We're gonna need a bigger rafters. - Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
The Lady Vols win the SEC regular season crown outright with their best performance in Holly Warlick's first year.
That's what Lady Vol basketball is supposed to look like.
This was the best game Tennessee played all year. This was also the best game that Tennessee played in all year. This was two teams with the SEC on the line (outright for UT; a shot at a split title for A&M), with a potential 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and a whole lot of school pride. This was the one game to watch if you ever wanted to see why some of us like women's basketball. If this one didn't do it for you, you don't ever have to worry about watching the Ladies again.
In the first half, a string of early turnovers allowed A&M to build an early lead of about 4 points. But Tennessee focused on the things that Lady Vols have heard about for decades: defense and rebounding. Texas A&M shot 50% in the first half, but many of the shots were hero shots against a blistering defense that allowed very little room and didn't lose track of anybody off screens. On the misses that did happen, the Lady Vols owned the glass with a 20/15 rebounding edge despite A&M's hot shooting not allowing for many defensive board opportunities. (UT had 10 offensive and 10 defensive boards, due largely to Cierra Burdick's 9 rebound half.) The Lady Vols shot a respectable 39% in the half but, despite being outshot by a full 10 percent, were able to snake out to a five point halftime lead thanks to a typical Simmons run in the closing minutes. Meighan had 11 points, 4 rebounds, and a steal to make her presence known.
The second half provided more of the same intensity, with A&M shooting 50% for most of the closing 20 minutes as well (dropping to 43% due to a few desperation shots at the end, but they were a 50% team against an utterly ridiculous defense). The offensive adjustments by both coaches worked well; the defenses weren't quite as effective, though the energy and determination remained high. Like Texas A&M, Tennessee's offense went off the charts as the Lady Vols shot 57% in the half. They also turned up the rebounding intensity, doubling up the Aggies 24-12 on the glass with 10 total offensive boards in the half. The only mark that really swung A&M's was was turnovers: the Lady Vols had 7 to A&M's 1, making a 10 point difference in A&M's favor.
It's hard to describe how beautiful the game was. I can't properly verbalize the fake-out that Graves gave Bone in the second half, or her move in the first half after a sweet entry pass by Burdick. The sheer authority of the rebounds, the crisp passing from both teams, Meighan Simmons using her speed to not only drive for her shots, but to set up her teammates, the list just goes on. If you can't catch the game, at least catch the highlights from UTSports.
Tennessee won this championship tonight, and they deserve to enjoy every second of it.
- What a senior night for Taber and Kamiko. Kamiko had 18 points on 13 shots, 7 boards, and three assists in 28 minutes. She was all over the place and cannot possibly have regrets about tonight. Spani had only 8 points and missed all three trey attempts, but she had a few key plays (including a monster rebound/save late in the second half) that swung the momentum at key times. Both girls can be proud, and we're going to miss them dearly at TBA.
- That was a tremendous game by A&M. I can't say it enough: they deserve a lot of credit for this one. Just fantastic to watch.
- Bashaara 1, Bone 0. But it was a close - and great - battle. Graves ended with 14 points and 7 boards to Bone's 14 points and 5 boards, but Graves also drew some key fouls that helped get Bone to 4 with six minutes to go. With her aggressiveness in check, Bone was less of a force in the endgame.
- Simmons: 17 points on 12 shots. She was credited with only 2 assists, but her drives forced A&M to overcompensate, and she often found wide open teammates for the pass. She was a complete offensive player tonight and didn't just force her shots.
- Ariel Watch: Ariel had a solid night at point, including a 6:1 assist:turnover mark. But she left the game late in the second half with a knee injury that might be bad. She was putting weight on it while being helped off the floor, so maybe it's ok.
- Isabelle is back. (Maybe?) She looked like she hadn't missed a step in her 15 minutes. Well, until the last one that hyper-extended her right knee. Let's hope she's ok. She made a huge difference tonight, including two beautiful blocks.
- Extra ice baths. This game was physical. Girls on both teams are going to be lined up for the cold baths tonight.
- If you like, you can vvote for Warlick for Coach of the Year. (Scroll down to the poll.) Remember how young this team is, and that they were supposed to finish 5th in conference.
BREADSTICKS: CIERRA BURDICK
In a game that was won by defense and rebounding, Burdick's 14 rebound night, including 9 offensive boards (!!!) complimented her 15 point on 11 shots beautifully. She was dominant tonight and provided much of the defensive help to keep Bone in check. There's not much else to say, but...