KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Dana Johnson should be long past the point in her career where the unusual should fluster her, but the game of basketball is always full of surprises.
Johnson, the 6-foot-2 senior low-post threat for the third-ranked Tennessee women's basketball team, came out for last night's Mideast Regional semifinal expecting to see her Western Kentucky counterpart, Ida Bowen, down in the blocks with her, but when Bowen opened the game playing point guard, Johnson gulped hard.
"I said, 'Let's play,' but I looked around and I didn't see any point guard, so I said, 'OK, you'd just better get down in a stance and play defense,' " said Johnson.
Eventually, things got back to normal, meaning Johnson dominated and the Lady Vols won, 87-65, for their 63rd straight victory at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Johnson, the former Baltimore Sun Player of the Year for Western High, scored a game-high 25 points -- 18 in the second half -- to power Tennessee into tomorrow night's regional final and one step closer to the Lady Vols' goal -- a national championship.
"For the upperclassmen, it was just getting ourselves in focus. It's like we've always said: We take it one day at a time, one game at a time," said Johnson.
MA The Lady Vols (32-2), who are 25-0 at home in NCAA tournament
games, were sluggish at the start, failing to read the Hilltoppers' combination defenses. Even when Tennessee was able to get an offensive flow going in the first half, it couldn't sustain it, and Western Kentucky tied it at 30 with 1:47 left in the half after it had trailed by as many as 10.
But when Bowen picked up her third foul with 1:02 left, the Lady Vols began to gather steam, and had a four-point lead at halftime. After a halftime lecture from coach Pat Summitt, who stressed the value of playing the passing lanes on defense, Tennessee began to convert turnovers into baskets.
"We made better reads on defense. We've learned an awful lot and we've improved because of it," said Summitt.
And when the running game wasn't working, there was always Johnson, who figured mightily in the game's critical play. With just under 18 minutes left and Tennessee leading 38-30, Johnson got loose under the basket for a layup.
Western Kentucky guard Dawn Warner was called for an intentional foul on the play and Johnson's free throws gave the Lady Vols a 12-point lead. The Hilltoppers (28-4) never got any closer.
If that call hadn't done in the Hilltoppers, the Lady Vols' 46-28 rebounding edge, not to mention the 16 additional free throws they hit, would have, and Johnson's second- half performance ++ was a huge part of both.
"In the first half, I felt like I was playing a position, not defense. I came out [in the second half] a little looser. I credit that to Pat getting in my face," said Johnson.
=1 Said Summitt: "And smiling when I was there."