At Arm's Length: Tennessee Lady Vols 75, Florida Gators 59

Kentucky won before Tennessee's game tipped. The only thing riding on the Florida-Tennessee tilt was pride and rivalry, but for the Lady Vols, that was just enough. Matter of fact, having more riding on the game might have been a detriment, as we've seen before. For whatever the reason, the Lady Vols have played better when there's less riding on the game, which served them well tonight. Will it serve them well in the next month? Signs point to no.

That's a question to be addressed in a few days, though. For now, the Lady Vols close their regular season at 21-8, 12-4 in-conference, and will be the #2 seed in the SEC Tournament this week (yes, this week). This game wasn't much contention; after a quick three by Jordan Jones, Tennessee went on a 15-0 run. Florida never got closer than 4 in the first half, and never got closer than 7 in the second half.

The seniors are mostly to thank for that (aside from Vicki Baugh, who was rendered irrelevant by foul trouble, and Brianna Bass, who ...well, we love her but there's BassWatch for a reason); Alicia Manning, Shekinna Stricklen, and Glory Johnson all played vital roles in the win. Manning was everywhere, especially early on, stat-stuffing to the tune of 11 points, 8 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals, and a block - in other words, the Manning Special. Stricken didn't have the best night from the floor (5-12 overall, 14 points), but she re-established her perimeter shot (3-5 from beyond the arc, which is sorely needed come March) and chipped in 5 boards. Glory was an absolute beast; 21 points (on 17 shots, 8 made and 9 missed layups, give or take), 9 boards, an assist, a steal, and levying property tax on Azania Stewart and Jennifer George.

At the end of the day, this was Florida's worst loss of the season(!), which comes off as a bit surprising but can only be interpreted as a positive for the Lady Vols. Their best performances have come in games where the pressure is off; I don't know how you convince them the pressure is off in March, but if you can, look out. Florida, meanwhile, finishes 8th in the SEC and gets a virtual bye (playing one of Mississippi State or Auburn, and I'm not going to lie: it's not worth figuring out which one, they're both bad).

It's a tough contest for the breadsticks between Glory and Manning, but since it's Senior Night they get to split the breadsticks. Bass gets the chicken nuggets. Game notes below the fold.

  • I'm basically judging Meighan Simmons by her effectiveness at this point; 12 points in 9 shots (2-5 from three) is good, probably good-to-great once you factor in the four boards. 9 shots in 27 minutes is a good sign for how I'd like to see her used; she didn't lead the team in shots, didn't try and take over the game, and looked mostly composed. Plus, she actually made a fast-break layup...
  • ....which couldn't be said about the rest of the team. Man, there were no shortage of missed bunnies; you might even say they were multiplying like rabbits. That hack joke is brought to you by Writers on Deadline. I ended up on their mailing list for reasons I don't understand.
  • Ariel Massengale came off the bench, and while her final numbers were decent (8 points in 3(!) shots - no, thank you, free throws - and 5 assists), I had the feeling she wasn't quite at full potential. Maybe the Arkansas game threw her off a bit, maybe she just needs to start, but it took her a while to get in the game mentally for reasons I couldn't quite figure out.
  • Nothing doing for Taber Spani in limited action. This was probably understandable, given the game and circumstances. For that matter, the same could be said for Cierra Burdick and Isabelle Harrison.
  • Kamiko Williams was held out of the game because of concern over concussion-like symptoms.
  • Somehow, Jennifer George still picked up a double-double (11 points, 11 boards) with her foul trouble. To some extent, the rest of the Gators kind of hosed themselves with so many shots from downdown - 5-24 on the night - but I think part of that was due to the towers lineups the Lady Vols were putting out there.
This was the last regular season game for the Lady Vols. Up next: the SEC tournament, where they'll face - technically - the winner of Vanderbilt / the other of Mississippi State and Auburn, but more than likely Vanderbilt. Then things get less predictable. Games start on Friday; given this season, I'm not going to talk about Saturday or Sunday.
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