Too many scorers was the obvious advantage for Tennessee against Rutgers on Thursday.
Leading scorer Meighan Simmons’ streak of double-figure scoring games ended at 13 and it didn’t faze No. 5 Tennessee (12-2) in its final tune-up before Sunday’s SEC opener at LSU.
“Our bench outscored Rutgers’ bench 24-1,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “That was a key — our depth.”
The Scarlet Knights (7-6), meanwhile, were without their two top scorers by game’s end. Guard Khadijah Rushdan never played because of a bruised knee suffered in a Dec. 19 game against Texas A&M. Fellow guard April Sykes scored a team-high 15 points but was sidelined in the second half by persistent leg cramps.
Despite these differences, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer’s biggest lament afterward was too little time to prepare because of travel issues. She said the game should’ve been rescheduled.
“The game should not have been played, period,’’ Stringer said. “We were not worthy of this competition today, not that we would have done a whole heck of a lot better, but I could have felt better coming into this game.”
Sunday’s East Coast blizzard precluded the Scarlet Knights from reconvening and practicing before arriving Wednesday night via charter flight for a workout at Pratt Pavilion. Stringer said that Sykes didn’t arrive until late Wednesday.
“I called Tennessee and you see we’re playing don’t you? They couldn’t do it,’’ Stringer said of rescheduling. “I would have done it anyway. I would have done it if we played every day back to back.
“ . . . Unfortunately it was a scheduling issue for Tennessee, not a scheduling issue with me. We proposed three or four dates that we could have played this game but we don’t have access to the men’s schedule so there are a lot of things that administratively have to happen.”
Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan said that she talked with Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti on Tuesday.
“We talked about the possibilities, you know, what was happening weather-wise, what the planes looked like, what we could schedule,’’ Cronan said, “and we felt at that time that we needed to play the game on Thursday.
“(A change) was a scheduling impossibility. Plus, I mean, the weather is good; the planes are flying now.”
The Lady Vols added to Stringer’s woes by shooting better than 70 percent from the floor for nearly half of the first half and bolting to a 30-12 lead. By that point, Bjorklund had swished two 3-pointers to break a tie with former Lady Vol Shanna Zolman and become UT’s career leader with 268.
“I definitely look up to Shanna and all the players on that list so it’s just an honor to be part of it,’’ said Bjorklund, who scored 11 points.
Spani, meanwhile, was taking aim from the perimeter and working on a career-high 22 points.
“That’s more of my natural position,’’ she said. “Wherever I am, I just try to take the same mentality. I just try to be the same player and have that aggressive mindset. I think I’m learning to do that better at (power forward) when I get there, but naturally I am a guard so I am more aggressive at that position.”
With Sykes scoring 13 points and punctuating the first half with a 3-pointer over three onrushing defenders, Rutgers was lurking within 40-29. But she went down in pain early in the second half. She tried to come back twice but played just three minutes after the break.
“Never seen it before,’’ Stringer said of Sykes’ plight, “but it is what it is.”
With Sykes out, Tennessee pressed its advantage. Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen each finished with 12 points while Kelley Cain scored 11.
Noticeably absent from UT’s scoring roll call was Simmons. Foul trouble limited her to three first-half minutes and impulsive second-half shooting drew the hook from Summitt, ending Simmons’ day at seven points.