The stat sheet told Pat Summitt to pitch a fit, but Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach knew better.
The Lady Vols’ demeanor suggested otherwise, and Summitt responded accordingly when she entered the locker room at halftime of Saturday afternoon’s regular season opener versus San Francisco.
“That’s the calmest I’ve ever been in 35 years,’’ she said. “and the reason was because they were so uptight.”
After the soothing break, the Lady Vols transformed a jittery eight-point lead into a 68-39 victory before a crowd of 13,400 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Former Webb School star Glory Johnson led No. 7 Tennessee with 17 points. The freshman and senior Alex Fuller shared rebounding honors with 12 in helping the Lady Vols build a 64-41 edge.
Freshman Shekinna Stricklen was Tennessee’s other double-figure scorer with 12 points. She and classmate Briana Bass each recorded a team-high four assists.
Shay Rollins led San Francisco with 17 points.
The Lady Vols’ collective anxiety was exacerbated by the pregame banner-raising ceremony to commemorate last season’s national championship. The festivities revved the crowd, particularly the presence of Final Four MVP Candace Parker. Summitt imagined what was going through the freshmen’s minds.
“I’m sure they were thinking ‘that’s what we’re supposed to do’ all the freshmen had to be thinking that,’’ Summitt said.
“There’s no way they’re going to do it right now. So relax.”
Easier said than done, as evidenced by an opening 20 minutes of rushed shots and tentative play. By comparison, San Francisco looked cool and collected, hanging within 32-24 despite shooting 25.7 percent from the floor (9 for 35).
“I thought that for the first half, we really competed with them and that was our goal — to compete with this team,’’ said San Francisco coach Tanya Haave, a former Lady Vol.
Rollins, a 5-foot-4 senior guard, scored 11 of her points before the break, stirring a small group of San Francisco fans that included her brother Jimmy, the All-Star shortstop of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
The Lady Vols prevailed with their size and athleticism. The 6-3 Johnson combined both attributes in shooting 7 for 11 from the floor. Five of her baskets came from close range, which was a sharp contrast to the jump-shot infatuation that resulted in 2-for-11 shooting last Sunday during the final exhibition game.
“I learned that I’ve got a lot more work to do on my outside game,’’ Johnson said. “I have a lot to work on.”
Stricklen, meanwhile, draped her 6-2 wingspan over Rollins, who shot 1 for 13 after the break.
“I’m just 5-4, so to have somebody that big on me means that I have to work extra hard to get open and get off of screens,’’ Rollins said. “So by the time I get an open shot, I’m tired.”
The only problem Summitt had with Stricklen’s hustle was her tumbling over a row of courtside seats to save a loose ball. A similar maneuver during a preseason practice resulted in an injured elbow.
Summitt said a “three-peat” was allowable under just one condition.
“I said unless we’re in the national championship game and that could be the difference,” she said.
Stricklen pleaded her case by saying, “I thought I was pushed. I’m not sure. I tried to stop. I saw this little girl. I feel kind of bad because I hit the little girl. But I’m O.K.”
So was the young fan, who was hugged by Stricklen and attended to by UT athletic trainer Jenny Moshak, who fetched her an autograph from Parker.