No. 8 Lady Vols cruise past MT, 82-43

Glory Johnson

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With two losses behind it and a stretch that includes games against four ranked opponents ahead, eighth-ranked Tennessee needed a bit of a boost.

An 82-43 rout of Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night definitely helped with that.

Cierra Burdick had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Ariel Massengale added another 14 points and Shekinna Stricklen contributed 12 points.

"It's a good thing to break that two-game losing streak," coach Pat Summitt said. "We played with high energy, and it came from the players. They challenged each other to come into the game with lots of high energy, and it's obvious that they did that."

The Lady Vols (3-2) had opened the season 2-2 for the first time since 1990 and were determined not to have a "letdown game" two days after losing at home to No. 1 Baylor. They already logged one when they lost in overtime at Virginia on Nov. 20.

Tennessee's December schedule will test just how well all of the Lady Vols have responded from the loss to the Cavaliers. The Lady Vols host No. 21 Texas before facing No. 22 DePaul, No. 11 Rutgers, UCLA and No. 5 Stanford on the road.

"This was a big game for us," Stricklen said. "We really needed to win and get back on a winning streak. Coming out with energy like that creates energy for the whole team for the whole game. It's something we have to do for every game."

Stricklen got the energy going when she took an inbounds pass, spun around and sank a jumper with 17:14 left in the first half that launched a 17-0 run.

During the stretch, the Lady Vols stole the ball from Middle Tennessee on four consecutive possessions and got a basket in transition after each one, three of the shots coming from Massengale.

MTSU (4-3) cut the margin to a single digit just once more on a layup by Ebony Rowe that made it 27-18 with 7:13 in the first half.

Tennessee hit 59.3 percent in the first half, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

The Blue Raiders struggled to get clean looks at the basket against the Lady Vols' defense and hit just 28.6 percent in the first half, and Tennessee pushed the lead to 48-24 just before halftime.

Kortni Jones led MTSU with 16 points, and Rowe added 10.

"They're better than us, bottom line," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell said. "They're more athletic at every position, and we've got to learn from this and grow from it."

The bench went to work after the break and finished with 37 points. Burdick and Harrison took control of the boards, each grabbing eight rebounds after halftime. Tennessee finished with a 53-30 rebounding margin.

Though the Lady Vols' shooting and ball control got sloppier in the second half, their defense held up and MTSU shot just 20 percent in the second half.

"We've got to make sure we have the ability to use our bench," Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "As we want our starters to get us off to a great start, we'll rely on our bench because of how aggressively we play offensively and defensively. It's a tough stretch. Texas comes in, and then we go on the road for four games. We have a big challenge ahead of us."

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