In all the fiasco of the mens' teams, there certainly is some bright news from the Ladies.
Last year, the Tennessee-Oklahoma game featured a chance for the 1000th win for Pat Summitt, though the Lady Sooners came out on top, 80-70. As a further reminder, that was the game where the Lady Vols ended Courtney Paris's streak of double-doubles at 112 games as she had 12 rebounds but only 9 points before fouling out. This year, the Paris-less Lady Sooners found themselves at the mercy of a vastly improved Lady Vols squad that was more than happy to write themselves in the history books.
It was only the second triple-double in Lady Vols history, but it was a triple-double that very nearly didn't happen. Summitt was not pleased with Stricklen's early performance and benched Stricklen to allow her to find her focus. Per Stricklen:
When she took me out she told me I wasn't playing like a point guard and that I needed to step my game up to another level. I just said, 'Yes ma'am', and I responded.
No kidding. By halftime, Stricklen had 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. She earned her triple-double in true Summitt fashion - with a rebound - with 8:58 still left in the game. Her final stat line included 17 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, along with 3 steals, one block, and only 4 turnovers and 2 fouls to her name. But what's even more remarkable about the triple-double was that Stricklen was never supposed to be a point guard.
At 6'-2", Stricklen was recruited as a forward. She was most noted for a long wingspan and a tendency to play over the heads (literally) of other players, which are two traits not associated with point guards at all. But with the struggle the Lady Vols had last year, and instability at the point, Summitt called on Stricklen to provide her ball-handling skills so that the offense could run.
Stricklen was initially uncomfortable with the change, but the move has paid huge dividends. No only has Stricklen proven herself to be a very capable point guard who is nearly undefendable from three-point range, but her selflessness set an example for the rest of the team to follow. She worked hard to convert her play to the point, and the rest of the team has seen the effort as well as the results.
And Stricklen was not the only Lady Vol to have a big night. Angie Bjorklund led all Lady Vols with 25 points, including 5-8 shooting from behind the arc. Kelley Cain ended with 8 rebounds, 10 points, and 5 blocks. Alyssia Brewer provided 13 points and 5 rebounds from the bench. All in all, the team shot 51.3% (62.5% from three-point range) and 72.7% from the free throw line. They outrebounded Oklahoma 46-26, out-assisted them 24-18, and out-blocked them 9-3. And once they took a 31-30 lead with 5:52 remaining in the first half, the Lady Vols methodically choked out the Lady Sooners by gradually increasing their lead throughout the rest of the game.
The pieces are coming together with this team, folks. They have the inside presence with Cain, the point play with Stricklen, the outside threat from Bjorklund, and fantastic interior play from Glory Johnson on both ends of the court. They have added zone defense to their arsenal to go with Summitt's stifling man defense, and they very rarely get outhustled at any time in a game. There is still plenty of room to grow, but if you're not on the bandwagon yet, now is a great time to climb aboard before this thing really picks up steam.