No. 5 Tennessee routs Rutgers 87-51
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Rutgers’ trouble reaching Knoxville and fifth-ranked Tennessee’s refusal to reschedule the game left coach C. Vivian Stringer fuming after the Lady Vols routed her Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers’ players were scattered around the country during their 11-day holiday break and bad weather in the Northeast delayed many of them from returning to campus. After Tennessee dominated the Scarlet Knights 87-51 Thursday, an angry Stringer said she sought to reschedule the game when it became clear Rutgers would have to charter a plane to Knoxville late Wednesday without holding a single practice.
“They never saw a tape (of Tennessee) or anything,” Stringer said of her team. “I tell you we could have had far better representation of ourselves. It could have been worth the money, worth the time to come here if we’d had a little bit more (time).”
Tennessee women’s athletics director Joan Cronan said she spoke with Rutgers athletics director Tim Pernetti about rescheduling the game, but said it wasn’t feasible with the upcoming schedules of the school’s men’s and women’s teams.
“I called Tennessee, and you see we’re playing, don’t you?” Stringer said. “They couldn’t do it. I would have done it anyway. I would have done it if we played every day back to back. I back down from no one.”
The lack of preparation became clear early as Tennessee (12-2) jumped out to a fast lead, and a 3-pointer at the baseline from Angie Bjorklund with 18:34 left in the first half capped a 9-2 run to open the game. That shot gave Bjorklund her 267th career trey, pushing her past Shanna Zolman and making her Tennessee’s career leader in 3s.
The Lady Vols used strong shooting to build an 18-point margin but cooled off with about four minutes left before halftime. Leading scorer Taber Spani had 12 of her career-high 22 points in the first half.
Rutgers (7-6) found some rhythm and used a 11-4 run to close out the first half, cutting Tennessee’s halftime lead to 40-29, but the Lady Vols scored nine unanswered points out of the break and gradually pulled away.
The Scarlet Knights were playing without Khadijah Rushdan, who averages 14.3 points per game. Rushdan bruised her knee in Rutgers’ 79-50 loss to then-No. 8 Texas A&M in the Maggie Dixon Classic on Dec. 19.
Rutgers also got only one half of play out of leading scorer April Sykes, who had cramps early in the second half. Sykes still led the team with 15 points, while Nikki Speed had 11 and Erica Wheeler had 10.
Without Rushdan, the Scarlet Knights were without one of their better defenders, and Tennessee took advantage of its size inside. The Lady Vols outrebounded Rutgers 46-27 and scored 36 points in the paint and 20 second-chance points.
Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen added 12 points each for Tennessee, and Bjorklund and Kelley Cain both had 11.
“Our bench outscored Rutgers’ bench 24-1,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “That was a key—our depth.”
Tennessee’s uniforms sported patches with a No. 35 on them in honor of former Lady Vol guard Melissa McCray-Dukes, who died Monday after a battle with breast cancer. McCray-Dukes played on four consecutive NCAA Final Four teams and started on Tennessee’s 1987 and 1989 national championship teams.
Summitt, who wore a No. 35 pin on her lapel during the game, spoke at McCray-Dukes’ funeral Thursday.
“Once you’re a Lady Vol, you stay a Lady Vol,” Bjorklund said. “You continue to be a part of this family, and (McCray-Dukes) will always be a part of our family.”
Tennessee owns a 17-3 advantage in the series with Rutgers and has won the last seven meetings. The rivalry hasn’t been without controversy or close games, though.
In the last meeting at Thompson-Boling Arena on Feb. 11, 2008, then-No. 1 Tennessee got the win on two free throws by Nicky Anosike with 0.2 of a second left. Television replays showed the game clock seemed to pause when Anosike came down with the ball and was grabbed by Kia Vaughn.
Officials reviewed the play, but only to determine whether or not Vaughn’s foul came before the buzzer.
The following season, the Lady Vols trailed 33-13 at halftime at Rutgers on Jan. 3, 2009. Rutgers led by as many as 23 points in the second half before Tennessee rallied for the 55-51 win.