If you had any doubts about the Dayton regional being the toughest, they should be laid to rest. After a dogfight against a very determined Marquette team, Tennessee faced yet another coulda-been-seeded-higher squad in the Sweet Sixteen in 4 seed Ohio State. Like the Lady Vols always say, they get every team's best shot and Ohio State did not disappoint. With 67% field goal shooting (!!) in the first half, the Lady Buckeyes held a 2-point lead over the Lady Vols at the break. If any team could pull the unexpected upset against Tennessee, it seemed that Ohio State truly believed they could be the ones to do it.
But the cost of that high shooting percentage and halftime lead was to be paid in the second half. With almost no bench rotation of their starters throughout the first half, the Lady Buckeyes consumed a lot of energy trying to keep up with the Lady Vols in transition and working for the open baskets. For about 25 minutes of game time, it worked; even when Tennessee went on their traditional second half opening run, the Lady Buckeyes kept the score close and kept fighting.
But at some point, fatigue came into play. Coming out of the locker room at halftime, Tennessee ramped up the energy and intensity to as high of a level as they've played all year, and Ohio State just didn't have enough stamina left in their starters to keep up with it all game long. Shots that they had made in the first half stopped falling. Transition defense lagged behind, allowing easy lay-ins (of which Tennessee missed far too many). Driving off screens happened more slowly, allowing Tennessee to recover and maintain defensive pressure. And slowly the Lady Vols turned a 6-point first half deficit into a 9-point second half lead in the span of about 15 minutes.
And at that point, Ohio State's style of play prevented them from attempting a comeback.
The benefit of a shallow team is that the starters really learn to read each other, allowing for a very finely tuned offense and a mistake-free defense, which is exactly what Ohio State had in the first half. The problem with a lack of depth is that, once the starters get winded, there's nowhere to go. Tennessee dictated the pace of play and wore down Ohio State; when coach Jim Foster looked at his bench, the answer was "NOPE". To make matters worse, Ohio State compensates for the lack of depth by not risking fouls. With 3 minutes to go and a 10ish point deficit, Ohio State had only committed three fouls all game long. The remaining 4 fouls it took to get to the bonus were sufficient to run nearly a full minute off the clock - a tactic that Ohio State started far too late. With two minutes to go, the fouls game. With one minute to go, Tennessee was shooting free throws and Ohio State had nothing.
Ohio State's 67% first half field goal percentage turned into 39% in the second half - still above the 33% from Tennessee opponents all year, but their inability to keep up on rebounds meant that they couldn't keep up on the scoreboard. Tennessee outrebounded Ohio State 41-25, with most of the differential coming in the second half.
Also: of the 39 total rebounds on Ohio State's defensive end of the court, 19 were offensive board by Tennessee compared to 24 defensive boards from OSU. Conversely, OSU had 5 O-rebounds to Tennessee's 26 on the defensive glass.
Eight turnovers by Tennessee. End of line.
42-28 in favor of Tennessee. Ladies and gents, Kelley Cain.
22-2 in favor of Tennessee.
Fast Break Points
This could go many ways. Pat Summitt is a legit candidate, despite not being a player, for her outstanding adjustments in the game and for her, um, motivation. But I prefer to give it to a player - and there are many to choose from. Meighan Simmons embodied effort, particularly in hustle stats, as she tracked down rebounds and blocked an wide-open Prahalis fast break by sheer willpower alone. (Seriously, I thought she was Glory Johnson on one of her early rebounds because of the way she jumped for it and brought it down with authority. Not hyperbole.) Johnson had 11 rebounds and drew fouls - particularly on Adams - that brought OSU's interior defense to its knees. Stricklen had a quiet half, but her scoring in the second eventually ended the game. But overall, I am giving the breadsticks to Kelley Cain. The gentle giant had 16 points on 8-10 shooting and utterly destroyed Ohio State in the interior. The early success from Cain forced Ohio State to collapse the defense, opening up the shooting and driving lanes for the rest of the team. Her zero turnovers and 1 foul meant that she did not hurt Tennessee with her ball handling as well.
Sweet Mother of Breadsticks, Kelley Cain!