We're not talking Final Four. We promised. Now that that's out of the way, this was the most complete Lady Vol performance since Georgia, and against a team as good as the Miami team which got run off the court by the Lady Vols in the second half. The difference between this game and that Miami game?
Miami kept it close for 20 minutes. Kentucky kept it close for 120 seconds.
If anything, this was less the 2011 Lady Vols team that's been driving us up a wall and more a throwback to one of the many squads that have banners and jerseys hanging from the rafters. Again, this was one night, and we're not talking Final Four, let alone anything after that. This game, though? This was as much fun as you'd expect.
We have Meighan Simmons and Shekinna Stricklen to thank for the enjoyment. Stricklen came out motivated and did what she's capable of - not only be the best player on the court, but act like it. Simmons hit a couple of crucial early threes to put the game out of reach at 10-2 2 minutes in - and while that sounds weird to say, Kentucky's not a good enough shooting team to come back from a 15-point deficit without forcing a bunch of turnovers. Neither of those were happening tonight.
From there, this game started to get a little lopsided. Then it got a lot lopsided. Then it got ridiculous. If the last three weeks were the buildup of pressure, this was the valve releasing. The Lady Vols played smooth, they played relaxed, and they played composed. Against a Kentucky squad that thrives on chaos, they never stood a chance.
Breadsticks could easily go to Simmons, who had 25 points on the night - on 17 shots, no less. The pieces are coming together for her; again, we've seen this with her before, but it feels different somehow; it's not a blip, but a change in approach. If this is legitimate and this keeps up, watch out.
That being said, Stricklen would rip the breadsticks out of Simmons' hands and leave them lying on the floor next to Kentucky's heart. This game was the imposition of will game we've been waiting on, with the stats to show: 8-12 from the floor, 6 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 18 points in 25 minutes of action. More of that, please.
And yes, there's a reason I haven't talked about Glory Johnson before now. Answers and more notes below the fold.
- Why didn't Glory Johnson get more attention against a team she dominated in Lexington? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but questionable calls - to put it mildly in one particular instance (she got T'd up for bouncing the ball off a Kentucky player trying to get an out-of-bounds call) - limited her effectiveness when the game was still in doubt. She ended up with decent numbers (10 points, 6 boards), but the second half was garbage time.
- The defense was fantastic all game. Kentucky never really solved Tennessee's zone, and it showed - 33% from the floor, 21% beyond the arc. They need to drive to get high-percentage shots, and the zone absolutely shut them down.
- When you score 91 and empty the bench with 5 minutes to go, the effort's going to be complete. So let's credit Ariel Massengale for her good ball distribution (7 assists / 6 TO, which is good against Kentucky), Vicki Baugh for filling in after Kantner posted up Glory (8 points, 7 boards, dominating the game for minutes at a time), Kamiko Williams for stat-stuffing off the bench (6 points, 4 boards), and Taber Spani for doing some stablizing work (6 points on 2-6 from the floor, so not great, but 3 boards, 2 assists, 0 turnovers, a block and a steal).
- It boggles my mind that the Lady Vols had a A/TO ratio of greater than 1 (22:19) and turned it over less than Kentucky (who had 20 TO). That isn't even the most insane stat of the night: the Lady Vols had 19 offensive boards to Kentucky's 9 defensive boards.
- Dee Kantner and her crew are horribad. That is all (and since they're committed to being part of the narrative, I'm sure they're happy to be included in this game recap). If Dee Kantner held a party, invited you over, and you attempted to go inside her house, she'd call the neighborhood watch.
- I give the crowd an immense amount of credit tonight. That was a vocal crowd, even by TBA standards. Incredible energy - and yes, I give them points for riding Kantner's crew early - and great voice the entire game. The first half even had a bit of gladiator arena feel, and for a brief moment, it felt like we went back in time a few years.
- The minor sour grapes: yeah, those 19 TO aren't great, and not all of those were forced by Kentucky. Sloppy passing and slack play will hurt this team down the road (and has hurt them before, obviously), but in fairness, it's hard to focus when there's that much blood on the court.