OXFORD, Miss. — Angie Bjorklund saved her best shot for last Thursday night.
Tennessee’s junior guard buried a 3-pointer with a second left, giving Tennessee a 61-58 SEC women’s basketball victory over Ole Miss before a crowd of 2,356 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Bjorklund’s basket capped a furious last-minute finish. Ole Miss’ Bianca Thomas tied the game with a driving layup with 16 seconds left.
Shekinna Stricklen scored a team-high 13 points for No. 5 Tennessee (22-2, 10-1 SEC), which maintained its one-game lead over Kentucky atop the conference standings. Bjorklund and Alyssia Brewer each scored 12 while Alicia Manning had 10.
Thomas and Liz Robertson each scored 18 for Ole Miss (15-9, 6-5). They combined for eight of the Rebels’ 10 3-pointers.
Bjorklund said that Stricklen was the first option on the final play. Math dictated the course of action.
“We didn’t need a 3,’’ Bjorklund said. “We wanted a 2.”
When the play unraveled, Bjorklund was a great Plan B.
“She’s been really big for us in late seconds,” UT coach Pat Summitt said.
Nobody knows that better than Ole Miss. Bjorklund beat the Rebels in Knoxville last season with a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left.
“It’s very disheartening,’’ Ole Miss coach Renee Ladner said. “We knew exactly who was going to take the last shot. We guarded the first part of (the possession). I don’t think we guarded the second (part).’’
Both team persevered to the fantastic finish. Stricklen, who tumbled to the court in the first half, limped through the final minutes with a sore leg and still finished with eight assists to go with her points.
“She was in pain,’’ Summitt said. “Give her credit. She played through it.”
Tennessee played without forward Glory Johnson by choice. She logged just 17 minutes.
“She just wasn’t active,’’ Summitt said. “She’s our best athlete. She wasn’t very productive tonight.
Ole Miss post Nikki Byrd, meanwhile, missed most of the second half after UT center Kelley Cain landed on her in a rebound scramble. Byrd managed to return for the final 3:52.
“This was a hard-fought game on the part of both teams,’’ Summitt said.
While UT hit the 3-pointer that mattered the most, the shot was the weapon of choice for Ole Miss The Rebels swished four within the first 12 minutes, enabling them to withstand a 9-for-14 shooting start by Tennessee.
After its hot start, Tennessee finished the first half mired in a 2-for-15 cold snap. On one trip down the floor, the Lady Vols missed six shots, counting rebound attempts. At that point, Bjorklund was 1 for 7, including 1 for 6 on 3-pointers. Her one 3-pointer pushed her past 1,000 career points.
Ole Miss stormed past Tennessee with a 10-point scoring run. Thomas’ first basket gave the Rebels their first lead since the opening minutes, 24-21. They led by as much as 30-23 after guard Kayla Melson banked in a jumper.
Tennessee restored some order with a Brewer rebound basket and a Cain block but the Lady Vols still trailed at the break, 30-25.
The Lady Vols regained the lead on two occasions early the second half. They stopped Ole Miss by going to a zone defense but only briefly. After back-to-back 3 pointers by Robertson and Thomas, the Rebels were back in front, 43-39.
In a game featuring five ties and eight lead changes, the Lady Vols surged back in front down the stretch. A Bjorklund 3-pointer gave them a 58-54 lead with 2:41 left.
In the end, UT needed one more 3-pointer and Bjorklund delivered.