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Elite: Lady Vols beat Oklahoma decisively, 74-59

The Tennessee Lady Vols took an early and commanding lead, controlling the game for nearly 40 minutes and earning an Elite Eight berth.

You just know Kamiko's about to steal that ball.
You just know Kamiko's about to steal that ball.

Coming into the game, two basic factors appeared to be crucial to the outcome: whether Tennessee could control tempo and force Oklahoma to run, and whether Oklahoma would shoot well from the perimeter. With the lack of depth the Sooners had, both would have been key for them to win. Unfortunately for OU, neither factor worked in their favor; the Lady Vols kept the pace in high gear throughout the game, and Oklahoma shot a dismal 17% from three, leading to an outcome that was seemingly predestined by halftime.

The Sooners had played fantastic basketball in the first weekend of the tournament but were on a razor thin edge with a lack of depth. Having lost two key seniors during the regular season, their rotation was eight nominally, but seven effectively, and foul issues were their plague. The fouls weren't a problem tonight, thanks to officiating that let a lot of contact go (both ways, and rather fairly), but the depth was. When Morgan Hook fell on her face in the first half and left the game for good, Oklahoma lost their ability to effectively rotate their starters out for enough breathers. Additionally, they lost one of their best three-point shooters as Hook watched from the bench, further limiting their offensive options and allowing Tennessee to focus on the remaining scorers.

But on Tennessee's side of the ball, many things well quite well. Kamiko Williams started the game with a couple early steals to help build a quick 9-2 lead and allow Tennessee to set a fast pace. UT's passing was very crisp, especially in the first half when they tallied an 11/4 A/TO (with those 11 assists for only 18 made shots). The defense kept Oklahoma from getting many good looks inside; there is room for criticism for defense of the three-point shooters, but it's hard to both sag in for interior support and still play tight against a rotating perimeter.

The game was tied at 11-11 after about five minutes, but then Tennessee went on a 25-5 run over the next ten minutes to build a 36-16 lead. From there forward, the game basically stayed at a 20 point differential. Oklahoma clawed back to a 13 point early in the second half, but could never maintain enough offensive momentum to get any closer. The OU offensive difficulties are highlighted by two droughts: a ten minute stretch in the first half with only one three-point shot, and a ten minute stretch in the second half with only a two-plus-one. Six total points in 20 total minutes of game time. Nobody wins under those conditions.

The major downside for Tennessee was obvious: Meighan Simmons had the worst shooting performance of her career with 1-15 shooting from the field. In the opening five minutes of the second half, when Oklahoma crept closer to Tennessee, Simmons took six of Tennessee's nine shots and missed all of them. It was UT's tenth shot of the half by Ariel Massengale that finally fell and allowed the UT fans to stop clapping and take their seats. It's a line that exemplifies Simmons in some ways: she so desperately wanted to contribute that she kept looking for shots. Most were actually good looks, but the frustration interfered with her focus and she eventually had to be calmed down and allow the team to share the load. (Fortunately, such a bad night is really unheard of for her; her usual off nights are nowhere near as futile.)

On the other end, Joanna McFarland had a very solid night for Oklahoma and ended with 16 rebounds and 14 points (albeit on 17 shots). Sharane Campbell led in scoring with 22 points on 17 shots and 7-8 from the free throw line. Oklahoma also outrebounded Tennessee 50-47, thanks to 22 offensive boards. But their A/TO was atrocious: 4 assists for 17 turnovers. Some of that was due to the loss of point guard Morgan Hook, but much of that was Tennessee reading the passes very well and jumping the lanes effectively to get 11 total steals from the Sooners.

On the upside for Tennessee: Isabelle Harrison had a huge night. For only 19 minutes of play, she netted 12 points and a team high 8 rebounds. Cierra Burdick also got 13 points and 6 boards off of 23 minutes of bench play. But the star of the night was Kamiko Williams, with 15 points on 8 shots, a 4/2 A/TO, 7 rebounds, and three steals for the most complete and efficient stat line of the team. Breadsticks are all hers tonight, and well earned.

As a final word: this team will almost certainly face Baylor on Tuesday, and will almost certainly lose. Nobody in the country has had an answer to Baylor when both Griner and Sims are healthy, and this Tennessee team is still a year out from peaking (sorry, Williams and Spani). We won't exactly dismiss the possibility of a Final Four this year, but it's perfectly realistic to understand that making the Elite Eight in this region is the high water expectation for this Tennessee team. Given the coaching transition, the injuries during the season, and the roster transition, that's really not a bad result at all. They've done well, and everything forward is simply bonus. We can relax on Tuesday; a win would be amazing, but a loss does not negate the season that they've had - a season that far exceeded the fifth place preseason ranking they had within their own conference.