Shekinna Stricklen and Pat Summitt
Jan. 3, 2009
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) -- Pat Summitt has been in all sorts of crazy games in her Hall of Fame career. She couldn't remember one quite like this.
Her Lady Volunteers, led by Shekinna Stricklen's 16 points and 11 rebounds, pulled off the biggest comeback in school history by rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit to stun Rutgers 55-51 on Saturday.
"Never in my 35 years of coaching have I seen a game like that," said Summitt, who earned the 994th win of her career. "I've been in a lot of games, I've been behind a lot in my career, this one stands out as one of the most special."
The only game that came close to this was when the Lady Vols rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to stun Virginia in the regional finals of the 1996 NCAA tournament.
"This group will go down in the record books," Summitt said.
Trailing 33-13 at the half, Summitt ripped into her inexperienced team telling them it would be a long plane ride home for the Lady Vols if they didn't start playing with some "Tennessee pride."
The Lady Vols, who had never trailed by 20 points at halftime before, responded, with the first 11 points of the second half.
"We came in and regrouped at halftime," said Angie Bjorklund, who scored all of her 12 points in the second half. "It doesn't matter how much we're down, we look at it that it's a zero-zero game. I give a lot of credit to Rutgers. They did a great job defending us and we didn't know how to handle it. They were shooting lights-out."
Trailing 49-40 with 6:40 left, Tennessee (11-2) went on a 13-0 run. Bjorkland's jumper with 1:30 left gave the Lady Vols their first lead of the game at 51-49. Prince missed a floater on the other end and Stricklen hit two free throws with 39.8 seconds left.
Prince made a tough jumper in the lane to cut it to two with 21.8 seconds left. She then forced a jump ball, giving Rutgers a chance to tie the game, but Kia Vaughn missed underneath and Bjorklund sealed the game from the free throw line.
"They were keying on (Bjorklund) big-time in the first half," Summitt said. "We had a one-sided conversation. She stepped up."
The rivalry between the two schools has become more intense over the last two seasons. Tennessee beat Rutgers for the 2007 national championship. Last season, the Lady Vols topped the Scarlet Knights in a controversial game when Tennessee's Nicky Anosike made two free throws with two-tenths of a second left.
The free throws followed a fast-paced sequence in which Candace Parker missed a shot with 1.8 seconds left. Anosike grabbed the offensive rebound under the basket and was fouled -- after the final buzzer should have sounded.
Tennessee turned the ball over on 11 of its first 14 possessions and Rutgers took a 14-0 lead. The Lady Vols trailed 23-4 with 7 minutes left in the half before managing to finish with 13 at intermission. The previous lowest was 14 points in the first half against Virginia at the regional finals in 1996.
"Obviously this was a tale of two halves," Summitt said. "We couldn't do anything right in the first half. We missed shots and turned the ball over."
Tennessee's previous largest first-half deficit was 19 against Mississippi in 1996.
The Lady Vols cut Rutgers' lead to 33-24 on Glory Johnson's jumper with 15:20 left.
"We told each other in the locker room that the first four minutes was the most important of the game," Lady Vols forward Alyssia Brewer said. "We knew that if we came together and took it one possession at a time we could get it done."
Brittany Ray, who scored 14 points, ended Rutgers' drought by hitting a deep 3-pointer from the corner as the shot clock went off to restore a 12-point advantage. Tennessee kept chipping away and trailed by eight when Stricklen hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
"We came out a little sluggish in the second half and we didn't have the same intensity," Ray said. "When they scored the first 8 points we got a little complacent on offense."
The teams traded baskets before Prince's jumper made it 49-40 with 6:40 left, but Rutgers went scoreless over the next six minutes.
Bjorkland had five points during the spurt and Stricklen hit three free throws.
"When you let people like that believe that they can win you're in trouble," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "This group is champions. They didn't have a hesitation about playing. We're afraid to lose. You don't understand the great benefit of playing to win. You have to risk failure for success. There's no such thing as a moral victory. It stings as much as we lost at their place."
Summitt earned her 400th win against a ranked opponents and is 13-2 against Stringer, a fellow Hall-of-Famer.
Tennessee was able to pull off this improbable comeback without starting forward Vicki Baugh, who was sidelined with a sprained left ankle she injured in practice on Thursday.
"It's a huge statement we won this game without Vicki," Brewer said.