KNOXVILLE — With one dribble drive, a hush fell over the crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday.
After colliding with Alabama’s Ericka Russell under the basket, Tennessee freshman guard Shekinna Stricklen crumpled to the court in the first half of the Lady Vols’ 80-61 SEC victory over the Crimson Tide.
As UT training staff attended to her, Stricklen grimaced and whimpered. A hum of concerned murmurs replaced the spectators’ normal din.
Stricklen, who entered the game leading her team in scoring, had to be carried off the court with her right leg elevated.
Jenny Moshak, UT associate athletic director for sports medicine, said Stricklen suffered a subluxation of the patella tendon in her right knee but avoided serious ligament damage.
“I think we dodged a bullet,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said afterward. “When she hit, it was a hard fall for her, but I think she’s going to be all right.”
Without Stricklen — who went down with 10:39 left in the first half — the 15th-ranked Lady Vols (18-6, 7-3) built a 41-30 lead at halftime and used a 14-0 run during a five-minute stretch to stretch the advantage to 25 after the break.
Senior forward Alex Fuller had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Lady Vols, who extended their winning streak against Alabama to 34 games. Sophomore Angie Bjorklund added 13, followed by Sydney Smallbone with 11 and Alicia Manning with 10.
Smallbone and Bjorklund each made three of a season-high nine 3-pointers for UT.
Junior guard Dedrea Magee led the Crimson Tide (12-13, 0-10) team with 21 points, followed by Varisia Raffington’s 19. Alabama shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, largely on the play of Magee and Raffington.
“We are, as you can tell, a guard-oriented team,” Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said. “We don’t have that inside presence yet, so our perimeter players get a lot of shots.”
But Tennessee’s inside presence ultimately made the difference. The Lady Vols outscored Alabama 32-14 in the paint and grabbed 51 rebounds to the Tide’s 31.
Summitt credited the disparity to an effective high-low game with 6-foot-6 center Kelley Cain and Fuller.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Summitt said.
The Lady Vols dished out a season-high 26 assists, led by Cain with five.
“That’s just another threat for us,” Fuller said.
But Cain also displayed some unexpected ball-handling ability. After she grabbed an errant pass, she led the fastbreak before finding Smallbone, who drained a midrange jumper.
Fuller’s immediate thoughts as Cain broke away into open court?
“Do your thing, girl.”
As the Lady Vols prepare for a Big Monday matchup with Duke at 7:30 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena, Stricklen’s rehabilitation will be a primary focus.
“Now it’s just a matter of wait and see,” Moshak said.