Shekinna Stricklen has played many roles for Tennessee this season. Spectator has been but a brief undertaking.
But there she was, sitting near the end of the bench during the Lady Vols’ 80-61 SEC women’s basketball victory over Alabama Thursday night, her right knee swaddled in ice.
The freshman guard suffered a subluxation of her right patella with 10 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half, tumbling to the court and crying in pain after a collision with Crimson Tide guard Tamara Williams. Stricklen didn’t return to the game but did reappear on crutches shortly after halftime.
“We let her watch the second half because we’re not cruel,’’ said Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols associate athletic director for sports medicine.
Stricklen’s injury necessitated an appearance by Moshak in the postgame interview room.
“The good news is she did not tear her ACL,’’ said Moshak, referring to the anterior cruciate ligament. “… The major ligaments of the knee are fine. Now it’s matter of wait and see. … It’s a matter of how the knee responds.”
Stricklen has missed just one game this season, sitting out a Dec. 18 game at Old Dominion because of illness. Whether she misses Monday’s game against fourth-ranked Duke remains uncertain.
Initially, the injury caused a hush to fall over the crowd of 12,907. After she literally was carried off the court, Stricklen’s departure could’ve cast a pall over UT’s play as well.
The 15th-ranked Lady Vols (18-6, 7-3 SEC) responded in a solid, occasionally unusual manner — at least on offense — against Alabama (12-13, 0-10).
Despite losing their leading scorer, four Lady Vols still scored in double figures, led by Alex Fuller’s 18 points. Angie Bjorklund scored 13. Reserves Sydney Smallbone and Alicia Manning added 11 and 10 respectively.
Without their backup point guard, the Lady Vols recorded a season-high 26 assists. Every Lady Vol contributed at least one to the total. Stricklen managed three assists before going down. The leader, though, was 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman center Kelley Cain, who had five in her first start.
“That’s another threat we have on the inside,’’ Fuller said. “It’s not only her passing, but her ballhandling. She led the break.
The reference was to Cain stealing a pass on the wing shortly before halftime and dribbling up the court. She slipped a pass to Smallbone for a pullup jumper.
Asked what she thought about Cain’s guard-like foray, Fuller’s offered a hearty thumbs-up.
“Do your thing girl,’’ Fuller said.
Along with the assists, Cain had nine points and eight rebounds. Freshman Glory Johnson, in her first game as a reserve, had a team-high 10 rebounds to lead UT’s 51-31 advantage.
“I was pleased with how she responded,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said of Johnson. “She wanted to come in and compete and help the team out.”
Stricklen’s absence was most evident on defense, where two Crimson Tide guards took their place among the opposition’s constellation of shooting stars.
Dedrea Magee, heretofore a 35.9 percent field goal shooter who was averaging 6.5 points per game, scored a team-high 21 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
“I was kind of open and I just took the shot,’’ she said.
Fellow guard Varisia Raffington added 19 on 8-for-15 shooting.
With the possibility of Stricklen being out against Duke, Tennessee gave its matchup zone defense a lengthy second half workout.
“I was willing to give up a shot or two here or there just to have the experience.’’ Summitt said.
All things considered, Tennessee will be better off when Stricklen relinquishes her spectator role.
“She knows that she’s going to have to rehab hard to get back for Duke and that we need her for Duke,’’ Fuller said.
Notebook: The Lady Vols will wear white uniforms with pink trim Monday, not pink uniforms as originally reported. … Former Powell High standout Caitlin Hollifield has transferred from Alabama to Western Carolina.