KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee’s sluggish start didn’t matter Monday night, but the fourth-ranked Lady Vols want to avoid making it a habit.
The Lady Vols trailed by as many as eight points early and didn’t lead until midway through the first half before pulling away for a 97-46 victory over Tennessee State. Tennessee went on runs of 22-0 in the first half and 19-0 in the second half on its way to forcing 38 turnovers.
”Obviously we came out flat,” Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said. ”We didn’t come out the way we wanted to play. We weren’t pressing the issue. We want to be the dictators on the court, and I don’t think we were that (early).”
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Nia Moore scored a career-high 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as Tennessee (4-0) continued its early-season formula of winning with defense.
Tennessee State’s 38 turnovers were the most Tennessee has forced in a game since hounding Memphis into 46 turnovers in a 113-39 blowout on Feb. 16, 1999. The Lady Vols have forced at least 30 turnovers in three straight games, the first time that’s happened in school history.
”If we don’t get the first trap, we just don’t give up on it,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ”We just keep pursuing the basketball and hawking the ball. … Our pressure just can wear you down.”
Bashaara Graves scored 14 points, Jaime Nared had 11 and Cierra Burdick added 10 for Tennessee. Rachel Allen scored 13 points for Tennessee State (1-3).
Tennessee State actually gave Tennessee fits early.
Allen scored 10 points in the first 8 1/2 minutes as Tennessee State grabbed control. When Allen sank a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 11:36 left in the first half, Tennessee State improbably led 20-14.
”We just came in here with no fear, no pressure,” Allen said. ”Just play.”
Tennessee went on a 22-0 run over the next six-plus minutes, a stretch in which Tennessee State shot 0 for 8 and committed seven turnovers. Ariel Massengale’s 3-pointer broke a 20-all tie and give the Lady Vols their first lead with 9:36 left in the first half.
Once the Lady Vols pulled ahead, they never looked back.
The only disappointment for Tennessee came on the boards. Tennessee entered the night having outrebounded its first three foes by an average margin of 13.6 boards, while Tennessee State had a negative rebound margin. Yet the Lady Tigers outrebounded Tennessee 42-37.
”That’s a concern,” Warlick said. ”I told the team I’ll take blame for that. We hadn’t worked on any rebounding this week, and sometimes rebounding needs to be repetition and competition on that end. I promise you, we’ll do several rebounding drills tomorrow.”
Tennessee State: This game represented a homecoming for Tennessee State forward Jayda Johnson, a sophomore from Fulton High School in Knoxville. Johnson had four points and six rebounds in 17 minutes.
Tennessee: This was the fourth time Tennessee had faced Tennessee State. The Lady Vols have won all four meetings by at least 51 points, including a 94-43 triumph last season.
Tennessee State: Hosts Norfolk State on Saturday
Tennessee: At Chattanooga on Wednesday.
The Lady Vols played a third straight game without injured center Isabelle Harrison (sprained knee) and forward Jasmine Jones (mild concussion). Warlick said she is ”hopeful” both would be able to play Wednesday at Chattanooga.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
”I started to turn cartwheels, but I thought it would be a little obvious I was happy, so I didn’t.”-Tennessee State coach Larry Joe Inman on his reaction to the Lady Tigers’ early lead.