Big Trumps Quick

The average height of Tennessee's starting lineup is 6-2. For Ole Miss, the average is 5-9. In the end, that disparity made a difference in a 61-58 Volunteer victory in a key SEC matchup in Tad Smith Coliseum Thursday night. Read about it inside.

6-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, 5-11.

Those random numbers don't mean much, really, unless they are the heights of the starting lineup in a women's basketball game.

That's an average of 6-feet-2-inches per player and it represents the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, ranked fifth in the nation.

Compare that to an average of 5-feet-9-inches for Ole Miss' Rebels and from the opening tip it was going to be a tough assignment for the home team.

The Rebels were going to have to rely on speed and quickness, which served them well for most of the game.

Finally, the size differential wore the Rebels, a pretty good team in their own right, down and out, signified by a 47-24 rebounding edge, and the result was a hard-fought 61-58 setback for the Rebels in Tad Smith Coliseum.

But it didn't come easy for Pat Summitt's 22-2, 10-1 team.

In fact, the Rebels led for most of the game and lost in the same fashion they did a year ago, with a late three-point bucket by Vol junior guard Angie Bjorklund with one second left on the clock and with the game tied at 58-all.

"We knew who was going to take the shot," said Rebel Coach Renee Ladner, whose team is now 15-9 overall and 6-5 in the SEC. "Angie has made a lot of late, clutch shots for them, two against us in two years. We covered the first part of the play well, but didn't get out on her quickly enough."

Summitt and Bjorklund had different versions of the last play. Summitt said the play was designed for her sharpshooter to take the trey. Angie said they didn't need a three-ball and the first two options of the play were to go inside, but the Rebels had that covered well. She claimed she was option three of the winning play.

Either way, it really doesn't matter. Bjorklund delivered the dagger for the second year in a row and left the Rebels with some deep disappointment.

"I am very proud of the way our kids played, the effort they gave. It was a gallant effort, but it's disheartening to lose that one," said a visibly dejected Ladner. "We didn't make the plays at the end of the game to win and they did. Anytime you play in the SEC, it's usually going to come down to who makes plays at the end. We made them in the triple overtime win over LSU. We didn't tonight."

Despite losing the only player - center Nikki Byrd - who could negate some of the size difference for most of the game (Byrd played a total of 19 minutes) to a shoulder injury diving for a loose ball, the Rebels led at halftime 30-25, in spite of sharpshooter Bianca Thomas going just 2-11 from the floor.

Liz Robertson led the first-half charge with nine points while Byrd and Shantell Black chipped in six points each.

Ole Miss built its margin to 7 at 48-41 halfway through the second stanza on a Thomas trey, but UT scored seven unanswered points to tie it at the 7:25 mark at 48 each.

With 3:12 remaining in the game, Tennessee gained their first lead since early in the first half, 55-54, on an inside bucket, and then Bjorklund added a three-ball to give UT a 58-54 margin with 2:36 to go.

Ole Miss held defensively three possessions in a row but could not convert on three tries from long range.

Shantell Black picked the pocket of a UT guard and scored to cut it to 58-56 with 1:02 remaining and again the Rebel defense held.

Thomas tied the game at 58-apiece with a driving layup, but there was still 12.5 seconds left on the clock, enough time for Tennessee to set up the game-winner for Bjorklund, who hit nothing but nylon from 20 feet with one tick left on the clock.

"I thought we were in good position, but it definitely hurt us not to have Nikki in there for most of the second half," Ladner said. "She's 6-3 with a good wingspan and she could help us negate them inside. Without her, we were not getting many rebounds because of the size differential."

Ladner refused to blame the misses of the late, open shots on fatigue.

"We just didn't hit them," she sighed. "Again, you have to hit the shots at the end to win this kind of game and I don't think being tired had much to do with it. They just didn't go down for us. Like I said, they did against LSU, they didn't tonight."

The Rebels were 21-54 (38.9%) from the field on the night, including 10-28 (35.7%) from the three-point line, which was the most effective part of their offense. From the free throw line, Ole Miss was 6-7 in a relatively clean game by both team.

Robertson and Thomas ended up with 18 points apiece, but Robertson got hers on 5-7 shooting while Thomas was 6-22, a sub par night indeed for the Rebs' leading scorer, who is averaging 21.3 points per outing. Black contributed 12 points to the cause. Byrd had all six of her points before the injury and all in the first half.

UT had four players in double figures with Shekinna Stricklen leading the way with 13 followed by Bjorklund and Alyssia Brewer with 12 each and Alicia Manning with 10. 6-6 Center Kelley Cain dominated the boards with 16 rebounds while Brewer added eight.

Tennessee was 26-60 (43.3%) from the field and 2-7 (28.6%) from the charity stripe.

In a game that could have gone either way, and with the home team putting up a scrappy fight, remember the numbers.

47-24 in favor of UT on the boards.

That's what 6-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, 5-11 will do.

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