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Tennessee Whips Duke

Tennessee 89, Duke 69. December 27, 2001. Phillips Arena.

Recap |

For much of this game, Tennessee held Duke at arm's length. The Devils
were within 10 points for the first 25 minutes of the game, sometimes cutting
into the lead even further. How did the Lady Vols extend their lead to
nearly 30 and wind up winning by a comfortable 21 point margin? There
were several keys. First and foremost: Tennessee had nine players who
had at least ten minutes of playing time--and four others who combined for
21 more minutes on the court. In all, UT's bench logged 86 minutes to 49
for Duke. More importantly, they outscored Duke's bench by an astonishing
44-7 margin, led by Gwen Jackson with 20. With Duke trying to use its
speed to get past Tennessee's imposing front line, the Devils simply
exhausted themselves early in the second half while UT's bench stepped up
in a big way. The second big factor was Tennessee's 17 offensive rebounds.
The Lady Vols seemed to score every time they got an o-board, with Jackson
getting a couple of three point plays out of them. The third big factor
was a stretch in the second half when Duke missed 5 straight free throws,
blew an easy layup that wound up as a Tennessee basket right away and went
from being within 10 to down 20. After that, Duke simply had too much
work to do to try and come back, though they did make a valiant effort at
the end of the game.

What became quite clear after this game is that Tennessee is a truly
great team. They have tremendous size and agility in the frontcourt,
experienced and tough ballhandlers, and remarkable depth. The overall team
balance makes them extremely difficult to defend--they don't rely on a single
superstar ala Chamique Holdsclaw or Tamika Catchings to bail them out.
Their team defense and rebounding is fearsome. All of that said, Duke
still had certain advantages and at times used them well. The Devils were
much quicker than the Lady Vols, especially Tillis and Beard. Mosch was
blowing by her opponents to get to the basket all game long. That only
stopped when UT coach Pat Summitt realized that she couldn't guard Duke
man-to-man and switched over to a zone. The Devils did a poor job in
attacking it and couldn't get many of their jumpers to drop. Duke also
utilized a pressing defense as well as they had all season, forcing 26
turnovers. But the Devils couldn't afford their 22 turnovers since they
also shot just 34% for the game. Duke learned both their strengths and
limitations in this game, and will need to work on both to capture another
ACC championship and make a deep run in the NCAA's.

Tennessee started out with a quick 5-0, getting a three from former Duke
target Kara Lawson. Alana Beard made her presence known with a post-up
turnaround jumper and a sizzling pass to Sheana Mosch on a cut for a three
point play. The Lady Vols got out to their first big lead with an 11-2
run, giving them a working margin for the rest of the game. Monique Currie
broke up the run with a 10' floater, sparking a 7-2 Duke spurt. Tennessee
was overplaying Duke's wings to cut off drives, but the Devils reacted by
throwing over the pressure and connecting on backdoor cuts. Iciss Tillis
shook off a tough start by nailing a 15' jumper as Duke cut it to 19-14
with about ten minutes gone by. After a Tennessee basket, Tillis put it
on the floor and drove by UT star Michelle Snow for an easy layup.

But the Lady Vols simply responded with a 7-0 run fueled by their offensive
rebounding power. Vicki Krapohl hit Mosch for a three, followed by Beard
throwing a perfect outlet pass to Mosch for a transition basket. Once
again, Duke was only down by 7 at 28-21 with five minutes left in the half.
The number 7 was a weird one for Duke, as UT went on another 7-0 run to
give them their biggest lead at 35-21. It looked like the Lady Vols were
ready to bury Duke, but Tillis and Beard had other ideas. Tillis grabbed
a rebound and hit Beard in stride for a layup. After UT responded with
a basket, Whitley drove right down the center of the lane for a basket "and
one". Tillis then passed into Beard from the high post for an easy basket,
and repeated it with two minutes to play in the half. Duke had a few
chances at cutting further into the lead, but settled for 39-30.

Tillis was only 2-9 in the half, but countered that with 7 rebounds and
5 assists. Of course, it didn't help that she had 5 turnovers as well.
Beard had 9 points but 4 turnovers of her own. Mosch was 4-6 and led the
team with 10 points, and also came up with a couple of steals. Currie really
struggled coming in off the bench, starting out at 2-8 shooting--and it would
only get worse from there.

Tennessee started the second half with a 5-1 run, but a Beard three and
a Whitley post-up basket brought it back to 44-36. Duke was never able
to seriously threaten Tennessee, but they hung around for the first few
minutes. Beard was at the center of what success Duke had, dishing to
Tillis and Mosch on cuts and Whitley on a post up while hitting a 15' jumper
of her own. Duke was within 51-44 with sixteen minutes to go. Then came
a turning point: Tillis missed an easy layup in transition which led to
Lawson scoring at the other end. Instead of the score being 53-46, it was
55-44. Over the next three minutes, Duke's only point came on a Currie
free throw. Beard missed 3 foul shots (including the front end of a one-and-
one), Tillis a pair and Currie 1. Instead of being within 8 or 9 points,
Duke was suddenly down 65-45.

The Devils staged a brief rally as they turned up the pressure. Currie
hit 2 free throws after driving to the basket while Beard forced a steal
and drove in for a layup. A Tillis free throw ended the 5-0 mini-run, but
the Lady Vols struck back with a 13-0 over the next three minutes that
essentially ended the game. With six minutes left, Tennessee led 78-50.
Duke didn't give up, finding a second wind and attacking the reserves that
UT had on the court. Duke went on a 16-4 run over the next four minutes,
pressing the Lady Vols and disrupting the passing lanes like they hadn't
all game. It started with Tillis snagging a board and starting a break,
dishing to Beard for the finish. Then Alana stole the ball and passed to
Krapohl for a layup. After 4 straight Tennessee points, Whitley scored on
a hanging jumper for a three point play while Tillis and Mosch knocked down
4 straight free throws. Tillis then hit a three and got a steal and layup.
That made the game 82-66 with two minutes left--too little time to come
back all the way, but the team proved that they weren't going to lie down
when being beaten. The Vols are the only team on Duke's schedule capable of
dominating them in such a way, and their undefeated record against a brutal
schedule proves what a great team they are. Along with UConn, they are the
favorites to win it all this year. Duke still looks as though they're a
year away from challenging for a national title, but ACC supremacy is still
within their grasp. Against Tennessee, I had the feeling that if Duke
could have simply eliminated one of their problems (turnovers, rebounds
or missed layups), they could have made it a very close game. While it's
to Tennessee's credit that they prevented Duke from doing what they wanted,
the Devils must learn from this defeat and understand how to impose their
will on other good teams.

** Negatives:

1. Blocking out. This is by far Duke's biggest weakness. The only player
who comes up with defensive rebounds with any regularity is Tillis. Duke
is hurt by Crystal White's absence here. Wynter Whitley and Michele
Matyasovsky need to step up here.

2. Shot selection. Duke was trying for an uptempo game, but this also led
to rushed shots in halfcourt play, especially from Currie. In her defense,
some of her shots were good ones that just didn't drop, which seemed to
frustrate her into taking worse shots.

3. Bench impact. With Whitley in foul trouble, Duke needed help from its
bench. It didn't get it. Currie and Matyasovsky shot 2-16 from the floor,
and combined for 7 rebounds, 9 fouls and 5 turnovers.

** Positives:

1. Ball pressure. The best part of Duke's attack. They forced Lawson
and Loree Moore--two of the nation's best point guards--into a combined
15 turnovers.

2. Resilience. Duke was down for the whole game, but kept coming back
no matter the score. Tennessee had to work for that final margin.

3. Ball movement. When Duke had success on offense, it was because they
were passing crisply and finding the open player. When they weren't playing
well, it was because Duke was lulled into too much one-on-one play--and
UT is simply too good to be beaten in such a way.


** Whitley: This was less a game about being a dominant player for Wynter
than one where she needed to boost her confidence a bit. She had a rough
first half, getting abused on the boards and picking up two fouls, but
her late three point play gave her big push in the second half, where she was
3-6 for 9 points. She was scoring on post-ups, using her strength and
balance to score against as tough a front line as she'll ever face in her
career. Wynter also picked up her defense a bit in the second half, though
was undone by UT's offensive rebounds. This should be the next big step
she takes--Whitley must become a better rebounder if Duke's is going to
beat teams with great frontcourts. Wynter leads the team in charges taken
and picked up another one in this game.

** Tillis: Iciss, much like Alana, has now reached the point in her
career where even if she's not hitting shots and is making too many mistakes,
she still finds other ways to contribute. Her rebounding and playmking
helped keep Duke in the game even when she couldn't hit anything. Iciss
still wasn't burning up the nets in the second half, but she did score 11
points and forced several steals. Moreover, she stopped turning the ball
over, which was a problem in the first half. I think she also gained more
confidence late in the second half, because her shots looked a lot better.
Still, she missed several easy layups after aggressively getting steals--
not finishing plays was one of Duke's biggest team deficiencies in this
game. And considering how often Duke does drills for this sort of situation,
it had to drive Coach G crazy. Still, Iciss was at least making plays,
disrupting UT's offense and generally making things happen. She wasn't
afraid of Tennessee, and that was an important part of the battle.
Getting a double-double (14 and 11) and picking up 6 assists, 2 blocks
and 3 steals along the way shows that she's not too far from being a
dominant player on a regular basis.

** Beard: A valiant effort in defeat. I do think that Alana is trying to
force too many plays as a point guard, which has led to a lot of turnovers
lately. She has to accept that she simply can't do everything. Her 4 steals
against great competition helped spark Duke in the second half. Alana
was scoring in a variety of ways--posting up, hitting jumpers, and on cuts.
UT cut off her drive as much as possible, but it's difficult to shut Alana
down. While her unselfishness is her best quality as a player, I would have
liked to have seen her take more than 17 shots, especially since she hit
8 of those. The Lady Vols wanted to slow her down as much as possible by
throwing different players at her, and the plan pretty much worked. Alana's
18 points would have been a solid part of most Duke victories, but she needed
to put up a lot more to have a chance at beating UT.

** Mosch: Sheana had a pretty good game. She burned Tennessee 3 times on
cuts and nailed a three. I would have liked to have seen some more medium-
range jumpers. She was active in the passing lanes, picking up a couple
of second-half steals. Sheana did throw the ball away a couple of times.
The problem here is that Duke needed someone to have a dominant performance
to keep them in the game, and none of Duke's stars were able to do that.

** Krapohl: A fairly scrappy game for Vicki. 3 assists, 1 turnover and
2 steals is a good day's work, especially when you throw in 5 boards. She
missed 2 layups and only got one open look from three, but that's not a huge
concern. Not an outstanding game, but she held her own against great
competition. Of note: Vicki stood her ground and took a charge.

** Currie: Mo just had one of those days where no shots were going down.
Her role is to score, and after hitting 2 early shots nothing else fell.
She missed layups, threes, short jumpers and some wilder attempts as well.
UT kept a player in front of her at all times and made her think about what
she was doing. After a while, you could see it get to her a bit. This is
a game that she simply needs to forget about. At the least, she did manage
to get to the foul line in the second half and only turned it over twice--
once on a charge. Mo is a confident player and will no doubt bounce back
quickly. Knowing that one of the best teams in the country was focused
on stopping you has to actually help a player's confidence.

** Gingrich: Krista only made a brief appearance--I have a feeling that
she's not healthy enough to play a lot of minutes yet. She did manage to
come up with a steal, though.

** Matyasovsky: Michele started her first stint strong, grabbing 2 big
rebounds. Then things got ugly. She blew 2 reasonably easy shots, turned
the ball over 3 times and managed to foul out in only 15 minutes of play.
Duke needs much, much more from Mattie than this, especially since she's
Duke's only post reserve. She simply looked outclassed against UT's quick
and strong post players, missing out on many rebounds.