You can't win a game when you're playing scared. Tennessee took the game to Baylor for the first few minutes of the game, taking a quick 9-4 lead. After that, Baylor went on a 31-11 run to close the first half, and that was that. As much as I mock the overhyped coverage of Brittney Griner, her impact on Tennessee's psyche had as much of an effect on the game as her coverage. Sure, the 8 blocks in the first half helped, but Tennessee doesn't shoot 22% from the floor in the first half if they're not running scared. Sadly, it was obvious - straight iso sets followed by hastily jacking up the first semi-open shot you have does not a Final Four team make.
The second half was more of the same; Tennessee opened up strong but faded again as the half wore on. Baylor, by that point, was content to simply keep Tennessee at arm's length. Heck, Odyessy Sims was content to do it on her own, hitting shot after shot to do most of the damage. At the end of the day, that was enough.
As much as it pains me to say, this senior class will graduate without tasting a Final Four. Regardless of the talent and skill of Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, Final Fours are the bar by which Tennessee classes are judged. Not making a Final Four doesn't invalidate the SEC regular season titles or SEC tournament championships, but it will be one of the first things that people remember when they think of this class.
Game notes after the jump.
- I really liked Tennessee's defensive game plan, which centered around covering Sims, collapsing on Griner, and forcing Baylor's role players to make their shots. It worked, too - Griner was 3-10 with one offensive board, Sims was 4-10, but Kimetria Hayden was 5-6 from the floor and 3-3 from beyond the arc. That happens, and it's not the fault of coaching at all. All credit to Hayden for doing what she needed to do.
- I came away incredibly impressed with Sims. She has an uncanny sense of the moment and was stymieing everything Tennessee threw at her.
- Glory Johnson is a beast. She got blasted in the first half, taking a hard foul and landing straight on her hip (forcing the trainers to help her to the locker room, and not forcing the Baylor bench to heckle her while she was down but they did it anyway; for a split second, I considered rooting for UConn in the championship if they face Baylor), she still rolled up a double-double. Mind you, she rolled a double-double before Griner got hers.
- Stricken was there (7 points early) and then she wasn't (nothing for ages) and then she was. So it goes.
- We'll have more on the senior class (or I will, at least).
- On the elephant in the room: yeah, we know. Not tonight.