The Lady Vols kept their winning streak going with a solid 85-64 win over a UCLA Bruins team that fully believe that better things are in store for them in the future. Undersized and undertalented, the Bruins played a feisty game, attempting to disrupt every dribble and every pass that the Lady Vols made. In a more normal night, the plan might well have given the turnover-prone Lady Vols fits, but tonight was bizarre; despite some lackluster play on the defensive end, Tennessee shot like the goal was six feet wide, scoring at a pace that almost nobody in the country could hope to keep up with.
At one point in the first half, Tennessee was 18 of 20 from the field. They didn't do it with a lot of easy layups and chip shots, but were simply hitting every shot they tried. On the night, Tennessee ended with 69.2% field goal shooting, 7/14 from downtown, and an assist to turnover ratio of 1.1. It was an offensive performance that quietly obliterated any hope that UCLA had of pulling off the upset. And it seemingly came out of nowhere. Tennessee's previous best FG percentage was 49.2% against Pepperdine in the season opener, meaning they were a full 20 point better tonight than at any time in the season. That's what can rightly be called an outlier.
But the outlier isn't entirely an outlier. Tennessee did hit shots from just about everywhere, but it should be noted that those shots were usually pretty good shots with open looks. On offense, Tennessee rotated well and made effective use of interior passes to find open looks at the basket, then capitalized on their opportunities. They even made a respectable number of layups - a performance that has been oddly lacking over the last few weeks. In short, the offense worked as it was designed to work by allowing Tennessee's incredible depth of talent to find the shots they liked.
The defensive end is another story. The defense wasn't bad, per se, but the results weren't what Tennessee hoped for. UCLA had 19 offensive rebounds to Tennessee's 24 defensive boards - a mark that should just never happen when you have position and when you have a height advantage at every position on the floor. With the refs allowing a physical game (which, by the way, was very fun to watch), UCLA should never have been allowed so many second, third, and fourth chances on offense.
WHAT COULD BE
This Lady Vols team has shown some incredible performances on offense, defense, in transition, and on the glass. They have even improved their free throw shooting to some very respectable marks at times. But the maddening thing is that they have never put things all together at once. Against UCLA, it was the offense. Against Texas, it was defense. Against everybody except UCLA and Miami, it was rebounds. If all the facets of the game would ever come together for this Tennessee squad, it would be one of the most beautiful things to watch. It's all there, and it's all been on display; they just have to figure out how to get it all on the floor at one time.
Meighan Simmons. That girl had one of the best games of her career. She was one of the most solid defenders on the night, and even had a very strong block in the paint in the second half. Her shots fell; 8/14 from the floor and 2/5 from three with 39 minutes of play, zero fouls, a steal, and that one spectacular block. She was the clear winner of breadsticks tonight, and it was a huge relief to see her hit her shots. Is the sophomore slump over? Who knows. But at least she had one good game before the pivotal Stanford match on the 20th.