Nov. 25, 2009
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Glory Johnson is just one of the Tennessee Lady Vols who have been working hard to improve since their early exit from the NCAA tournament last spring.
She showed off her shooting touch against Middle Tennessee.
Johnson scored a career-high 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Tennessee (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) beat Middle Tennessee 69-52 on Wednesday night before the first sellout crowd in Blue Raiders' history. She even dunked in pregame warmups, not that any of the fans noticed.
"I kind of surprised myself how consistent my shots were from the free throw line, being able to shoot jump shots I don't normally shoot too much of in the game," the sophomore said.
Familiarity didn't hurt either.
Pat Summitt hadn't brought her Lady Vols to Middle Tennessee since Nov. 26, 1979, when assistant Holly Warlick was a senior. Only 1,500 showed up that night for a Tennessee win. This time, Summitt came to play old friend Rick Insell's program, and 11,802 turned out to easily top the 10,010 when top-ranked Maryland visited Nov. 10, 2006.
But Johnson won a state title on this court in high school and missed a second by two points. Summitt said Johnson has matured on and off the court.
"She has been working on her offensive game a lot. She's a quick jumper, she can get inside people. She can get the ball up high on the glass. She's just been terrific for us. I like her competitiveness and her composure," Summitt said.
Alysha Clark, the nation's leading scorer last season, finished with 23 for Middle Tennessee (2-2). Jackie Pickel added 16.
Insell has taken the Blue Raiders to the NCAA tournament in three of his first four seasons, and they were ranked before a road loss to LSU last week. He finally got Summitt to visit him after traveling to Knoxville the past couple seasons, and Insell was happy to see most of the crowd wearing blue.
"Do we like losing to either one of them? No we don't. But we've got to play those type teams to move our program to where it needs to be. We're going to continue to do this," Insell said.
One of the first questions Summitt heard was when will Tennessee come back. She noted the Lady Vols are scheduled up for the next three or four seasons.
"You can look at the crowd that was here and know the people in this area they embrace women's basketball and they support it," Summitt said. "Rick has done a great job in the community of getting out and a lot of our coaches in our game are not passionate about that."
But Tennessee improved to 18-0 against Middle Tennessee, a program that just played its 1,000th game last weekend. Compare that to Summitt, whose career record now is 1,009-193.
Clark averaged 27.5 points per game last season and was coming off a 38-point performance in a win last weekend. Tennessee had the size advantage on the 5-foot-10 forward who found herself mostly guarded by 6-6 Kelley Cain. Clark didn't hit her first bucket from the floor until 2:54 left in the first half, and she had only three points before the break.
Summitt said she thought her Lady Vols did a great job with the scouting report defending Clark in the first half by double-teaming her when she got the ball.
"I thought she did a better job getting open in the second half. Some of that too was mixing our man and our zone. She got more looks out of our zone," Summitt said.
The Blue Raiders led only once, at 3-2 on Chelsia Lymon's 3-pointer. Taber Spani scored on a layup to put Tennessee back ahead, and the Lady Vols never trailed again. The Lady Vols seemingly couldn't miss, hitting 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) in the first half.
Middle Tennessee too often settled for outside shots over the taller Lady Vols and couldn't hit enough.
Brandi Brown's 3 with 7:18 left pulled Middle Tennessee within 22-20. Tennessee responded with eight straight points as Stricklen and Johnson each scored twice. Alyssia Brewer's layup with a minute left gave the Lady Vols their biggest lead at 35-22, and Tennessee took a 35-24 lead into halftime.
Clark finally got going in the second half, scoring 11 straight points for Middle. Her bucket at 8:31 pulled Middle within 54-42. Bjorklund scored, then Stricklen hit a pair of free throws to pad the lead.
The Lady Vols eventually led by as much as 20.