published Monday, January 31st, 2011

Stricklen lifts Tennessee past Arkansas 72-53

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    Arkansas guard Lyndsay Harris (33) and Tennessee forward Glory Johnson (25) battle for control of a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Beth Hall)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Shekinna Stricklen admitted she was nervous before Sunday's game.

The Tennessee junior didn't show it, matching her career high of 26 points as the No. 5 Lady Volunteers pulled away in the second half for a 72-53 win against Arkansas.

Stricklen, who grew up in two hours away from the Arkansas campus in Morrilton, Ark., estimated between 60-70 family members were in attendance to watch her. She didn't disappoint for the hometown audience, scoring 18 first-half points and connecting on career-best six 3-pointers.

"It was homecoming for Stricklen," Tennessee coach Pat Summit said. "She liked it.

" I think everybody in her hometown was here. Sometimes players won't play as well, but I think Stricklen was liking it."

The win was the 12th straight for the Lady Volunteers (21-2, 9-0 Southeastern Conference), who haven't lost since an overtime defeat at Baylor on Dec. 14. Tennessee hit 9 of 19 3-pointers in the win, nothing new for the team that entered the game leading the SEC in 3-pointer percentage.

After falling out of the rankings last week, Arkansas (16-5, 4-5) rebounded with a win at LSU on Thursday. The Razorbacks played like that team early against the Lady Volunteers, much like they did earlier this season during home wins over then No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 10 Kentucky.

Arkansas was no match physically, however, for Tennessee. In addition to shooting 28 of 59 (48 percent), the Lady Volunteers outrebounded the Razorbacks 42-23. Glory Johnson led in dished-out punishment for Tennessee with 12 points and 14 rebounds.

"I think this is the best Tennessee team since (Candace) Parker," Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. "This is the most complete team they've had. I think this is a team that can probably make a run to the Final Four, and anytime you get there you've got a chance to win the national championship."

The Lady Volunteers led 31-27 late in the first half before closing with an 8-0 run to take a 39-27 halftime lead. Taber Spani scored five of her 18 points during the run, which Stricklen capped with her fourth 3-pointer of the half.

Even after Sarah Watkins scored five points of her 15 points during a 10-2 Arkansas run to open the second half, Tennessee had an answer. This one came in the form of a 9-0 run, keyed by a pair of baskets by Johnson that gave the Lady Volunteers a 50-37 lead that remained in double digits for the remainder of the game.

"I think we came out and played hard and they're a really great team, so it's hard to beat ourselves up over this loss," Watkins said. "I'm sure we wanted it to go a little closer, a little more down to the wire than this, but we understand we're playing a team that has a great history."

After matching her previous season high of 18 points in the first half, Stricklen didn't score for nearly 10 minutes to open the second. Her first points of the half came on her fifth 3-pointer with 10:48 remaining, giving Tennessee a 57-42 lead.

She added another 3-pointer later to put the Lady Volunteers up 66-49. She then connected on a jumper with 2:12 remaining to extend the lead to 70-51 and match her career high before exiting the game to a rousing ovation behind the Tennessee bench.

So much for those pregame nerves.

"I have to say I was nervous," Stricklen said. "I really didn't know why I was nervous, but it went away as soon as the game started, though."

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