Tennessee got an earful from two coaches on Saturday.
“I don’t know why our team didn’t come more focused, competitive and driven,’’ Summitt said.
The Lady Vols then listened to UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell. She was ushered into the postgame interview room early so that she and her team could catch a flight.
Turns out that they had heard it all before.
“Ladies, I probably would be in agreement with (Summitt) if I was still on the staff here — that we would probably come back (and practice) the next day,’’ said Caldwell, a former Lady Vols assistant coach, “because there were some things that we were able to exploit.”
No. 6 Tennessee (5-0) started in listless fashion and fell behind by 10 points in the first half against an opponent that wasn’t yielding anything in terms of toughness and determination.
What saved the day for UT before a matinee crowd of 14,176 at Thompson-Boling Arena was a 49-35 rebounding advantage, which translated into a 30-4 edge in second-chance points. Tennessee’s defensive effort limited UCLA (4-2) to six second-half field goals as well.
Freshman Spani led Tennessee with 16 points. Bjorklund scored all 12 of her points in the second half. Johnson scored 11 before fouling out with 4:08 left.
Center Kelley Cain grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.
The most positive part of the postmortem was the report from the trainer’s room. Sophomore wing player Alicia Manning, who was helped off the floor in the second half, suffered only a right knee contusion after colliding with a UCLA player. Manning is expected to be fine.
After listening to both coaches, Bjorklund indicated that she couldn’t have said it better.
“It’s obvious that we can be better, no matter who’s telling you,’’ she said. “I could tell that we need to get back in the gym. No question.”
Tennessee’s problems began on offense. One game after their team shooting percentage never dipped below 50 percent against Middle Tennessee State, the Lady Vols couldn’t reach 30 percent in the first half against the Bruins.
Bjorklund and point guard Shekinna Stricklen didn’t score a point before the break. Stricklen eventually scraped together six but shot 1-for-9 from the floor.
“Shekinna didn’t come in and run our team,’’ Summitt said. “She looked like she was absolutely about to go to sleep, just sitting there in the huddle.”
While the Lady Vols were struggling to run plays and make shots, UCLA was methodical in controlling game tempo from the outset and building a lead that reached 24-14 after a jumper by Rebekah Gardner 4:54 before halftime.
“You have to give Nikki and her staff credit and her team,’’ Summitt said. “They were far more motivated and outplayed us in the first half.”
Spani began UT’s comeback by scored eight of the team’s final 11 points in the first half. She started the second half by driving to the basket, drawing a foul and converting two free throws.
A rebound basket by Johnson gave Tennessee the lead for good (31-29) with 18:55 left, but the advantage didn’t reach double figures for good until the final 4:30.
UCLA hung around thanks to freshman forward Markel Walker, who scored more than half of the Bruins’ 20 second-half points and took game honors for points (19) and rebounds (14).
Not even Tennessee’s defense in the second half did much to brighten Summitt’s day. Therefore, the day after will include a practice.
“I’m the one that’s responsible because I’m the head coach,’’ Summitt said. “But the accountability of the players was not there and it’s got to get there.”