Depth proved a major difference as Tennessee rallied to knock Ohio State out of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Saturday afternoon in Dayton.
The fourth-seeded Buckeyes led 42-40 after a nearly flawless first half but could not hold off the top-seeded Lady Vols, who won the regional semifinal contest 85-75 in front of 8,813 fans at the University of Dayton Arena.
Ohio State shot a sizzling 66.7 percent (16 for 24) from the floor in the first half, including 4 of 7 three-pointers, with all four of its big guns firing.
Point guard Samantha Prahalis had 13 points, post Jantel Lavender added nine and guards Tayler Hill and Brittany Johnson scored eight apiece.
Prahalis and Johnson did most of their damage from the perimeter while Lavender camped out in the lane and Hill was able to turn the corner a couple of times to get to the basket for layups.
In the second half, the Lady Vols (34-2) cranked up the defense, turning their success on that end into easier buckets at the other after a “friendly” reminder from head coach Pat Summitt that’s what they should have been doing all along.
“Obviously our defense had to pick it up,” said Summitt, who gave her pep talk an 8.5 out of 10 in terms of anger. “That’s where we had to invest all our energy, and I thought we did a great job of that. Our board play was a lot better, and I thought we pushed tempo a lot better. I don’t know what we were thinking the first half, but we didn’t have the same energy level at that time.”
Ohio State head coach Jim Foster felt the Buckeyes (24-10) helped the Lady Vols slow them down, though.
“We just got away from what was being successful,” he said. “I thought we got into quick-shot mode. It was probably the emotion of the game, the significance of it. When we wexecuted our offense and moved the basketball, we got terrific shots. They had to play defense longer and they couldn’t get runouts. When you take quick shots, it gives the opportunity to run more often. It wasn’t real smart on our part.”
Tennessee tied the game at 42 on a Shekinna Stricklen fast-break layup 1:12 into the second half, and the Lady Vols eventually built a six-point lead with just under 13 minutes to go.
Ohio State twice drew within one, first on a Johnson three-pointer with 11:57 to go and again on a Lavender jumper at the 9:49 mark, Tennessee’s superior depth eventually took its toll.
Stricklen followed Lavender’s basket with a three-pointer and a fast-break layup to start a 15-5 run that spanned 4:11 of game time.
Four different Lady Vols scored during the run, including starters Stricklen and center Kelley Cain along with reserve Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams.
Williams’ second basket, a mid-range jumper with 5:08 on the clock, capped the run and made it 73-62.
From there, the Buckeyes would not get closer than seven as their season wound to a close.
“(Halftime) came at the ideal time that we could let them know that what they were doing was not going to win this game and they had to really invest,” Summitt said. “Obviously, Ohio State played six players and we typically play 13. We played 11 today, and I thought our depth was a real factor.”
Nine of the 11 Vols to get into the game played at least 10 minutes, and nine recorded at least one basket.
Foster used seven players with reserves Amber Stokes and Sarah Schulze playing seven and nine minutes, respectively.
In her final game as a Buckeye, Lavender had 19 points and 10. She scored in double figures in all 136 games of her career, an NCAA record for both total and consecutive double-figure scoring games.
Prahalis led all scorers with 22 points while Johnson had 16 and Hill added 12.
The Buckeyes shot 39.5 percent (15 for 38) in the second half and finished 31 for 62 overall.
Stricklen topped Tennessee’s scorers with 20 points while Meighan Simmons had 18 and Cain added 16.
The Lady Vol reserves combined for 22 points while Stokes had the only basket off Ohio State’s bench.
Tennessee also exploited a decided height advantage by punishing the Buckeyes on the glass. The Vols had 20 offensive rebounds that led to 17 points compared to five and three for Ohio State.
Tennessee improved to 9-1 in the all-time series with Ohio State and won its 25 consecutive game of the season. The Lady Vols advance to their 24th Elite Eight.
Ohio State was denied its first Elite Eight trip since 1993, when the Buckeyes made their only Final Four.