STARKVILLE, Miss. - Shekinna Stricklen was feeling the pain.
The Tennessee guard tumbled to the court early in the second half against Mississippi State and, in her words, "came down on something."
Apparently it was one of her ribs.
"It's still sore,'' she said afterward. "You have to put your team first and fight through the pain."
In so doing, Stricklen was able to inflict the hurt that mattered the most. She swished a clutch 3-pointer with 1:45 left to break a 56-all tie and followed up with four free throws.
Sore rib and all, the freshman guard was instrumental in Tennessee gutting out a 63-56 SEC women's basketball victory over the Lady Bulldogs before a crowd of 4,629 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"She's going to be up for (conference) freshman of the year, I'm sure,'' State coach Sharon Fanning said of Stricklen. "She's a player."
Stricklen finished with a team-high 15 points for No. 13 Tennessee (13-3, 2-1), which won its 29th consecutive game against State. Angie Bjorklund added 14 points and Alyssia Brewer scored 10.
Mississippi State (13-4, 1-2) had three double-figure scorers. Chanel Mokango and Alexis Rack each scored 15. Robin Porter had 12. Mokango, a 6-foot-5 center, had seven blocks.
The Lady Vols won this game the hard way, overcoming 33.9 percent field-goal shooting. They made just eight baskets in the second half.
They persevered without center Kelley Cain, who aggravated her surgically repaired right knee shortly before halftime. While no structural damage was reported, the 6-6 redshirt freshman was unable to return in the second half.
They withstood a head-scratching performance by forward Glory Johnson, who had eight rebounds but also shot 1-for-7 from the floor and scored just three points.
They even got by without Stricklen for four second-half minutes after her fall.
The Lady Vols, who were stung by Sunday's 74-58 loss at Vanderbilt, survived all manner of hardships. They erased a five-point deficit in the final six minutes by holding the Lady Bulldogs to one field goal and two points during that stretch.
"I think that we had to do that,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "It's probably who we are for awhile. Hopefully, we'll get better and be a lot more efficient but I liked their toughness, not letting their offense affect their defense.
Stricklen didn't let her offense affect her offense as well. She was 1-for-10 from the floor before swishing the game's pivotal shot, after a nice feed from Bjorklund.
"I didn't shoot too well tonight,'' said Stricklen, who was a perfect 10-for-10 at the free-throw line. "I really concentrated on that shot. I followed all the way through. I was really happy it went in."
The Lady Vols started by getting stuck on three points for nearly six minutes as Mississippi State showed why its ranked fourth in the conference in both scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense.
All things considered, the Lady Vols were fortunate to be trailing just 10-3 after the first nine minutes. They didn't have much ground to make up. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Briana Bass and Bjorklund pulled them to within a point. Later, three consecutive baskets enabled them to build a 23-19 edge.
The Lady Vols led by four points early in the second half before Mississippi State surged ahead, forcing them to dig deep for the outcome.
"It was big win for us,'' Bjorklund said. "Toward the end we buckled down. We were going to do whatever it takes to win this game."