Watching the Lady Vols lose to No. 1 Duke on Monday night, it struck me that the Blue Devils made Tennessee look very ordinary. I was shocked to see UT down 19-0 to start the game.
We should have known it wasn't going to be a good night when the Lady Vols' All-American Candace Parker got the opening tip into the hands of teammate Alexis Hornbuckle, who proceeded to hit the bottom of the backboard on a routine layup attempt!
Everything went downhill from there.
It took the Lady Vols almost six minutes to get on the board.
I knew Duke was good, but come on. The Lady Vols played like they'd never seen film on the Lady Devils' backdoor cuts or that Abby Waner could shoot the 3-ball.
Yet in the end, the Lady Vols showed their mettle and rebounded to actually tie the contest in the second half. A win, though, was not to be.
Tennessee's downfall was not the horrific start, but the poor free-throw shooting, especially in the second half with the game on the line.
All season long, I've been concerned with the Lady Vols foul shooting. Monday night it was a major factor in the loss.
While Duke was converting 14-of-15 free throws, Tennessee hit just 8-of-17. The Lady Vols are averaging just .697 percent from the charity stripe as a team.
They lost to Duke by four points and hit the bottom of the backboard twice on attempted layups. They lost by four points and missed two dinky layups in the last two minutes of play.
Tennessee lost by four points to Duke and Parker missed six free throws in the game. We'll never know for sure if making more free throws against Duke would have been the difference, but on paper it seems pretty clear that it would.
Free throw shooting is a skill that can be improved. It's a 15-footer with no one guarding you.
Like those pesky 2-foot putts I'm tormented with on the golf course, free throws must be converted if you hope to be successful. It's a cruel twist that makes a 2-foot putt count the same as a 275-yard drive. A stroke is a stroke.
When my son was young and I was teaching him to shoot baskets, I put a great deal of emphasis on free throws. He needed to develop a routine that would put him in a comfort zone each time he stepped to the foul line.
Much like those 2-footers, everything had to be the same on each stroke.
Of course this mentoring was coming from a guy who once lost a free-throw shooting contest to a women who was eight months pregnant. But that's another story for another time.
If the Lady Vols don't correct their free-throw shooting woes, this season will end, once again, without a seventh championship banner.
Pat Kenney is executive sports editor of the Times-News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.