DAYTON, Ohio - There are halftime chats and then there are coach's rants. Pat Summitt hasn't won 1,071 games by not knowing when to let her team have it.
Summitt absolutely lit up her Tennessee Lady Vols at the break, and their regional semifinal game Saturday tilted soon after. With Shekinna Stricklen scoring 14 of her 20 points in the second half and touching off a critical 11-3 second-half run, Summitt and the Lady Vols moved into their accustomed spot in the Elite Eight with an 85-75 victory over Ohio State.
"It was about an 8 1/2," she said, rating her halftime speech on a scale of 1 to 10. "I wasn't real happy. But that's what you have to do at times. You go into the locker room and get a feel. One thing about this team, they do respond. Sometimes I think they kind of like to hear the coaches going off."
The Lady Vols (34-2) won their 25th consecutive game but did not take control until final minutes.
Meighan Simmons added 18 points, and 6-foot-6-inch Kelley Cain - inserted into the starting lineup to offset Ohio State's height advantage - had 16 for Tennessee, which is pursuing a ninth NCAA title. The Lady Vols meet Notre Dame, a 78-53 winner over Oklahoma, in the regional championship game on Monday night, with a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis on the line.
"Coach kind of lit a fire under our butts in the second half," Cain said. "We played better. We were getting up in their grills, making them play at a different level than they were used to."
Simmons grinned as she said, "Coach went off on us in the locker room."
None of the Lady Vols were really surprised. They had not been aggressive on defense, leading to Ohio State (24-10) shooting 67 percent in the opening half. The Buckeyes led by as many as six before settling for a 42-40 lead at the break.
"We played on our heels a little more in the first half," said Angie Bjorklund, who didn't score but had seven assists.
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 three 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 Brittany Johnson hit one of her four threes for Ohio State, the Lady Vols scored six straight points for a nine-point lead. Simmons stopped and popped in a shot from 15 feet, Taber Spani made a follow, and Spani added a long jumper to make it 69-60.
Ohio State got as close as eight points in the last minute, but Stricklen scored seven straight for the Lady Vols to hold the Buckeyes at bay.