By Beth Rucker, The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE - With two losses behind them and a stretch that includes games against four ranked opponents ahead, the eighth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols needed a bit of a boost.
An 82-43 rout of Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night definitely helped with that.
Cierra Burdick had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Ariel Massengale also scored 14 points and Shekinna Stricklen contributed 12 points for the Lady Vols.
"It's a good thing to break that two-game losing streak," coach Pat Summitt said. "We played with high energy, and it came from the players. They challenged each other to come into the game with lots of high energy, and it's obvious that they did that."
The Lady Vols (3-2) were 2-2 for the first time since 1990 and were determined not to have a "letdown game" two days after losing at home to No. 1 Baylor. They already logged one when they lost in overtime at Virginia on Nov. 20.
Tennessee's December schedule will test just how well all of the Lady Vols have responded from the loss to the Cavaliers. The Lady Vols host No. 21 Texas before facing No. 22 DePaul, No. 11 Rutgers, UCLA and No. 5 Stanford on the road.
"This was a big game for us," Stricklen said. "We really needed to win and get back on a winning streak. Coming out with energy like that creates energy for the whole team for the whole game. It's something we have to do for every game."
Stricklen got the energy going when she took an inbounds pass, spun around and sank a jumper with 17:14 left in the first half, launching a 17-0 run. The Lady Vols stole the ball on four consecutive Middle Tennessee possessions in that stretch and got a basket in transition after each one, three of the shots coming from Massengale.
MTSU (4-3) cut the margin to a single digit just once more on a layup by Ebony Rowe that made it 27-18 with 7:13 in the first half.
Tennessee shot 59.3 percent in the first half, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
The Blue Raiders struggled to get clean looks at the basket against the Lady Vols' defense and hit just 28.6 percent in the first half, and Tennessee pushed the lead to 48-24 just before halftime.
Kortni Jones led MTSU with 16 points, and Rowe added 10.
"They're better than us, bottom line," MTSU coach Rick Insell said. "They're more athletic at every position, and we've got to learn from this and grow from it."
The bench went to work after the break and finished with 37 points. Burdick and Harrison took control of the boards, each grabbing eight rebounds after halftime. Tennessee finished with a 53-30 rebounding margin.