|Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt looks on during the first half of an NCAA women's tournament regional semifinal college basketball game against Kansas, Saturday, March 24, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)|
Kansas women can't sustain hot start vs Tennessee
DES MOINES, Iowa—Kansas had the kind of start it could only dream of against mighty Tennessee in the regional semifinals of the women's NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks soon discovered it takes more than 20 minutes to bring down the Lady Vols.
Reserve Meighan Simmons scored 16 of her 22 points in the second half and Tennessee rallied past the Jayhawks 84-73 Saturday, advancing to its second straight regional final and 25th in 31 years.
Glory Johnson added 18 points for the second-seeded Lady Vols (27-8), who trailed by as many as 14 points before overtaking Kansas in the second half.
It was the 1,098th win for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who announced in August she'd been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, and has yet to commit to coaching next season.
"The first half we tend to get ourselves in a hole, but we fought back. I thought our bench was outstanding," Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said.
The Lady Vols trailed 26-12 in the first half, but cut the deficit to 35-30 by halftime. They took the lead for good with a 19-9 run to open the second half.
Angel Goodrich had a game-high 23 points and Aishah Sutherland had 19 for Kansas (21-13), which fell to 0-3 in regional semifinals. But the Jayhawks made it much further than most thought they would after barely reaching the NCAA tournament.
"We have nothing to be upset about. We lost. We're disappointed, but we should be proud of the run that we've made and the season we had," Kansas guard Monica Engelman said.
Tennessee couldn't do anything right for the first 11 minutes, falling behind to a Kansas team that finished below .500 in the Big 12.
But there's a reason the Lady Vols always seem to be in the regional finals. The Jayhawks found out in the opening minutes of the second half, when Tennessee's superior depth and athleticism simply overwhelmed the underdogs.
"The second-chance points on the glass, the offensive rebounds, which is what they've always been about," Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said. "They got into us on the offensive glass, they got into us in transition. That's the way they got the separation in the second half."
The Lady Vols finally took the lead, 44-42, thanks largely to back-to-back 3s from Ariel Massengale, and a pair of free throws made it 53-46 Tennessee with 11:07 to go.
Freshman post player Chelsea Gardner did her best to keep the Jayhawks close with 14 points and 10 rebounds. But Simmons hit a layup off a give-and-go from Baugh to give the Lady Vols their first double-digit lead, 63-53, with 7:07 left.
Shekinna Stricklen had 16 points and nine rebounds for Tennessee, which shot 51. 5 percent in the second half.
This looked like the ultimate mismatch at the outset. Kansas was playing in just its third regional semifinal, while Tennessee was playing in its 30th -- and shooting for a record 19th Final Four.
But early on, the Jayhawks seemed ready for the late morning start.
Gardner bullied her way for four inside buckets in the opening five minutes, and back-to-back layups through the paint by Goodrich gave Kansas a surprising 18-10 lead. The Lady Vols called time out in an effort to quell the run, but Goodrich and Tania Jackson buried 3s to help push the lead to 14 points.
"The first couple of minutes we came out with a lot of energy on defense and offense. We were hitting a lot of shots," Gardner said. "We just had great defense."
That's the kind of deficit that will get anyone's attention. The Lady Vols came out of a timeout with considerably more energy, responding with an energetic 19-5 run to get back within 31-29.
Kansas lost star Carolyn Davis to a knee injury last month, but rallied to earn its first regional semifinals berth since 1998 with upsets of Nebraska and third-seeded Delaware.
"We recognized what we lost, but we also had to really identify what we hadn't lost, and I asked everyone to give a little more. And I know it sounds crazy to ask Angel Goodrich to do more, but we did. And she did. We said the goals aren't going to change: We will find a way; we will figure this out," Henrickson said.