Sunday, February 27, 2011

No. 4 Lady Vols top LSU 80-60 to go perfect in SEC

Shekinna Stricklen is glad to finally have something to brag about after all the struggles she and her Tennessee teammates have been through the past few seasons.

With an 80-60 win against LSU on Sunday, the No. 4 Lady Volunteers wrapped up an undefeated SEC season for only the ninth time in coach Pat Summitt’s 37 seasons.

“That shows a lot right there,” Stricklen said. “This class, this team, we’ve been through a lot. It’s good to finally put something in the record books as a good thing. It just shows we’re more mature and we’re playing better as a team and we’re more committed now.”

Stricklen and eight of her current teammates were part of the squad that became the first and only Tennessee team to be eliminated in the first round NCAA tournament after a loss to Ball State in 2009. The Lady Vols finished fourth in the SEC that year after five conference losses.

Now the Lady Vols (28-2, 16-0) are in good shape for the SEC and NCAA tournaments after beating their conference foes by an average 24.1 points. They’re also the first team to log 16 SEC victories in a season after it added two games to each team’s league schedule last season.

“We didn’t set out for that, but you have to give this team a lot of credit,” Summitt said. “Overall, I think their focus and maturity has really helped us to be successful. This team has good chemistry. They really want to win as a team, and it shows.”

Tennessee needed a strong post game to beat LSU 73-65 to open the SEC season on Jan. 2, but relied more on its outside shooting this time against the Lady Tigers (18-12, 8-8).

Stricklen had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Angie Bjorklund had 17 points in her final home game and Meighan Simmons added 10 points. Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to finish the SEC season with a double-double average of 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, the first Lady Vol to do so since Candace Parker averaged a double-double in 2007.

LSU was trying to get one more impressive regular season victory to make its case for a 13th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Lady Tigers have big victories against Ohio State, UCLA and Georgia while logging a few bad losses and missed getting a first-round bye in the SEC tournament for the first time in 10 years.

The Lady Tigers had held their last eight SEC opponents to 55 or fewer points, but the Lady Vols had logged their 55th point of the game with 15:32 to go off a layup by Johnson.

That was mostly thanks to Tennessee’s first-half shooting. The Lady Vols hit 17 of its first 25 shots and 6 of 9 from 3-point range while holding LSU to 5-of-26 shooting during that stretch, and a 3 by Alicia Manning with 3:29 left in the first half gave them a 44-20 lead.

“I have been watching Tennessee since 1978, and I have never seen them shoot the ball like they did in the first half,” LSU coach Van Chancellor said. “They just shot lights out in the first half. If they can shoot like that all the way, they are going to be a contender for the big championship.”

After struggling against Tennessee’s man-to-man defense, the Lady Tigers settled down and made three straight 3-pointers in the span of 40 seconds, then a pair of free throws by LaSondra Barrett with 44 seconds to go before halftime cut the margin to 44-31.

Tennessee held its lead through the second half until LSU’s Courtney Jones hit a 3-pointer with 2:58 to make it 67-57. Stricklen hit a long jump shot, and Barrett answered with 2:21 remaining in the game, but the Lady Tigers scored only one more point the rest of the way.

Jones had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Adrienne Webb scored 17 points and Barrett added 15.

“It gave us a lot of energy to finish the first half strong, and coming out in the second half we still had that energy, but not all the shots were falling,” Webb said. “We were getting good looks, but they just weren’t going down.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tennessee 66, Mississippi 39

During Pat Summitt’s Hall of Fame coaching career, Tennessee has won 1,064 games in just about every way possible.

Now the Lady Vols can add an indoor rain delay to the list.

No. 4 Tennessee was awarded a 66-39 victory at Mississippi when strong storms sent water spilling onto the floor with 5:24 left in Thursday night’s game.

“When you have a wet floor, we’re not going to play on it,” Summitt said. “We’ve got to protect our student-athletes.”

Players were running downcourt on a fast break when Mississippi’s Kenyotta Jenkins crashed to the floor in the middle of the water and play was halted. The delay lasted about 20 minutes before the game was canceled.

Brian Russell, an assistant director of event operations at Ole Miss, said high winds during the storms caused rain to fly sideways through air vents in the roof.

Russell said the game officials called to get approval from the Southeastern Conference before calling the game.

Summitt and Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner met at midcourt, and both agreed the game should be canceled.

“I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” Summitt said. “Now I hope we can get home.”

Even before the rain delay, there wasn’t much doubt about the outcome.

The Lady Vols (27-2, 15-0) jumped to a 31-7 lead in the first 12 minutes and need one more victory to complete an undefeated conference season for the first time since 2007 and the ninth time overall in the history of the vaunted program.

Glory Johnson led the Lady Vols with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Vicki Baugh scored 12 points and Alicia Manning added 11.

One of Johnson’s few bad moments came when she missed a dunk attempt in the second half. Johnson had the height, but the ball slipped out of her hand as she arrived at the rim. Manning grabbed the offensive rebound and scored.

“I just lost it,” Johnson said laughing. “I thought I was going to have it. But my teammates had my back with the putback. So I’ll pretend we just wanted to get a few offensive rebounds.”

Soon afterward, the rain started to fall through the roof at Tad Smith Coliseum. A big trash can and several towels were placed on the court to try and soak up the damage, but the rain continued to leak onto the court. Severe weather was widespread through Mississippi on Thursday night, with several thunderstorms and tornado warnings.

Players and fans spent the delay dancing to songs blaring over the sound system, and it quickly became apparent that the dripping water wasn’t going to stop soon.

“I would probably have ordered it a little sooner if I had thought it would have helped us out a little,” Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. “It’s strange. It’s bizarre. But things happen.”

Tennessee outrebounded Ole Miss 43-15 and shot 52.1 percent (25 of 48) from the field.

Ole Miss (10-17, 3-12) pulled to 49-35 with 15:05 remaining in the second half, but Tennessee responded with an 8-0 run.

Valencia McFarland had 14 points for the Rebels, who have lost six straight. Ole Miss shot just 31.1 percent (14 of 45) from the field.

“Tennessee is better than we are,” Ladner said. “Against a team like Tennessee, you have to score with them. We had some good looks and just didn’t hit shots.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee wins SEC, beats Georgia 77-44

Meighan Simmons scored 14 points and No. 4 Tennessee cruised to a 77-44 win over No. 22 Georgia on Monday night to win its 16th Southeastern Conference regular season title.

The Lady Volunteers (26-2, 14-0) have beaten their opponents by an average of 24.2 points during their undefeated run through conference play. Their last SEC loss came on Jan. 21, 2010.

This time Tennessee took care of business early against the league’s second place team, jumping out to a 10-2 lead after two fast 3-pointers by Simmons. The Lady Vols used 50 percent shooting in the first half to build a 40-21 halftime lead and led by 37 points late in the second half.

The Lady Bulldogs (20-7, 10-4) made 8 of 34 shots from 3-point range and shot 25.8 percent from the field for the game. Jasmine James led Georgia with 11 points.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Former Lady Vol, UT team up off court

One of UT's favorite daughters returned to campus this week with an opportunity in hand.

Former Lady Vol basketball player Tamika Catchings announced at a press conference on Monday afternoon the partnership of her foundation, the Catch the Stars Foundation, with the UT College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, as well as Knox County Schools.

Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt was on hand to introduce Catchings to gathered media at Thompson-Boling Arena's media center, along with College of Education, Health and Human Sciences dean Bob Rider and I-LEAD Director and Professor Fritz G. Polite.

"It's a real pleasure and honor for me to be here today," Summitt said. "Tamika Catchings is not only a great basketball player, she's an even better person."

The Catch the Stars Foundation, which was founded by Catchings in 2004, aims to provide positive role models for youth in communities. Catchings spearheaded the union with UT as a means of helping at-risk high school students in Knoxville. Knox County Schools, represented by school superintendent Jim McIntyre, also joined in the partnership.

Catchings said growing up as the son of former NBA player Harvey Catchings helped spark her interest in community service.

"We started the Catch (the) Stars Foundation way back in 2004, but it actually started before that," Catchings said. "Even as a small girl, I remember going out to do community appearances with my dad. That kind of showed me that there are other people out there to give back to."

The former Olympic gold medalist, WNBA All-Star and NCAA champion said a yearning to give back only increased when she reached Tennessee as a student-athlete.

"I got here to the University of Tennessee, and being underneath Pat (Summitt), and obviously the program, one of the things we had to do was more community service," Catchings said.

After tearing her ACL during her senior year at UT, Catchings was rehabbing her knee during her rookie season with the WNBA's Indiana Fever. Catchings made it clear to the Fever coaches that her time off the court would not be wasted.

"I remember going to Indiana, and one of the things I told them was, 'Look, I don't want to be home, woe is me. I don't want to be nursing my knee worried about myself,'" Catchings said. "I want to be around kids, because kids make me happy."

In 2001, Catchings started her first basketball camp, which celebrated its 10th year this past season. The response from local families was so strong in Indiana that Catchings started her mentoring program. The partnership with UT will help bring the organization's mentoring and leadership development to Knoxville. Through the CEHHS, Polite and Rider will oversee the program.

Summitt said Catchings' community involvement comes as no surprise to her former coach.

"She was one of those people you always knew had her priorities in order," Summitt said. "When you have your priorities in order, great things can happen.

"She's a shining star and a great example to all of us. What she's doing here today speaks volumes in that regard."

For Catchings, the goal is simple: Make a difference in the future of every child possible.

"We want to make sure that with the girls and the boys, not only do we just offer the programs, but we want to make sure they learn something and that they're able to move forward in life," Catchings said. "For me, I had a lot of mentors, a lot of people that helped me, a lot of people who I could say thank you to.

"With Catch (the) Stars Foundation, my mission is always to empower. I'm really excited about the partnership."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee beats South Carolina 82-60

Pat Summitt is a big fan of the way Alicia Manning plays defense. The reserve forward has spent extra time shooting in the gym this season in hopes of pleasing her coach just as much with her offensive output.

Manning scored a career-high 22 points to lead No. 4 Tennessee to an 82-60 win over South Carolina on Thursday night, its 40th consecutive win in the series.

“I think she’s a player that’s really invested in her game, and there’s no substitute for getting in the gym and getting extra shots,” Summitt said. “She’s playing with a lot of confidence. She’s extended her range, which I think has really, really helped her game.”

The victory secures at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown for the Lady Volunteers. A win over second-place Georgia on Monday would give them their 16th title and third in four seasons.

Manning scored from all over the floor, going 8 of 11 from the field, hitting three of her four attempts from 3-point range and going 3 of 4 from the foul line.

She hit a 3-pointer to cap an early 17-2 run that gave the Lady Vols a 21-7 lead with 10:07 left in the first half. After going 8:12 without hitting a field goal, South Carolina got back-to-back 3s by Markeshia Grant and a layup from Ieasia Walker to cut Tennessee’s margin to 21-5.

The Gamecocks pulled within five points a few minutes later off a three-point play by Walker, but it was the closest they would get. Another Manning 3 pushed Tennessee’s lead back into double digits with 1:32 to go before halftime, and the Lady Vols (25-2, 13-0) pulled away quickly in the second half.

“I’ve been shooting (3-pointers) a lot more in practice,” Manning said. “I was feeling a really good rhythm, so I just took it in.”

Meighan Simmons scored 17 points for the Lady Vols, Shekinna Stricklen contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds and Alyssia Brewer grabbed 10 boards.

Walker scored 16 points for South Carolina (15-11, 7-6), which hasn’t beaten Tennessee since Jan. 23, 1980. Valerie Nainima hit four 3-pointers and finished with 15 points.

“I think we passed the ball well. We had a lot of assists tonight,” Walker said. “We need to move a little bit quicker, but we had a lot of good things we can take from this game.”

Tennessee also got a win at South Carolina this season, overcoming 24 turnovers and surviving a late run by the Gamecocks en route to a 71-56 win on Jan. 20.

That loss seemed to spark the Gamecocks, who won five of their next six games, including victories over ranked foes Georgia and Kentucky during the stretch.

South Carolina did its best to keep pace with the Lady Vols in hopes of getting its third win over a ranked opponent for a second season in a row. The Gamecocks fired away from around the perimeter but hit only 34.9 percent of their shots and finished 8 of 22 from 3-point range.

Things got a little scrappy around the basket at times during the first half. South Carolina was charged with 13 fouls in the first half, leading to 11-of-17 shooting from the free throw line by Tennessee, while Stricklen got called for a technical after tangling with Ashley Bruner on a free-throw shot by teammate Glory Johnson.

The Lady Vols finished 16 of 25 from the charity stripe, outrebounded South Carolina 51-30 and turned 16 offensive boards into 19 second-chance points.

“The outrebounded us by 20 in the last game. We knew it was a difficult feat to outrebound them, but we thought that if we could cut the deficit down by half it would give us a chance to compete and maybe sneak out with a win,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said

“When you have waves of players coming in like they have, it wears you down. If you don’t have players to match up with them, you’re in for a long night,” she said.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee rallies, beats Vanderbilt 65-57

Pat Summitt promises she isn’t running out of material to whip up her Tennessee Lady Vols even in her 37th season.

“Oh, I can make stuff up,” she said.

She must have come up with a doozy at halftime Sunday because No. 4 Tennessee rallied from one of the Lady Vols’ worst first halves ever and beat Vanderbilt 65-57 Sunday for their 15th straight win.

“We had a real good halftime,” Summitt said. “I like halftime more than anything I think. … I ripped everybody. You know, nobody was really stepping up and taking ownership and leadership.”

The Lady Vols (24-2, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) played their third game in seven days and were sloppy scoring only 15 points in the first half, the third-worst scoring performance for 20 minutes in Tennessee’s history.

They came back with a 50-point second half keyed in part by freshman Lauren Avant, who scored all her season-high 11 points in the final 20 minutes. Shekinna Stricklen scored 14 points, and Glory Johnson had 10.

Assistant coach Mickie DeMoss suggested Summitt put Avant in for the second half after the freshman played only three minutes in the first. Avant played 17 minutes in the second and also grabbed two rebounds with four steals.

“She stepped up big time,” Stricklen said of Avant. “She had it all today. She’s the one who brought the energy to us in the second half. She had No. 11 (Jasmine Lister) all frustrated, you know. When you see one person who has defense like that, it brought our energy. We just started being more aggressive on defense. We started making them play faster.”

Avant played only eight games as a high school senior due to shoulder surgery, and illness and injuries had limited her to 58 minutes in nine games coming into Sunday.

“I was definitely nervous, but I just tried to show my confidence, kind of fake it a little to get my teammates upbeat,” Avant said. “We just all responded well to each other. I’ve always had confidence in my defense.”

Vanderbilt (17-8, 8-4) snapped a four-game winning streak that had moved the Commodores from fifth in the SEC to second, just three games back of Tennessee. The Commodores couldn’t hold on for what would have been only their eighth victory all time against Tennessee, blowing an 11-point lead with 13:52 left.

“You hold somebody to 15 and then they score 50?” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “I mean 20 might not have been enough at that point. The frustrating piece, until the last eight minutes we were beating them, and they’re the No. 4 team in the country and there’s a lot to be said for that.”

Jence Rhoads had 15 points for Vanderbilt, and Stephanie Holzer added 10.

Summitt stared stonily at her Lady Vols through the first half when they scored a measly 15 points, shooting 20 percent (5 of 25). That is the third-worst scoring half ever behind the 13 scored against Rutgers on Jan. 3, 2009, and 14 against Virginia in an NCAA tournament regional championship March 25, 1996.

She ripped them heavily at halftime, probably just as she did in those other games.

“It was almost like roll call, trying to find out who’s going to step up and really bring what we had to have,” Summitt said. “But we found a way to win. That’s what championship teams do. They just find a way to win, and I don’t necessarily like watching as we struggle through a lot of possessions. But I think this team has a lot of maturity now, and hopefully we’ll build on it from this game.”

The Lady Vols won both of those, and they came back to win this one too despite being so cold in the first half that even when Taber Spani stole the ball from Lister, her pull-up jumper off the fast break hit off the front rim for Tennessee’s 15th miss of the half.

Tennessee didn’t score a point in the final 5:33 after a fast-break layup by Kamiko Williams pulled the Lady Vols within 24-15.

Vanderbilt didn’t take advantage of the Lady Vols’ woes. The Commodores led only 28-15 at halftime because only Holzer scored on a layup, and Elan Brown added two free throws while Tennessee couldn’t score down the final minutes.

Vanderbilt led 39-28 when the Lady Vols finally got going with a 16-3 run. Avant, hobbled by injuries and illness this season, came off the bench and provided a spark. She scored on a driving layup and converted the free throw and then hit a 3-pointer to pull Tennessee within 42-41 with 7:31 left.

“We couldn’t stop them off the dribble in the second half, and a lot of it was her,” Balcomb said of Avant. “We got caught on switches and had some mismatches and didn’t have our best defender guarding her a lot of the time, and they attacked us.”

Meighan Simmons, who had been 1 of 8 from the floor, hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key that capped the spurt with 5:55 left and put Tennessee ahead 44-42—the Lady Vols’ first lead since 5-2.

The teams went back and forth with Vandy last leading at 49-47 before Williams’ layup tied it up, and Simmons hit a jumper that put Tennessee ahead to stay at 51-49. The Lady Vols led by eight three times down the stretch.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee gets sloppy 61-39 win over Florida

Even a 22-point victory and an 11th straight win in the Southeastern Conference isn’t enough to make Tennessee coach Pat Summitt ignore a sloppy performance by some of her players.

The Lady Volunteers struggled in the paint, shot poorly and turned the ball over often in the first half against a Florida team they’d already beat by 43 points earlier in the season.

They still managed a 61-39 victory against the Gators on Thursday night.

“We didn’t come out and respect them early, and that disappointed me,” Summitt said. “We have to commit all the time. The first game you have to let go.”

Despite frustrating Summitt with inconsistent play, Tennessee (23-2, 11-0 Southeastern Conference) is cruising through SEC play after being picked to win the conference this season. The Lady Vols have beaten their league opponents by an average 25 points per game.

Still, the Lady Vols shot just 33.3 percent in the first half and had five quick turnovers in the first 5 minutes. Forward Shekinna Stricklen knows if they want to keep their winning streak going through the SEC tournament and into the NCAA tournament, they’ve got to improve.

“We have to be focused every game,” she said. “We have to play every team like they’re the best team. Everyone really has their best night against us. We just have to hold each other accountable.”

The Gators (14-12, 4-8) had their own offensive struggles and couldn’t take advantage of Tennessee’s slow start, going cold for 5:44 in the first half after taking a 7-4 lead on a layup by Ndidi Madu with 15:16 before halftime.

Stricklen was one of the few players not to draw Summitt’s ire. While her teammates were turning the ball over and missing their shots, Stricklen made her first four, two of which were 3s, and hit half of Tennessee’s 14 unanswered points during Florida’s scoring drought.

Glory Johnson didn’t have a single point at halftime and got an earful from Summitt because of it. It did the trick as Johnson scored 16 points in the second half to help the Lady Vols pull away.

“She was not sprinting the floor and was being casual,” Summitt said. “You can talk to Glory, though. It doesn’t matter if you yell or if you whisper, she responds.”

The Gators had shot 21.4 percent—their third-lowest shooting percentage ever in a game—in the 83-40 loss to Tennessee in Gainesville on Jan. 13 and didn’t improve much this time. By halftime they’d only hit seven of 32 attempts, and they finished 25 percent.

Florida coach Amanda Butler said she knew she didn’t need to remind her players of how poorly they played in the first game against the Lady Vols, but did anyway in hopes of motivating them to play better this time.

“We felt like we probably played our worst game of the year, and you just can’t do that against possibly the best competition we face all year long. Were we motivated by that? Absolutely, no question.”

Jaterra Bonds scored 10 points for Florida, which has lost its last three games to the Lady Vols by an average 34.7 points. The Gators’ 39 points were a season low by a Tennessee opponent.

“We got killed in the first game,” Bonds said. “We didn’t come out playing how we know how to play and how we are supposed to play. That motivated us to come out even harder and play our best game against them because they are the best team in the conference.”

Monday, February 07, 2011

Lady Vols 73 - KY 67

LEXINGTON, Ky. — As threats go, Pat Summitt’s halftime message to No. 4 Tennessee on Monday night after watching the Lady Volunteers turn it over 17 times in the opening 20 minutes against No. 15 Kentucky registered pretty high on the “uh-oh” scale.

“It was very intense,” said Tennessee forward Shekinna Stricklen. “She said you really don’t want to be at practice with me tomorrow (if this keeps up).”

Stricklen did her best to put her coach at ease, scoring 18 of her 20 points in the second half as Tennessee overcame major turnover trouble to hold off the Wildcats 73-67.

The Lady Vols (22-2, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) ended up turning it over 24 times, but just seven times in the second half to win their 13th straight.

“I love the fact that we had halftime, because we addressed that (turnover) issue,” Summitt said. “I think everyone was a lot more focused in the second half. They shortened their passes and did a much better job of getting the ball inside and not jacking the ball up.”

Meighan Simmons added 15 points for Tennessee, including the clinching free throws with 14.5 seconds left. She turned it over nine times, three times her season average, but gave it away just once in the last 8 minutes after a brief heart-to-heart with her coach.

“The only thing she said to me was keep my composure, sometimes I go 1,000 miles an hour,” Simmons said. “She said just be patient.”

Victoria Dunlap led Kentucky (18-5, 7-3) with 20 points and A’dia Mathies added 18 points, but the undersized Wildcats had their seven-game winning streak snapped once the bigger Lady Vols gained their composure late in the second half.

Kentucky took a 59-58 lead with 6:10 remaining but Tennessee went on an 8-2 run fueled by a pair of baskets from Kamiko Williams and held on.

“We started out strong with a lot of energy and intensity,” Dunlap said. “In the second half … it was a mixture of them taking care of the ball and us letting up.”

It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty. Kentucky made it that way.

Using the fullcourt pressure that has helped coach Matthew Mitchell—a former assistant under Summitt—lead the program to prominence in the competitive SEC, the Wildcats pushed the pace at every opportunity, leaving the Lady Vols gassed at times.

It wasn’t enough, however, for Kentucky to repeat a 10-point win over the Lady Vols during Tennessee’s last visit to Memorial Coliseum in 2009.

“I’m not mad at them,” Mitchell said. “I’m just so disappointed.”

Still, Tennessee had enough even with senior guard Angie Bjorklund missing her third straight game with a sprained right foot.

The Lady Vols outrebounded the Wildcats 45-23, held Kentucky to 40 percent shooting and slowed down Dunlap, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, in the second half.

Dunlap scored just four points after the break and while Mathies did her best to keep the Wildcats in it, Tennessee’s size proved to be too much.

“It was priority for the first half, we didn’t quite get cranked up until the second half with what we needed to do (to stop her),” Summitt said. “She’s a great player and she’s going to knock down shots if you don’t really get up on her early or deny her touches. It’s hard to do that for a 40-minute game.”

Mathies hit a pair of free throws to give Kentucky a 59-58 lead but Johnson and Williams alternated buckets on Tennessee’s next four possessions to put Tennessee back up 67-61.

Kentucky drew as close as 69-67 on a lay-up by Mathies with 16 seconds to go but Simmons, who committed a career-high nine turnovers, atoned with two clutch free throws. Stricklen added two more free throws after Mathies turned it over and Tennessee escaped.

The Wildcats did their best to fluster the Lady Vols from the outset, forcing Tennessee into playing the frenetic style that makes playing Kentucky maddening at times.

It worked. The Wildcats rattled Tennessee so effectively even the easy plays proved difficult. Henderson threw a pass directly out of bounds during one sequence and Simmons missed wildly while tossing the ball to a wide-open Alicia Manning at the top of the key.

Still, the Lady Vols hung around thanks to their size advantage. With Bjorklund out, Tennessee opted to pound the Wildcats inside. The Lady Vols got whatever shot they wanted when they managed to hold onto the ball and despite Dunlap’s brilliance the Wildcats led just 33-30 at the break.