John Adams: 10 minutes from Stricklen came in the nick of time

John Adams
Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen yells in celebration after scoring against Vanderbilt in the 2012 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN on Friday, March 2, 2012. Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 68-57.  

(SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2012

Tennessee's Shekinna Stricklen yells in celebration after scoring against Vanderbilt in the 2012 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN on Friday, March 2, 2012. Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 68-57. (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee had the lead, but the momentum was all Vanderbilt's when Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt and assistant coach Dean Lockwood came to the same conclusion on the bench Friday afternoon.

"We had to get Strick back in the game," Lockwood said.

At that point, All-SEC senior forward Shekinna Stricklen was languishing on the bench with three fouls and a grand total of two points midway through the second half at Bridgestone Arena.

By then, UT had lost all but one point of a 19-point lead and was teetering on the brink of a one-and-done experience in the SEC women's basketball tournament.

What happened next was nothing new: Summitt talked to Stricklen; Stricklen responded; the Lady Vols won — this time by a 68-57 count.

The sequence of events has played out repeatedly during Stricklen's four-year career. But the results rarely have been as dramatic as in this second-round tournament game against an in-state rival that defeated the Lady Vols 93-79 last month and was threatening to beat them twice in the same season for the first time in school history.

After the coach's pep talk, which — as Stricklen pointed out — was accentuated by the famous "Summitt stare," Stricklen scored 16 of her 18 points in the last 10 minutes.

Those might have been the best 10 minutes in the career of a player who has averaged at least 12 points in each of her four college seasons, played four different positions and made first- or second-team All-SEC four times.

"I was as proud of those two rebounds she got in traffic as anything she did," Lockwood said of Stricklen's resounding finish.

But the huge contingent of UT fans that turned Bridgestone Arena into Thompson-Boling West could be excused for overlooking the clutch rebounds. The fans were already on highlight overload by then.

Stricklen drove for two baskets and hit three 3s, including one from 25 feet

that just beat the shot clock and sailed so effortlessly from her hand through the basket, you probably wondered why she hasn't dropped 40 points on an opponent at some point in her career.

She wasn't just UT's best player when the game was on the line. She was its most demonstrative cheerleader.

She exhorted the crowd at one point and celebrated a dead-on Glory Johnson fall-away jump shot by hitting her teammate in the back with enough force to leave a bruise.

"Shekinna is really strong," Johnson said with a laugh. "But the majority of that game was so physical, that was nothing."

Stricklen's performance and exuberance were magnified by the first 30 minutes that preceded them. She didn't score and played only eight minutes in the first half after drawing two quick fouls. Then, just under four minutes into the second half, she drew a third foul.

"I was really frustrated," she said. "Coach came over and went off on me.

"I really got mad. I really felt bad because I let my teammates down."

Sound familiar?

Midway through last season, Summitt singled Stricklen out for criticism in practice. The coach continued her harsh critique in the locker room.

Properly motivated, Stricklen proceeded to score 17 or more points in six of the next nine SEC games. She also averaged almost 10 rebounds during the same stretch.

It's baffling that a player as skilled as Stricklen constantly needs prods and stares from her head coach to exert her talent. But at least, the prods and stares can be productive.

The Lady Vols got Stricklen into the game just in time against Vanderbilt. If they can keep her in the game the next two days, they could be celebrating a third consecutive SEC tournament championship on Sunday evening.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj//twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 1

johnlg00 writes:

Really sums up Stricklen's entire career. Hard to imagine why she is so up and down, from one game to the next and even from one half to the next. Oh well, if coaching were really THAT easy, all of us major fans would be doing it. Whatever it takes to get her going, I hope they keep doing it, because she is THE main factor in how far this team goes the rest of way.

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