Illness to Jaci Bigham hinders Oral Roberts offense in 83-62 NCAA tourney loss to Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – 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 5½-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."