Summitt inspires Lady Vols past OSU


ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Tennessee guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen (40) is guarded by Ohio State center Jantel Lavender during the second half of an NCAA women's college basketball tournament regional semifinal, Saturday, March 26, 2011 in Dayton, Ohio. Stricklen led Tennessee to an 85-75 win with 20 points.

Associated Press

DAYTON

There are halftime chats and then there are coach’s rants. Pat Summitt hasn’t won 1,071 games by not knowing when to let her team have it.

Summitt absolutely lit up her Tennessee Lady Vols at the break and their regional semifinal game Saturday tilted soon after.

With Shekinna Stricklen scoring 14 of her 20 points in the second half and touching off a critical 11-3 second-half run, Summitt and the Lady Vols moved into their accustomed spot in the Elite Eight with an 85-75 win over Ohio State.

“It was about an 81/2,” she said, rating her halftime speech on a scale where 10 is when the paint peels off the walls. “I wasn’t real happy.

“But that’s what you have to do at times. You go into the locker room and get a feel. One thing about this team, they do respond. Sometimes I think they kind of like to hear the coaches going off.”

The Lady Vols (34-2) won their 25th consecutive game, but only took control with their charge in the final minutes.

Meighan Simmons added 18 points and Kelley Cain — inserted into the starting lineup to offset Ohio State’s height advantage — had 16 for Tennessee, which is pursuing a ninth NCAA title. The Lady Vols meet Notre Dame, a 78-53 winner over Oklahoma, in the regional championship game on Monday night, with a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis on the line.

“Coach kind of lit a fire under our butts in the second half,” Cain said. “We played better. We were getting up in their grilles, making them play at a different level than they were used to.”

Simmons grinned as she said, “Coach went off on us in the locker room.”

None of the Lady Vols were really surprised. They had not been aggressive on defense, leading to Ohio State (24-10) shooting 67 percent in the opening half. The Buckeyes led by as many as six before settling for a 42-40 lead at the break.

“We played on our heels a little more in the first half,” said Angie Bjorklund, who didn’t score but had seven assists.

Ohio State got as close as eight points in the last minute, but Stricklen scored seven in a row for the Lady Vols to hold the Buckeyes at bay.

The game was played a little over an hour away from Ohio State’s campus, but there appeared to be more orange than scarlet and gray in the crowd of 8,813.

By the end, the thousands of Tennessee fans were chanting, “S-E-C! S-E-C!”

Samantha Prahalis had 22 points and seven assists for the Big Ten champions, while Jantel Lavender had 19 points, Johnson 16 and Tayler Hill 12. It was a bad 24 hours for Ohio State, which also had its top-seeded and top-ranked men’s team eliminated in the sweet 16 on Friday night by another traditional power, Kentucky.

Everything seemed to be going the Buckeyes’ way on Saturday afternoon until Stricklen took over and the Lady Vols amped up their effort.

“For about 33 minutes, we played sound, smart basketball,” said Buckeyes coach Jim Foster, making his 25th NCAA appearance in 33 years as a head coach. “For about 7 minutes, we didn’t. And that 7 minutes really cost us.”

Summitt said mental adjustments were needed at halftime far more than anything she could draw up on a dry-erase board.

“Obviously, our defense had to pick it up. I told them that’s where we have to invest with all of our energy,” she said. “We did a good job with that. Then our board play got a lot better. I don’t know what they were thinking in the first half, but we didn’t have the same energy level.”

But then Summitt expended some of her own energy at halftime.

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