The message was loud and clear: Flip the script.
“I’m not going to tolerate that,’’ Summitt said. “(Athletic director) Joan Cronan would fire me if I did that.”
To their credit, the players got the sermon started, scolding each other before their coach entered the locker room. This wayward team, as much as many UT squad, knows the drill.
“Our defensive intensity wasn’t there,’’ UT senior guard Angie Bjorklund said. “We weren’t playing together. We weren’t getting the ball inside to where our strengths were.
“After halftime, we made sure it was a different story.”
Did they ever.
Led by Bjorklund’s 16 points, Tennessee fashioned an entirely different performance after the break, storming to a 102-53 rout of the Lady Bucs before a crowd of 11,571 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
A 13-point scoring run within the first seven minutes erased any memory of a shaky 46-32 halftime lead. At one point, Tennessee was shooting 16-for-19 from the floor.
When the onslaught was complete, Bjorklund had swished four 3-pointers for No. 5 Tennessee (11-2), matching former guard Shanna Zolman’s career record with 266.
“I’ve always looked up to Shanna,’’ Bjorklund said. “I have a lot of respect for her. Just to be tied with her is a huge honor. We’ll see what happens next game.”
Bjorklund will take aim at a new record Dec. 30 against Rutgers at the arena.
Five other Lady Vols scored in double figures. Glory Johnson, who was yanked from the starting lineup to start the second half, and Taber Spani each scored 15 points. Spani had a career-high 12 rebounds — doubling her previous high — and recorded her first career double-double.
Meighan Simmons scored 13 points, reaching double figures for the 13th consecutive game to start her collegiate career. She’s one game short of matching Chamique Holdsclaw for the longest such streak
Kelley Cain had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Alicia Manning scored 11.
“We have a deep bench,’’ Summitt said. “With that said, we can rotate a lot of players as long as they’re coming in and maintaining what we need to do. We definitely picked it up.”
Destiny Mitchell and Gwen Washington each had 10 points for East Tennessee State (3-6).
The only feat resembling a fast start for Tennessee was forward Shekinna Stricklen scoring three points within the first four minutes to become the 35th player in school history to reach the 1,000-point career milestone.
The Lady Bucs still were lurking within nine points (34-25) with about six minutes left in the first half.
“At the end of the game in the locker room, the one thing I said to (the players) was I can’t wait to get back home and watch the tape because I think we did a lot of good things against one of the best teams in the country,’’ ETSU coach Karen Kemp said.
The Lady Vols’ closing act made their start even more puzzling. Johnson didn’t think the Lady Vols were preoccupied with their impending Christmas break.
“If that was the case, we’d be really excited to finish the game and get off the floor,’’ she said. “I think we just need a lot more energy at the beginning of the game. We need to start talking to each other and getting each other excited while we’re on the floor.”
After the final 20 minutes, the holiday will be better for coaches and players alike. Summitt was looking forward to visiting her mother, Hazel, and enjoying her cooking.
Bjorklund’s player perspective took into account the moral of Wednesday’s final storyline.
“Everyone will have a nice break,’’ she said, “but be ready to work when we come back.”