Nobody waved a starter’s flag Monday night.
It just looked that way. And it certainly felt that way during Tennessee’s 92-64 NCAA women’s basketball tournament victory over Dayton.
“The first five that were out there, we were like ‘whew’ when there was a dead ball,’’ forward Alyssia Brewer said.
Those moments didn’t occur often. Tennessee set a withering pace before a crowd of 10,022 at Thompson-Boling Arena that included UT legend Chamique Holdsclaw. The Memphis regional’s top seed hit 50 points by halftime and led by as many as 34 points before throttling down their pace.
By then, the Lady Vols were well on their way to the regional semifinals. They’ll be there Saturday to face the winner of Monday’s late game between No. 4 seed Baylor and No. 5 Georgetown.
Among the instructions written on the dry erase board in Tennessee’s locker room beforehand, the operative word was “attack.”
“We wanted a high-octane game,’’ assistant coach Dean Lockwood said.
Manning’s scoring amounted to a new career high. Spani, meanwhile, shot a sizzling 7 for 8 from the floor.
Brewer added 14 points. Kelley Cain had 12 and Angie Bjorklund had 11.
Justine Raterman scored 17 for No. 8 seed Dayton (25-8) but no other Flyer scored more than eight points.
“I could feel the energy in the locker room,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said, “and they were just wanting to get out on the court ASAP with all that energy.”
Manning got Tennessee off to a fast start, scoring seven points inside the first seven minutes. After an ineffective performance in UT’s tournament opener against Austin Peay on Saturday, the sophomore forward reprised the role she played in earning All-SEC tournament team honors earlier this month, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out seven assists.
“She’s just so aggressive,’’ UT’s Glory Johnson said of Manning. “If everyone had (her) energy, this would be a crazy athletic team.”
Freshman Spani came off the bench to follow Manning’s scoring lead. She began by swishing a 3-pointer from the wing. She hadn’t made two treys in a game in more than two months, but she had her second within two minutes against the Flyers.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and I think that I can add shooting ability to this team,’’ Spani said. “I was just trying to play to my strengths.”
After Spani’s second 3-pointer, Tennessee was shooting 64 percent from the floor and leading 37-14. The onslaught reminded Dayton coach Jim Jabir of his coaching stint at Providence.
“We’d play UConn,’’ he said. “You could hang with them for awhile but then at some point they were going to have a spurt.”
At that point, the Flyers’ solitary salvation was 12 second-chance points. They also took advantage of UT’s defense enough to pull within 39-25, prompting Summitt to call a time out.
If only the Flyers could’ve done likewise to Tennessee’s attack. The Lady Vols had one more scoring sprint in them before the break. After a Bjorklund 3-pointer, they went to the locker room with a 50-30 lead.
And they weren’t finished.
The Lady Vols tightened their shoelaces, gulped down a second wind and resumed the race in the second half. They pushed the ball up the floor seemingly on every possession, producing their version of a hoops relay.
The fast pace produced more and more points as the Lady Vols’ lead grew to 69-35 with 14:59 left. They were off and running toward Memphis.