On paper, the game looked like a 40-minute long series of wind sprints, and played out nearly exactly according to expectations.
Tennessee attempts 83 total field goals on the way to a solid win over a very good Texas squad that lives off of speed. With both teams relying on guard and transition play, it was Tennessee who maintained the best poise with 16 assists to 12 turnovers in contrast to Texas' 13 assists and 20 turnovers. The surprisingly low turnover rate by Tennessee was one of their best performances of the year, and a far sight lower than the 29 turnover monstrosity that cost them the Georgetown game earlier in the year.
But the award of the game goes to Tennessee's defensive efforts. The 2-3 zone stymied Texas and reduced them to a perimeter shooting team, where they were 9-32 on the night. (Of their 66 total shots, very nearly half were from three point land.) Interior penetration was almost nonexistent for the Lady Longhorns, either by passing (which tended to cause turnovers) or by dribble drive. The lack of interior offense proved to be their undoing; even though Texas managed an impressive 13 offensive rebounds, they lived and died by the three ball.
Tennessee never trailed in the game, and only faced tie scores at 2-2 and 11-11. Throughout most of the contest, the lead was 6 points, but Texas was hanging in by a thread. Playing only 7 players on their own court, Texas had two who went the 40-minute distance (Nash and Gayle) and two who went 38 minutes (Fussell and Fontenette). At about the 10-minute mark of the second half, fatigue finally caught up and the wheels fell off. Texas last saw a single-digit deficit at 71-62 with 9:53 to go. By 6:03, it was 84-64 Tennessee and the 13-2 run killed any hopes of a comeback.
Depth matters, and tonight Tennessee demonstrated their superior depth. With their best ball control of the year, Tennessee simply ran Texas' legs off. Once fatigued, Tennessee's defense choked out the Longhorn offense, created several blocks and turnovers, and finally evening up a rebounding battle that favored Texas throughout most of the game. (Texas led in rebounds until they went cold, and Tennessee ended up with a 43-37 advantage.)
The depth is finally coming together, and just in time. The Ladies will have to carry the same 40-minute, 12-player intensity to Baylor for an incredibly difficult matchup against the Fightin' Griners. With this depth, energy, and control, Tennessee may stand their best chance at beating Baylor so far this year.
One final piece of the puzzle remains: post play. Injuries have really set the Ladies back this year, and Cain suffered a right hip bruise late in the game that has her availability for the Baylor game in doubt. Baugh is still turnover-prone as she works back into action, and Brewer only saw 4 minutes of action. In the meantime, Stricklen (!) and Johnson have been holding the fort in the interior, and will have to be ready for 6 feet, 8 inches of limbs on Tuesday.
Much like the men's team, the greatest difficulty in facing Tennessee is the depth; this cannot be understated. Texas couldn't afford to substitute, and the fatigue eventually defeated them. If Tennessee can play this game of attrition throughout the season, there are only about 3 or 4 teams in the nation that could realistically beat them.
Nice effort, Ladies.