Kelley Cain had her lessons in the classroom today. The rest of the Lady Vols took notes on the court.
One of the bigger stories of the day was Summitt's offer to Cain to stay home and go to school today. Cain, who is a senior in class standing, has an unavoidably heavy Thursday load of classes and the recent schedule has had the Lady Vols on the road for a lot of Thursdays this year. The offer was eagerly accepted by the Lady Vols' star center, leaving Alyssia Brewer to start in her place.
The absence of Cain served as a hard reminder to the Lady Vols that they can't rely too much on any one player. Without Cain, Tennessee's rebounding efforts suffered dramatically, being outrebounded by Alabama 38-33. It was also a night where Alabama shot 46% from the field - easily one of the best efforts against Tennessee by any team this year. The difference came in ball control - Tennessee notched 12 steals against Alabama's 5, and UT only turned the ball over 12 times to Alabama's 23. Along with the nine extra possessions, the 22-13 foul advantage enjoyed by Tennessee kept the Tide from establishing enough rhythm to keep pace in the second half.
This was not a pretty win, and one that the Lady Vols better take to heart. They only shot 46% on their free throws, leaving 13 points on the table that could have blown this game open far earlier. They got burned on interior passing and shooting more than normal; had Alabama been one of the hotter perimeter shooting teams that Tennessee had seen this season, that kind of interior penetration would have been UT's undoing.
As we've seen so often, the Lady Vols eventually found their stride in the second half and pushed open an insurmountable lead. A lackluster first half rolled into a double-double for Alyssia Brewer (10 rebounds, 20 points), who let UT in scoring and had a very nice stat sheet despite some difficulties on both ends of the court. Alicia Manning also gets a very favorable review; her hustle in the second half was at times the only thing keeping Tennessee in the lead. Kamiko Williams turned in a dismal first half, but responded to some 'adjustments' in the locker room with one of her better efforts of the season in the second half, and her athleticism gave Alabama a lot of problems down the stretch.
It would be easy to note that the Lady Vols would likely have run away with this one if Cain had been present, but these gals have to learn to play without Cain. This was an object lesson for the team - a lesson that should pay huge dividends down the road. The girls needed to learn that they relied too much on Cain, and Brewer needed to learn that she could be the center for this team and shoulder the interior load.
Kelley Cain appreciated her opportunity to take her lessons today. Here's hoping the rest of the Lady Vols did as well.