The Lady Vols are assured to at least be co-SEC champions after having maintained a perfect SEC record to date. The convincing victory over the Gamecocks leaves Georgia as the only team with a mathematical chance to catch the Ladies. (It won't happen.) The victory was quite literally "over" South Carolina; the height advantage was again too much to deal with for the Garnet and Black.
There is much to say about the game but precious little to learn. With a combined 35 fouls - almost none of which were called in the closing minutes - the game never really had any kind of flow. Both teams seemingly spent more time preparing for free throws than running offenses and hustling back on defense. The sputtering nature of the game was significant enough that it must be addressed first. And boy, it's a game the refs would like to forget ever happened.
In the opening minutes of the game, Tennessee's height advantage caused significant problems for the visitors. Able to pass over the heads of South Carolina, UT continually connected inside for easy lay-in attempts. Credit South Carolina for never giving up on the plays, but their hustle and Tennessee size left them in bad positions to attempt blocks, resulting in many early fouls. When a series of Tennessee-missed-free-throw-UT-rebound-foul-Tennessee-missed-free-throw-lather-rinse-repeat ran the foul disparity to 4 fouls on UT compared to about 11 on South Carolina, the Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley understandably pleaded her case to the refs for a little more balance in the calling. While this was happening, Glory Johnson was setting up for free throws.
On Glory Johnson's very next free throw (immediately after the coach-ref interaction), that same exact ref called a technical foul on Shekinna Stricklen. I haven't seen the replay yet; it had something to do with jockeying for position for the rebound on the free throw attempt, but I've never seen any call like it before.
Then things got ugly.
Summitt requested a conversation with the officials, which led to several rounds of 'discussions' and a lot of angry players and fans. At that point, you were reminded that referees are human; their foul-calls wound up tight as a drum, and gameplay never achieved any continuity until about 5 minutes left in the game. All the ticky-tack that could get called was actually being called, and a few phantom calls were made that kept everybody up in arms. I don't think it was tilted necessarily, but it was obvious that the refs were no longer comfortable on the floor.
It happens, though. Play through it and live for another day. Enough talking about the refs; on to the players.
Brewer started and Cain came into the game in relief, but Baugh never entered the game and I don't know the story why. Brewer's efforts were solid; her passing was sharp and she caused many of the foul problems that South Carolina experienced. Cain appeared alright but did miss a couple easy buckets and passes. I'm not convinced that she's not feeling some fatigue in her knees at this point, so the continued relief from other players is huge. Cain's 13 minutes is far below her typical 25; the rest for tournament time continues.
Much improved. Lauren Avant is loud. She came in off the bench to many cheers (mostly for her Vanderbilt efforts in the previous game), and amid the cheers her directions were audible from the upper deck. Her 14 minutes of play came in pieces and partly at the end with a Bass/Smallbone lineup, so determining her level of readiness was a little difficult. But she passes well, plays with a ton of confidence, and has no problem leading the offense. She will be a terrific point guard for a team that has sorely lacked one for years.
Meanwhile, Meighan Simmons played with more control and a much better awareness of the floor. Even without Avant running the point, Meighan's pass/shot selection was smarter and all her shots made sense. Her 6-13 shooting might have been a shot or two lower than where it should have been, but here 17 points was not an anomaly. Another game like that, and we might be able to declare her freshman slump over. (Let's give it until after Georgia, though.)
Alicia Manning. Beasticus Maximus. (And POG)
That girl had the game of her life tonight. 8-11 FG shooting, 3-4 from three and from the free throw line, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, a monster block, and only 1 foul in 26 minutes of action on ticky-tack night was good enough to earn her player of the game honors. She earned it.
Enjoy them sticks, Angie.
All in all, it was a good outing; they kept their composure and adjusted to the calls of the referees to continue to build their lead on South Carolina through the entire game. Despite the lack of rhythm and the obvious emotions flowing around the floor, it was the kind of win that they needed: a steady buildup of a solid lead in the first half followed by a bit of killer instinct in the second. At no time in the first were you left wondering when Tennessee would show up, and for that I am very thankful.