Tennessee convened a gathering of five double-figure scorers Sunday afternoon and Angie Bjorklund wasn’t among them.
The senior women’s basketball sharpshooter shouldn’t stew over being left out. Instead, she ought to be relieved over the prospects of more help.
Led by Shekinna Stricklen’s 18 points, No. 4 Tennessee overwhelmed Arizona State 80-64 before a crowd of 12,229 at Thompson-Boling Arena. Glory Johnson had 14 points, along with a game-high 15 rebounds. Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams each scored 12 and Meighan Simmons had 10 as the Lady Vols (4-0) tore through a defense that had been allowing 46.5 points per game on average.
Despite a depleted post presence, the Lady Vols managed to score half of their points from the foul-lane area. And they didn’t pad their output with 3-pointers, making just three of 13 attempts.
Bjorklund, UT’s leading returning scorer, missed her four 3-point attempts and shot 2-for-7 in scoring four points. No matter, her teammates had the scoring essentials covered.
“That’s a great asset to have on a team,’’ Williams said of UT’s scoring balance, “because last year we looked to Angie all the time and expected her to score when we needed it. We don’t have to go to one person. We can run sets for different people and eventually that will open up shots for Angie because she doesn’t have to work as hard.”
The Lady Vols apparently did enough on defense to satisfy coach Pat Summitt. She was in a better mood than after Thursday game’s against Virginia, when the Cavaliers made their first eight shots. UT held Arizona State (2-1) without a point for a span of 8 minutes, 41 seconds heading into halftime, opening a 33-18 lead in the process.
With Johnson manning the front of a zone press, UT coaxed nine turnovers out of the Sun Devils during the scoreless stretch.
“I just think about Friday’s practice,’’ Stricklen said. “It was just ‘You’re going to play defense, or they’re going to take you out.’ I think that’s what we carried over into the game.”
Summitt acknowledged, of all people, Williams. The sophomore guard contributed two steals to the aforementioned pivotal stretch.
“Kamiko has been able to play longer minutes,’’ Summitt said. “As a freshman, she had been in two minutes and we’d pull her. Now, even with fatigue, she can push through it and help us even when she’s tired.”
The second half played out like a different game. The Lady Vols were whistled for 13 fouls and the Sun Devils took advantage by converting 16 of 19 free-throw attempts and scoring 46 points. UT answered with 47, shooting 57.6 percent from the floor against a team that normally limits the opposition to 32.7 percent accuracy.
“I was just very disappointed in our defense,’’ Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We’re not a team that is a score-more team.”
Summitt, on the other hand, was satisfied with the work of UT’s smaller lineup, whose players were looking up to Arizona State’s taller post players.
The Lady Vols might have to make the strategy work for the time being. Forward Vicki Baugh, who has mobility issues, sat out a third straight game. Center Kelley Cain didn’t play in the second half because of stiffness. Fellow post Alyssia Brewer still is recovering from Achilles tendon surgery.
The 6-foot-3 Johnson scored 13 of her points in the second half — all from either close range or the foul line. Lady Vol Alicia Manning chipped in four points and grabbed all six of her rebounds after the break. The 6-1 forward outmaneuvered 6-5 defender Becca Tobin to score one of her baskets.
The Lady Vols could’ve done more scoring damage if they had shot better than 53.6 percent (15-for-28) from the foul line.
“We will be shooting a lot (today); they have to get in extra shots,’’ Summitt said. “There’s no excuse. We’ve got Pratt Pavilion. We’ve got Thompson-Boling Arena.”
The shooting will be part of today’s practice. The Lady Vols depart Tuesday for the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.