There's a reason you want the bye in the SEC tournament; it's no fun to play your second game in 24 hours against a fresh team. It's even less fun when that fresh team routinely plays an 11-deep rotation of players that are bigger, longer, and faster than yours. Just ask Florida.
Florida had been playing quite well over the last two to three weeks, and they knew it. In their press conferences yesterday, the Florida players and coach rightly noted that the games against Tennessee in the regular season should not be considered good anticipation of the game today. They held true to their prediction, as near-50% shooting kept them with two points, 38-36, at the half. With nobody in foul trouble and a reasonable rebounding margin, Florida was in as good of a position as anybody could have expected.
But Florida paid the price for keeping the score close - fatigue. During the first half, Tennessee ran an aggressive full-court press that forced Florida to constantly expend energy. Without any chances to control the tempo and catch their breaths, Florida's starters slowly began to feel the effects of yesterday's wild game against Arkansas. The interior gave way first; with about 12 minutes left in the second half, Azania Steward, Jennifer George, and Ndidi Madu all fouled out in quick succession. They just could not keep up with Tennessee on the run any longer and committed fatigue fouls trying to catch up to the Lady Vols.
With the fouls, Tennessee bolted to a solid lead and reduced Florida to a bunch of tired guards and a couple of young, inexperienced forwards. That is just not a recipe for success against Tennessee, and the game went into cruise control from there on out. Florida's players valiantly tried to make a game of it and pulled to within 10 with a couple minutes to go, but it was too little, too late. Glory Johnson was the clear Player of the game for this point alone: most of the fouls committed by Florida's interior were against the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. The only way to stop Glory is to get her in foul trouble, and Tennessee is figuring out ways to keep that from happening; her 25 point, 11 rebound night gave her 11 total double-doubles on the year.
Tennessee has to scratch their heads a little bit, though. Florida shot 44% throughout the game - easily one of the best marks against Tennessee all year long. Some of the shots were tough makes that happened to sink, but Florida found great success in the first half with interior shooting - a feat that rarely occurs against Tennessee. Something was out of sync in Tennessee's defense (possibly an exploit that Florida had found on tape) that will have to be rectified. Other teams are already reviewing the tape to figure out what Florida did to get the ball inside, so Tennessee will face more of the same tomorrow.
The other puzzle is rebounding. Despite holding the rebounding advantage in the first half, Tennessee was solidly outrebounded by Florida in the second half until fatigue caused the slew of foul-outs on Florida's interior players. The same occurred (more or less) in the Ole Miss game, where the Lady Rebels rebounded way above their heads against Tennessee. It appears that both Ole Miss and Florida have decided to rebound by tipping the ball away and letting the guards chase down the loose ball, in which case Tennessee will have to figure out a defensive counter to cut down the offensive rebounds.
Still, to allow 44% shooting and 14 offensive rebounds to Florida and still win by 17, Tennessee did some things very right. Their own shooting percentage was 54%, and 45% from three. Florida was forced to commit 28 total fouls - mostly due to fatigue and none due to purposeful fouls at the end the game. Tennessee played the one card in this game that Florida couldn't keep up with: depth and energy. Once the Gators tired out, the game was over.
Breadstick Award Winner: Glory Johnson
Up next, the winner of the Georgia / South Carolina game at 7:30 PM EST.