Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 25, 2013

Lady Vols thump Creighton

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Holly Warlick asked her team to hold Creighton’s high-powered perimeter attack to five 3-pointers.

The Lady Vols did even better than that.

Second-seeded Tennessee went on a 13-0 run early in the second half to break open a close game and beat No. 10 seed Creighton 68-52 on Monday night to reach the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

The Lady Vols (26-7) will play No. 6 seed Oklahoma on Sunday in Oklahoma City.

Creighton came in ranked second nationally with just over nine 3-pointers per game, but Tennessee outscored the Bluejays from beyond the arc. The Lady Vols were 6 of 10 from long range, while the Bluejays went 4 of 22 — a season low for 3-pointers made.

Tennessee was ranked only 10th out of 14 Southeastern Conference teams this season in 3-point percentage defense (.303).

“That’s huge for us,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “All year long, we haven’t defended the 3 ball very well at all.”

Creighton (25-8) coach Jim Flanery said he figured his team needed to make eight or nine 3-pointers to have a realistic chance at winning. The Bluejays instead were outscored from 3-point range for only the second time all season.

Tennessee shot 6 of 10 from beyond the arc, including 5 of 9 in the second half. Ariel Massengale, Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons each went 2 of 3 from 3-point range.

“I thought we took great 3’s,” Warlick said. “We didn’t force it. We took 3’s when we were open. It was the smartest we’ve done shooting the 3 ball.”

But it was their ability to defend the 3-pointer that decided the game.

“They definitely stuck to their game plan, but in the end, we kind of wore them down,” Massengale said. “We made them take contested 3-point shots instead of open shots.”

Kamiko Williams led Tennessee with 15 points. Massengale added 11, while Simmons and Spani had 10 apiece.

Alexis Akin-Otiko scored 12 points for Creighton, which was seeking its first NCAA regional semifinal appearance.

Tennessee improved to 52-0 in NCAA tournament games on its home floor and raised its all-time NCAA tournament record to 114-23, a mark that includes eight national titles and 18 Final Four appearances. Creighton is 3-5 in NCAA tournament games.

But neither Tennessee’s partisan crowd nor the Lady Vols’ rich postseason history intimidated Creighton in the early going.

Creighton briefly led 16-15 midway through a first half that also featured five ties, the last coming after Creighton center Alyssa Kamphaus made it 24-24 on a layup with 3:38 left. Tennessee led 35-29 at halftime.

“I felt we could play with Tennessee,” Flanery said. “I really did.”

But the Bluejays couldn’t maintain that momentum and missed 11 of their first 12 shots in the second half.

After McKenzie Fujan’s basket cut Tennessee’s lead to 35-31 with 17:35 remaining, Tennessee picked up its energy level on defense and broke the game open.

“We’re a great team,” Williams said. “We can score. We can play defense. But when we’re positive and we have that positive energy going, we’re a totally different team.”

Spani started the run with a 3-pointer and followed with a steal. Bashaara Graves delivered a basket in the paint. Williams then made a steal and passed to Simmons, who threw it back to Simmons for a fast-break layup. Massengale and Simmons capped the 13-0 spurt by sinking consecutive 3-pointers.

Tennessee eventually led by as many as 19. Creighton got back into the game with a 7-0 run, cutting the deficit to 59-50 on a pair of Ally Jensen free throws with 4:42 left, but that’s as close as the Bluejays got the rest of the way.

“It could have been one of our better overall defensive games when we needed it,” Warlick said. “I’m proud of their effort.”

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