By Beth Rucker
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE — Glory Johnson shied away from the TV cameras, hiding behind teammate Kelley Cain, even though she’d just had one of the best games of her basketball career.
She didn’t want to take any credit away from her Tennessee teammates.
Johnson scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the fourth-ranked Lady Volunteers beat eighth-seeded Florida 92-75 Friday in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals. Shekinna Stricklen added 20 points.
“Being a post player, you have to get your touches from the guards,” Johnson said. “I’m not trying to take all the credit. I have off games. There’s times where I’m not hitting shots and pulling rebounds. That’s why I rely on my teammates. Today they relied on me and Shekinna.”
The Lady Vols (29-2), who are 8-0 against Florida in SEC tournament games, will meet fourth-seeded Georgia/fifth-seeded South Carolina in a semifinal today at 4 p.m. EST.
Tennessee had a 38-36 halftime lead, but Johnson hit a long-range jumper, a shot in the paint and a fast-break layup in the first 1:25 of the second half to give the Lady Vols a 44-36 lead. She finished the game 11-of-16 from the free-throw line.
“We knew they were going to come out at halftime and come out on a run,” Florida guard Deana Allen said. “When Glory was scoring back to back to back, it deflated us in a way. We knew we had to answer.”
Jordan Jones hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the margin to five, but it was as close as the Gators (18-14) would get.
The Lady Vols shot 69.2 percent in the second half and hit 17 of 25 free throws after halftime. The Lady Vols scored 50 points in the paint, got 28 off 18 Florida turnovers and turned a 40-32 rebounding advantage into 18 second-chance points.
Lanita Bartley led Florida with 14 points. Ndidi Madu and Allen each scored 13, Jaterra Bonds had 12 and Jones scored 10.
“I told the team in the locker room there were a lot of things we could have done better, but there’s no way we could have fought any harder than we did,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “However, we didn’t come here to put up a good fight.”
Tennessee won the SEC regular-season title after an undefeated run through conference play. The Lady Vols beat their SEC foes during the regular season by an average 24.1 points per game.
Tennessee limited Florida to 15 first-half points in its 83-40 win on Jan. 13 in Gainesville, and the Gators hit just 25 percent of their shots and scored their fewest points of the season in Tennessee’s 61-39 win on Feb. 10 in Knoxville.
But the Gators entered the game having won four straight and had beat ninth-seeded Arkansas 68-59 in a first-round game Thursday. Florida led the Lady Razorbacks by as many as 17 points, shot 60.7 percent in the first half and scored the final nine points.
This time against Tennessee, Florida led 16-14 when Stricklen hit a 3-pointer from the wing and Angie Bjorklund followed with another from the corner as part of a 10-2 run by Tennessee. Johnson hit six free throws and a layup over a 2:56 period that helped the Lady Vols build a 35-24 lead with 5:41 to go before halftime.
The Gators fought back with a 10-0 spurt that included four points by Bartley and a 3-pointer by Allen, getting within 35-34 with 2:38 in the first half, and the Lady Vols entered halftime with a 38-36 lead.
“You can tell they spent a lot of time on their offensive game,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “The ball didn’t get stuck in players’ hands. I thought they were really aggressive. They’re tough.”
Florida actually shot better than Tennessee in the first half — 48.4 percent to 41.9 percent — but Tennessee made four more free throws.
Johnson had 10 points at halftime and surpassed her previous career high of 22 points, set on Jan. 23 in a win against Mississippi State, when she hit a pair of free throws with 5:49 left in the game to make it 74-61.
“Florida is a physical team,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it looked like it or not, but they were giving me an extremely hard time.”