This was something truly unique for a Tennessee game this year: solid, steady play from tipoff to final buzzer. 40 minutes of consistency on both ends of the court.
It's always a good sign when Tennessee hits their first attempt of the night, but the better sign was that they never once had a stretch of sleepwalking. Instead, they kept their pressure on all game long and slowly choked the life out of an otherwise very game South Carolina squad.
With South Carolina hitting threes and Tennessee hitting twos in the opening minutes, the score stayed close. But as the game progressed, Tennessee's higher offensive efficiency eventually allowed them to eke out a one-score edge. Then two scores by halftime. After a few minutes of nip-and-tuck in the opening minutes of the second half, the advantage grew to three scores. Then four. Then five.
It didn't come from a hot streak, even when Shekinna Stricklen came to play in the second half (scoring all 16 of her points after the break). It came from consistent pressure on defense, forcing South Carolina to accept contested shots late into the shotclock and finding ways to continually get the ball into Baugh and Johnson in the post. Eventually, South Carolina's emotions wavered, and a few minutes of frustrated Gamecock play was all that the Lady Vols needed to blow the game wide open and seal the win.
It was the first time we've seen Tennessee place a stranglehold on control of the game from start to finish. And the Gamecocks just couldn't wrestle out of it.
A few notes:
- For the second game in a row, Shekinna scored all her points (and nearly all her rebounds) in the second half. Though this time wasn't due to early foul trouble, she is still taking a while to hit her stride. If she finds out how to start hot and keep it up for 40 minutes, we can start dreaming Final Four.
- That said, Stricklen was more active in the first half. She just missed a couple early bunnies, but was playing more confidently and aggressively than before. She just might be close to breaking through.
- Two fouls on Bass. Probably the first time that's happened all year.
- Rebounding edge: 37-24 UT. South Carolina is short, but that's still about what Tennessee should do.
- 12 turnovers all game long. Three were by Ariel Massengale, surprisingly.
- 50.9% from the field and 75% from the line. Those are great numbers for this team.
- The control of this game cannot be overemphasized. This was by far the most consistent 40 minutes on the year. They've had better moments (and probably better overall games), but never one without a letup until tonight.
Breadsticks: Glory Johnson
Leading the team with 20 points and tied (with Baugh) for the team lead with 10 boards, Johnson was the one player that South Carolina could not stop in either half. Their only effective answer were a couple hard fouls bordering on intentional when she had them beat inside, but that's certainly no way to win a one-on-one battle. But Johnson showed everything tonight: defense in the post and on the edge; rebounding on both ends (5 offensive and 5 defensive); zero turnovers, inside shots, layups, 15-footers, fadeaways, and even a couple of free throws. She did have a couple bunny misses, but the overall balance was tremendous.
Sweet Mother of Breadsticks, Glory!