The Tennessee Lady Vols erased a 10-point deficit in the waning minutes of a lethargic first half performance and proceeded to outlast a motivated UCLA squad 61-47 Saturday in Knoxville to remain unbeaten.
The Bruins (4-2) were attempting to complete Nikki Caldwell’s Tennessee homecoming by having her become the first former Lady Vol turned head coach to defeat Pat Summitt, but the effort fell short after UT outscored UCLA 18-3 in a nine minute run that began with 4:56 remaining before intermission and ended with 15:35 remaining in the game.
The Lady Vols (5-0) were sloppy for the vast majority of the first half low lighted by 29 percent field goal shooting (nine for 31) and zero points by UT’s leading scorers Shekinna Stricklen (18.3 points per game) and Angie Bjorklund (16.8 ppg).
Though Bjorklund scored 12 points in the second half and freshman Taber Spani scored eight of the next 11 points during UT’s late first half surge to finish as the top scorer with 16 points, Summitt was clearly dismayed with her team during post-game comments.
“I don’t know why we were not focused, why we weren’t competitive and why we weren’t driven.” Summitt said as a glum Bjorklund and Glory Johnson, who scored 11 points, listened to her comments.
“I don’t know why players would come here to wear the orange if they were not driven on every possession.”
“Shekinna looked like she was about to fall asleep,” she added. “We have no seniors, but we have upperclassmen that have to take accountability for bringing intensity.”
“Give Nikki and her staff credit. They were far more motivated than us and outplayed us in the first half.”
“There wasn’t a lot I liked except the final score,” she concluded.
Bjorklund, who is one of the junior elders, took personal responsibility for her team’s early sluggishness.
“We just came out with low energy,” she said. “I take that upon myself as a leader. We have to come out and set the stage in the first four minutes.”
Spani, the freshman starting forward, stated that despite the Lady Vols’ perfect record and top five ranking, that the team cannot be lax.
“As a team we need to be more consistent with our energy, whether it is in practice or in a game,” she said. “We did a better job in the second half, but that cannot happen against any team, especially against a team as good as UCLA.”
Freshman Markel Walker had a double double for the Bruins with season highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds.
Caldwell, the former Lady Vol standout (1990-94) and assistant (2002-08), who is in her second year as the Bruins’ head coach, was elated to bring her team to Tennessee and the Oak Ridge native was pleased with their effort despite the setback.
“They gave a valiant effort,” she said. “They really came out and tried to execute our defensive game plan.”
“I would have liked Angie and Taber to not make as many jump shots,” she added. “We left them open and they killed us.”
“We’re going to take this game and learn from it. We wanted to come into one of the more hostile environments to prepare for PAC-10 play.”
Perhaps the hardest assignment for Caldwell was to convince her family to wear the blue and gold of UCLA for the day instead of the Tennessee orange.
“I threatened my mom today,” she chuckled. “I told her ‘Three hundred and sixty-four days out of the year, you can be all about Tennessee, but this one play that we play, you have to wear the blue and gold.”
Summitt kiddingly concurred. “She (Caldwell) gave her family strict orders there would be no orange or there would be no tickets.”
“I love her family and have ever since I started recruiting her. Nikki is a class act – I’m proud of her and proud for her.”
Summitt had planned to give her team an off day Sunday, but after the UT lapses, she scheduled a practice.
“We’ll practice tomorrow,” she stated. “It appeared we didn’t respect UCLA. We’ve got to grow up and get ready for every opponent.”
The next opponent is George Washington University on Tuesday at 7 p.m. as the Lady Vols’ home stand continues followed by a visit from 13th ranked Texas next Sunday night at 7. The GWU game will be televised on Sport South and ESPN2 will broadcast the Texas contest.
• Today's starters: junior Angie Bjorklund, sophomores Kelley Cain, Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, and freshman Taber Spani
• Three Lady Vols scored in double figures: Spani (16), Bjorklund (12) and Johnson (11)
• Taber Spani scored eight of UT's final 11 points in the first half, including the last five straight
• Tennessee held UCLA without a field goal from 4:56 to 0:04 to tie the game at 25 apiece on the strength of an 11-1 run
• The Lady Vols did not lead in the first half for the first time this season
• UT's largest deficit of the first half was 10 points with 4:56 left in the first stanza
• Tennessee trailed at the half for the second time this season. In those games, UT is 2-0
• The Lady Vols went on an 18-3 run from the 4:56 mark of the first half to the 15:35 point of the second half; UT went from trailing 24-14 to leading 32-27
• UT outscored the Bruins 36-20 in the second half
• Tennessee outrebounded UCLA 49-35; UT has led on the boards in all five games
• The Lady Vols made a three-pointer for the 378th consecutive game
• Today's attendance was 14,176
• Tennessee will host its second of three straight home games on Dec. 1 when the George Washington Colonials come to Knoxville. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena and will be broadcast on SportSouth.
The win today...
• Gives the Lady Vols a 17-1 record against UCLA and an 8-1 mark in Knoxville
• UT has now won the past 14 games in the series
• Gives the Lady Vols a 56-13 record against the Pac-10
• Gives the Lady Vols a 2-0 record in home games this season
• Improves Pat Summitt to 7-0 against former players who have become head coaches
• Tennessee is 460-45 at home under Pat Summitt
• The Lady Vols own a 309-20 record at Thompson-Boling Arena
• Gives the Lady Vols a 4-0 record in TV games this season
• Head Coach Pat Summitt's career record now stands at 1,010-193 (.840) all time
Freshman Taber Spani:
Finished with 16 points, two off of her career high of 18 against Texas Tech
Tied her career high with six rebounds
Scored eight of UT's final 11 points of the first half, including the last five, to tie the game at 25 with 30 seconds left in the first half
Recorded her second career double digit scoring game
Named Lady Vol Player of the Game
Sophomore Glory Johnson:
Had the first Lady Vol basket of the game - a jumper at the 18:32 mark of the first half
Finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and three steals
Sophomore Kelley Cain:
Tied her season and career high with 11 rebounds
Scored eight points
Posted her fourth career double figure redound game
Sophomore Shekinna Stricklen:
Tallied six points, eight rebounds and three assists
Junior Angie Bjorklund:
Finished with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists
Scored all of her points in the second half
Tied Shannon Bobbitt for fourth in the UT record books with 147 career three pointers; Brittany Jackson is third with 161