Eye of the Tigers not enough against Lady Vols
Missouri came in fresh off setting new Southeastern Conference records beyond the arc with a blistering pace to get SEC win No. 1 from long distance Sunday. The Tigers dropped a conference record 18 3-pointers on Auburn and got 11 of those from sophomore Morgan Eye — who set a new SEC record of her own with the performance.
Couple that with an emphasis on rebounding that would indicate some study of one of Pat Summitt’s books and Missouri sounded like a team that had the chance of maybe giving a short-benched Tennessee team a run for its money and an outside shot — pun intended — at an exclamation point follow up to its first win in the SEC.
It wasn’t to be.
Missouri had only one basket inside the arc during the first half, and just four for the game in an 84-39 loss to UT. The Tigers went 0-for-15 on 2-point attempts to start the night before Bri Kulas hit a wide open look from 3-feet on an inbound set to end the spell after 16 frustrating minutes.
Even with five treys in the first 20 ticks, it was meager resistance to offer against a Lady Vol start that was on pace for 60 by intermission before slowing up to 48 and a 27-point lead — still the Lady Vols’ largest bubble at break this season.
Missouri lives and dies by the 3-ball. The Lady Vols proved they could defend, chase, plague and pursue Eye and the Tiger around the perimeter sets.
“Their eight screens on one set, we’ve never experienced anything like that,” UT’s Meighan Simmons said. “It challenged us ... everybody had to play it the right way.”
Missouri finished 9-for-36 from beyond the arc — taking more 3-point shots than any other team to play the Lady Vols in Thompson-Boling over the last 25 seasons. It topped Georgia’s 34 against UT in Knoxville in 2011 during a 33-point loss and the 33 tries DePaul launched in a 24-point loss in Chicago during 2001-02.
Eye finished 6-for-17 for a team-high 18, but knew the sophomore who lit up Auburn for 11 of 18 knew she was the focus of attention.
“I felt like I had a few girls chasing me around ball screens,” Eye said of UT’s defensive attention.
But as frustrating as the Lady Vol defense was beyond the arc, Missouri’s 4-for-30 effort inside that line included missed layups, wide open looks that rolled off and misses that could only attributed to being too wide open.
“When you don’t knock down open shots, it makes for a long day that’s for sure,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said of the Tigers’ 19.7 percent shooting effort. “ Tennessee gets some of the credit ... they’re a great team, I felt like we had open looks, shots we’ve knocked down before and will knock down in the future. We just played panicky at times.”
Minus some panic, minus a crowd that while average by Lady Vol standards but large and boisterous for most any other, Missouri might be calmer, better and more dangerous than it showed.
“Our No. 1 concern was their 3-point shooting, when you have a team that can shoot it the way they can, they are never out of the game,” UT coach Holly Warlick said.
Betting Missouri might be more than just a bit better in February, playing at home where the ball goes in on the friendly rim isn’t really such a long shot.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com . He wrote from Knoxville.