A week ago, the Lady Vols won the SEC regular season title and finished their conference slate with only one loss (an early conference matchup against a then-stout Georgia squad). Yet even after a 27-2 mark and Tennessee's 15th SEC title under Summitt, the legendary coach was still unhappy with her squad; the disappointment was strong enough that GoVolsXtra eventually asked a poll about the topic, and John Adams helpfully suggested that she lighten up a bit.
Summitt's temper was apparently not just a matter of a permanent anger streak in the head coach, but a pitched battle against allowing the 'good' play of this squad to prevent them from growing into the 'great' team they have the potential to be. In Friday's SEC tournament game against the Lady Rebels, we may have finally seen a glimpse of what Summitt has been striving for all along, as the Lady Vols completely upended a very talented and veteran Lady Rebels squad.
The clues were in place early. Ole MIss scored the first bucket on a Bianca Thomas three-point shot and Tennessee responded with an interior lay-in by Kelley Cain. Tennessee then worked up an early lead as Ole Miss struggled to find passing room and open looks at the basket. The game settled in at a 17-15 Lady Vols advantage when the lid finally blew off and Tennessee went on a 33-10 tear to end the first half (and, effectively, the game).
Everything you could want to see in a game was present in that first half. The passing was fast and crisp; the shooters were taking smart shot and managing the clock well; rebounding was easily in the Lady Vols' favor; fouls were down; the defense was stifling. Twice in the first half alone, the Lady Vols forced jump balls at mid-court, immediately after Ole Miss crossed the half-court line. After several timeouts (both from Ole Miss and of the television variety), the set play that the Rebels ran ended in turnovers, ranging from offensive fouls to traveling violations to shotclock violations. A 'successful' Mississippi offensive possession was one where they could just manage to get a reasonable look at a three-point shot. The halftime bell came with Tennessee doubling up Mississippi 50-25.
And when asked about the performance in her halftime interview, Summitt was "very pleased".
The first half so badly rattled the Lady Rebels that they were ineffective in the second half. Both teams scored 26 points in a mostly routine effort to just end the game, with Tennessee giving the bench ample of time to play. A moment of ugliness did occur as Nikki Byrd, having lost a tough rebounding battle to Cain, took a swing at Tennessee's uber-center to receive a technical and her fifth foul with 10 minutes left in the contest.
But the real story is that the team finally - finally - showed us what Summitt had seen in them for so long. The game started with announcers musing about the relative parity within the SEC, but ended with the unquestioned statement that everybody else still had a lot of catching up to do.
Tennessee now plays at 3:30 EST on Saturday against the Vanderbilt / LSU winner. We'll have another game thread open for that one.
Stats of Interest
Alicia Manning ended with a double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds. She led the Lady Vols in minutes played (29). Four Ladies ended with double figures for points - Alyssia Brewer, Angie Bjorklund, Alicia Manning, and Shekinna Stricklen. Mississippi was held to 33% shooting for the game, with only 10% from three-point range and 64% from the charity stripe; Tennessee shot 48% FG, 37% 3-pt, and 83% FT. Only Kamiko Williams and Sydney Smallbone played fewer than 10 minutes (9 and 8, respectively). Tennessee outrebounded Mississippi 48-22, out-assisted them 19-7, and out-blocked them 8-0.