Mississippi State - Alexis Rack had 19 points on the day but was only 7-22 from the field. She struggled against the length of Tennessee giving up almost seven inches to any player that was guarding her. She did turn it on in the second half scoring 14 points but it was too little to late. Rack's day overall was just a microcosm of the day for the Lady Bulldogs who struggled with Tennessee's pressure defense.
"We should have attacked it in a different way," said Rack. "We were attacking it at the sidelines and we should have been attacking the middle. It was hard to see over them and we should have adjusted better because of that."
Tennessee - Shekimma Strickland did not have a big day from the field, shooting 4-of-12, but she made an impact in other areas, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out six assists. Her biggest job was, defensively, where she helped to give the Mississippi State guards fits all afternoon, keeping them from being able to drive the lanes and create.
The Stats Don't Lie:
The most glaring stat from this game is the disparity in points in the paint where Tennessee outscored Mississippi State 42 to 16. This also was the result of the Lady Volunteers size advantage on the inside with Kelley Cain 6'6 and Glory Johnson 6'4. The pair combined for 22 points and 20 boards.
"In our zone defense, the opponents post players are the ones usually crashing the boards so it was my job to defend that," said Johnson. "Every time the ball was in the air I was blocking out and pounding the boards to prevent her from getting the ball."
The Lady Bulldogs uncharacteristically were on the opposing end of the turnover battle, 17 to the Lady Volunteers 10. The Lady Volunteers also had 19 assists, which is almost a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio. That exemplified how well they protected the ball from the Lady Bulldogs, who normally put smothering pressure on ball handlers of opposing teams.
"We have to share the ball and today we did a great job with 19 assists and seven out of our ten players that played accounted for at least one," said Tennessee's Angie Bjorklund. "Also, our starters only turned the ball over six times in 33 minutes so we did a great job of keeping the ball secure."
The Lady Bulldogs also struggled with the Lady Volunteer defense, shooting just 28.1 percent from the field. In addition, the loss of Tysheka Grimes has hurt depth a little bit as the Lady Bulldog bench did not manage a point in today's game.
The story of the game was length of the Lady Volunteers. And the Lady Volunteers created problems for the Lady Bulldogs from the opening tip-off when they used a 2-3 zone, something Coach Pat Summitt typically doesn't do.
"I think our zone defense worked so well today because of the surprise," said Glory Johnson. "Usually we come out in our normal man defense so when we started with a 2-3 zone they were not expecting it. We reduced their penetration, which they are so good at because of their athleticism, and kept them from getting to the basket."
She felt it was necessary to negate the athleticism of Mississippi State guards and it worked especially against Armelie Lumanu who only scored 8 points. Armelie's game is mostly predicated on the dribble drive, something the Lady Volunteers virtually eliminated with the use of the zone.
"We played all zone today," said Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt. "Watching tape last night convinced me to come out in zone and stay there. We are very long and rangy and our size plays to our advantage in the zone defense. The length of our players negated a lot of the athleticism that Mississippi State possesses."
The Lady Volunteers only has one regular rotation player that stands less than 6'0, Briana Banks who is 5'2. And the Lady Volunteers used their length offensively, as it was difficult for the Lady Bulldogs to contest their shots, especially Angie Bjorklund's shots, who, coming off multiple screens throughout the day, connected on 4-of-9 from three point range.
"They are big. You are going to have to set good screens," said MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis. "If you are not setting screens at a good angle, then not only are they guarding the perimeter, but they are now guarding the middle. (Since) we don't have people in the right spot and we are not seeing people."
The Lady Volunteers were just too much for the Lady Bulldogs and dominated the game end to end, something that hasn't happen recently in this series.
"I am very, very, very disappointed relative to work ethic," said Fanning-Otis. "For those of you from our area, we let you down in a big way relative to just the character and class with which we played. We are going to strive to coach better, and these players are going to strive to play better. I say that because I expect to win. I don't expect to come in and just play a game and say, 'great effort.' I want to compete and win every game. When it is a game like today, there were several phases of it where we just totally shut down, and we can't do that.
"I realize we have a starter that is out, and there are new people in some new roles. That just means that everybody else who does have experience is going to have to step up and communicate better.
"I know the rebounding is somewhat close, but to me it wasn't even in the (same) park. We had 20 missed shots at halftime and only four offensive rebounds. If you are missing shots, you have to find a way to rebound and find extra shots. We have to find a way to play pressure defense. We have to find a way to penetrate the seam. There were times when we did that, but times against Tennessee are not good enough. You have to guard hard and be alert.
"I am just totally disappointed in our effort. I know we are going to regroup and evaluate it and move on. You have to give credit to Tennessee."
Player of the Game:
I will start giving a player of the game award after every game to the player who I felt had the biggest impact on the game regardless of the stats or of the team.
Tennessee's Glory Johnson, totaling 16 points and 15 rebounds, proved to be too much for the Lady Bulldogs due to her combination of height and athleticism. She was a beast on the boards, getting many of her points off of put backs while also showing great leadership. Johnson should be a force the rest of the season for the Lady Volunteers, possibly helping them to a ninth national title.
"Johnson was very efficient with her touches, kept her composure, and worked to get open," said Summitt. "She did a great job of picking and choosing her options on the offensive side based on how Mississippi State's defense responded. Johnson is a very quick jumper which presents her with an advantage on the glass. I'm very proud of her and this game was something she needed for herself and her confidence."
Jeremiah Short is a columnist who covers various Mississippi State sports for GenesPage.com. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org