, its largest margin in the half.
Mississippi had six days to prepare for the Lady Vols, but Valencia McFarland was the lone Rebel who seemed to give them trouble in the first half. She got 13 of her team-leading 16 points before halftime.
"The atmosphere was great. I loved it, and I was ready. I tried to use my quickness to my advantage," McFarland said.
Meanwhile, Kayla Melson, who averages 15.5 points and had a career-high 30 points in the victory a 72-67 win against Vanderbilt on Jan. 2, was 0-for-7 at the break. Melson finished with 11 points, and Shae Nelson had 10.
The Rebels have come from double-digit deficits to beat Vanderbilt, Illinois and Gonzaga this season but shot even worse in the second half.
"I was sad we didn't bring the same fight in this game," Mississippi coach Renee Ladner said. "Of course, maybe we were fighting and Tennessee was just too much for us."