KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt knows not to take any Southeastern Conference opponent lightly, even one that's never beaten her. She hopes her Tennessee Lady Volunteers have learned never to do it again.
The Lady Vols (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) overcame an eight-point deficit late in the first half to beat Mississippi State 81-55 on Thursday night to stay undefeated in the SEC. Mississippi State remained both winless in the league this season and the only SEC team that has never managed a victory against Tennessee.
"They knew that Mississippi State hadn't won a game in conference this season and thought that this would be a cakewalk," Summitt said. "I know [coach] Sharon [Fanning-Otis] though, and I knew that it was not going to be a cakewalk. We took them lightly until halftime."
Tennessee (20-2, 8-0) could hardly afford to have an off night with Angie Bjorklund, who averages 11.3 points per game, on the bench nursing a sprained right foot and the SEC's leading shot blocker, Kelley Cain, out with an illness. Fellow post player Vicki Baugh was held out because of soreness as well.
Glory Johnson stepped up in a big way to fill in down low, scoring a career-high 22 points, tying a career best with 18 rebounds and adding a career-high seven assists and four blocks. Taber Spani scored 18 points in Bjorklund's place.
"With three girls being out, we realized that we had to step up, but I think that's the beauty of our team," Spani said. "We want to be the same no matter who's on the floor."
Even with Johnson having a double-double and Spani with 11 points at halftime, Tennessee had still had more than it could handle from Mississippi State, which held a 37-35 halftime lead. It was the first time the Lady Vols had trailed at the break since a 65-54 loss at Baylor on Dec. 14 and only the second time all season.
Tennessee opened the game on an 8-0 run and led 13-4 when Mississippi State launched a 10-2 run to cut the Lady Vols' lead to a point. The Lady Bulldogs' next five baskets were 3-pointers, and the last one gave them a 26-21 lead.
Mississippi State (8-11, 0-7) entered the game averaging just 57.7 points a game and 36.5 percent shooting but hit 46.9 percent of its shots and went 7 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half.
It was a completely different story after the break.
Meighan Simmons hit a 3 just 10 seconds after halftime for Tennessee, which opened the second half with 18 unanswered points during a 6-minute scoring drought for Mississippi State. The Lady Bulldogs have had droughts of 6 minutes or more in four straight games.
"I felt like we lost focus in the second half," Fanning-Otis said. "Great teams don't let that happen to them."
Johnson and Spani remained hot while Simmons and Shekinna Stricklen picked up a little bit of the slack. Simmons finished with 12 points, Kamiko Williams added 10 and Stricklen had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Lady Bulldogs cooled off to a mere 23.3 percent shooting in the second half. Diamber Johnson scored only six of her team-leading 19 points after halftime. Mary Kathryn Govero had five of her 16 points in the second half, and Porsha Porter scored two of her 13 points in the period.
"It seems like we've had one good half of every game," Govero said. "We're working on putting two good halves together. We know when we do that, we're going to see the results that we want. There were things we can learn from both halves."