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Lady Vols Earn a Solid Win on the Road and Get Their Locker Room Back

276 days.

That is the number of days it has been since the Lady Vols have inhabited their own locker room at Thompson-Boling Arena.  As if defeating #12 Virginia on the road to start the season 3-0 wasn't sweet enough, they now have reason to feel at home again, and reason to believe that Pat Summitt sees the continuation of the Lady Vols tradition of excellence in them as well.

It wasn't an easy win for the Ladies on Sunday.  Despite a very significant size advantage across the board, they had to contend with the penetration ability of the Virginia Lady Cavaliers that comes from their quickness.  And, oddly enough, Summitt used another first half of zone defense to stymie the Lady Cavs and force their shots out to the perimeter.  It was only the third known use of zone defense from Pat Summitt (the first was against Georgia in the 90s), and was the second in a week, but the Lady Cavs could not get the penetration necessary for high-percentage shots and fell behind at the half, 40-33.

The pieces are being assembled for a fantastic team.  Angie Bjorklund shot 50% from three-point range as part of a game-leading 24-point night.  Kelley Cain registered 6 blocks and 6 rebounds.  Shekinna Stricklen added 8 rebounds of her own to go with 6 assists.  And Virginia's unquestioned leader, Monica Wright, was forced into 4 turnovers and 4 fouls, limiting her ability to help the team late in the game.

It wasn't a perfect night for the Ladies, however.  Despite earning the solid 77-63 victory, they lost the battle of steals (6 to 8) and turned the ball over more frequently overall (13 to 10).  However, they won the battle of rebounds (39-34) and shot 45% to Virginia's 34% to keep the game well out of reach.

And perhaps that was the whole point.  It wasn't a perfect game, by any means.  They still had plenty of mental errors and have a long way to go before they're tournament ready, but the Lady Vols are working the boards and fighting for every possession in a way that was not apparent last year.  It's a team that, when faced against a 6'-8" mega-center or a platoon of fleet-footed sharpshooters, can gut a game out and trust each other to get the job done.

It's a long season left.  There will be disappointment along the way, and there will be moments of growth to enjoy.  But the early signs are very comforting to those who had known only success and hard work in their Lady Vols basketball teams.  And it's a team that Pat Summitt clearly enjoys coaching more than last year.