A couple weeks ago, after a less-than-stellar first-half performance from her team, Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt was asked if she was running out of material to fire up her players at halftime.
She responded with an assuring “Oh, I can make stuff up.”
On Friday, at halftime of a quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Florida at the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena, Summitt called on a guest speaker.
“I wasn’t very happy and our governor was there so I told him to come up and talk,” Summitt said laughing.
Tennessee governor and former Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam must have said exactly what the Lady Vols needed to hear — or maybe it was their legendary coach. Whatever the case, No. 1 seed Tennessee burst out of the gate and turned a two-point halftime lead into a comfortable 92-75 victory. The fourth-ranked Lady Vols (29-2) advanced to play Georgia or South Carolina in a semifinal at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Tennessee, the regular season conference champ, is riding a 20-game winning streak and has won 31 consecutive SEC games, dating back to Jan. 21, 2010.
It wasn’t easy though as Florida (18-14) put up more of a fight than it had the first two times it played Tennessee this season. In those two matchups, the Gators scored just 40 and 39 points, respectively, and lost by a combined 65 points.
After falling behind by 11 on Friday, they rallied with a 12-3 run to end the first half. Deanna Allen scored two of her team-high 14 points on a driving layup with three seconds left to trail just 38-36 at halftime.
“If you had been in the locker room at halftime, you probably would have heard us,” Summitt said. “Obviously, we just had to really dial them up. I wanted to make sure that everybody went in with passion, to play great defense, to rebound and to take care of the basketball.”
Glory Johnson answered her coach’s call as she made three straight jumpers out of the break and scored her team’s first eight points in the second half to take a 46-39 lead with 17:03 left.
“When Glory was just going back-to-back-back, it was just deflating in a way,” Florida’s Ndidi Madu said.
Added Allen: “We expected them to come out, wanting to make a run because, to them, they should have been up by more than just two on us at halftime. So we just didn’t come out with the same effort and same mentality that we had in the first half and that was our fault.”
From there, Tennessee’s size and muscle wore on Florida. The Lady Vols attacked the paint and drove at the Gators’ post players. It paid off as they grabbed their biggest lead, 80-62, with more than four minutes left. They also put Florida in foul trouble as 6-foot-4 Azania Stewart and 6-foot Jennifer George fouled out with 9:48 left. Madu, a 6-1 forward, joined them on the bench several minutes later as she picked up her fifth foul with 5:22 remaining.
The result was 36 free-throw attempts for the Lady Vols — they made only 25 — and Johnson was 11-of-16 from the line. She finished with a career-high 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. SEC player of the year Shekinna Stricklen added 20 points and seven rebounds Tennessee shot 69.2 percent after halftime to make up for 18 turnovers.
“We need to work on playing a 40-minute game,” Johnson said. “We’ve tried and tried so we just need to put in effect what we do in practice we need to carryover into the games. I think we will be a lot more successful and make our coaches happy when we do that.”
“If I ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” Summitt chimed in with a smirk.
• No. 2 Kentucky 60, No. 7 LSU 58: Victoria Dunlap scored 13 of her game-high 21 points in the second half but it was an assist that made the difference on Friday.
The Kentucky senior and Brentwood Academy grad zipped a pass to A’dia Mathies, who was slashing in the lane. She finished for a layup, drew a foul and made the free throw to convert the three-point play to give the Wildcats a 59-58 lead with 39 seconds left. That after LSU’s Katherine Graham made a layup to give the Lady Tigers their first lead since early in the first half.
Graham’s contested jumper with three seconds remaining missed the rim and Kentucky (23-7) advanced to play either Vanderbilt or Mississippi State in a semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I was definitely about to shoot it, some crazy shot,” Dunlap said. “I know the shot clock was running down. I saw A’dia cut back door, saw she was opened, passed it to her, she finished.”
LaSondra Barrett scored 19 points and 10 rebounds for LSU, which fell to 19-13 and is on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament.