Game analysis of Rutgers-Tennessee
CLEVELAND -- We're courtside to provide instant analysis from Tennessee's 59-46 victory over Rutgers for the national championship:
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: Tennessee clinched its seventh national title (and first since 1998) by doing what the Lady Vols have always emphasized -- rebounding. By halftime, the Lady Vols had as many offensive rebounds (12) as Rutgers' total boards. By the final whistle, Tennessee outrebounded Rutgers 42-34. The Scarlet Knights just couldn't keep the Lady Vols off the offensive glass -- they had 24 offensive boards!! -- and that led to 22 second-chance points for Tennessee.
We said all along that Tennessee's outside shooters needed to hit their open looks, and junior Shannon Bobbitt delivered. Tennessee led 29-18 at halftime, and every time Rutgers started to trim away at the lead in the second, Bobbitt nailed a huge 3-pointer. The junior-college transfer finished 4-of-9 from downtown (including three in the second half) for 13 points. She just had a huge game. Bobbitt did a tremendous job running Tennessee's offense and nailed the back-breaking shots.
Candace Parker (17 points, seven rebounds) played very solid for the second game in Cleveland. She was willing to become the decoy and give up the ball. Parker only officially got credited with three assists, but she unselfishly kept the ball moving and passed the ball at the correct time.
In the first half, Tennessee exposed Rutgers defensively on the same play over and over again. Rutgers kept double-teaming Parker on the right side, but instead of sending a guard on the help defense, the Scarlet Knights' weak-side post doubled. That left Tennessee's opposite post or wing on the low block sitting open and waiting for the delivery. Reserve Alberta Auguste benefited most, hitting two short, almost uncontested layups from short range and score eight points in the first half. Auguste didn't contribute much in the second, but the damage was already done.
Tennessee junior Nicky Anosike had a terrific tournament. She led Tennessee on Tuesday with 16 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass. She also had seven rebounds and joined Bobbitt and Final Four most outstanding player Parker on the Final Four all-tournament team.
Rutgers dug itself into a hole in the first half by hitting just eight field goals. If the Scarlet Knights don't score, they can't get in their trademark 55 defense. They didn't run the 55 defense at all in the first half. Because the Scarlet Knights are such a low-scoring team, they need to run it three or four times a half to slow down and disrupt the opponent.
Tennessee's other trademark -- defense -- came up big, too. The Lady Vols did a good job denying Rutgers' ball reversal. That's how the Scarlet Knights beat LSU, but Tennessee forced them to keep the flow on one side of the floor, and it's a lot easier to defend an opponent when they're playing in that small of a space.
Eliminating that reversal took away Rutgers' 3-point shooting, and that was costly. Remember, the Scarlet Knights hit 10 treys on Sunday and led the Big East in 3-point field-goal percentage this season. And when you take away its perimeter scoring, Rutgers just doesn't have enough offensive firepower in the paint beyond Kia Vaughn to keep up.
BIGGEST DISAPPEARING ACT: Rutgers freshman Epiphanny Prince ranked second on the team in scoring this season at 12.5 points and also attempted more shots than all but one of her teammates. But despite coming in averaging 9.5 field-goal attempts a game, Prince failed to attempt one field goal in the entire game and finished with two points. It's not just disappearing. It's disappointing. At least Diana Taurasi in the 2001 Final Four in St. Louis went down shooting. At least Taurasi tried.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Parker did what she was supposed to do -- she got on the boards and defended. Bobbitt wouldn't have gotten those open looks without Parker getting all the attention. She was just 5-for-15 from the field but 7-for-10 from the foul line and added three assists. Without a doubt, Parker cemented her legacy on Tuesday.
STAT OF THE GAME: We've already touched on the rebounding. So the fact that Rutgers had four players average double-figure scoring this year but got just one player (Vaughn had 20 points) in double-digits on Tuesday is pretty mind-boggling. Tennessee had four players in double figures, including Sidney Spencer (11) and Auguste (10).
BIG EARLY STORY LINE: Tennessee came out shooting poorly again, hitting just 11-for-30 from the field in the first half. The Lady Vols were tight. Most of their shots in the first 10 minutes front-rimmed. That's always a sign that the shooters are nervous.
But Tennessee was able to put together a 29-18 lead because it exposed Rutgers defensively, finding an open weak-side post when Rutgers double-teamed Parker. That left reserve Alberta Auguste open to hit two short, almost uncontested layups from short range. Auguste's eight first-half points were second only to Spencer. We said all along Spencer must hit her shots, and she nailed three -- including one 3 pointer -- for nine points at the break.
Tennessee also destroyed Rutgers on the offensive glass. Tennessee had as many offensive rebounds (12) as Rutgers' total boards (12).
Tennessee was able to overcome some tentative shooting by Alexis Hornbuckle and even Auguste early on. That allowed Rutgers to clog up the paint and sag in on Parker, who scored seven first-half points on 3-for-8 shooting. The Lady Vols must be ready to shoot on the catch. They didn't have their feet and hands ready, and eyes on the rim.
Rutgers didn't take a lot of shots, going 8-for-21. That had a lot to do with Tennessee's defense. The Scarlet Knights were forced to catch the ball out further on the perimeter and also got caught receiving the ball with their shoulders going away from the basket. So having to start out so deep, in addition to having to get squared up, allowed Tennessee's defense to get back in position. The Lady Vols also changed their defenses on every time out.
BIG MISSED OPPORTUNITY: After taking a 5-0 lead, Tennessee went nearly seven minutes without hitting a field goal, but Rutgers only managed to put together an 8-3 run and committed three turnovers and shot just 1-for-4 in that span. Parker ended the drought with a short jumper off an inbounds pass with 11:30 to play -- making it a 10-8 Tennessee lead.
PLAYER OF THE HALF: Auguste. She came in and gave Tennessee unbelievable minutes. She played just 11 minutes but tallied eight points, five rebounds, one steal and hit 3-for-4 from the field.
STAT OF THE HALF: Tennessee had four offensive rebounds in the first 4½ minutes. That made Rutgers play defense longer -- and translated into four second-chance points early on. The Lady Vols didn't have any second-chance points in the entire first half Sunday in the semifinals against North Carolina. For the half, Tennessee outrebounded Rutgers 23-12.
THREE THINGS RUTGERS MUST DO TO WIN:
1. The Scarlet Knights have to develop an inside presence. They must get Kia Vaughn some touches. She took just five shots.
2. Freshman Epiphanny Prince is Rutgers' second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game. She also took the second-most shots of anybody on the team this season. But she didn't attempt one field goal in the first half.
3. Rutgers must get on the glass.
THREE THINGS TENNESSEE MUST DO TO WIN:
1. The Lady Vols must deliver the ball to Parker quicker in the post before Rutgers double teams.
2. Nicky Anosike must hit her chippies. Granted, not all of these were layups, but Anosike was 1-for-6 in the first period.
3. Parker must get on glass a little bit to help her find other ways to score. She had just two board.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
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