“Well, that’s probably our best defensive team,” said Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick when asked about the change in the lineup.
“These seniors have been through a lot so we’re putting it in their hands,” she said. “They’ve accepted the challenge. They set the tone and then we subbed in.”
The seniors led No. 2 Tennessee to a 68-57 victory over the No. 7 Vanderbilt Commodores at Bridgestone Arena in front of a crowd of 8,594 fans, the majority of which were clad in orange.
“Something we like to do is acknowledge the fans before and after the games,” Glory Johnson said. “They travel far to see us play. The majority of every game we’ve played has almost all Tennessee fans. It’s just Lady Vol fans.
"They love the game of basketball. We have to respect that and acknowledge them.”
The fans were treated to two offensive showings to end both halves at Tennessee’s SEC Women’s Tournament opener.
Off to a slow start, Meighan Simmons entered the game with the Lady Vols only up by 5 with 9:41 seconds remaining in the first half.
The guard helped Tennessee first to build a 19-point lead and then to weather a Vanderbilt comeback attempt by scoring 11 points in 10 minutes in route to a Lady Vols 35-27 halftime lead.
However, seniors Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson were key in leading the Lady Vols late in route to the victory.
Following a 44-minute halftime delay due to inclement weather, Vanderbilt was able to close the gap on Tennessee. The Commodores brought the score to 43-42 and 45-44 before the Lady Vols were able to regain their momentum.
Stricklen scored all 18 of her points and grabbed 4 of her 7 rebounds in the second half to lead the Lady Vols in scoring.
Stricklen played only eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. The senior picked up a third just 3:46 into the second half, followed by a missed jumper, prompting a few minutes spent on the bench.
“I was really frustrated,” Stricklen said. “I didn’t get to play in the first half because I had two fouls. I picked up the third, got really frustrated.
"Coach came over there, went off on me, made it worse. I really got mad. I really felt bad because I let my teammates down. They were still encouraging me.”
Upon returning to the court with 10:42 in the game, the senior quickly sparked Tennessee’s offense hitting a 3-pointer, a layup and a free throw in quick order to put the Lady Vols up 51-46.
“I went out there and just let it go,” she said. “I was positive. I stayed focused. Just knew I had to step up. Glory stepped up big for us on the inside also.”
The two seniors combined to score Tennessee’s final 21 points over the last 9:43 of the game. Johnson finished the game with 15 points and 9 rebounds.
Tennessee will play the winner of No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday afternoon at 6 p.m. EST.