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.”