Lady Vols get offensive in tournament
By BETH RUCKER
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summitt loves to remind her Tennessee players that defense and rebounding wins championships. However, the Lady Volunteers are making Headline 1s with their offense in the NCAA tournament.
Junior sharpshooter Angie Bjorklund has been more open to take shots from behind the 3-point line. Freshman Taber Spani and sophomore Alicia Manning are scoring more, too.
"The balance we have been able to have from an offensive standpoint is very encouraging," Summitt said yesterday.
No. 1-seeded Tennessee averaged 83.5 points and shot 50.3 percent from the field in wins over Austin Peay and Dayton in the first two rounds of the tournament, well over its average of 74 points and 46.2 percent shooting.
Sure, the Lady Govs at 15-18 may not have been quite the caliber opponent that the Lady Vols are used to in their tough schedule, but it was the Flyers (25-8) who got the brunt of the offensive production.
Maybe it was a little extra motivation from assistant coach Dean Lockwood, who likes to be silly this time of the year in an effort to keep the players upbeat.
Claiming he was tired of hearing about Tennessee's loss to Ball State in the tournament's first round last season — the only time in program history — Lockwood smashed up a video tape of the game in the locker room before the Lady Vols faced Dayton.
"He was right on target because the thing busted into pieces all over the place," sophomore center Kelley Cain said.
Spani hit her first seven shots, including three 3s, and missed her only field goal with 6:02 left, well after the game was decided.
Manning was 8 of 16 from the field and scored a career-high 17 points. Bjorklund was 3 of 4 from 3 range. All five players who scored in double digits shot over 50 percent — and from all over the floor — and Tennessee won 92-64.
"Everyone who's out on the floor needs to make their minutes count," Spani said. "So I know when I go in, I need to make an impact right away."
Spani said hitting that first shot makes her a little more confident but missing won't keep her from aggressively looking for more shots.
"I'm still going to try to be aggressive, so it's not drastic but it always helps," she said.
The success on the perimeter has especially helped Cain, who often finds herself the focus of opponents' defenses.
"You can't just concentrate on one person. We have multiple people. You need to guard everybody," she said. "You can shut down one person, but somebody else is going to step up."
The extra offense also couldn't hurt as Tennessee prepares for a rematch against fourth-seeded Baylor in Saturday's semifinals of the Memphis regional. The Bears are averaging 71.3 points per game.
They're also doing a good job of crashing the boards, grabbing 43.1 rebounds per game.
"I just have this thought in my head that I am going to go and get everything that comes off the glass," Baylor senior forward Morghan Medlock said.
And that's what worries Summitt.
"I didn't think we hit the boards as hard as we needed to," Summitt said of the first two rounds. "That's going to be a great point of emphasis for us. You never know when you might have a bad day offensively."
Tennessee was outrebounded by Austin Peay in the first half of the opening-round game, and Dayton had just as many boards as the Lady Vols did at halftime of the second-round game, drawing the ire of Summitt in the locker room.
Cain said it's a matter of the Lady Vols focusing on rebounding consistently and not when they feel like it.
"We just have to get it into our heads that if we can't do anything else, we have to rebound," she said.