SPOKANE, Wash. - Angie Bjorklund’s homecoming turned out to be a happy occasion Tuesday night.
Tennessee’s sophomore guard, who grew up here and was playing before family and friends, did her part to enhance the occasion, scoring a team-high 14 points. But she had plenty of Lady Vols help in a 77-58 women’s basketball victory over Gonzaga before a crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Three other Lady Vols scored in double figures. Alyssia Brewer matched Bjorklund with 14 points. Shekinna Stricken and Vicki Baugh each had 12. The eighth-ranked Lady Vols (10-2) built also a 45-30 rebounding advantage with Baugh grabbing a game-high 15.
“All the way down the line, I thought that everyone that came in did a great job,” Bjorklund said.
Gonzaga (11-4) was led by Heather Bowman’s game-high 19 points. The junior forward didn’t have enough help, though, as the Bulldogs couldn’t match Tennessee’s depth and size and suffered accordingly.
“They just stepped up the intensity and we couldn’t go with them,’’ Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “The elite teams do that.”
Tennessee shot 50 percent from the floor (29-for-58) and connected on six of its 14 3-point attempts. Defensively, the Lady Vols gathered 13 steals and held Gonzaga to nine field goals in the second half. Two of those baskets came in the game’s final minute.
“I think that the second half was the first time (this season) we played great basketball on the road,’’ Baugh said. “We didn’t sink to the other team’s level.”
The Lady Vols took their time in getting warmed up. Gonzaga set the early tempo. At one point, the Bulldogs had 10 more shot attempts than the Lady Vols.
The shooting pace enabled them to withstand a 4-for-17 shooting start. They survived on Bowman’s 11 points until her teammates warmed up. A Vivian Frierson basket gave Gonzaga a 23-20 lead with 7:23 left in the first half.
The Lady Vols didn’t record their first takeaway until a Bjorklund steal 9:25 before the break. They had no choice but to match Gonzaga’s scoring pace.
That all changed in a hurry, however. The Lady Vols literally stole the momentum with consecutive steals late in the half. First, Brewer poked the basketball loose in the frontcourt and drove the other way for a layup, beating Gonzaga guard Courtney Vandersloot to the basket. On the ensuing inbounds play, Stricklen swiped the ball and scored a layup in a heartbeat. Just like that UT had a 34-28 lead.
“I think we fed off that,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “Any time you get steals and can convert, it inspires everyone.”
Tennessee added to its advantage as the second half unfolded. After adding another steal, Brewer expanded her repertoire, pulling off the prettiest assist of the night. Double-teamed down low, the freshman forward flipped a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to a wide-open Baugh for a layup.
“I saw that and I was like ‘geez’ ’’ Bjorklund said. “A lot of people surprised me in this game.”
After getting an eyeful of the Lady Vols, Graves was certain as to who’s the most important.
“Angie Bjorklund is the difference-maker on that team,’’ he said. “They’re a better basketball team when she’s on the floor. I don’t say that just because she’s a local.”
Bjorklund made a difference in this game and the locals responded in gracious fashion, surrounding her afterward.
“How can you pass up on Tennessee?” Graves said. “You want her to go there. That’s where she belongs.
“Would we have loved to have her here? Sure. But how can the Spokane community begrudge her that?”