Pat Summitt’s team has four double-digit scorers, all of whom were McDonald’s All-Americans in high school.
Junior forwards Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson go 6-2 and 6-3, respectively, and both made the All-SEC first team. Stricklen averages 12.6 points and 7.3 assists per game. She shoots 38.5 percent from three-point range and has 73 assists.
Johnson averages 12.1 points per and 9.5 rebounds per game. She has 47 steals and shoots 54.6 percent from the field.
The team’s leading scorer is 5-9 freshman Meighan Simmons, who averages 13.7 points per game and has a team-high 98 assists.
The only senior starter is 6-0 guard Angie Bjorkland, the team’s best shooter from long range. She is hitting 45.9 percent of her treys while averaging 11.0 points per game.
The fifth starter for a little more than half the season was 6-6 junior Kelley Cain, but 6-1 sophomore Taber Spani started both NCAA tournament games last weekend as Summitt opted for a smaller lineup (Both of them are also McDonald’s All-Americans, in case you wondered.)
The 33-2 Volunteers went undefeated in the SEC and won the conference tournament. They have not lost since a setback at Baylor on Dec. 14, and they finished the season ranked No. 2 in the RPI.
Summitt had a teleconference Wednesday morning that was not terribly enlightening, but here’s a summary anyway:
“Marquette gave us pretty much all that we wanted,” she said of the Vols’ second round game. “I thought they did a great job. Thank goodness we had halftime and that gave us a chance to regroup.”
She felt perhaps being at home her team might have felt some anxiety, which is not all bad, and she was pleased to get a win in front of a great home crowd.
Asked about facing Ohio State head coach Jim Foster, she said, “Obviously I think Coach Foster has done a great job with this team. It will be kind of like old home week from being at Vanderbilt and going to Ohio State. He’s got a really good solid team. Jantel Lavender obviously is the go-to inside. The guard play is pretty solid too. They do a great job of getting the ball inside.
“They’ll push when they can, but just from watching them I think they prefer more of a half-court because they execute so well in the half court. They’re very, very schooled in that and do a great job with ball movement.”
She said 6-1 junior forward Alicia Manning (another McDonald’s All-American) is an X-factor for UT off the bench.
“She’s the one who comes in and can play multiple positions. She’s got a toughness to her game and I really like what she brings to our team. She’s just got a lot of grit and a lot of focus and I think she’s a very strong vocal leader as well.”
Asked if she might consider using a taller lineup against Ohio State, who starts 6-4 Jantel Lavender and 6-5 Ashley Adams, she said maybe.
Regarding Lavender, Summitt said, “She likes the paint. It’s not like she’s going to step way out but she’s really good at running the floor and getting paint points. We’re going to have to match up early and avoid transition.
“She’s got a good skill set and she does take things simple but she’s also very aggressive.”
Then the local reporters harped on the “anxiety and expectations” thing for a while, but she kept saying she didn’t think it was a big deal, and she sounded pretty convincing.
Her players seem to have taken it upon themselves to put the focus where it needs to be, but they are deep enough they don’t have to rely on any certain person.
“I don’t mind shortening the bench this time of the year. The bench has been a plus, but we’ll wait and see.”
She acknowledged the SEC has been down this year.
“What goes around comes around, but unfortunately we haven’t been as strong in the SEC. Hopefully in the future that will change. I think it’s all about getting the players and getting them to play together. We’ve had our struggles with that but I think we’re in a pretty good place right now.”
Asked about tourney games being more physical, she laughed and said, “They let you play in the postseason. Watching some games, it was pretty brutal at times. I do feel like it’s more physical at this time of the season than the regular season, by far.”
Individuals must adjust to that on their own.
“At this point in time you’ve got to have that mental attitude and not worry about anything but getting your job done.”