Well, this was bound to happen. Tennessee ended up folding to Auburn, bowing out of the SEC tournament in the semis. All told, Tennessee likely finishes up 11-6 against SEC teams this year, which isn't great by the standards we're used to, but certainly isn't bad. That's also good enough for a 22-10 record, which doesn't look great at first glance but keep in mind the schedule they had.
Nobody really expected it to end like this, though. The first half sounded bad - nay, it sounded terrible. Kelley Cain landed on her knee badly in the first few minutes of the game and had to be helped off the court to the back. She needed a MRI; for some reason that I still don't understand, they had a machine in the arena. We'll come back to this. Angie Bjorklund picked up two early fouls and was on the bench for most of the first half. Shekinna Stricklen only had four points, and she's been a second half player the last few games. You hear all of that and you'd expect this game was over by the 10 minute mark, right? Far from it - Tennessee kept it close most of the first half and even went into the half up 5. Thanks go to Brewer and Manning for contributing most of the Lady Vols' 18 points off the bench in the first half.
Here's where that MRI machine comes into play again. Cain's MRI showed no serious damage, and she was back on the court to start the second half. Bjorklund could play again. Stricklen was due to do her thing, right? The bench wouldn't need to carry the team the entire game, so the Lady Vols were in great shape. Well, Auburn opened up hot - 11-2 run hot. And they really didn't cool off the rest of the game. That's why the final was 78-58; make no bones about it, DeWanna Bonner and Whitney Boddie pretty much dominated the second half and there wasn't much, if anything, the Lady Vols could do about it.
Were there things I would've liked to see? Absolutely; Strickeln looked lost most of the game (chestbump to wvvol, who was actually able to see the game, unlike myself or hoop), especially in the second half. I would've liked Bjorklund to get her 17 a little bit before the game got totally out of hand; she was the game in the second half. I would've liked the refs to swallow their whistles a little bit; 35 fouls is obscene in general*. I would've liked Cain to get a little bit more involved, but I can't fault her too much for it. I would've liked to see the Lady Vols be able to string together a full 120 minutes in three days instead of the 100 we saw. Still, these things didn't happen, and aside from Fuller (who's already got some jewelry from her time on campus), they'll get their chance next year. I'm disappointed, but you won't hear me complaining too loudly.
*There was a predilection for offensive fouls that I haven't even seen in streetball-offense men's games before; I recall at least 9 charges, and there might've been more. Amazingly, nobody fouled out on either team, although the Lady Vols spent most of the second half in varying degrees of foul trouble. I think the Lady Vols ended up with 5-7 more fouls called on them than Auburn, which - let's be honest here - didn't make a lick of difference with the final score. I was more annoyed there was no game flow.
At the end of the day, the Lady Vols did what we hoped they'd do in the tournament. They won the game they absolutely had to win. They made a statement to get back on the 5 line. They took a quality shot at one of the best teams in the country. At the end of the day, their legs just ran out. I don't know what that means for the tourney, but I figure getting a week-plus off to recover and getting those days between games can't hurt matters.
Now it's a waiting game; we suspect they'll end up as a 5, and I think that's a realistic hope. That means one neutral court game and one (likely) road game in order to keep the Sweet 16 streak going. They'll need to be ready; they should be ready. Let's see how they answer the bell.