Hoops fails to weather the storm in Tennessee

UK forward Alexis Jennings attempts to shoot the ball as Tennessee guard Andraya Carter reaches up to block the shot during the first half of the women’s basketball game against Tennessee on Sunday, February 15, 2015. Photo by Marcus Dorsey


By Joshua Huff

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All UK had to do was weather the storm.

Unfortunately for UK, that storm had two fronts. After Tennessee opened the game on an 18-9 run, the Cats willed their way to a 31-all tie at half. But a second half run by the Volunteers pushed the lead to 11 midway through the half en route to a 72-58 victory.

A lead that UK couldn’t recover from.

“Tennessee played really hard, really smart. We didn’t play good enough defense and we couldn’t make shots,” UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said.

After a 73-72 decision on Jan. 29 in a game that came down to the final possession, one would assume that the game on Sunday down in Knoxville would have the same edge-of-your-seat excitement. Tennessee, however, had other ideas.

Utilizing a zone defense and an offense that dominated the boards and second – chance points, the Volunteers smothered a UK team that appeared to still be recovering from its two-overtime victory over Mississippi State on Thursday.

Noticeably absent was the presence of UK’s post players.

Tennessee had its way against UK in the paint. Bullying the Cats and scoring seemingly at will, UK had no answer for the likes of forwards Cierra Burdick and Bashaara Graves. And in a physical game, UK’s post players failed to rise to the challenge.

“That was something that was preached,” Tennessee’s guard Andraya Carter said. ”UK fights and has a ton of pride. We just wanted to be the tougher team tonight.”

And they were, as UK’s forwards Alexis Jennings, Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney combined for only 13 points in a game that was decided in the paint. Moving forward, the absence of a concrete post player will be a hindrance for a UK team that relies too much on perimeter play, and against the No. 6 team in the country, that weakness was magnified.

It was evident late in the second half who the more determined team was. After Tennessee’s center Isabelle Harrison was wheeled off on a stretcher, the Volunteers steadied themselves and countered every blow UK dealt.

UK attempted a late run, but the lack of toughness in the paint and the inability to shoot from beyond the arc, 4-13 from three, allowed Tennessee to balloon its lead to 16 with a minute to go.

“Tennessee played better and deserved to win,” Mitchell admitted.

With the win, Tennessee sweeps the regular season schedule against UK, with a potential SEC Tournament matchup gearing up early next month. In the meantime, UK will need to dig deep and find a way to find consistency down low, or another run into the NCAA Tournament will be tough to duplicate.

“It came down to toughness,” Mitchell said, “We just weren’t tough enough … and usually the tougher team wins.”