Just when you think these Ladies have turned the corner, they find new ways to make you nervous all over again. This was a story of two completely different halves.
The Lady Vols came out strong and played strong for the entire first half - a blissful change from most of the regular season. Despite 9 turnovers (most unforced), the Lady Vols played tenacious defense and used their height to absolutely own the rebounds. By the halftime whistle, the Lady Vols found themselves leading Florida 38-21. (The 21-points was the fewest allowed in one half by UT all year.) Angie Bjorklund had found her stroke from downtown. Kelley Cain was quiet offensively, but she and Glory Johnson played robber off the glass and gave Florida very few second chances. Shooting better than 50% from the floor, UT seemed composed and in control from the opening gun for the full 20 minutes.
And just when we thought we could relax...
After a quick score, the Lady Vols went absolutely silent on offense, allowing Florida to cut the 17-point lead down to 7 within about 5 minutes. Further, the foul advantage that UT had built went away, and Florida entered the 1-and-1 situation with nearly 12 minutes left in the half.
But most frustrating were the unforced turnovers. In the first half, they had 9 turnovers total. After 8 minutes of play in the second half, they matched that total. The 23 total turnovers was one of their worst marks all year. Seven were by Stricklen, who cannot be pleased with her performance tonight.
Trying too hard, methinks. Many of the turnovers were caused by Florida's press. The one advantage a shorter team often has is their speed, and Florida used it effectively. Whenever UT tried long passes to break the press, Florida jumped into the passing lanes and snarfed up the ball. Fortunately, UT has a press-breaker in Brianna Bass. In a game of our-shorty-is-shorter-than-your-shorty, Bass is quick enough and nimble enough to simply dribble through a press and avoid the passes. That gave just enough broken presses to allow UT to hold on. But you have to be nervous about the press; Florida showed that you can use it very effectively against the Lady Vols, and future teams will pick up on that.
Otherwise, you really had the sense that the Lady Vols are trying too hard on offense. Many of the turnovers were made on high-risk passes that weren't absolutely necessary. It's almost as if the Lady Vols think they have to play with as much dazzle as some of the more legendary teams of the past. Unfortunately for them, they don't yet have the advantage of 4 years of practice together to get their timing down like last year's Vols did. In a game like this, where the Ladies were clearly taller and more athletic, they could have been more relaxed about the passes and stuck with simpler plays.
Angie Bjorklund. After an 0-fer outing against Alabama, she lit up the board for 24 points and player of the game. Oh, and she played all 40 minutes of the game.
- Glory Johnson. Eight rebounds and eight points made for a great game for her.
- Kelley Cain. Underutilized in the first half, Cain had eight rebounds and only one personal foul. She's getting really good at keeping her foul count down.
- Brianna Bass. You'll never see it on a stat sheet, but she defended Brooks brilliantly. Despite Sha's 22 points, she struggled when defended by Bass, who was quick enough to continually cut off the dribbling lanes. That slowed down the comeback enough to hang on and win.
But hey, a tournament win is a tournament win. Now the Lady Vols play top-ranked Auburn at 6:30 PM Eastern on Saturday. Be ready for it: same Vol-time, same Vol-channel.