Tennessee 74, Oklahoma 59
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Ever since they saw the NCAA tournament bracket, Tennessee fans have been stewing about being in the same region of the draw as Baylor for the third time in the past four seasons.
After the No. 2 seed Lady Vols' 74-59 regional semifinal victory over No. 6 seed Oklahoma on Sunday, the Final Four is just a step away. But it could be a very large step. If Baylor beats Louisville in the second semifinal here, once again the Lady Bears will stand in the way of Tennessee's 19th Final Four appearance.
That's probably especially galling to the Orange crew because even after Tennessee won the SEC regular-season title, the Lady Vols still got stuck with the defending champion and the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Still, they are in a regional final again. And for a mostly young team in Holly Warlick's first season as head coach, Tennessee already has been a big success. A quick reaction:
Overview: Tennessee's starting backcourt had a ton of trouble putting the ball in the basket; Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale finished a combined 3-of-22 from the field. And yet that didn't even matter, because the Lady Vols did so many other things well.
Four Lady Vols scored in double figures: seniors Kamiko Williams (15 points) and Taber Spani (12), and sophomores Cierra Burdick (13) and Isabelle Harrison (12).
And defensively, Tennessee controlled the game. The Lady Vols were mostly able to keep the pace up-tempo, just as they like it.
Turning point: Oklahoma point guard Morgan Hook was injured (head) and played just nine minutes in the first half. She didn't return. Hook came into the regional semifinal averaging 10.2 points, 5.4 assists and 33.5 minutes; she had started every game this season. Her absence made it more difficult for the Sooners to establish their offense; they shot just 28.2 percent from the field in the first half.
Meanwhile, Tennessee shot 52 percent in the first 20 minutes, led by Williams at 6-of-7 from the field. That gave the Lady Vols a 44-27 halftime lead and kept the largely Sooner-fan crowd rather quiet in the first half. It also forced Oklahoma to try to play catch-up the rest of the way without Hook.
Key player: Williams was a bundle of focused energy from the tip for Tennessee, and she contributed in every way possible. Along with her points, she had seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. She did most of her scoring in the first half, helping give Tennessee a comfortable lead that the Lady Vols never seemed in danger of losing.
Key stat: Tennessee hasn't been its traditional self all the time on defense this season, but for the most part the Lady Vols were very stingy on Sunday. They held Oklahoma to 30.7 percent (23-of-75) shooting from the field and made the Sooners work hard for everything.
What's next: Tennessee moves on to its third consecutive Elite Eight; the Lady Vols fell to Notre Dame in 2011 and Baylor in 2012. Tuesday, Tennessee will meet the winner of Baylor-Louisville for a trip to New Orleans. The Lady Vols made the Women's Final Four both previous times the event was held in the Big Easy: In 1991, when they won the NCAA title, and 2004, when they lost the national final to Connecticut. Oklahoma finishes this season 24-11; the Sooners will return four of their current five starters for 2013-14, losing senior forward Joanna McFarland. The Sooners, who finished tied for second in the Big 12, were led Sunday by sophomore guard Sharane Campbell with 22 points.
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