Tennessee’s memory might have been too good for its own good Thursday night.
The Lady Vols began an SEC women’s basketball game against Florida as if they had total recall of their 43-point blowout of the Gators last month.
They’ll have a different recollection of the rematch, a lethargic 61-39 victory before a crowd of 11,741 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I don’t know if we came out and respected this team early and that disappointed me,’’ said UT coach Pat Summitt, revisiting the theme for Tennessee’s last home game two weeks ago, when the Lady Vols struggled until halftime against Mississippi State.
Led by Shekinna Stricklen’s 17 points and 16 from Glory Johnson, No. 4 Tennessee (23-2, 11-0 SEC) sprung to life long enough to expand a shaky nine-point halftime lead into a 39-18 advantage less than four minutes into the second half.
The scoring flurry was an exception to the night’s trend. The Lady Vols squandered seven points of that lead before mustering a decent finish.
UT’s 38.5 percent field-goal accuracy (20-for-52) was its worst since the season-low 25 percent against Baylor on Dec. 14. The team that has been outrebounding conference opponents by a whopping margin of 16.6 per game had a paltry two-rebound advantage (42-40) against the Gators.
Add 17 turnovers to the mix and the performance was a far cry from the 83-40 victory in Gainesville, Fla., on Jan. 13.
“We came into the game not being focused,’’ Stricklen said. “We have to be focused. We have to play every team like they’re the best team.”
At least the Gators benefited from the first meeting, judging by their defensive effort and overall scrappiness.
“We felt like we probably played our worst game of the year (in the first meeting) and you just can’t do that against possibly the best competition we faced all year long,’’ Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “I thought Tennessee played an exceptional game when they were at our place. . . . Were we motivated by that? Absolutely.”
Florida (14-12, 4-8) upgraded everything but its scoring. The Gators’ 39 points were a season low by a Tennessee opponent, topping the 40 of the first game. Their leading scorer, Jaterra Bonds, was the only player to reach double figures with 10 points.
The Gators shot below 30 percent from the field in both halves, finishing at a chilly 25 percent (15-for-60).
The Lady Vols’ shooting wasn’t much better in the first half. Their accuracy dropped below 30 percent for an extended period, thereby blowing the cover for nine turnovers.
Guards Taber Spani, Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams started cold and never warmed up, finishing a collective 3-for-21.
“Our guard play was not good,’’ Summitt said.
That said, effort, or lack thereof, caused even more consternation and explained why Johnson played only seven minutes before halftime.
“I could sprint up and down the court faster than she did on the first three possessions,’’ Summitt said. “I won’t accept that. Kelley Cain was even worse than Glory, and she was not able to get out of it.”
Johnson got in gear after halftime, scoring all of her points.
“My teammates were talking to me and telling me to play my game,’’ Johnson said.
Given UT’s struggles, several of Johnson’s teammates got a chance to play their game as the Lady Vols searched for effective lineup combinations.
Reserve forward Vicki Baugh grabbed a team-high seven rebounds and dished out three assists. She started the second half and playing an effective part in the fast start after halftime.
Likewise, freshman reserve guard Lauren Avant, who has missed the last three games because of illness, scored a season-high seven points and recorded two steals.
Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/fleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser