Guts, glory, beating 6'7" centers to the hole. Graves' game today. - USA TODAY Sports
Look, it wasn't pretty. Regardless, it's a win, as the Lady Vols pulled out a 3-point victory in Gainesville.
Credit Florida for giving everything and a half they could to Tennessee; although the Lady Vols prevailed 78-75, it was never an easy game. That held true through a rough first half for both teams, a strong Florida comeback in the the second half, Tennessee gutting it out to overtime, and an eventual close win. This will - and probably should - go down as an escape, but this Florida team matches up a lot better with a younger Tennessee squad. Credit Florida for this - there's room in the SEC below Kentucky and Tennessee, and UF should be able to make some noise.
The first half - for Tennessee, at least - was defined by Meighan Simmons, who had 17 points on 7-10 shooting from the floor, 3-5 from beyond the arc. (Of course, she went 4-13 the rest of the game, but that's to be expected. In this case, I'm not going to slag on her much for that; without her first half performance, this game is dusted at the half.) Beyond her, there wasn't a whole lot to speak of; Bashaara Graves had a decent first half, especially with Isabelle Harrison landing in early foul trouble.
For Florida, the first half was defined by a shoulder injury to their best player; Jennifer George went down in a collision with Kamiko Williams with 3:56 to go in the 1st half. That did absolutely nothing to slow Florida down in the second half, as Jaterra Bonds had a fantastic, gutty game with 18 points; Vicky McIntyre and Kayla Lewis stepped up in the absence of George, McIntyre with 25 big minutes. (Lily Svete was a total non-factor, contributing a single board and that was it.)
The second half was more of the same - bodies everywhere and no real edge to speak of. Tennessee at one point had a 55-48 lead, at which point they went dead cold. Fortunately, Harrison finally showed up, scoring six huge points while everyone else went ice cold.
Speaking of injuries, Bashaara Graves came out with 1:53 left after suffering a nasty knock on the head thanks to a loose-ball scrum with Kamiko Williams (there she is again); fortunately, indications were that it was just a stinger, since she was in about a minute later. Fortunately, she was fine, as she sunk the critical FTs needed to both force OT and seal the game. A freshman, mind you, sinking game-critical FTs on the road. Graves is going to be pretty good, if she isn't already.
As far as scoring in overtime? Don't ask. After an early Harrison bucket and UF going 1-2 from the line, nobody scored for nearly two minutes. Fatigue mattered (you know, the kind of fatigue when you're in college and you get up early and peter out mid-afternoon and need a nap); you probably shouldn't rewatch OT for fantastic gameplay. You should rewatch it for a hilarious over-the-back Williams (5'11") foul on McIntyre (6'7"). Again, Graves sealed the deal.
Giving out breadsticks for this game were tough. For comparison's sake, here are the stat lines:
- Simmons: 27 points (11-23, 4-9 3, 1-2 FT), 1 assist, 3 TO, 2 steals
- Graves: 17 points (6-11, 5-6 FT), 12 boards, 4 assists, 3 TO, 2 steals
It's really a question of what you think matters more; if you like Simmons' on-fire performance in the first half (or points - hi, Mickey!), she gets 'em. If you like clutch performances and grit, Graves gets them. And no, we can't split breadsticks. For me? I have to go with Graves; for one, I'm a sucker for good interior play, and for another, Graves kept Tennessee alive on the interior in the first half and could've easily ducked out after Kamiko went head-first into her, but she didn't. If Simmons has a couple more assists or even a few boards, it's a different matter, but Graves had a more complete game, a positive A/TO (only player on the team who could say that), and clutch performances.
And if that makes me too hard on Simmons, well, she still needs to take less off-balance runners, so there.
- Tennessee's bench scoring was functionally N/A; Jasmine Jones had a point and Kamiko Williams (there she is again) had two. Kamiko's game was hilarious today; barely on the stat sheet, she seemed to embrace playing rough with both feet, both arms, and her head. Probably shouldn't play rough with her head next time.
- Short rotation for Tennessee, for that matter. Nia Moore and Jasmine Phillips didn't touch this game. I get it - it was close throughout, and even a few sop minutes could've swung it - but it's interesting to note. Fortunately, this was a Sunday game and not a Thursday one, so it hopefully won't matter.
- Harrison nearly notched a double-double in essentially a half (10 points, 9 boards). She was sorely missed, as Florida actually outrebounded Tennessee by 7.
- Speaking of: Florida outshot Tennessee from the floor as well. That being said, Tennessee went 15-22 from the line, compared to Florida's 6-13. FTs matter, kids. They matter a lot.
- Ball control was kind of bad on both sides; neither team had an A/TO above one. In related news, Ariel Massengale's biggest contribution was scoring, which is a sign she's off her game.
- The biggest problem with Harrison's absence - defending George - somewhat took care of itself, cynical as that sounds. Jones could not defend George at all, and even Graves had trouble with her. If George is healthy, I think Florida wins this game in regulation by 5-7.