Let's get the ugly out of the way first. And hoo boy, there's a lot of ugly to get through.
Bad ball control. Tennessee had 14 turnovers in the first half and 22 in the game. An annoying number came after defensive rebounds, when Maryland would have a spy on the rebounder-to-guard pass. It took until halftime before Tennessee figured that one out. And not to belabor this point, but Massengale was at 6 assists/game on the year when she went out. Tennessee had an A/TO of 7/22 today. Yes, she was missed, no matter how much Carter and Reynolds developed in her absence.
Lack of rebounding discipline in the first half. There are some caveats here: Maryland airballed their first shot, allowing an offensive rebound and a score by Thomas. In one hand, airballs are difficult to box out because they're already below the rim. On the other hand, Thomas still got through. Both are good rebounding teams, but it took Tennessee a long time to get into the rebounding flow.
- Missed layups. I have no clue how many layups they missed, but without hyperbole it had to be near 20. Early on, they were overpowering layups, especially in transition. Later on, a lot of layups were on drives with fouls attached to them. It's a habit we've seen over several years. Something about layups is not transitioning properly from practice to games.
- Harrison foul trouble. I still don't know what Harrison does differently that gets her in foul trouble. But even now, it's clear she's trying very hard to avoid the whistle and is still getting called. Are other coaches working the officials on a tendency of hers? I wish I knew, but it hurt badly today.
Simmons hero ball. At one point, she had 12 points on 15 shots with 1 assist and 3 turnovers. She ended with 31 points on 22 shots, but 9 of that was from free throws once she started forcing fouls on her drives. At one point in the second half, she was at 12 points on 15 shots. When she did finally start hitting, nobody else on Tennessee was making anything. (And honestly, at that point in the game, Tennessee needed hero ball to have a chance because they certainly weren't running their offense well.)
- Defending the hero. Conversely, Alyssa Thomas had 33 points and did mostly whatever she wanted to do today. You can see the same trend in almost every loss Tennessee has had over the last two years: one player (usually a guard or Ogwumike) goes off for a career day.
- Slow start. Oh, wait. Tennessee was 33% from the field in the first half and ended at ... 35%. As much as I'd like to blame the slow first half, they didn't do any better in the second. In the second half, it took until the 12 minute mark for anybody but Jasmine Jones to score, and that should have any Tennessee fan hugging their knees and sucking their thumb in the corner. After that, it was the Meighan Simmons Show until a free throw by Andraya Carter at 8:08. All this while trying to erase a double digit deficit.
When Tennessee gets uptight, all these habits come out. We know they work on these things in practice, and we know they can overcome them. It's a matter of settling into the game. We'll have plenty of time to dissect in the offseason.
- Goodbye, Simmons. At times, we've been highly frustrated, but she's been a lot of fun to watch. Best of luck to her and her WNBA dreams. This game can't be laid at her feet; the entire team played below their level (except Jones, which isn't enough).
- This loss was entirely on Tennessee. Even accounting for Thomas's 33 points, Tennessee lost because they played poorly. Bad passes, missed layups, and a lot of frustrated hero ball made Tennessee a very inefficient team on offense. It took too long for the defense and rebounding to settle in, which allowed Maryland to pick up a lot of cheap points and boards.
- Somehow, the final score wasn't worse. Tennessee actually did rather well on defense. Losing Harrison's minutes to foul trouble really hurt, but Maryland only shot 38% (they're normally a 49% shooting team) and had 16 turnovers of their own. There are actually positive takeaways in this game, though they'll be faint praise to the negatives.
- Next year's going to be fun. Russell actually played rather well, especially blocking shots. Carter and Reynolds both made huge leaps in the latter half of the year. Maybe we'll get Massengale back, though that shouldn't be expected. Jannah Tucker will be eligible and she's been working with the team since January, so she should pick things up quickly. (Side note: Tucker is considered by many to be the enforcer personality that Tennessee has lacked since 2008. I seriously hope this is the case.)