DAYTON, Ohio — It took a while for Shekinna Stricklen and mighty Tennessee to get going. When they did, it was only a matter of time until the Lady Vols took their accustomed spot in the Elite Eight.
Stricklen scored 20 points and touched off a critical 11-3 second-half run to power top-seeded Tennessee past Ohio State 85-75 Saturday in a NCAA regional semifinal.
The Lady Vols (34-2) won their 25th consecutive game, but only took control with their charge in the final minutes.
Meighan Simmons added 18 points and Kelley Cain had 16 for Tennessee, pursuing a ninth NCAA title. The Lady Vols meet either Notre Dame or Oklahoma in the regional championship game on Monday night, with a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis on the line.
Samantha Prahalis had 22 points, Jantel Lavender 19, Brittany Johnson 16 and Tayler Hill 12 for Ohio State (24-10), which had won its last 11.
By the end, Tennessee fans were chanting, “S-E-C! S-E-C!”
With the game hanging in the balance and Tennessee on top 58-57, Stricklen twice made big plays to provide some breathing room. First, she hit a deep, deep 3 as the shot clock was draining away. After an Ohio State miss, she took the ball from the right wing and bulled her way along the baseline to power in a layup for a 63-57 lead.
After Johnson hit another 3 from the left corner for Ohio State, the Lady Vols ran off six points in a row for their largest lead of the game. Simmons stopped and popped in a shot from 15 feet, Taber Spani made a follow and then Spani drilled a long jumper to make it 69-60.
Ohio State got as close as eight points in the last minute, but Stricklen scored seven in a row for the Lady Vols to easily hold onto the lead.
The game was played a little over an hour away from Ohio State’s campus, but there appeared to be more orange than scarlet and gray in the crowd.
Down 42-40 at the half, the Lady Vols started to swing the game because they picked up the pace. Two long passes resulted in easy baskets by Stricklen and Glory Johnson, who finished with 11 rebounds to go with her nine points. At the other end, the Buckeyes, who got off to a torrid shooting start, suddenly could not find the basket.
After shooting 67 percent in the opening half, Ohio State mustered just 39.5 percent in the second half.
Tennessee pounded Stetson 99-34 in the first round, then had difficulties in holding off Marquette 79-70. The Lady Vols had a players-only meeting to straighten things out, knowing that they would have to play better to survive much longer in the tournament.
Apparently the heart-to-heart worked.
Ohio State came out with one of its finest efforts of the season from the outset. The Buckeyes hit 12 of their first 16 shots from the field – and were 2 for 2 behind the arc and 4 of 4 at the line – to take a surprising 30-25 lead.
The Lady Vols regrouped to retake the lead only to have the Buckeyes build their biggest lead of the half at 42-36 with just over a minute left in the half. Tennessee picked up a turnaround lefty shot in traffic by Cain before Stricklen beat the buzzer on a 14-foot jumper from the wing to cut it to 42-40 at the break.
The Lady Vols had nine different players score in the game.
The last time these teams met, Tennessee won 97-65 in Knoxville in the second round of the 1996 NCAA tournament. They went on to win the title, their first of three in a row.
They’re hoping the latest win against the Buckeyes leads to a similar result.