NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick made the best of a bad situation Friday afternoon.
After tumbling to the Bridgestone Arena court, the freshman forward’s first thought was summed up by a plea.
“I was like, ‘Please don’t call a travel. Please don’t call a travel,’ ’’ she said.
From a prone position, Burdick shoveled the ball to teammate Kamiko Williams. Her crosscourt pass found Shekinna Stricklen for a deep 3-pointer.
No matter how bad it looked, getting the ball to Stricklen was a good play for the Lady Vols in the second half of their 68-57 victory over Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC women’s basketball tournament.
The senior forward scored all of her game-high 18 points after halftime. The aforementioned trey came from 25 feet and plunged into the basket like a dagger, extending UT’s lead to 64-55 with 3:05 left. The basket inspired a roar from the pro-Tennessee crowd of 8,594.
Other than Stricklen, fellow senior Glory Johnson was a good backup plan with 15 points. While her scoring wasn’t as dramatic, the points were no less important. She scored 11 in the second half.
Together, the two seniors scored the Lady Vols’ final 23 points and ushered them through a dicey final 10 minutes to a spot in the tournament semifinals.
Second-seed Tennessee (22-8) will play No. 6 seed South Carolina (23-8), a 59-55 quarterfinal winner over No. 3 Georgia, in the tournament semifinals today (TV: ESPNU, 6 p.m.).
Meighan Simmons added 11 points for the Lady Vols, who shot 50 percent from the floor (26-for-52) and outrebounded Vanderbilt, 39-31.
Christina Foggie scored 16 points to lead No. 7 seed Vanderbilt (22-9) but the sophomore guard shot just 4-for-16 from the floor.
UT senior Alicia Manning was happy to credit Johnson and Stricklen afterward. She was even happier to call them teammates.
“Having those two,’’ she said. “I’m just glad they’re on my team.”
Tennessee had a lot going for itself at the outset. Its 2-3 zone defense limited Vanderbilt to one field goal for nearly 10 minutes. With Simmons scoring all of her points before halftime, Tennessee surged to a 32-13 lead with 3:44 left in the first half.
“It’s big; it’s spread out,’’ Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said of UT’s zone. “We just didn’t attack it like we needed to. We didn’t get any second shots because when you don’t get penetration or you don’t get the ball inside, they’ve got everybody in position to rebound.”
Still, the Commodores closed the first half on a 14-3 scoring run.
Halftime seemingly came at a good time for Tennessee. The break was extended to 45 minutes by severe weather in the Nashville area.
“It’s kind of weird,’’ UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said, “because we’ve been in a game called at Ole Miss because of the rain, the lights when out in St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) so now we have a tornado watch.”
After the break, Vanderbilt pulled to within a point three times in the first 10 minutes.
While the Lady Vols were losing their lead, they also lost freshman point guard Ariel Massengale, who suffered a right thigh contusion. Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols’ associate athletic director for sports medicine, said that Massengale should be fine for today’s game.
As long as Stricklen was shooting, the Lady Vols still had a shot to survive. And Burdick went to great lengths to help.
No, she didn’t travel after her untimely tumble. But she did suffer a leg contusion.
“I came out with a huge gash on my leg,’’ she said. “But that’s all right. I’ll take the wound.”
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser.