Tennessee won one-on-one Monday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Its 68-52 victory over Creighton in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament was as simple as that.
And the ones that mattered most for the Lady Vols were on defense.
“Our key was to play one-on-one defense,” UT coach Holly Warlick said.
“You have to lock your player up. We didn’t want to help a lot.”
The strategy was a resounding success, thanks to UT’s execution.
The quicker, more athletic Lady Vols forced 19 turnovers and hounded the Bluejays into 32.1 percent shooting from the field.
The performances were atypical on both sides.
All season long, Warlick has pleaded for more defense — especially on the perimeter — from her offensive-minded team.
The second-seeded Lady Vols delivered against No. 10 Creighton, whose usually reliable 3-point shooting took a disastrous turn.
Creighton made only 4- of-22 3-point attempts. The wayward shooting coupled with shaky ball-handling enabled the Lady Vols to pull away in the second half after leading by only six points at halftime.
“Defensively, they won the game at that end,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “They had 13 steals, eight in the first half.”
Tennessee actually played better defense in the second half. But those first-half steals more than made up for its early lapses.
Not surprisingly, senior guard Kamiko Williams led the defensive charge.
The defensive game plan was geared to her strength, one-on-one defense. Williams, who also led her team with 15 points, had a game-high four steals.
She did more than take the ball away. She helped take away open shots as well.
“We were guarding their shooters (on the perimeter), keeping our hands up,” Williams said. “They’ll pump fake and get you in the air. We stressed staying in your stance.”
Tennessee’s tactics didn’t blindside the Bluejays. But they still struggled to adjust against the athleticism and quickness.
“We’re not used to seeing athleticism in all five positions in our league,” guard Ally Janning said. “They’re so athletic at all five positions.
“You can’t prepare for that in two days. There’s no way to replicate that in a quick turnaround.”
UT’s athleticism has been evident all season. But it hasn’t always been evident on defense.
The most flagrant example was in an 80-63 upset loss to Missouri in early February. The Tigers made 11-of-24 3-point tries and scored 46 points in the second half.
The defeat was magnified by the first meeting, which Tennessee won by 45 points at Thompson-Boling.
“We came back and had a two-hour meeting at 6 in the morning,” Warlick said. “If you can learn from your losses, then the losses were OK.”
The lesson figured prominently in the preparation for Creighton, which, like Missouri, makes up for a lack of athleticism with ball movement and 3-point shooting.
Despite one of its worst offensive showings of the season, Creighton was competitive for much of the game.
“The separation from when it went from four to 15 (early in the second half), that made it pretty tough,” Flanery said. “We fought back. We just weren’t good enough on 3s.”
Tennessee made sure of that.