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Jan. 7, 2010

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Icy roads kept about 9,000 of Tennessee’s usual fans away.

Coach Pat Summitt’s cold stare kept the Lady Volunteers motivated after a slippery start.

Angie Bjorklund scored 23 points and Shekinna Stricklen added 21 to help No. 4 Tennessee open the SEC schedule with a 79-62 victory against South Carolina on Thursday night.

“Coach Summitt’s look stirs a fire in us,” center Kelley Cain said. “We just came together and decided that they weren’t going to beat us in our house, especially not when we had fans come out despite the bad weather.”

The small crowd in the cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena couldn’t stir up much energy as South Carolina jumped out to a 19-14 lead. The Gamecocks were physical on defense and accurate on offense early, prompting the Summitt glare.

“We have to start the game at a different level of intensity and with a better commitment on the defensive end,” Summitt said. “Everyone that we have played is coming in and just running. When you have players shooting the ball like Shekinna and Angie are, sometimes the other players stand around and watch.”

Tennessee answered by holding the Gamecocks without a field goal for 5:33 and going on a 17-1 run helped by three 3-point shots by Angie Bjorklund. A long jumper by Bjorklund sent the Lady Vols (13-1, 1-0) into halftime with a 47-33 lead.

The Gamecocks (7-7, 0-2) narrowed their deficit to seven points in the second half, but another 3 by Bjorklund launched a 13-1 run to help the Lady Vols pull away as South Carolina ran out of energy.

Valerie Nainima led South Carolina with 16 points. Charenee Stephens had 10 rebounds.

South Carolina, which opened its SEC season Sunday with a loss to No. 11 LSU, struggled to get shots past the Lady Vols defenders, who combined for 11 blocks.

Kelsey Bone, who as a top incoming freshman was heavily recruited by Summitt but signed with the Gamecocks instead, likes that kind of physicality in the paint. Bone, who entered the game averaging 10.2 rebounds, grabbed only five boards but still scored 10 points.

“The SEC is known for its physicality,” Bone said. “It’s expected. It’s just a matter of me being able to handle the physical nature.”

South Carolina has had success with its transition defense this season, but it was Tennessee who prevailed. The Lady Vols scored 18 points off 13 South Carolina turnovers, while the Gamecocks scored only six points off eight Tennessee turnovers.

South Carolina is now 1-5 against ranked teams this season having beaten only San Diego State.

Coach Dawn Staley knows her players have the talent to put an end to Tennessee’s streak but need a little more experience. They’ll have another shot at the Lady Vols in Columbia on Jan. 31.

“When we add some experience to the talent we have, we will start making these games a lot closer than what they are,” Staley said.