Mar 3, 2012, Nashville, TN, USA; LSU Lady Tigers head coach Nikki Caldwell watches her team play against the Kentucky Wildcats during the semifinal round of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena. The Lady Tigers beat the Wildcats 72-61. Don McPeak-US Presswire.
Having already lost to the Louisiana State Tigers just a short month ago, the folks at SB Nation's Kentucky site A Sea Of Blue were already well-aware of the obstacle that Nikki Caldwell's team posed to the Wildcats in their quest for a program-first SEC championship.
So despite the ranking disparity, it's almost hard to call the Tigers' 72-61 win an upset - the Tigers were who Wildcats fans thought they were. And as Glenn Logan of A Sea Of Blue described, it simply overwhelmed the Wildcats.
It has been a long season, a lot of pressure, and it has taken its toll. For whatever reason, the Wildcats were not sharp tonight, did not really contest LSU in the paint, and were completely unfortunate on the defensive glass. LSU owned them so thoroughly that it cannot all be attributed to size alone. Rather, it is clear that LSU simply wanted this game more, and their determination controlled the outcome.
There were a few things that went wrong for the Wildcats, but their misfortune on the defensive glass was particularly significant: despite finishing with only one more offensive rebound than the Wildcats, the Tigers finished with a dominant +18% advantage on the offensive glass. The somewhat odd offensive rebounding story also points to another strange fact about this game: the Wildcats won the game with only 39 shots. The reason? A program record 43 free throw attempts, for a ridiculous 100+% free throw rate.
In the way of LSU winning its third SEC tournament title since 2003 is a surging Tennessee Lady Vols team, that finally seems to have found a cure for their season-long bout with somnambulism in a 74-58 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks, according to David Hooper of SBN's Rocky Top Talk.
It's always a good sign when Tennessee hits their first attempt of the night, but the better sign was that they never once had a stretch of sleepwalking. Instead, they kept their pressure on all game long and slowly choked the life out of an otherwise very game South Carolina squad.
With South Carolina hitting threes and Tennessee hitting twos in the opening minutes, the score stayed close. But as the game progressed, Tennessee's higher offensive efficiency eventually allowed them to eke out a one-score edge.
Aided by an efficient 5-for-12 3-point shooting performance the Lady Vols' 55.7% effective shooting efficiency was ultimately the Gamecocks' undoing, particularly in the second half when enigmatic star Shekinna Stricklen showed up and scored all 16 of her points. Nevertheless, the Gamecocks have little to be ashamed of as a program on the rise, as described at SBN's Garnet and Black Attack.
After years of futility in women's basketball, Staley has helped us break through this year. With a 23-9 record, we're assured a berth in the NCAA Tournament, and we should have a decent seed to boot. That's definite progress. Kudos to the ladies for their superb representation of the university this year.
Setting aside the compelling mentor-mentee coaching storyline for today's final (5 p.m. CT on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com), this sets up an interesting test for the Lady Vols to claim the title that was assumed to be theirs at the beginning of the season. Tennessee did beat LSU on January 19, but star LaSondra Barrett fouled out with only 6 points and the Tigers gave up a season-high 42 rebounds to the Lady Vols.
If the Tigers play with the patience, power, and killer instinct - like their namesake, as Logan noted - that they showed against the Wildcats and the Lady Vols have another letdown, Nikki Caldwell could end up with a more triumphant inaugural season in the SEC than people might have expected.
For complete information on the 2012 SEC Tournament, visit SECDigitalNetwork.com. Click here to see the full 2012 SEC Tournament bracket (in .pdf format). For updated box scores and other statistics, visit WBB State's SEC Conference Tournament page.