ATLANTA — Tennessee’s second game without head coach Pat Summitt went a whole lot better than the first when the No. 20 Lady Volunteers muscled up and beat No. 22 Georgia Tech 71-54 Sunday to spoil the Yellow Jackets’ debut in their sparkling new arena.
The visitors showed up angry after falling flat 80-71 Friday night at Chattanooga in the first game since Summitt stepped down after announcing that she has early-onset dementia. Freshman Bashaara Graves scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Lady Vols (1-1), and fellow forward Cierra Burdick added 16 points to give coach Holly Warlick her first win.
Summitt sat near the Tennessee bench in Chattanooga, but was not at Georgia Tech for the first women’s game in McCamish Pavilion.
Her former team returned to form Sunday. The Lady Vols charged to a 45-30 lead by halftime, weathered Georgia Tech’s 13-0 start in the second half and then ripped off an 18-0 streak to put the game away.
“Obviously, we played terrible against Chatt,” said Burdick, a sophomore who added six rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and a steal as one of Tennessee’s five new starters. “This was night and day ... the biggest thing was energy.
“We didn’t play (at Chattanooga) with that Tennessee pride, that tradition and legacy that our program was founded on.”
In Summitt’s 38 years as the Tennessee coach, she wasn’t much for zone defenses. The Lady Vols on Sunday played quite a bit of it, though, as Warlick — a Summitt assistant for 27 years — acknowledged Georgia Tech’s athleticism.
Junior Ty Marshall was just about the only Yellow Jacket up to the Lady Vols’ gusto. She led Georgia Tech (0-1) with 18 points and eight rebounds but was nearly alone in getting to the basket. The Yellow Jackets capitulated to the zone and made just 4 of 21 shots from 3-point range.
“I was disappointed in the way we opened up this new arena,” said Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph. “It’s obvious that we lived and died by the 3-point shot. We didn’t ever establish an inside game. You have to play with a certain amount of toughness on the inside. Outside of Ty Marshall, we didn’t have a lot of toughness out there.”
The fifth-largest crowd in the program’s history (5,517) saw the first bad sign early.
When sophomore shooting guard Sydney Wallace picked up her second foul just 53 seconds into the game, the Yellow Jackets were left for much of the first half without their best zone-buster. Wallace made 19 3-point shots last spring in Georgia Tech’s three NCAA tournament games, including eight in a Sweet 16 loss to eventual national champion Baylor.
The Vols stuck with their plan — pound the ball inside. Burdick made all six of her shots in the first half while scoring 15 points, and Graves added 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals.
“Friday was a real wake-up call for us,” Warlick said. “We have a whole different team. We regrouped, did a little soul-searching and came together as a team.”
The Yellow Jackets rallied furiously in the second half. They picked up their pace, with Marshall getting to the rim for seven points in a 13-0 run. A layup with 15:25 remaining by point guard Dawnn Maye, who finished with 12 points, pulled Georgia Tech within 45-43.
Then, the Lady Vols snapped back to life. A jumper by Jasmine Jones started their 18-0 run.
Save the early stretch in the second half, the Lady Vols looked more like themselves Sunday. After registering just six assists against 26 turnovers at Chattanooga, they had 17 of each against Georgia Tech. Conversely, in their first game — with three new starters — the Yellow Jackets had 20 turnovers and just eight assists, and made just 21 of 63 shots.