Tennessee gave its women’s basketball resume a hard-earned rewrite Sunday night.
The Lady Vols scored their first victory over a ranked opponent this season, beating No. 3 Stanford 79-69 in overtime before a crowd of 14,763 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Led by freshman Shekinna Stricklen’s season-high 25 points, the youthful Lady Vols reversed the regular-season drama that played out between the two teams last season at Stanford, when the Cardinal won by four points in overtime.
This outcome will make for a much happier Christmas for the Lady Vols, who are off until a Dec. 30 game at Gonzaga.
“This is so much better,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “I might even buy somebody a gift.”
The 11th-ranked Lady Vols (9-2) were way ahead of their coach, presenting her with a victory achieved the hard way with tough defense. First, freshman Alicia Manning saved Tennessee in regulation by blocking Melanie Murphy’s driving shot with three seconds left. In overtime, the Lady Vols held the Cardinal to 0-for-7 shooting from the field.
“If we had played defense like that all night we wouldn’t have had an overtime,’’ Summitt said.
Angie Bjorklund was UT’s only other double-figure scorer with 16 points.
Jayne Appel led Stanford (8-3) with 19 points. Jeanette Pohlen, who swished a game-tying 3-pointer with 52.6 seconds left in regulation, scored 16. Kayla Pedersen had 15.
The victory looked to have come at a heavy price when UT freshman forward Glory Johnson had to be helped off the court with 2:20 left in overtime. The postgame report, however, was that Johnson suffered a right thigh contusion.
“Knowing the other things that could’ve happened,” Summitt said, “We may have dodged a big bullet.”
The Lady Vols averted some performance pratfalls as well. They were out-rebounded, 50-43, and outscored from the foul-lane area, 36-28.
Their pressure defense, which was instrumental in a 64-48 victory over the Cardinal in last April’s national championship game, was used sparingly with virtually no impact.
To make matters worse, the resilient Cardinal overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 4½ minutes of regulation.
Yet the Lady Vols still mustered a resounding final say in the outcome.
“I think this was a huge growing experience for us, especially in that overtime,’’ Bjorklund said. “We’ve been working on defense since day one. I think in this game (with) our defense, we grew.”
Bjorklund began by picking up where she left off in scoring 29 points against Old Dominion on Thursday night. A pair of early jumpers staked UT to a 17-10 lead.
When the sophomore guard took a breather with 5:28 left in the first half, Stricklen emerged as a scoring accomplice. She popped back-to-back jumpers, including a 3-pointer, as UT’s lead ballooned back to 35-26.
The Lady Vols led by 10 points twice before halftime. The second time resulted from Stricklen exploding to the hoop for a rebound basket that had the freshman guard and her teammates whooping for joy heading into a time out.
Tennessee scored just three baskets in the final nine minutes of regulation. Down the stretch the Lady Vols looked tentative against Stanford’s zone alignment.
Stricklen changed that with three consecutive baskets in overtime, including a pair of 3 pointers.
“At the end of the game, she looked like a go-to player,’’ Lady Vols forward Vicki Baugh said of Stricklen, “which is a really big role for a freshman.”
It was a big role in a big win.