Nicky Anosike was giving herself no credit. None. There was no question in her mind.
Tennessee’s senior center was thinking along those lines before stepping to the free-throw line Monday night.
“I didn’t do anything to help this team,’’ she said. “I didn’t do anything to help us win.”
That trip to the line changed everything. Anosike, a 64.4 percent free-throw shooter, swished a pair with two-tenths of second remaining, doing exactly what the No. 1 Lady Vols needed for a controversial 59-58 women’s basketball victory over Rutgers before a crowd of 17,690 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“When I was presented with an opportunity to do something,’’ Anosike said, “I had to step up.”
Her free throws, which resulted from a foul called against Scarlet Knights forward Kia Vaughn, came on a rebound putback that TV replays showed occurring after the game clock appeared to freeze with two-tenths left.
At that point, the game clock can only be stopped by a referee’s whistle. The game officials conferred after the call and checked a game monitor before allowing Anosike to proceed to the line.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer was incensed by the turn of events and launched into a lengthy tirade afterward.
“The clock froze,’’ she said. “I’ll remember that.”
Rutgers forward Essence Carson was blown away by the whole final UT sequence, which included a Candace Parker rebound attempt of Shannon Bobbitt’s missed jumper. Anosike then grabbed Parker’s miss.
“It’s unbelievable; I don’t understand,’’ Carson said. “I don’t know how anyone can take that many shots in that amount of time and still have time left on the clock. It bothers me.”
The Lady Vols (22-1), on the other hand, were befuddled by how they managed to survive a second half in which they made six baskets and shot 23.1 percent (6-for-26) from the floor.
UT went more than six minutes after halftime before scoring its first basket and was shooting 1-for-15 at one point.
“I’m not sure how we managed to win this game,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said.
In perusing the statistics, she hung the outcome on her team’s ability to minimize turnovers (eight) and at least take shots as well as winning the rebounding battle, 37-32.
The latter achievement factored into the bizarre finish. As for making shots, Parker hit enough from the floor (eight) and the free- throw line (11) to score a game-high 27 points.
Angie Bjorklund (13 points) and Bobbitt also hit crucial 3-pointers to help Tennessee recover from a five-point deficit in the final 1:24.
Bjorklund’s trey gave the Lady Vols a 57-56 lead with 49 seconds left.
“When the ball was in the air, I was looking, praying, ‘Please go in,’ ’’ Parker said of Bjorklund’s shot.
Another statistic to consider was Tennessee shooting twice as many free throws as Rutgers (30-15) and scoring 10 more points (23-13) from the free-throw line.
Epiphanny Prince scored 21 points for No. 5 Rutgers (19-4). Carson added 18, including a jumper with 23 seconds left to give the Scarlet Knights their final lead.
Rutgers recovered from an 11-point halftime deficit with 53.6 percent second-half field-goal shooting (15-for-28) complementing its strong defense.
Tennessee gathered some important assets at the outset in building toward its 34-23 halftime lead. The Lady Vols shot better than 50 percent from the floor for nearly 10 minutes against one of the best defensive teams in the country. Parker was showing no ill effects from a bruised left knee suffered in last Thursday’s game at Mississippi State. She even tumbled to the floor on an aggressive drive to the basket.
At the same time, a liability was accruing in the form of foul trouble. The whistle was blowing both ways, but the first-half calls had more strategic impact on UT.
First, Bjorklund sat down with two fouls, depriving the Lady Vols of a sharpshooter who had started hot with eight points. Her absence was a factor in UT going nearly eight minutes between baskets before halftime, surviving on seven free throws during that time.
Tennessee also chose to play guard Alexis Hornbuckle with two fouls and paid for it when she picked up her third 4:33 before the break.
Rutgers couldn’t take advantage because at that point the Scarlet Knights couldn’t score either. Their strategy to hold the ball paid early dividends with dribble-drive attempts and pull-up jumpers that produced baskets or drew fouls. As the first half wore on, they settled for more stationary jumpers and watched their field-goal shooting percentage plunge below 30 percent.
Catchings Speaking: Former Lady Vols All-American Tamika Catchings will be the guest speaker Wednesday at the Big Orange TipOff Club luncheon, at noon at Calhoun’s On The River.