No. 1 Baylor 77, No. 9 Tennessee 58

With one last chance to get to the Final Four, Tennessee’s

seniors ran into the most imposing hurdle of all.

Try as they might, they just couldn’t get it done against

Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears.

Baylor rolled past the Lady Vols 77-58 Monday night to reach the

Final Four for the second time in three years. It ended a

difficult, emotional season for Tennessee and its Hall of Fame

coach, Pat Summitt, who is battling early onset dementia,

Alzheimer’s type.

Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and the other members of their

senior class became the first group of four-year players at

Tennessee to go through their careers without reaching the Final

Four. But Johnson took solace in their effort against a team that’s

now two victories from going 40-0.

”We played them as strong as we could,” Johnson said. ”If you

don’t leave everything out on the floor, whether you’re winning or

losing, it was the last opportunity to show people what type of

player you are. I definitely left it all out there, Shekinna left

it all out there, Vicki (Baugh) left it all out there.

”All the seniors played as hard as they could.”

Baugh, who sat out one season because of knee injuries, can take

some consolation in knowing she was a member of the Lady Vols’ 2008

championship team. But the other seniors never got beyond the

regional finals.

A regional final berth would be a major accomplishment at many

programs, just not at Tennessee, which has played in 18 Final Fours

and won eight national championships.

Associate head coach Holly Warlick hopes the seniors are judged

on their accomplishments, not their failures.

”These seniors have done a hell of a job,” Warlick said.

”They’ve had three SEC titles. They’ve had regular season

championships, they’ve had tournament championships. No other team

has done that. These seniors have done an unbelievable job.”

Stricklen led the Lady Vols (27-9) with 22 points, while Johnson

scored 19 and grabbed 14 rebounds. But no one else had more than

five points and Stricklen suffered through an 8-for-26 shooting

night before getting involved in a skirmish late in the game.

”I give credit to Baylor,” Stricklen said. ”They were really

pressuring me. I think I was taking some tough shots, I was rushing

a little bit. But the shots just weren’t falling.”

Johnson had to be helped off the court after crashing to the

floor with 4:23 left in the first half. But she started the second

half and played the rest of the game.

”I can’t leave my teammates out to dry, no matter what the pain

is,” she said. ”A game like this, you can’t sit out.”

Tennessee faces an uncertain future because Summitt, college

basketball’s all-time winner with 1,098 victories, hasn’t said if

she’ll return for a 39th season. No matter, Johnson said. Tennessee

women’s basketball isn’t going anywhere.

”This program is only going to get a lot stronger, and we’re

building off of this,” Johnson said. ”We’re just going to keep on

making our mark and keep on getting stronger. We left our legacy.

We’ll just look to the underclassmen to keep playing hard for these

great coaches.”

Griner had 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks before being

ejected with less than a minute left after a fracas involving

Stricklen and Odyssey Sims, who led Baylor with 27 points.

Sims tumbled to the floor with 46.8 seconds left after taking an

awkward shot, and she and Stricklen had to be separated. No punches

were thrown, but Griner and teammates Terran Condrey and Jordan

Madden were ejected for leaving the bench.

The NCAA says none of the players will be suspended for the

Final Four.

Should Baylor win it all next week, it’ll become the first men’s

or women’s team in NCAA history to finish a year with 40 wins.

As for Summitt, she was given a standing ovation from Tennessee

and Baylor fans alike when she came out roughly 15 minutes before

tipoff. But as defeat became apparent, she sat silently on the

bench with her legs crossed.

The way Baylor handled her team, there simply wasn’t much she

could do.

Baylor led 35-20 at halftime despite a poor start shooting from

Griner. Tennessee made a spirited charge to start the second half,

highlighted when Johnson scored a second-chance bucket on Griner

and simply smiled when Griner tossed her to the floor.

But the Bears are unbeaten because they’re much more than

Griner.

Sims followed a layup through traffic with a 3, to help Bears go

back ahead 49-38 with 11:12 to go. Tennessee made one final run,

cutting a 19-point deficit to 64-53 with 4:48 left, but Griner

finished off the Lady Vols with six points in the next minute.

Tennessee had a habit of starting poorly, but the Lady Vols were

ready for this one – at least for the first few minutes.

Tennessee double-teamed Griner with Baugh and help defenders,

and Griner hit just three of 10 shots in the first half. But the

Lady Vols missed nine shots in a row after an early lead, and

Baylor slowly built its edge to 26-16 on three straight buckets by

Sims and a 3 from Kimetria Hayden.

Baylor’s lead grew to 35-20 in Johnson’s absence, as Tennessee

shot an abysmal 22.9 percent in the first half.

The Lady Vols hung close with Baylor in late November before

losing 76-67. The rematch wasn’t nearly as close, sending the Bears

onto Denver and Tennessee grappling with the possibility that

Summitt’s career is over.

”I think this coaching staff tried to continue on the tradition

that coach Summitt has built,” Warlick said. ”We’ve got a great

foundation, and this program’s going to continue to do what

Tennessee has always done.”