Tennessee has seen better shooting days. The Lady Vols have amassed more assists, too.
For that matter, no player rewrote her personal record for scoring Monday night, either.
Yet Tennessee’s offensive achievements rate as superlatives when judged by LSU’s defense.
The Lady Tigers came to Thompson-Boling Arena having allowed 40 points per game and 30.7 percent shooting the past three games. UT bucked that trend in a big way, scoring a 70-61 SEC women’s basketball victory before a “Live pink, bleed orange” turnout of 13,851.
No. 4 Tennessee (25-2, 13-1 SEC) clinched a share of the conference regular-season championship by shooting 46 percent from the floor and recording 20 assists. The only statistic to rate as a season best was a low for turnovers with seven.
“Offensively, we did so many good things in this game,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “To have a game like this against a team like LSU is very encouraging.”
Alyssia Brewer led five double-figure scorers with 18 points. Kelley Cain added 16 and recorded an impressive double-double with a school-record 12 blocks. Glory Johnson scored 12 points while Angie Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen each had 10.
Allison Hightower scored 18 for No. 20 LSU (18-8, 7-7). Katherine Graham and LaSondra Barrett each scored 13.
UT’s victory was a nice comeback from last Thursday’s lackluster 74-67 victory at Alabama, a performance that angered Summitt so much that she broke her dry-erase board during a timeout.
“I think it was very important,’’ Brewer said of bouncing back. “It helped us make a statement that we’re not going to let one game get to us. We knew what we did wrong and we corrected it this game.”
LSU coach Van Chancellor is tired of meeting Tennessee under these circumstances. Before the first meeting, Jan. 24 in Baton Rouge, UT had lost at Georgia.
“I think (Pat) needs to go in before she plays other teams and say, ‘Guys we’re playing LSU,’” he said. “They think they’re playing Alabama but they’re not. I’ve played her twice. I’ve got her on a rebound twice.”
No rebound was apparent early. UT’s field goal accuracy hovered below 30 percent midway through the first half and Cain and Stricklen were on the bench in foul trouble.
The Lady Vols began warming up with a 7-for-10 shooting spree that opened a 28-21 lead. By halftime, Brewer already was in double figures with 10 points and UT led 32-24.
“She’s a lot more confident this year,’’ Cain said of Brewer. “You can definitely tell by the way she plays. She’s not afraid to take a shot. Nobody can stop that little hook (shot).”
Cain and Stricklen returned for the second half. Stricklen hit a pair of 3-pointers, UT’s only treys of the game, which extended the team’s streak of at least one 3-pointer to 400 games.
UT led by as many as 19 points, 64-45 with 6:37 left, which was more than enough to withstand the Lady Tigers’ finish.
Bjorklund seemingly couldn’t decide which was bigger: all those assists or so few turnovers. Whether the Lady Vols were sharing the basketball or taking care of it, she detected a common thread.
“We just played to our strength,’’ she said, “which is going inside.”
With the victory, Tennessee will try to clinch an outright regular-season championship against second-place Kentucky on Thursday at the arena.
“This was a good way for us to get to feeling good about ourselves with Kentucky coming up,’’ Summitt said. “We were focused on what we needed to do.”