In a wild, wild game, the Lady Vols were unable to give Summitt victory number 1000. The Oklahoma Sooners came out nervous, at one time allowing the Lady Vols to build up a 15-point lead. But the home team has a lot of experience and knew the game was far from over. After a timeout by their coach, the Lady Sooners methodically cured their nerves and stepped up their play.
The Lady Vols' hot streak was answered by a more impressive run from the Lady Sooners. Soon, that 15 point lead became a 5 point deficit to end the half. The second half began much as the first half ended, with OU capitalizing on possessions and UT turning over the ball far too often. With 5 minutes to go, the game was clearly out of hand with about 20 points separating the two teams. But give the Lady Vols credit for playing hard to the end and closing the final game to 10.
Here are some key points we learned during the game:
- They're still young. Younger than we realized. Credit wvvol for noting this in a comment in the game thread. One redshirt senior. Zero juniors. One redshirt sophomore. Four sophomores. One redshirt freshman. Six true freshmen, several of whom are or have been starters. That is a young team. The last team to have significant national succes with such youth ended up paying for it in the long run.
- Oklahoma is a scary good team this year. In a near mirror-image of the Lady Vols, the Lady Sooners are comprised of three seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, and two freshmen. They're veteran, the starting rotation is largely intact from last year, and they are very comfortable with each other on the court. In November, they suffered one loss against UConn and one against UNC; since then, they have been undefeated and haven't even been challenged except for a 5-point win over Baylor in Waco. With that kind of background, it's no wonder they didn't get flustered by their early deficit.
- Glory Johnson is the real deal. One thing that didn't go noticed by many throughout the game was just how effective Glory was. Her stat line doesn't give much detail (12 points, 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 4 fouls), but she played very solid defense and held her own against the crimsonwood forest that is the Lady Sooners' interior. Most importantly, she was the reason that ...
- Courtney Paris did not get a double-double. The arguments about performances between men's and women's games can be shelved for one moment. 112 consecutive double-doubles is absolutely unreal in the college game. With 11 rebounds and 9 points, the streak ended against the Lady Vols. Credit is primarily due to Glory, who managed to get Courtney in foul trouble in both halves, limiting her time on the court. When she was in play, Glory limited Courtney's opportunities, occasionally forcing a jump ball, blocking a shot, denying the shooting attempt, or denying the pass opportunity.
- As Bjorklund goes, so go the Lady Vols. Angie Bjorklund also got in foul trouble in both halves; during her absences, the Lady Vols lost their scoring touch. Even if she doesn't have the ball, her presence on offense opens up defenses. And unlike Bjorklund,
- Whitney Hand was the Player of the Game, no question. She made 20 points and connected on every single shot except for one three-pointer - and that shot was taken late when the game was already decided. She played the entire game and only committed one foul.
- The Lady Vols were plagued by correctable problems. Hat tip to Graysnail for his observation here. He's right; almost every problem the Lady Vols had is coachable - miscommunication, players crashing into each other in the interior, lack of cohesiveness, too much selflessness. These Ladies have to grow into each other as a team - something that we can all see coming.
- This team does not quit. Credit this: when the score was well out of reach, UT kept fighting and brought the score back to a margin that does not reflect their discoordination throughout the middle of the game.
But the worst news of the game was not the loss. Rather, Vicki Baugh re-injured her knee late in the game. She caught a pass near the basket on a fast break and must have come down on it wrong when landing with the ball. She was remarkably tough to finish the shot despite the obvious wince of pain, but the scream of agony was all the official needed to call the timeout once the ball went through. She immediately left the game (and was fortunately right next to the UT bench) and then was seen leaving in a wheelchair. That doesn't sound good, but let's hope it's not as bad as it looked.
They lost this one. Under the hood, however, there roars the engine of a typical Lady Vols team. This one's going to be a great one; we just have to be patient as Pat Summitt brings them up to the potential that occasionally showed through tonight.