SAN ANTONIO — Returning to San Antonio likely won’t be this easy for Tennessee.
Taber Spani scored 18 points and Glory Johnson added 17 as the Lady Vols (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) crushed Texas Tech 91-53 on Tuesday night in what Tennessee hopes will be the first of two trips to the Final Four city this season.
The road back is bound to be tougher: Tennessee opened the second half on a 32-4 run, held Texas Tech to 30 percent shooting and handed the game over to Spani and the rest of the Lady Vols bench early.
About the only thing giving the game a Final Four feel was defending national champion Connecticut watching nearby, waiting to play Texas (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) in the second game of a doubleheader.
“It gives [the players] a taste of what it’s all about,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said about playing in the San Antonio showcase. “Clearly, we all want to be back. It kind of whets your whistle a little bit.”
Shekinna Stricklen scored 16 points for the Tennessee and Angie Bjorklund sank four 3-pointers to finish with 14. The mostly burnt-orange crowd here for the Longhorns took in a dominating preview of Tennessee, which will face Texas at home Dec. 6.
Kierra Mallard scored 15 points and was the only player in double figures for Texas Tech. The Lady Raiders have never beaten the Lady Vols in six tries.
Tennessee flirted with holding Texas Tech to a single-game school record for poor field percentage before the Lady Raiders scored 21 of their points in the final 10 minutes. Before then, Texas Tech was shooting just under 24 percent from the floor.
Like the three other teams in the AT&T Center for the doubleheader, Texas Tech was once a Final Four contender before longtime coach Marsha Sharp retired after the 2005-06 season. Coach Kristy Curry has been trying to get Texas Tech back on track since.
“This does not define our season,” Curry said. “When you’re called for this opportunity, do you turn it down? No. You know this is the right step to take to get Tech back to where we want to be.”
The Lady Vols have now opened the year with two wins over Big 12 teams after beating Baylor (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) on Sunday. They’ll play another pair of ranked teams starting Sunday at Virginia (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) and then Nov. 25 at Middle Tennessee (No. 24 AP).
Stricklen just wants to be back in Texas come April.
“As a team that’s our main goal — to come back here,” Stricklen said. “Being here for the first time we really enjoyed it and we want to be back. We know what it takes to come back.”
Category Archives: taber
SAN ANTONIO — Returning to San Antonio likely won’t be this easy for Tennessee.
While growing up, Taber Spani didn’t go to school. Instead, the classroom came to her.
The Tennessee women’s basketball freshman and her four sisters were home-schooled. In their case, it meant scattering to five different parts of their Lee’s Summit, Mo., home and watching DVDs provided by Pensacola, (Fla.) Christian Academy.
“They’d set up a camera in the back of the classroom,” the 6-foot-1 guard said. “So you’d kind of watch your classes and then you’d have all of your homework and all of your tests and my mom would oversee it.”
Spani still was able to play basketball. Since mom didn’t play teacher’s pet, there was no cutting corners on her education either.
“For me, it was built-in,” she said. “But I think it would take a lot of discipline, just because when you’re by yourself, it’s always natural to not want to do something. I loved it.”
Along with diligence, Spani has a built-in devotion to family and football, along with a desire for her faith to resonate in her life.
Q: Are you a big football fan?
A: Saturdays, if I’m not doing a workout, which I’ll probably come in and shoot, but after that it’s reserved for football.
Q: What position would you have played?
A: I’d either have been a linebacker – because that’s what my dad was and I love to hit, I love that part – or I’d be a quarterback.”
Q: Your dad (Gary) was a star player at Kansas State and with the Kansas City Chiefs. Did you hear a lot of stories growing up?
A: When I was born my dad had already been retired a couple of years. It’s mostly from people … old buddies. They’ll just start talking about it. My dad was ferocious. He was a worker. He was the ultimate worker. He’d run 50 40s every Wednesday in college. He didn’t start, I don’t think, until maybe midway through his freshman year. He didn’t get a chance. And then somebody got hurt and he went in and he had 20-some tackles his first game in college. He kind of took off from there.”
Q: You told me before of your admiration for Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. What is it about him?
A: What I love about him is he was home schooled. His beliefs are very similar. Most importantly, it’s just the way he’s an all-out leader. I love his passion for the game, the way he absolutely leads his team. He’s going to do whatever he can. Maybe people will say he’s not the most skilled athletically, but he gets the job done and he’s going to will his team to victory. I kind of want to be the Tim Tebow of women’s basketball – use my platform to influence people.”
Q: What do you think when you hear about all of the mission work he does?
A: I love it. Obviously his parents, their missionary work is a tremendous outreach. I don’t know what I want to do here, but I want to get involved somehow. I just feel like as athletes, especially at top programs like Tennessee, you only have four years. We have a platform, We have a chance to influence people. If you don’t take advantage of that, I think that’s sad, and I think that’s really selfish. I’m going to do whatever I can. Obviously it comes hand-in-hand with performance, so I’m going to work my tail off on the court.”
Q: How do you want your life to reflect your faith?
A: I want people to see Jesus through me. I want it to be clear who I am. I know that some people aren’t going to agree with that but that doesn’t really faze me. I want to be known as someone who’s the ultimate competitor but loves you to death.”
Dan Fleser covers the Lady Vols. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tennessee moved a step closer to the official start of women’s basketball practice next month by convening their first full-team workout on Thursday.
Since fall semester began, the Lady Vols had been conducting individual workouts that involved no more than four players at a time.
“We worked on all these things in individuals,” freshman Taber Spani said, “but now it’s understanding it in a team setting.”
Actually the Lady Vols spent most of the individual sessions introducing and drilling on defensive concepts. They will use the team workouts to start playing catch-up on offense.
Team workouts also introduce the use of male practice players.
“The size of the guys down low defensively surprised me,” freshman Faith Dupree said. “I’ve played some big people, but those are the biggest I’ve played.”
UT coach Pat Summitt likely will be more vocal as well. During individuals, she spent more time observing while her assistant coaches directed the drills.
Dupree was happy to report that she survived a Summitt scolding on Thursday.
“You know what? Bring it,” Dupree said. “I’m going to mess up, and she is going to tell me what I did wrong.”
Kelley Cain hasn’t charged headlong back onto the Pratt Pavilion court.
After two seasons worth of multiple knee surgeries and multiple concussions, the Tennessee women’s basketball center is proceeding through individual workouts at a more practical pace.
“The confidence is coming back day by day,” the 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore said. “I’m not rushing into anything.”
Cain had surgical screws removed from her right knee in early April. She said that her summer work was confined primarily to “rehab, rehab, rehab, rehab.” She was able to do some cardiovascular work but didn’t start running until the beginning of school.
She reports her knee, on which she had surgery to correct patella subluxation in December of 2007, is doing much better.
“It’s working,” Cain said. “Every now and then I might have pain but it’s not as bad as it used to be.”
As for the latest concussion, it occurred in a non-basketball-related incident a few weeks ago. Nobody has offered any specifics. Cain is back to being fully engaged in the on-court work, which progresses to weekly full-team workouts Thursday.
Until the start of official practice next month, Cain intends to concentrate on her conditioning, not her medical history.
“I’m looking at the positive side of everything,” she said.
Sizing Up Spani: Taber Spani’s career scoring and rebounding totals from high school stack up pretty well nationally.
The UT freshman, who was home-schooled and played for Metro Academy in Olathe, Kan., is the only girls’ player to be ranked in the top 10 for scoring (4,113 points, seventh) and rebounding (1,758, ninth).
Notebook: Texas Tech freshman post player Shauntal Nobles is out for the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon. UT plays Tech on Nov. 17 in San Antonio. … Recruits Lauren Avant and Meighan Simmons are scheduled to visit the weekend of Oct. 2. Avant already is verbally committed to UT … ESPN football analyst Todd Blackledge visited individual workouts Thursday to see Spani. Blackledge played with Spani’s father, Gary, with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs 1983-87.
writer Dan Fleisher
LadyVolNation stand up! Hello BigOrange fans. Knoxville we have another shooter, she is 6’1, basketball intelligence beyond her years, and can shoot the 3 from anywhere in the building! Taber Spani was highly coveted by her father’s alma mater K.State, but she grew up desiring to play for the BigOrange. She made a tough decision to come to Knoxville, rather than follow in the family tradition of going to K.State like her sister did, and we are grateful for that. She is a hard-nosed kid,(reminds me of Kara Lawson)and she has great court vision, so I believe the game just became a lot easier for all of our bigs.
I know that Taber has a relationship with God, she has been very open about that, coming from a private Christian School;reminding me of Shanna Zolman, who took Sidney Spencer under her wing, and we know how that worked out for us don’t we, (national championship). Taber we look forward to seeing you on the court. Congratulations on your gold medal with the under 19 team. I want to see this line up: Stricklen,Spani,Bjorklund,Johnson,Cain! NCAAW Be afraid, be very afraid!