It's that time of year again. The time we break this little ditty out of the closet:
Ok, so the Lady Vols haven't won the SEC since 2007, but this is still the 15th conference title for Pat Summitt. The Ladies had already captured a share of the title heading into tonight's matchup, but Kentucky had a prayer of a chance that required a victory against Tennessee tonight. It was not to be for the Lady Wildcats, as the Lady Vols finally put together a first-half performance that was up to their talent level.
After the opening tipoff, Glory Johnson started the scoring off with a two-point layup less than 30 seconds into the game. Kentucky then answered with a layup of their own to tie the score at 2-2.
That was the last tie of the ballgame.
Tennessee scored the next six point of the ballgame to generate an 8-2 lead, then pushed the advantage up to 41-20 with less than four minutes in the first half behind some terrific interior play. Even with Cain resting on the bench after two early fouls, Brewer and Johnson were just too much for Kentucky to contain. As if the size advantage in the paint weren't enough, Angie Bjorklund also had a strong start from the perimeter, hitting her first two three-point attempts with about 6 minutes left in the first half to give the Lady Vols a 19-point lead and ending any hopes that Kentucky had of coming back in the game.
Kentucky clearly gave it their best effort, but they really didn't have a chance on a night where Tennessee showed up to play from the opening bell. UT's starters handled Kentucky's trap defense with ease and found great passing lanes to the inside when the double-team came to the ball handler. On the other side of the court, the block party held by Cain and Brewer (who had four of her own) shut down Kentucky's dribble drive and forced the Lady Wildcats to look for points from the perimeter. Unfortunately for Kentucky, downtown shots were not in abundance as they hit only four of fifteen attempts. Between the blocks and the missed threes, Kentucky finished under 30% shooting on the night, which will never win against a Summitt team.
On to the stats:
Kelley Cain: BlockMeister
Cain only registered 19 minutes in the game tonight, thanks to two early fouls in a very whistle-happy game; in those 19 minutes, however, she led all Lady Vol scorers with 14 points and brought the hammer down on Kentucky with seven blocks and six rebounds. Kelley Cain has 98 blocks on the year - one shy of the record held by Candace Parker and two shy of the century mark. Tune in on Sunday for some near-certain history. Her interior presence is becoming the most dominant I've ever seen in women's basketball.
Double Digits for all starters
Every starter reached double-digits on the stat sheet tonight: four earned it with points (Kelley Cain , Glory Johnson , Angie Bjorklund , and Shekinna Stricklen ), and the fifth - Alicia Manning - had 11 rebounds to lead all players. Alyssia Brewer had 10 points and seven rebounds to her name off the bench as well.
Defense = Manning
It's an equation that would never have made sense in Knoxville ten years ago, but it sure is now. Alicia Manning has found her role in the offense: she's Tennessee's Dennis Rodman without all the baggage. Incredibly smart and hard-working, Alicia seems to have a real knack for chasing down rebounds and creating general chaos for opponents. With her defensive efforts, teams can no longer scheme solely to keep the ball away from Cain's blocking ability, which is part of the reason that Cain has been so imposing as of late. Every week, UT's defense does a better job of keeping opponents at the perimeter and shutting down everything within the arc, and Manning is the one who is now making it all work right.
Tennessee made a near-sweep of the hustle stats: 42 rebounds to 31, 15 assists to 7, and 15 blocks to 2. The only hustle stat they lost was in turnovers, where Kentucky held the advantage 21 to 14 thanks largely to a 10-6 margin on steals and the abundant time on the court spent by Tennessee's bench. Like the scoreboard, the hustle game was clearly dominated by the taller, longer Ladies in orange who played up to Kentucky's speed throughout the game.
This was the kind of game Lady Vols fans have been wanting to see, and perhaps UT is peaking at the right time of year. There is one more to go on Sunday as Ole Miss comes in for a rematch. Win, and the Ladies are all but guaranteed of a number one see in the NCAA tournament. Two blocks by Cain and she enters uncharted territory with triple-digit blocks in one season.