The Lady Vols had their first exhibition game Tuesday night against Carson-Newman in a game where both squads were rather undermanned. The Lady Vols only used 8 players thanks to some injuries and rehab (e.g. Vicki Baugh and Kelley Cain) and one-game suspensions to Angie Bjorklund
and Lauren Avant [Avant had a nerve contusion; Kamiko will miss one game later on --ed.] for skipping a class. Meanwhile, the Lady Eagles played 11 players despite having nursed many of them through their own injuries and missed practice time during the preseason. All in all, the lack of depth led to some sloppiness but some great chances for players to stay on the floor for a while and work through their games.
Oh, the final score was 110-66 in favor of the Lady Vols, but in exhibition the performance is more important than the final score. I was able to catch some of the game, and here are a few things I observed.
Holy Cow, Taber Spani is for real. Her style was not flashy; she just calmly put up 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists with zero fouls on a night where the Lady Vols were otherwise foul-happy. She almost seemed slow out there because she's so efficient with her body movements that you don't really see much. She plays with control and awareness and is in line for a lot of playing time this year, if this game was any accurate indicator.
Umm ... hand checks aren't legal ... That has to stop. The Ladies got called on hand checks early and often on the night, probably out of some nerves and playing a new opponent for the first time in months. But the refs are really bearing down on hand checks in a continuation from last year; since Tennessee tends to play physical defense, this becomes a bit of a liability if they aren't careful. The aggressiveness is good, but watch them hands, gals.
You'll like Meighan Simmons. Just give her some time to grow. The true freshmen had some brilliant play mixed with some gaffes on her first night ever in the Lady Vols uniform. She's very quick and can shoot accurately against a stiff defense. It may take a few games for her to settle into her niche on the team, but I think that she's going to be a really good one this year.
Kamiko, Kamiko, Kamiko. She's getting better, but she was the only Lady Vol to foul out. Her biggest problem appears to be that she's so athletic that she overestimates what she can actually do. She'll often take a risk rather than the safe play, especially on defense, and that can get her out of position and susceptible to fouling. The skill's there and it had its moments, for sure, but there is still some growth to do. Once she relaxes and doesn't worry about proving herself, she's going to be a defense killer.
Glory Johnson is going to be really good this year. She led the team with 26 points, but more importantly, she held the center of the court while Cain, Brewer, and Baugh rested. Her interior game looked pretty sharp and she found plenty of room to maneuver. Once teams can't stack their primary interior defenders against her, she should find a little more space to operate.
Alicia Manning. Defensive Ninja. This girl is a completely different level of intense. Leading the team with 13 rebounds and 4 assists, Manning also notched 15 points to earn the double-double of the night. But in short, she's a ball of fire on the court and is willing to take elbows and knees all night long to help her team. She's exactly what they need on defense.
Still some work to do, but the potential was obvious. The Lady Vols finished with a huge lead in rebounds (45 - 28), but actually trailed in rebounds at halftime. There was a lot of rust, especially in the first half, but there was also a lot of energy and eagerness to play. Give them another exhibition game and the chance to work in their interior players, and this team should really impress and prove that their preseason #4 ranking is legitimate. Heck, it may even be an understatement.