To call this an up-and-down game would almost be a ridiculous understatement. Tennessee started hot, running up a 19-point lead in the first half in the face of ~20% shooting from Vanderbilt. But with less than four minutes to halftime, Vanderbilt finally found their shot and Tennessee seemed to become complacent, and the gap closed to 8 points by halftime. Vanderbilt was able to whittle the lead down to a single point in the second half, and at 41-40, it didn't look like Tennessee was sure anybody would answer the bell.
But last year's SEC Player of the Year and the most ridiculously talented player on a very talented Lady Vols team joined the fray. After a three point shot and a very rapid bucket-and-one immediately after to open up Tennessee's lead, Stricklen was alive in a way we hadn't seen in a long, long time. Vanderbilt suddenly had no answer for Shekinna, who scored all of her 18 points in the second half after missing most of the first half due to two early fouls.
It would be easy to take the final ten minutes of the game and simply call it an awakening for Tennessee, but the nearly 15 minutes of struggle that allowed Vanderbilt to eliminate a 19-point lead can't be ignored. Vandy's players came ready to play and did a fantastic job of distributing the ball around and finding holes in Tennessee's zone defense. The three-point shooting wasn't quite to their standards, but between driving guards, Clarke, and Holzer, Vanderbilt found plenty of success in the interior. A part of that was due to subtle changes in defense necessitated by very aggressive foul calling, but it was still an issue that made everybody believe they just might be looking at an upset.
But boy, did it ever feel good to see the old Stricklen again.
A quick rundown:
- Nearly every Lady Vol scored in the first half, with only Spani not sinking any points in the game. Stricklen led the team with 18 points despite the first half goose egg.
- Vandy's scoring guard Christina Foggie led the Dores with 16 points, which is an acceptable tally, especially considering Tennessee's struggles against guards. A part of her number is attributable to her cold streak in the first, but we'll take it.
- Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh played one of their best tandem games in a long time. The number of fouls called on them (4 and 2 respectively) was partly inflated by tight officiating, but most of their action was solid.
- Meighan Simmons provided a huge spark off the bench in the first half and appeared to have the breadsticks locked up by halftime. She made her first five shots and had double digit points by halftime, and her streak stretched Tennessee's lead well into double digits in the early going.
- Glory Johnson is still a beast. That is all.
- Brianna Bass did very well as the starting point guard. She had some mistakes, but she knows the plays and she knows her teammates. We have two point guards.
- Tennessee ran zone defense for most of the game, thanks to Vandy's cold three point shooting. They did switch to man defense in the closing minutes to shut down the guard penetration, but Tennessee is a zone team for certain.
- Cierra Burdick is the best pure shooter on the team. When she comes in the game, you can almost take 3:1 odds on her getting two quick buckets from the 15 to 19 foot range.
- Survive and advance. Next is the winner of South Carolina and Georgia. May that game go into quintuple overtime.
Shekinna Stricklen, with honorable mention to Meighan Simmons. As much as Simmons owned the first half, Stricklen broke Vandy's heart in the second. One does not make a trend, and Stricklen needs to keep being Stricklen, but we'll enjoy what we got today.
Sweet Mother of Breadsticks, Shekinna!