Angie Bjorklund’s view certainly wasn’t panoramic.
Tennessee’s sophomore guard could’ve taken in the Grand Canyon on some of her previous 12 shot attempts Thursday night compared to her sightlines with the game clock winding down and the outcome against Ole Miss in her hands.
“It came down to keep going until you get an opening,’’ she said. “I was praying it’d go in and it did.”
After driving past Lady Rebels defender Kayla Melson, Bjorklund nailed a pull-up 3-pointer over Elizabeth Robertson. The dramatic basket with 6.8 seconds left enabled Tennessee to somehow see its way to 60-59 SEC women’s basketball victory before a stunned crowd of 13,283 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“With the seconds going down, Ole Miss had great ‘D’ ’’ Bjorklund said. “I just tried to get my shoulders square and get an open look.”
After going scoreless in the first half, Bjorklund finished with a game-high 13 points for No. 13 Tennessee (16-4, 5-2 SEC). Teammate Alex Fuller had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Bianca Thomas scored a team-high 11 points for Ole Miss (13-8, 2-4). She missed a final heave in the final seconds.
Bjorklund’s shot erased the remnants of a deficit that still was five points with 1:16 left. Likewise, she helped cover for a season-high 24 turnovers as well as erratic shooting from all points on the court.
The most glaring misfires came at the free throw line, where the Lady Vols made just 16 of 31 attempts. After earning career coaching victory No. 999, UT’s Pat Summitt joked that her players we’re going to shoot “1,000 free throws” between now and Monday’s game against Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, which will be UT’s first crack at the victory milestone.
Before its closing rush, the Lady Vols’ field goal shooting percentage hovered below 30 percent. Bjorklund was 1-for-10 and missed several wide-open attempts before making her final three shots — two of them treys — in the final 2:46.
The game winner was a final testament to Bjorklund’s perseverance.
“She didn’t have a good look but she made a big shot,” Summitt said. “That says something about a shooter’s focus, when they really are focused.”
As for the turnovers, Ole Miss had an aggressive hand in Tennessee’s sloppy play. The Lady Rebels gathered 14 steals, a season-high for a UT opponent.
“I really believed coming into the game we were faster than Tennessee,’’ Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. “Naturally we’re smaller. I thought we could put a lot of pressure on them, in particular the point guard where they’re young.”
After scoring just two baskets in the game’s first nine minutes, the Lady Rebels stalked Tennessee into the second half, leading by as many as nine points (54-45) with 4:10 left.
“They came for war,’’ Fuller said.
Summitt repeated what she told the Ole Miss players and coaches afterward: “If they play that way against every SEC opponent, they’re going to win a lot of ballgames. Everybody right now thinks that they can beat Tennessee.”
Ladner’s bottom-line assessment, though, was the most telling.
“With 3:21 left on the clock we were up seven and we panicked,’’ she said.
Actually the Lady Rebels started to unravel with three consecutive turnovers after opening the nine-point lead.
There was just one turnover down the stretch, but it was pivotal when UT’s press forced Ole Miss guard Shantell Black into a traveling violation with 1:03 left. Bjorklund followed seconds later with a jumper, pulling UT to 59-57.
Black also missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 21 seconds remaining.
The Lady Vols missed a final free throw with 1:04 left and committed a turnover in the final seconds. Yet they still had a shot – Bjorklund’s shot.
“I think it shows the heart that this team has,’’ Fuller said. “During the game, I heard somebody in the stands behind our bench yell, ‘We can’t lose.’ And that’s the only thing I heard. I think that’s what motivated me and helped me motivate my teammates.”
Notebook: Summitt said freshman forward Amber Gray didn’t play because she was serving a one-game suspension for a violation of team policy.