No. 10 Tennessee 83, Oral Roberts 62

Oral Roberts’ point guards keep running into misfortune whenever

the Golden Eagles play at Tennessee.

In Oral Roberts’ last NCAA tournament appearance back in 2008,

the Golden Eagles lost their leading scorer soon after the opening

tip against Tennessee when point guard Mariana Camargo injured her

knee.

They faced Tennessee in the NCAA tournament again Saturday, but

senior point guard Jaci Bigham was battling a stomach virus that

had bothered her for a few days.

Bigham played anyway, but she struggled all day as Oral Roberts

dropped a first-round game 83-62 to Tennessee, the No. 2 seed in

the Oklahoma City Regional. Tennessee will face No. 10 seed

Creighton on Monday.

”I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick before,” Bigham said.

”I was pretty bad, just trying to get my fluids and trying to stay

hydrated. It was a long couple of days. I’d never played under

those conditions. The trainers did a good job of getting me back,

but I just didn’t have my legs under me.”

Bigham, the Golden Eagles’ career assists leader, entered the

day averaging 12.7 points and 6.9 assists per game. She shot 1 of 9

on Saturday and had three points, two assists and five

turnovers.

”Jaci’s probably been able to take in about 500 calories in the

last 48 hours,” Oral Roberts coach Misti Cussen said. ”She’s been

extremely sick. I would have loved to have a healthy Jaci Bigham

coming to Knoxville, Tenn., today.”

Without Camargo in the 2008 tournament, Oral Roberts got blown

out 94-55 by a Tennessee team that went on to win the national

title.

This time, the Golden Eagles were more competitive.

Oral Roberts (18-13) led for the first few minutes and stayed

relatively close for most of the first half before Tennessee pulled

away. The Golden Eagles committed 20 turnovers and couldn’t survive

a 5 1/2-minute scoring drought to start the second half.

Kevi Luper, a three-time Summit League player of the year, had

20 points and ended her career as Oral Roberts’ leading scorer with

2,867 career points.

Taylor Cooper and Savanna Buck scored 15 each for the Golden

Eagles.

”Oral Roberts is a tough team, a very well-coached, very

disciplined team (that) plays hard,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick

said. ”They play hard all the time. We were very concerned with

their pressure, their ability to score, their ability to shoot the

3. We had to come ready to play.”

The Golden Eagles led for the first three minutes before

Tennessee pulled ahead for good with a 15-3 run that turned a 7-5

deficit into a 20-10 advantage. Simmons scored Tennessee’s first 10

points during that spurt, including a 3-pointer that broke a 7-7

tie.

Simmons said she liked the fact that Oral Roberts put up more of

a fight than the typical No. 15 seed.

”I prefer a challenge, personally,” Simmons said. ”The rest

of the games aren’t going to be easy. You don’t want to just breeze

through the first round and then come up the next game and

everything is difficult. I’d rather be tested early on.”

The Golden Eagles continued to hang around for most of the first

half and cut Tennessee’s lead to 29-24 on Cooper’s two free throws

with 5:42 left in the half, but the Lady Vols responded and

extended their advantage to 44-31 by halftime

”We thought we still had a good chance,” Bigham said. ”We

just had to make a strong run.”

Tennessee made sure that didn’t happen..

Oral Roberts missed its first 11 shots in the second half before

Christian Key sank a 3-pointer with 14:16 remaining. Tennessee

reeled off 11 straight points to open the half and eventually led

by as many as 26.

”We started out behind the 8-ball,” Cussen said. ”You come

into Knoxville, and you already have a small margin of error

because they’re playing their first-round game on their home

court

”They were ready to go and we didn’t have the legs to match

them.”