Lady Vols fall short of Final Four

The Lady Vols’ quest for a 19th appearance in the Final Four ended Sunday against Syracuse, 89-67.

SIOUX FALLS, SD - MARCH 27, 2016 - Bashaara Graves #12 of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers during the Elite Eight game in the NCAA tournament between the Syracuse Orange and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers in Sioux Falls, SD. Photo By Donald Page/Tennessee Athletics

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Orange and white has invaded the women’s Final Four once again. Except this time, it is not the Lady Vols fighting for another national title.

Instead, thanks to three-point shooting and an overpowering press, the Syracuse Orange wore out Tennessee, winning 89-67 en route to the program’s first-ever Final Four appearance. Syracuse will take on the No. 7 seed Washington Huskies.

The play of guards Alexis Peterson and Brianna Butler propelled Syracuse past No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Sweet 16. On Sunday, both were at it again. Peterson finished with a game-high 29 points, while Butler nailed six three-pointers.

Overall, the Orange’s guards finished with 78 total points and only six turnovers. The Lady Vol guards finished with 44 points, but committed 18 turnovers.

The absence of Tennessee point guard Jordan Reynolds due to a concussion suffered against Ohio State in the Sweet 16 was certainly felt.

Freshman Te’a Cooper struggled against Syracuse’s press, making numerous questionable decisions that led to five turnovers.

The Orange forced a nation-best 25 turnovers per game during the regular season, and in the previous three NCAA Tournament games, forced 64 total. They forced 21 turnovers on Sunday, resulting in 25 points.

After three quarters, the Lady Vols were still in striking distance, trailing only 63-56. An early three by Cooper in the fourth quarter cut the deficit to four, but back-to-back three-point daggers by Butler pushed Syracuse’s lead to double digits.

Tennessee never regained its composure, turning the ball over nine times in the final frame while being outscored 26-11.

The Lady Vols controlled the game early on, building a 22-15 lead with 40 seconds left in the opening quarter after a Diamonds DeShields jumper.

However, Peterson capped off the quarter with five quick points to cut Tennessee’s lead to two.

After falling behind 26-20 early in the second quarter, the Orange gained control of the game with a 10-0 run and eventually led 41-35 at halftime.

Syracuse effectively negated Mercedes Russell’s impact and turned the Lady Vols into an outside shooting team. The redshirt sophomore followed her 25-point, 15-rebound performance with only seven points on five shot attempts.

The Lady Vols shot under 40 percent as a unit and converted on only six of their 22 three-point attempts, two of which came on back-to-back possessions from DeShields in the third quarter to bring Tennessee within three.

But the Orange responded with another borage of three-pointers. For the game, Syracuse shot 46 percent from the floor and drilled 14 three-pointers.

The loss extends the Lady Vols’ Final Four drought to eight seasons. Tennessee has appeared in the Elite Eight in five of the past six seasons, but is 0-for-5 in attempts at the Final Four.

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Cody McClure

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