After a close encounter in their last game against Ole Miss in which they needed an Angie Bjorklund 3-pointer to survive in a tough road win, the Tennessee Lady Vols responded with a dominating 83-44 victory against their SEC East foe, the Florida Gators, on Sunday afternoon.
In a first half where the Gators hung in by nailing six 3-pointers to keep within reach of the Lady Vols, Tennessee made some second-half adjustments defensively and held Florida to only 16 points after intermission. Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt was pleased at her team’s defensive performance in the second half when they put the Gators out of sight.
“I think it was our committment to play defense,” she said. “We ran a switching man. ... We even had (center) Kelley Cain switching out on the floor. So they just buckled down and did what they had to do. I thought the long close outs and not giving them the open three, they had to play off the bounce, and that allowed us to defend better in the paint.”
The Lady Vols (23-2,11-1 SEC) were led inside by Cain who scored 19 points while adding eight rebounds and seven blocks. The guard play was also a key factor as Bjorklund poured in 24 points with backcourt mate Shekinna Stricklen scoring 12 points and dishing out four assists.
However, the main spark in the second half was provided by Alicia Manning, who, in starting her second game in a row, tallied 11 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. Manning, who was making her second straight start at the third guard position, spoke about how she finally got on track in the second half on both sides of the floor.
“It’s actually the reverse,” she said. “I think my offense is fed off my defense. So when I get stops, get steals, I feed off my teammates and get more confident, which is when I loosen up in my offense.”
In a nip-and-tuck first half, the Gators (13-12, 6-6 SEC) scrapped and clawed, gaining the rebounding edge over the Lady Vols, 23-18. Florida’s 3-point barrage kept the Gators in the game for the majority of the first half.
Up 23-21, the Lady Vols went on an 8-0 spurt to take a 10-point lead and opened up a slight advantage over the resilient Gators. Florida then came back and hit a 3-pointer and went into halftime down 34-28.
Over the course of their second-half demolition of the Gators, the Lady Vols outscored their rivals by more than tripling Florida’s field-goal shooting, 65 percent to 21 percent. UT limited Florida to only two 3-point field goals, compared to six in the first half, and no free-throw attempts throughout the course of the game.
The Lady Vols also forced 20 Gator turnovers, which led to 31 points, and dominated points in the paint, 42-20. Despite the eruption in the second half, Summitt noted the significance of starting out the game strong.
“At halftime, we talked about becoming a 40-minute team,” she said. “I said, ‘You’re not going to make it to San Antonio, you’re not going anywhere, you’re not going to be in the tournament very long unless you invest as a basketball team for a 40-minute game or more,’ and they responded obviously in the second half.”