Tennessee put a belated effort toward a different ending Sunday afternoon. The Lady Vols rallied around a full-scale rout.
In a matter of about 31⁄2 minutes midway through the second half, an 18-point lead ballooned to 30 and the Lady Vols were off to an 83-44 SEC women’s basketball victory over Florida before a crowd of 16,451 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Thanks to a 49-point second half, No. 5 Tennessee (22-2, 11-1 SEC) took a break from consecutive comebacks to score its most lopsided conference victory. The Lady Vols shot 64.5 percent from the floor (a season high for a second half) after halftime and crowded four scorers into double figures while limiting Florida (13-12, 6-6) to seven field goals and 16 points, a second-half season low by a UT opponent this season.
UT’s best was so good that Cain, who played 38 minutes in Thursday’s last-second victory at Ole Miss, was stretched out on the sideline with 2:54 left, looking like she was sitting on a beach. The 6-foot-6 sophomore matched her career high with 19 points and recorded seven blocks, one shy of her career best.
Teammate Angie Bjorklund updated her resume as well, equaling her season high for 3-pointers with six and scoring a game-high 24 points.
Alicia Manning worked her way into the postgame conversation by stuffing her stat line with 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The points were a season high. The rebounds and assists matched career highs.
Shekinna Stricklen added 12 points. She was limited to 22 playing minutes and limped off the floor at one point to have her left knee iced. Summitt said UT’s starting point guard would be OK.
Summitt acknowledged UT’s final 20 minutes afterward, but not before relating how angry she was with the first half. At the outset, the Lady Vols seemed content to trade baskets with the Gators and led 34-28 at halftime.
“Truthfully, I came in here thinking, ‘Sorry, guys, but we’re going to have to knock you off,’’ said Gators guard Steffi Sorensen said.
She acted on that thought by scoring nine of her team-high 12 points and knocking down three of Florida’s eight 3-pointers before halftime.
Summitt used the break to convene a “prayer meeting” and provide a sobering context for UT’s play.
“I said ‘You’re not going to San Antonio (site of the Women’s Final Four), you’re not going anywhere; you’re not going to be in the tournament very long unless you invest as a basketball team for a 40-minute game or more.’ ” she said.
“They responded obviously in the second half, but I said, ‘This doesn’t count. It counts when we go 40 minutes of we’re busting it up and down the floor. We’re knocking down shots. We’re defending. We’re rebounding at both ends.’ ”
As if that wasn’t enough for one diatribe, Summitt delivered her closing thought like a punch to the gut.
“There’s a reason we have eight championships,’’ she said. “You don’t have one. If you’re going to get one, you’re going to have to change your level of commitment every day.”
After Summitt had the floor, the Lady Vols responded by taking charge on the court.
“She can stand up there and talk about it all day long, but it makes a big difference when we take ownership and responsibility for getting each other going,’’ Bjorklund said. “I thought that’s what we did today in the second half.”
UT finished with 12 blocks and had a hand in 20 Florida turnovers, which led to 31 points.
Florida missed 6-4 center Azania Stewart, who was ruled out Saturday with a stress fracture in her left foot.
The Lady Vols, meanwhile, weren’t missing much of anything, connecting on 20 of 31 second-half shots.
“I didn’t think we had to set up in the half court that much,’’ Bjorklund said. “That makes a huge difference.”
And it showed.