This was supposed to be manageable, at least. It sure looked like that early, as Tennessee put the Rutgers posts in foul trouble, imposed their wil on the defensive end, and comfortably surged out to a double-digit lead on the back of Shekinna Stricklen (14 in the first half alone, 22 in the game). At that point, the game looked comfortable with a nice 33-20 lead at the 5:53 mark of the first half.
The Lady Vols didn't score another point in the first half.
Rutgers rolled out a 2-3 matchup zone, started collasping on the interior, and cut the margin to seven at the break before breaking ahead early in the second half. It was close - neither team led by more than 4 - until the 8:33 mark of the second half, at which point it was Rutgers by 4, 54-50.
Rutgers didn't score another point for the next seven minutes.
By that point, the game was well in hand, thanks to a couple of downtown daggers from Meighan Simmons to turn a 55-54 nailbiter into a 61-54 comfortable lead. Taber Spani turned it into a 10-point margin with 1:54 left, which should've effectively closed down the game once free throws came into play. However, it quickly became obvious that the Ladies were watching the Kentucky-Indiana game from this weekend, as they promptly missed four straight free throws (including the front end of every 1-and-1 chance they got), which made the game closer than it probably should've been.
Breadsticks absolutely go to Stricklen, who had 9 boards, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and 40 minutes to go with those 22 points. Those 40 minutes were every bit as important as every other number.
Credit above the fold to Alicia Manning (4 points, 6 boards, energy everywhere), Spani (13 points, 3-5 3-pt, 5 boards, only positive A/TO), and Simmons (13 points, 6 boards, let's not talk about how many shots that took to get there). UCLA is next.
Game notes, as always, are below the fold.
- Stricklen carried the team in the first half, and that can't be overstated. Glory Johnson didn't show up tonight aside from drawing a few fouls, so with the absence of Ariel Massengale and the continued departure of Simmons it's basically up to Stricklen to carry the load. She was up for it, but she was the only person who was.
- The other only Lady Vol who showed up? Alicia Manning, who's back in her sixth man role with a flourish. She's never been a stat sheet stuffer, but her energy was the only thing that really kept the Ladies in the game in the second half.
- aurabass has brought it up in the last few game threads, and it's worth bringing up: the rotation and adjustments aren't where we're used to them. Some of this is due to Ariel Massengale's absence forcing a shallower guard rotation, but offensive adjustments to zone have been lacking so far. The Ladies are absolutely destroying man, but they'll continue seeing zone until they figure out how to solve it.
- On that note, plenty of credit is due to the defensive adjustments that Rutgers threw out there. I counted man, 2-3 matchup zone, full-court into both, and a few other adjustments off those. Tennessee only solved man. April Sykes also went off - 12-23, 27 points, 7 boards. Great performance from her.
- Glory Johnson needs to burn this game tape. At least she made her free throws.
- I've been really hard on Simmons for a while now, but it's been coach-hard where you get on someone because you see how good they can be. This game had plenty of Bad Meighan, but the second she took to collect before launching the game-clinching threes (half-second per, which is all she needs) was the best second of the game. Next up: don't go 2-10 when you don't take that half second, please. For that matter, the same could be said for Spani, who was 2-7 from inside the arc.