OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Tennessee used a 25-5 first-half run and cruised to a 74-69 victory in the Sweet 16 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday. The No. 2-seeded Lady Vols (27-7) will play No. 5 seed Louisville—an upset winner over No. 1 seed Baylor—in the Elite Eight on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
Tennessee advanced to the Elite Eight for the 26th time in school history and third year in a row. The Lady Vols are 26-5 all-time in regional semifinal games and an NCAA-best 115-23 all-time in 138 NCAA Tournament contests.
“It was a really hard fought game for us,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “I'm extremely proud of these young ladies. We talk a lot about where we start and then where we are now. I keep saying this, but this team, they play in the moment. They play each possession like it's their last.
“As a coach, you don't want to coach effort. I have not from day one had to coach effort. We've actually coached and taught. The credit is to them and how hard they've worked, the hours they've put in, just their listening and wanting to go to practice. I know it starts with practice.”
Senior Kamiko Williams continued her torrid late-season play with 15 points. Warlick thinks she may be the Tennessee’s MVP at this point of the season.
“We're asking her to lock down the opponents' best offensive player, then we want her to make plays on the offensive end as well,” Warlick said. “She has stepped up. She has a maturity about her. She's just taken over this team. She's wrapped her arms around this team and said, Let's go.
“I will tell you, at the beginning of the year, if I had to say Kamiko was going to be our leader, I would say no. But our players love her. She's done a heck of a job on and off the floor being a leader for them. So my hat is off to her. She has exceeded my expectations.”
Just behind Williams in scoring was Taber Spani, who added 12 points to give the senior combo 27 points. Two other Lady Vols scored in double-figures Sophomore Isabelle Harrison had her best game since returning from a late-season injury, posting 12 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Cierra Burdick notched 13 points.
The Lady Vols' defense was strong all game, limiting Oklahoma to just 23-of-75 from the floor for 30.7 percent. The Sooners made just 17.2 percent from 3-point range, hitting just 5-of-29.
Sixth-seeded Oklahoma (24-11) was led by Sharane Campbell, who scored a game-high 22 points. Joanna McFarland had 14 points and 16 rebounds. The Sooners suffered a major blow when guard Morgan Hook was injured early in the game and did not return.
For the second postseason game in a row, Williams keyed the Lady Vols as they built a sizeable first-half lead. Williams tallied 13 in the first half as UT held a 44-27 lead at halftime. With the game tied at 11, five minutes into the action, Tennessee outscored Oklahoma, 33-16, over the final 15 minutes to lead by 17 at halftime.
Tennessee's defense held Oklahoma to just 28.2 percent from the floor in the first half. The Sooners had a significant drought midway through the first half, making just 1-of-19 shots in just under 10 minutes of action.
Williams' sparked a 15-2 spurt to put the Lady Vols ahead, 26-13 with 10 minutes left in the first half, causing OU to call timeout. The Lady Vols held Oklahoma without a point for 4:25 before McFarland ended a 10-0 spurt. UT also had a run of holding the Sooners without a field goal for 5:27 later in the half.
The Lady Vols shot 53 percent in the first half. Tennessee opened the game making nine of its first 13 field goal attempts including its first three 3-point tries.
Ahead by 17 at halftime, Tennessee struggled early in the second half as the Lady Vols were held off the scoreboard for the first 4:41 until Ariel Massengale knocked home a jumper after Oklahoma had cut its deficit to 13 points. Once UT got on track, the Lady Vols got it going on both ends of the floor.
Tennessee made seven of 10 shots while forcing Oklahoma to miss 15 of 16 shots from the floor spanning just under 10 minutes early in the second half.
The Lady Vols scored nine points in a row to take a 25-point lead, 59-34 on a lay-up by Harrison and a 3-pointer by Massengale with 9:42 left in the game.