Spani leads Lady Vols to easy exhibition win
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Sports) - Junior guard Taber Spani scored 22 of her 25 points in the first half and the Tennessee women's basketball team cruised to a 93-45 exhibition win over five-time NAIA champion, Union, Tuesday evening at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Spani set the tone early, draining two of her seven three-pointers to open the game's scoring. Averaging 13 points per game last season, Spani shot 8-of-12, including a 7-of-12 mark from downtown. Her 22 first-half points outscored Union (16), while her seven treys were more than the Lady Bulldogs had combined (5).
"Taber was in a `zone' in the first half and forced them to pull a little bit out of their zone defense," head coach Pat Summitt said. "It was good to see her shoot the ball like that."
The Lady Vols never left this one in doubt, heading into halftime with a 51-16 lead. In two exhibition games, UT allowed an average of 15.5 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Tennessee's offense flowed smoothly early and often, as the Lady Vols shot 55.2 percent from the field and had four players in double-figures. Senior preseason All-American Shekinna Stricklen scored 17 points, while freshman Isabelle Harrison had 11 and sophomore Meighan Simmons chipped in 10.
But for as good as the Lady Vols were offensively, it was their defense that led the way.
Tennessee's full-court pressure was disruptive all night as it forced 31 turnovers and took advantage, scoring 37 points off of those opportunities. Four Lady Vols had at least three steals: Alicia Manning, Harrison and Spani all had four, while senior Glory Johnson recorded a trio.
"We've put a lot of time in our press, and it makes us very aggressive," associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "We're an athletic team, and we should be very good at it. Right now we are good at it, and I think the last two games have given us an opportunity to work on our press, on our defense. It's going to be a staple for us this year just because of how active and athletic we are."
Freshman Ariel Massengale stepped in for her first opening tip as a Lady Vol versus Union. The true point guard, who was announced as Tennessee's starting point guard while she was still in high school in March, dished out a game-high six assists with four points and a steal.
"It was a lot of fun," Massengale said. "I had a week of practice under my belt after being out for three weeks with an injury, and so I'm just getting back in the flow of things and playing with my teammates and getting ready for the season to start."
UT pulled down 39 boards, led by Johnson's game-best 11, to the Lady Bulldogs' 23. All of this effort came short a starter, however.
"Vicki missed the game tonight in order to attend class," Summitt said. "We have a game next Tuesday night (versus Miami) and we didn't want her to miss two weeks in a row. I thought it was good that other players, actually the team as a whole, stepped up and filled her leadership role.
"Great communication...it was a team effort. They were constantly talking on the bench to each other and had great communication."
Lavanda Ross led the Lady Bulldogs in virtually every statistical category with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Union came to Knoxville unbeaten in two regular-season contests this season and ranked second among NAIA schools.
"I think we really feel privileged to come and play Tennessee," Union head coach Mark Campbell said. "To not only play against great players, but the greatest coach that has ever been in women's basketball, so for us it's a privilege to be able to come."
Tennessee will open the regular season Sunday, Nov. 13 when it welcomes Pepperdine to Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET.
Information provided by UT Sports Information and UTLadyVols.com.