In the past, Miami coach Katie Meier would have been thrilled for her Hurricanes to play Tennessee to a tie after the first half. Now she's just disappointed.
The seventh-ranked Hurricanes tied the game at 42 points just before halftime only to see the No. 3 Lady Volunteers launch a flurry of scoring to open the first half. Tennessee held off Miami's comeback effort midway through the second half to win 92-76 on Tuesday night in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic.
"We didn't schedule the game to say, `Oh gosh, what a great opportunity,'" Meier said. "We schedule the game to come in here and play big-time basketball and figure out where we are, and we've got a ways to go."
It was the first big test of the season for two veteran teams, and the matchup lived up to its billing in the first-ever meeting for the programs. It was also a shot for Miami to prove it belongs among the top teams in the nation a year after winning a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference title and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Though the game pitted preseason all-Americans Shekinna Stricklen and Shenise Johnson against one another, the spotlight was stolen by Spani, and Meighan Simmons, who together hit 7 of 13 from 3-point range.
The game was tied 42-all at halftime before the Lady Vols (2-0) unleashed an 18-4 run to open the second half. Glory Johnson, who struggled in the first half against Miami's inside defense, hit a layup that made it 60-46 with 16:19 to go.
The Lady Vols got sloppy, committing three turnovers that helped the Hurricanes to charge back with nine unanswered points to cut the margin to seven, and with 7:31 to go, Shenise Johnson hit a jumper to cut the Lady Vols' lead to 73-68.
Miami (1-1) would get no closer. Two possessions later, Spani took an inbound pass with 10 seconds on the shot clock and launched a 3-point attempt that hit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.
"I thought that was the turning point of the game, as we were struggling kind of to get back in it," Meier said.
A couple of minutes later, Spani rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Shenise Johnson and launched the ball across the court to Simmons, who charged to the basket for a fastbreak layup to make it 84-68. The basket capped an 11-0 run that began with Spani's trey and sent the orange-clad crowd into a frenzy.
Simmons scored 18 points off the bench, Glory Johnson finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, Stricklen added 15 and Ariel Massengale had 11 points and nine assists.
"I thought across the board, everybody contributed in certain ways," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "It's just a matter of who's coming in. At any given moment, we've got enough people that somebody's going to step up."
The Tennessee coaches expected a strong rebounding effort by the Lady Vols, so they instead asked the players to focus on not turning the ball over. By halftime, Tennessee had just six turnovers but had 13 fewer rebounds than Miami.
By the end of the game, the Lady Vols had put enough of an effort on the boards to trail the Hurricanes 45-38 in rebounding, and it was Miami which was struggling to hang onto the ball. The Hurricanes turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 23 points for the Lady Vols — 10 more points than Miami got off giveaways.
Riquna Williams, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring a season ago, scored 24 points for Miami. Shenise Johnson added 17 and Morgan Stroman scored 11.
The stingy defensive play by both teams forced the ball to the hands of the outside shooters during the first half, leading four lead changes and two ties.
Miami took an early edge after scoring eight unanswered points. Williams and Stefanie Yderstorm each had a 3 while Stroman hit a pair of free throws to take an 8-2 lead, their largest margin of the first half.
A few minutes later, Tennessee went on an 8-0 run of its own, capped by a 3-pointer by Simmons off a dish by Massengale. The basket gave the Lady Vols an 18-16 lead — their first since the opening basket. They slowly built their margin to 38-31 on a jumper in the paint by Alicia Manning with 4:52 in the first half, but Miami scored the final five points of the half to tie it at the break.
"Our confidence was high," Shenise Johnson said. "(The score) was zero-zero."
The teams launched a flurry of long shots during their streaks, and the Lady Vols hit 7 of 13 and Miami 6 of 14 from behind the arc in the first half. Tennessee finished 11 of 22 from long range, while Miami missed all nine of its second-half 3-point shots.
The Lady Vols have now won 38 straight games at home on the court named for Summitt, dating back to a 62-54 loss to Duke on Feb. 16, 2009. They travel to Virginia on Sunday before hosting No. 1 Baylor at The Summitt on Nov. 27.
To see action photos provided by InsideTennessee.com of the Lady Vol victory, check out the slideshow below: