22-9 (10-6 SEC)
23-8 (12-4 SEC)
In the end, this is what it had to come down to, didn't it? After an ...well, let's go with "exciting" 41-40 win over Arkansas, the LSU Lady Tigers basically dominated Kentucky start to finish, rolling in a 72-61 win that was shockingly comfortable. Also shocking: that they scored 72 in the absence of Destini Hughes, last seen getting carted off the floor of Thompson Bolling-Arena when LSU came to Knoxville. (Hughes is still out, and will remain so for the rest of the season.)
Still, this is the perfect storyline for the Lady Vols, even moreso than the rubber match potential against Kentucky. It's present vs. future among the benches with Nikki Caldwell patrolling the sidelines for LSU (and we're not talking about her being late-term, either). Caldwell, if you haven't heard, is one of Pat Summitt's most successful disciples and has been bandied around as the
eventual potential replacement when Summitt has to step down. On one hand, it's good to see Caldwell have a chance to get SEC hardware, but ...at the expense of the Lady Vols? Sorry, Nikki; we can't do it this year.
As far as the Lady Vols go, the SEC tournament has been a bit of rounding into form. It's also been defined by Shekinna Stricklen sleeping through the first half before going off in the second half (see the win over Vandy for the better example of this). Yesterday, that applied to the entire team, who turned around and ran South Carolina off the court in one of those impressive "get ahead, then get more ahead, then get more ahead" games. Today? Beat your best disciple and come home with a trophy. Lose, and take a 3 seed into the NCAA Tournament.
The senior roster - aside from causing Stricklen to take a 20-minute nap - has been highly effective. Glory Johnson is doing her SEC Tournament thing the last couple of days, and Stricklen has flat taken over stretches of games. (Now, if she could be kind of effective and less binary, that'd be great.) Baugh's been solid as well, but the two major sacrifices with this starting five are Meighan Simmons' minutes and Ariel Massengale's effectiveness. Simmons has been effective in limited action (the question at this point is why it's been so limited), while Massengale has been ....well, okay. She's there, but it's not obvious that she's there, if that makes sense. Other than that, Cierra Burdick looks to get rotation minutes, but there's finally an 8-deep rotation to speak of. (The other kids, such as Taber Spani and Isabelle Harrison, might see action but it's not their game right now.)
As far as LSU goes, don't be fooled by the size of the starting five. Shanence McKinney and Theresa Plaisance (who's also the sixth man) are 6'5" and 6'4", respectively, so there won't be as much of an interior advantage as you'd expect. Courtney Jones went off against the Lady Vols in their only matchup this year (16 points / 8 boards), so although LaSondra Barrett will justifiably draw the headlines, I'm more concerned about Jones. Unlike Kentucky - and I was all ready for a discussion about how to stop their guards - LSU is very similar to Tennessee with their interior presence.
Then again, we'd expect that with a Nikki Caldwell team, wouldn't we? LSU also focuses on defense and rebounding first, so in some sense this will look kind of like a mirror matchup. (And let's hope Dee Kantner and/or Lisa Mattingly don't decide to stomp all over the interior battle, which should be fun to watch.)
At the end of the day, though? Not today, Nikki. Soon, but not today. Tennessee, 71-63. Kamiko Kountdown™: 3 minutes, 1st half.