The fifth-ranked Tennessee women's basketball team trailed at halftime for only the third time all season, but opened the second half on an 18-0 run in route to an 81-55 victory over Mississippi State Thursday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Vols (20-2, 8-0 SEC) were down by as much as late eight points in the first half, but came out after an intense locker room talk to outscore the Lady Bulldogs (8-11, 0-7 SEC) 46-18 over the final 20 minutes, the fewest second-half points given up by the Lady Vols this year.
ì"Was not at all impressed in the first half," UT coach Pat Summitt said. "Thought we had looked at the fact that they did not have a conference win, and we didn't come ready — very, very disappointed in that. But hopefully (it's) a teaching moment, an opportunity for them to understand that this is not the way you do it, not if you are pursuing a championship."
Glory Johnson played as if she was looking to cut down nets in April.
"I don't know what else I can do," said Summitt of Johnson. "I can't buy her dinner. If I could, I would. She was terrific."
The junior from Knoxville scored 22 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, and dished out seven assists, all while filling in for center Kelley Cain, who was out with an illness.
"Glory's a beast," freshman guard Meighan Simmons said. "She stepped up a lot today."
Johnson's double-double was her sixth on the year and 16th in her career.
"I don't see why she can't do that every game," Summitt said. "She's getting the shots she wants, not just the shots that the other team wants her to have."
Guard Taber Spani celebrated her 20th birthday with one of the best performances of her Tennessee career, and did so in front of her parents who made the trip from Lee's Summitt, Mo.
The sophomore finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting after scoring 11 in the first half.
Like Johnson, Spani also had to step up, trying to replace the production of senior guard Angie Bjorklund.
"It was significant," Summitt said of Spani playing a bigger role with Bjorklund out. "They're two of the best shooters on the team. We're used to having a punch from both of them. I was pleased with the way she responded.
"Taber has a good skill set. She's not as athletic (as Bjorklund), but she works on her game. She gets in the gym and makes shots."
Junior Shekinna Stricklen notched her seventh double-double of the season with a 10-point, 10-rebound effort.
Sophomore guard Kamiko Williams also scored in double-figures for the Lady Vols with 10 points, and Simmons added 12.
The Lady Bulldogs rallied from an 8-0 hole to start the game to take a 37-35 lead into intermission. Mississippi State shot 46.9 percent from the field in the first half, and were on fire from beyond the arc, hitting seven 3-pointers.
Summitt puts the blame on the team's lack of focus for allowing Mississippi State's first half offensive outburst.
"That was the worst half of basketball that I've seen this season," Summitt said. "That was a very immature team in the first half. They knew that Mississippi State hadn't won a game in conference this season and though that this would be a cakewalk."
The communication on the defensive end of the court was also absent early on.
"Talking is a little thing that makes a huge difference," Spani said. "I know that all of us want to do that. If one person isn't talking, it makes a big difference, and when we had no one in the first half talking, obviously, you saw what happened. That's unacceptable."
The win gives the Lady Vols their 35th consecutive 20-win season and improves their home-winning streak to 30 games, the fourth-longest streak in program history.
Tennessee also kept its undefeated record against Mississippi State. The Lady Bulldogs are 0-32 all-time against the Lady Vols, being the only SEC school to have never beaten Tennessee.
The Lady Vols return to action Sunday when they travels to Fayetteville, Ark. for a 2 p.m. matchup with the Arkansas Razorbacks.