Words really fail to describe one of the strangest games the Lady Vols have played all year long. A final score of 73-67 would normally indicate a well-played, tough game between the #4 and #18 teams in the nation where both squads know the other players very well. Tonight was not that night.
In the first half, Tennessee displayed their charitable side with an astounding 17 turnovers, many of which were unforced. The full-court pressure that Kentucky employed rarely caused Tennessee to lose control in the backcourt, but the sloppy passing in frontcourt gave Kentucky more than ample opportunity to take the early lead in the game. With a five-minute scoreless drought within the first eight minutes of the game (!!), Tennessee found themselves down 12-4 before finding a nice streak to tie the game. They even managed to grab a brief lead at 26-23 late in the half, but fell behind 33-30 heading into the locker rooms.
Everybody knew what came next. Even ESPN made sure to have the cameras rolling when Pat Summitt addressed the team. And we now have six more weeks of winter ahead of us.
Yet despite the incredibly sloppy and error-prone play, Tennessee did the one thing that Summitt insists all her teams do: rebound. At the half, Tennessee led Kentucky in rebounds 21 to 11, which helped atone for their sloppiness with the ball. They also shot 54% in the first half to keep the score close, making the most of each opportunity whenever their passing allowed them the chance. In the second, these trends continued; Tennessee ended with a phenomenal rebounding advantage of 45 to 23 to go with 56% field goal shooting.
The difference in the second half was turnovers: Tennessee only committed 7 in the second half - less than half their output in the first - and most of those came late in the game after they had established a lead. The silly fouls were evaporating as well; Kentucky did not get as many trips to the charity stripe in the second half, reducing the number of gimme points they earned.
This was not a pretty game, but it was one they battled through. This team knows they got a little lucky tonight, and they know they have a long way to go to avoid such a performance come tournament time. We've seen them play far, far, better though; this represents the absolute worst they can do, and they still managed to compose themselves and pull out a win in Memorial Coliseum. Exit Kentucky; the only challenger left for the SEC crown this year is Georgia, who comes to Knoxville two weeks from now.
Quick Player Notes:
Meighan Simmons had a fire and ice night with 15 points (including several clutch points late), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, ... and 9 turnovers. She's a freshman; give her a break this time.
- Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen were beasts on the glass with 10 and 12 rebounds, respectively. They also had 10 and 20 points apiece with much of their production in the paint.
- Vicki Baugh played a solid 4 minutes in the first with 3 rebounds, a block and 2 points. She had two early fouls but did not play in the second half.
- With Johnson starting, Kamiko Williams earned the sixth man of the night award with 27 minutes, 14 points and 4 rebounds, including some very smart dribble-drive points in the second half to take and extend the lead.
- Kelley Cain sat much of the first, but ended with 25 minutes, 8 points and 5 rebounds. 25 minutes appears to be her ideal for maximum effect in a game while avoiding fatigue injuries.
- Brianna Bass earned 4 minutes of playing time in the first half, largely due to the lack of cohesion by anybody else on the squad. She did a nice job of defending Mathies, slowing her down and stopping the dribble drive that had been killing Tennessee to that point.
- Angie Bjorklund did not play due to a foot injury in practice last week. Tennessee really missed her tonight.