TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tennessee didn’t have a good night against Alabama Thursday.
At least it wasn’t a lost night.
The Lady Vols erased any lingering possibility of the unthinkable against the SEC’s last-place team with a scoring spurt inside the final 10 minutes. It provided sufficient breathing room for a 74-67 women’s basketball victory before a Pink Zone crowd of 3,900 at Coleman Coliseum.
The outcome didn’t provide much in the way of solace, however.
“It’s an opportunity for our basketball team to take a look at who we are,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “… We disrespected the game of basketball tonight.”
Alyssia Brewer, who started in place of Kelley Cain, scored a team-high 20 points for No. 5 Tennessee (24-2, 12-1 SEC). She also grabbed 10 rebounds. Shekinna Stricklen scored 14 points and Angie Bjorklund had 13
Freshman guard Celiscia Farmer made her first career start and scored a career-high 21 for Alabama (10-16, 2-11).
The Crimson Tide committed 24 turnovers, which resulted in a corresponding 27-14 Tennessee advantage in points off turnovers. That helped cover for the Lady Vols being outrebounded 45-33 and shooting 11 for 24 from the free throw line.
The Crimson Tide became just the second team to outrebound Tennessee this season (the other was No. 2 Stanford) and shot 45.9 percent from the floor, a season best by a UT opponent.
“We had a chance, if we had made some shots, to pull off something big,’’ Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said.
Tennessee came to Tuscaloosa without Cain, who stayed in Knoxville to attend classes. Alabama, on the other hand, began without its usual starting five, sending reserves Alyson Butler, Carmen McCoy, Katie Hancock, Tamara Williams and Farmer out for the opening tip.
“We were going to play who will play hard,’’ Hudson said. “That’s the group that was playing hardest in practice.”
Alabama’s new lineup played UT to standstill until the usual starters checked in with 14:14 left in the first half, establishing the rebounding dominance and shooting accuracy.
Tennessee, meanwhile, wasn’t establishing much of anything.
“I think we just came out flat,” Bjorklund said. “Two turnovers in a row (at the start). One thing led to another. It sucked the life out of us.”
A brief scoring spree enabled the Lady Vols to open 33-23 lead late in the first half but their advantage shrank to 37-31 at the break.
“This was one of those games where we were taking the fight to a team,’’ Hudson said.
Tennessee was missing Cain’s defensive presence around the rim. Alabama scored 22 of its first-half points from close range and finished with 40.
UT’s Glory Johnson was all but absent, considering the sophomore forward had zero points and one rebound at the break. She was in and out of the game until the conclusion and heard from nearly every coach on the staff before finishing with three points and five rebounds in 20 playing minutes.
Summitt was so angry that the players heard for associate head coach Holly Warlick, who took the coaching lead during several second-half timeouts.
The Lady Vols’ next game is against LSU at Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.). The Lady Vols will be off today.
“Not that they’ve earned it,’’ Summitt said. “I have to go recruiting.”
Brewer, for one, thinks that she needs to be in the gym, cleaning up her 6 for 12 performance from the free throw line.
“We have to have that maturity,’’ she said, “and take responsibility for that (game).”