No. 6 Tennessee 67, No. 11 Rutgers 61
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)
Sykes scored a season-high 27 points in the 11th-ranked Scarlet Knights' 67-61 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Tuesday night.
''I take it personally,'' Sykes said of losing. ''We don't want to leave Rutgers with a legacy of losing to those teams. I hate losing and I just want to win for the team. This was a personal game for (Stringer). She wants to be able to beat Pat Summitt, we just didn't get it done.''
Stringer has won just two of her 17 meetings against Summitt, including dropping the last eight games.
The two Hall of Fame coaches have combined for nearly 1,950 victories during their illustrious careers. They stand first and third on the women's basketball all-time victory list.
Summitt received a warm standing ovation from the crowd before the game and shared a long embrace with Stringer.
''I told her I wanted her to take care and told her I love you,'' Stringer said. ''I don't care to go into anything else that was said as it was personal.''
Rutgers players wore red warmup shirts that said ''We Back Pat'' in honor of Summitt's battle with Alzeheimer's. The school also presented Tennessee with a collage of Stringer's favorite photos with Summitt and a commemorative jersey at the half.
''It was awesome, a tribute to the fans here,'' Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said of the long ovation. ''They appreciate Pat every year we've been here. Everybody in the whole arena was so positive in energy. Pat's so appreciative for that and it's really neat.''
Trailing 54-51 with 8:33 left, Tennessee (6-2) scored 13 straight points, holding Rutgers without a point for nearly 8 minutes. Vicki Baugh started the burst with a layup and Meighan Simmons hit consecutive 3-pointers to give the Lady Vols a 61-54 lead. Taber Spani hit another 3 with 1:52 left to seal the victory.
''I feel like there's a time and place for everything,'' said Simmons, who missed eight of her first 10 attempts. ''At that time it was a moment where we hadn't scored in 4 or 5 minutes, I was open and happened to take the shot, thank God it went in.''
There have been some memorable games lately in this series, starting with the NCAA title game in 2007 which Tennessee won. The teams met the next year in Knoxville and the game ended in controversy with a last-second clock issue.
The last time the teams played at Rutgers, in 2009, the Scarlet Knights blew a 20-point halftime lead.
''It's been intense,'' Summitt said of the rivalry after her team's practice Saturday. ''Both teams are going to be very focused.''
After the game, Summitt walked over to the baseline and said a few words to former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed making a tackle on a kickoff return against Army in October 2010.
A Tennessee spokesperson said Summitt gave him a hug and asked how he was doing and said she was glad he could make it to the game.
It was the Scarlet Knights' second loss to a Top 10 team this season. Rutgers lost in double-overtime at Miami.
''I was telling them that I knew we were not pretenders, but were contenders and plan on being that. It hurts now but the key is we know we can compete,'' Stringer said.
The Lady Vols got off to a quick start behind Shekinna Stricklen. The senior preseason All-America had 10 straight points for Tennessee during one stretch. Her jumper with 5:48 left in the half gave the Lady Vols a 33-20 lead. That would be their last points before the half as Rutgers turned up its defensive pressure, scoring the final eight points before the break, including four by Sykes.
Rutgers continued the run to start the second half scoring 11 of the first 14 points. Sykes' layup 2 1/2 minutes in gave Rutgers its first lead of the game at 37-36. Khadijah Rushdan's basket moments later capped the 19-3 burst.
Neither team could pull away. Rutgers built a 54-51 lead on consecutive scores by Rushdan and a layup by Sykes with 8:33 left. That would be the Scarlet Knights' final points until Sykes hit a 3-pointer with 35.9 seconds left that made it 64-57. Rutgers would get within four on Monique's Oliver's lay-in with 12.6 seconds left.
''We have heart and determination and know we'll never be out of the game,'' Sykes said. ''You're never out of a game when you have time. We took the lead but didn't execute down the road and it hurt us.''
Rushdan finished with 16 points. Spani and Simmons each had 13 points for Tennessee.
The Lady Vols are in the midst of a four-game trip. They beat No. 20 DePaul on Sunday in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
''To come away with two wins on this road trip we're thrilled,'' Warlick said.
After a brief stop back in Knoxville, Tennessee will head to California to play UCLA and No. 4 Stanford. The Lady Vols won't play at home again until facing Old Dominion on Dec. 28.
Follow Doug Feinberg at http://twitter.com/dougfeinberg