Lady Vol Basketball vs. Kentucky (via utsportstv)
Knock….Knock - that sound was the Tennessee women’s basketball team wanting to remind the rest of college basketball that they are still well…. "Tennessee."
It was evident from observing both the coaches and the players at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night that something clicked, that they had a synergy; it was almost like they had a family heart to heart talk: revisiting their goals and what they expected out of their each other.
"Not only the loss to Vanderbilt but when we lost to Kentucky by one when we went over there," said Lady Vols senior Glory Johnson after her squad's resounding 91-54 win against Kentucky on Monday. "(We) just wanted to show them that when we're at our house that stuff doesn't happen, playing on our home court and having that advantage and having all our fans and our family here. It's great. We're trying to set an example."
So many pundits and experts have been so quick to write off the Lady Vols, whether it’s the team or their Hall of Fame coach, Pat Summitt. So in Monday’s dismantling of Kentucky - their worst loss since 2003 - it seemed like Tennessee wanted to send a loud statement that would resonate throughout college basketball.
Right as the players were walking onto the court before the opening tip, the demeanor of Tennessee spoke volumes. They seemed extremely focused, determined and intent upon making up for their putrid performances in their losses to South Carolina and rival Vanderbilt.
"Tonight, this team was focused. At times we lose our focus," said Associate Head Coach Holly Warwick. "I don't think we were focused at Vanderbilt, and I don't think we were focused here against South Carolina. I think they made a conscious effort of getting themselves ready to play and it showed.
"You can look how we played those two games and see how we played against (Kentucky) and wonder ‘what team is this?,’ but that's the team we're confident we need to see all the time and that's the team that can be there. They've just got to carry over the things we do in practice to the game."
Tennessee began the game as the aggressors as they opened with a 10-2 run within the first two minutes. Shekinna Stricklen scored early on a 15 foot jumper and then Meighan Simmons opened with two long three pointers that caused Kentucky to use an early timeout. But it wasn’t just the scoring that seemed to galvanize the team; it was the blocked shot that Simmons had that seemed to ignite her teammates and the crowd of 14,807.
Pumping their fists and chest bumping one another after the blocked shot by Simmons seemed to have a lingering effect on both teams: from that point on, Kentucky just did not seem to match the intensity of Tennessee as if they were shell shocked.
"What a great performance by Tennessee," said Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell. "Very energetic and firing on all cylinders tonight, and they were impressive. Our team is not feeling good, embarrassed, down after that kind of performance. As a coach, I really feel like I should have done a better job of getting us prepared to play. It didn't look like we were prepared to play, so that's on me."
Kentucky did not immediately relent as they kept within striking distance of Tennessee for most of the first half. But after the second to last media timeout with 7:30 left, Tennessee went on a 14-2 run to extend their lead to 21. Even though Tennessee had seized complete control of the game, Kentucky’s superstar A'dia Mathies did her best to keep her Wildcats in the game but Tennessee still took a 46-28 lead at halftime. Tennessee shot a blistering 60% in the first half from the field while Kentucky just shot 30%.
Stricklen, Tennessee’s All-American guard, immediately set the tone in the second half and saw to it that there would be no letup.
"I feel like it's very important (playing with high energy)," said Stricklen. "Even my teammates are telling me that. That's really something I have to do every game. I feel like that's something I have let this team down. I just feel like this is a turning point for this team, and it's not just a one-game thing. It's time to keep it going."
And after talking to a women’s college basketball and WNBA analyst, they agreed with Stricklen’s statement as they stated, "If Shekinna Stricklen decides that she wants to win a national championship this year, there's no reason she couldn't carry this team to the national championship. The team has plenty of talent, they just need someone to step up and decide they're going to will this team to wins on the biggest stage."
With the game clearly in hand in the second half, Tennessee not only continued to play at the high level they started the game with, but they somehow took it to another level as their lead over the Wildcats ballooned to 30 points. One would surmise that something or someone had gotten into the Lady Vols and that someone was their esteemed head coach who was the catalyst.
The players seemed to be feeding off the energy of their leader, Summitt. She was very engaged and active on the sidelines. During one of the Lady Vols' runs late in the second half, there was a particular play in which one of Tennessee’s assistant coaches was visibly upset by a referee’s call. Summitt while sitting down simply touched her assistant as to say, "I got this" and got up and gave the referee an earful before giving them her famous "stare."
It remains to be seen if the Lady Vols can play like they did on Monday night for the remainder of the season but for one night, they sent a loud statement that they are not to be written off just yet.
"This was a great team win tonight," said Summitt. "I can tell you our players needed it, our staff needed it and I'm sure our fans needed this win, too."
"Everyone came in and contributed and that is the kind of effort I expect from a Lady Vol team."