In the march to 1,000 wins, the game against Auburn loomed large on the schedule. The Lady Vols have shown a tremendous amount of promise for a young team, having beaten Stanford at home and having pulled out a thrilling come-from-miles-behind win at Rutgers already this season. However, their extreme youth and complete turnover of the starting lineup has also left them with head-scratcher games where nothing seemed to go right.
Today was one of the puzzlers. Auburn is a fantastic team this year, no doubt. They are undefeated for a reason: senior-laden, well-experienced with each other, and well-recruited. Also, Tennessee was at the back end of an unusually long road trip, having stayed away from home after the Arkansas win in order to save a little money.
The stats are very unusual for a game. Tennessee did not attempt a free throw until fewer than 18 minutes were left in the game. At halftime, 5 walks had been called against Tennessee compared to 1 for Auburn. By the end of the game, Auburn had attempted 29 free throws while Tennessee had attempted 13. Oddly enough, the obligatory fouling at the end (as UT tried to come back) didn't really skew that mark, as Auburn had a significant number of fouls called in the last two minutes as well. I didn't see the game, so I can't say whether the officiating was lopsided, but the game announcers weren't able to figure out the refs either, so there's that. Either way, the game ended up being more of an 8-on-5 situation, with the Lady Vols fighting both the Lady Tigers and the Lady Whistles throughout.
Things to take away:
While our focus will be on the loss, Summitt will undoubtedly focus on the mechanics. She's way ahead of me on that curve, but here are a few things I think she'll see.
- Good shooting. The Ladies' problem was not their shooting, having shot very consistently around 50% throughout the game.
- Uncoordinated play. There were a lot of missed passes and unforced turnovers - something you just can't afford against a talented and experienced team like Auburn.
- Lack of awareness. A lot of steals and Auburn rebounds came from UT players not being aware of where the Lady Tigers were. AU did a great job of sneaking up on the Ladies throughout the game - a great benefit of experience vs. youth.
- As Bjorklund goes, so go the Lady Vols. Angie Bjorklund had a remarkably quiet night, having not even scored a point until only 4 minutes were left in the contest. On the nights that she's a presence, the interior opens up and the Lady Vols become a frightening offensive team. When she disappears, even the inside game gets tight, and Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen find surprisingly little room to move. I get the feeling that Bjorlkund's career will end on very, very bright notes, but she does need to find consistency.
Congratulations to the Lady Tigers for staying undefeated. The full house was very animated and loud throughout the game - a testament to the respect that people have for a Summitt-led team. As for the Lady Vols, there are 3 days off to lick the wounds and gear up for Ole Miss.
For win number 999.