Seniors start on Senior Day; that's just the way of things. Getting Angie Bjorklund back into the lineup was needed - and a matter of course, really - but this was Sydney Smallbone's day in the lineup. We know Bjorklund's impact on this team and its championship hopes, but Smallbone was the consummate team player, accepting her role and helping when she can, even while relegated to the back of the bench most of the last two seasons.
Smallbone hit more three in this game than Meighan Simmons, outscored Kamiko Williams, and hit every shot she took. How's that for depth?
Tennessee stormed out to a 17-3 lead early then extended that to 34-10. By that point, the game was effectively over, and the Ladies did something that they haven't had much experience with until recently: they safely saw the game out. Sure, LSU cut the margin to 44-31 by halftime on the heels of a flurry of made threes at the end of the half and got it to 10 late in the second half, but this wasn't in doubt. Tennessee officially is the SEC regular season champion.
Tennessee's 16-0 season is the first undefeated conference season since the SEC expanded the conference schedule. Considering this team's core was also part of the worst Tennessee season that any of us can remember, that's a big deal. Sure, the SEC was also down this year, but if we've learned one thing from the men's team this year, it's that anything can happen on any conference game night. All credit to the Lady Vols for not letting that happen, even if it came at the expense of a scare against Mississippi State and a first-half pasting at Memorial Gym. (Although that also might've been the best thing to happen to this team.)
This was win number 1,065 for Pat Summitt. For comparison's sake, it's been 1,100 days (basically) since Pearlfection. That's a win every day since then with a month off. It's also another trophy in the case. (We're going to need a bigger case.) Next up: the SEC tournament. One down, two to go.
Player notes are below the jump.
- Post play in this game was weird for Tennessee; Kelley Cain was inactive, and Brewer / Baugh didn't see a lot of action. That left post duties to Glory Johnson, who sat out most of the first half with foul trouble. (The two offensive boards the Ladies got in the first half can be directly traced to said foul trouble.) That left Shekinna Stricklen with post duty, which went as well as it does when Stricklen plays any other position. She's such a luxury it's not even funny, as she can play every single position on the floor in a pinch. Stricklen's board numbers were a bit higher than you'd expect as a result, but if the goal was to rest the post players for the tournament, mission accomplished without too much concern.
- Angie Bjorklund's back. With a stroke and a half. 4-4 from beyond the arc, 17 points, and 3 assists (3/0, since y'all know I care about that). Good to see how she did in extended game action, and this victory doesn't happen without her. On a related note, the seniors went 6-6 from 3 today.
- Meighan Simmons opened up 3-for-3 from the floor ...and then promptly hit 1 of her next 7. I like to think that happened because ESPNU ran a special feature comparing her to Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Tamika Catchings. Like Oreo, she can't handle that kind of attention.
- Glory Johnson (15/16) and Stricklen (17/11) both ended up with double-doubles. In related stories, the sun rose in the east today. Offensive boards for both of them suffered until very late; LSU didn't try and pull down boards at the rim, instead opting to tip it further out so Glory couldn't get boards for easy points. It's a smart play, and it's one we'll see a lot more of as the season goes on. It worked, for about 35 minutes - Glory ended up with 7 offensive boards, though.
- Alicia Manning absolutely dominated the last couple minutes of the game. It floors me to think that she's 8th on the depth chart on this team.
- Somewhere around the 7 minute mark of the second half, Van Chancellor started leaning on the refs hard. After that, the foul calls got ...weird. Let's just leave it at that. The game got choppy and chippy late with a side of super physicality; had LSU played like that all game, we're looking at a game in the lower 60s for both teams and maybe LSU has a chance. As it is, it was too little too late.