KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's tendency to get off to slow starts hasn't proved costly yet. The third-ranked Lady Vols still want to break the habit soon.
The Lady Vols slumbered through much of their game with winless Oakland on Sunday before a halftime lineup change sparked a 21-0 run that helped them breeze to an 84-50 victory. Tennessee (5-0) was clinging to a one-point lead late in the first half Sunday and has been tied or behind at halftime in two of its other four victories.
"The second half, we settled down and we decided to play, but the sign of a great team is we've got to play 40 minutes," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We're very capable of it. We've got the talent to do it. I'm just waiting for us to bust out and play the perfect game."
Tennessee's Bashaara Graves had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead all players in both categories. Meighan Simmons added 14 points, Ariel Massengale had 13, Isabelle Harrison had 11 and Mercedes Russell scored 10 for Tennessee. Victoria Lipscomb scored 13 points for Oakland.
Oakland (0-5) outhustled Tennessee at the start of the game and only trailed 28-27 with 2:07 left in the half when Amy Carlton missed a 3-pointer that would have put the Golden Grizzlies ahead. Tennessee's Jordan Reynolds sank a 3-pointer 10 seconds later to help Tennessee lead 34-27 at halftime.
"We were just playing basketball," Lipscomb said. "We were having fun. That was one thing we talked about coming in was just having fun. Even though it was a one-point game, I don't think a lot of people on the court realized it was a one-point game."
Warlick responded to her team's sluggish start by altering her lineup to open the second half. Russell, Reynolds and Andraya Carter joined usual starters Graves and Massengale on the floor. Simmons, Harrison and Cierra Burdick were on the bench at the beginning of the second half after opening the game in the starting lineup.
"She said we had let our fans down," Massengale said. "We have 10-11,000 people here watching us play, and in those first 20 minutes, we let them down."
Among those spectators was former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who remains on staff as head coach emeritus and is the subject of a campus statue that was unveiled Friday. Summitt watched Sunday's game while sitting between Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings and Billie Moore, who coached her on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team. Summitt received a standing ovation during a timeout as a video of Friday's statue dedication ceremony played on the scoreboard.
"It's a huge crowd," Warlick said. "They deserve to be, in my opinion, entertained. What I mean by entertainment is you play every possession as hard as you can play. You might not make every shot. We're not going to get every steal. But my expectation is you are going to play as hard as you can every possession. ... Our fans don't want to see us walk the ball up the floor, turn the ball over, not have effort, not have hustle plays."
There wasn't much hustle from Tennessee early on.
One week after Tennessee pulled down 33 offensive rebounds in an 87-76 victory over Georgia Tech, the Lady Vols had just two offensive boards in the first half Sunday. Oakland outrebounded Tennessee 24-20 and outblocked the Lady Vols 4-1 in the first half despite facing a major height disadvantage. Oakland had three starters 5-foot-8 or shorter and didn't play anyone taller than 6-1. Tennessee has six players 6-2 or taller.
Tennessee attempted only one free throw in the first half and struggled to solve Oakland's zone defense.
The Lady Vols showed much more energy and scored the first 15 points of the second half, as Graves scored six points during a 21-0 run that broke the game open. Oakland committed three turnovers in the first 41 seconds of the half and faced a 22-point deficit by the time Kim Bee scored the Grizzlies' first second-half points with 15:19 remaining.
Tennessee never looked back and finally utilized its height advantage as the game wore on. Tennessee outrebounded Oakland 24-13 in the second half and finished the game with 44 rebounds to Oakland's 37.
"It's an outstanding basketball team and one that we'll be seeing here in the Final Four, I'm sure," Oakland coach Jeff Tungate said.