The first half of the Lady Vols' game couldn't have gone much worse; Virginia opened hitting their first eight shots. Paulisha Kellum - who had only scored 7 points total all season - hit 13 in the first half. At one point, the Ladies were down 20-11 and getting outrebounded and straight-up outhustled. Meighan Simmons, the lifeblood and spark on offense the first two games, struggled from outside and didn't have the kind of impact that she's come to expect. And yet, Angie Bjorklund hit a couple of clutch threes, Taber Spani - remember her? - came off the bench with a strong 8 points in the first half.
Oh, and in all of this Virginia's starting center, Simone Egwu, picked up an early two fouls, and then an early three right after getting back onto the floor. School was in session, and Kelley Cain was teaching. After that 20-11 burst by Virginia, Tennessee started getting patient, running the Bjorklund-Cain offense we've grown accustomed to, and clawing back into the game. Cain tossed up a 8-6-2-2-1 (points-rebounds-assists-steals-blocks) in one of the better stat-stuffing single-half performances we've seen so far. Without Cain, the Lady Vols struggle hard to get back in the game, and they certainly don't close out the half 30-19.
That 30-19 closeout to the first half was simply an indicator of things to come; Tennessee opened up with 8 straight to start the second half, dropped another three Cavaliers into foul trouble (Chelsea Shine, Telia McCall, and Paulisha Kellum, who was having her best game of the season before picking up her third, picking up a knock on the head, and picking up her fourth, in that order), and grabbed control of the game. This time, it was the guards - an early forced turnover (as in, a turnover forced at 20:00 of the second half - when's the last time you've seen a five-second call on the inbounds pass to start the second half?), a Bjorklund three, a Simmons steal/layup combo, a couple of Kamiko free throws, and a Glory Johnson FT at the end - which effectively put UVa out of the game.
From there, Tennessee did what they do best; play solid defense (UVa - which at around the 12:00 mark of the first half was shooting upwards of 65% - ended up at 42.5% by the 12:00 mark of the second half), spread the floor, and choked the life out of the game. The impressive part? The second half plan was entirely centered around guard play, and Virginia got blown out of the building any way you'd care to name: turnovers, drives, defense, fouls. By the time they recovered, everyone was in foul trouble* and Tennessee saw the game out comfortably.
*It didn't hurt matters that the refs from the Belmont game apparently punked out the refs who called the first half, which caused the game to grind to a halt but put the Lady Vols in the bonus early in the second half. It's always easier to close out games when half the opposition is sitting on three or four fouls. Virginia's two leading scorers - Kellum and Ariana Moorer - ended up fouling out.
Angie Bjorklund is your player of the game, with a 26-5-4-1 performance, including 6-10 from beyond the arc. Takeaways below the jump.
- Glory Johnson did not have a good game by any stretch of the imagination, struggling all over the court before fouling out with three minutes left. She hasn't really opened up well, and I'm not sure as to the cause; she did well enough coming off the bench last year, and has an offensive game that should cause post defenders fits. Until she gets righted, she'll be a starter by necessity unless Alicia Manning unseats her. Getting Brewer and Baugh healthy is critical; it wasn't a big deal tonight because Virginia was too busy getting their interior players in foul trouble, but they can't count on that every night.
- It's good to see the offense being filtered through Cain; Tennessee asserted their dominance in an extended stretch where Cain kept on getting touches on nearly every possession. When Cain avoids foul trouble, she can cause all kinds of matchup problems. Tonight, UVa's entire interior (Ewgu, Shine, McCall) was in foul trouble by the second media timeout of the second half and Cain had free rein for most of the game. She didn't have as much of an impact during the critical moments in the second half, but she didn't need to. For posterity, her final line was 8-7-3-4-2.
- Bjorklund has hit 12 threes in her last two games. I didn't actually see this game since I don't get SportSouth up here, but I'd be curious to see if she's leaving a trail of smoke behind the ball whenever she releases from downtown.
- Interesting line from Simmons, who really struggled to get into the game. Granted, you wouldn't know that if you looked at her 12 points, but look at the rest of the line: 12-4-2-1-0, with those boards coming once the game was in hand. I'm starting to think she's just a gunner, but given her quickness on the floor the potential is there for so much more. Then again, it's only her third game at this level. More importantly, she didn't take herself out of the game, although she was responsible for the best moment of the game: on a fastbreak with Kamiko Williams, Summitt wanted her to bail out of the easy layup to kill time - and she did. I'd like to think Summitt just threatened The Stare.
- Stricklen had a decent game, although I admit I didn't notice it too much. Good distribution, though; 15 points and 4 assists isn't a bad way to go as a point guard. While we're at it, Spani turned in a strong performance, finishing with 14 points and 4 boards.
Next game is against Arizona State on Sunday at 2 PM.