It's great to beat a Gator.
Ok, all kidding aside, this really was a great win for Tennessee. The importance of this game was not simply that they won by a large margin or that they outscored Florida 49-16 in the second half. This game mattered because it was one of their first complete efforts in a while. Even in the first half, when the refs were letting everybody play and both teams had their best defensive efforts on display, Tennessee just felt like a team that was going to assert its will.
To put this game in emphatic summary: pick a Player of the Game from these stat lines:
- Kelley Cain: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks.
- Angie 3jorklund: 24 points, only one turnover, 6-12 from beyond the arc.
- Alicia Manning: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists. Pulled early despite the opportunity for a double-double.
- Shekinna Stricklen: 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and only 1 turnover playing the point.
Florida gave the game a solid run, despite not having Azania Steward available to play center. The height disadvantage was simply too much to overcome on a night where the Lady Vols passed the ball well and found ways into the interior of the Gator defense. On the other end of the court, the Gators were rendered one-dimensional by an interior defensive presence that bordered on unfair: 12 blocked shots and an uncounted number of disruptions held the Gators to only 10 buckets from within the three-point arc and 27 percent shooting on the night. But even the three-point shots didn't come easily. Despite a flurry of early threes to keep the game close in the first half, Florida's perimeter shot went cold in the second half, ending the night 8-26 from the exterior.
We've known that the Lady Vols had the potential for this kind of a night all year long. This, however, was the first night where the dominance really came through. With the core of this team available for at least two more years, we may finally be seeing the pieces come together for something special. Will they challenge UConn for the title this year? That's far too speculative at this point. But they should be the odds-on favorites to win the SEC regular season and tournament titles, especially if they can repeat this against Alabama on Thursday.