No. 13 Tennessee 70, LSU 58

The Tennessee Lady Volunteers know many people expect little

from them in this year’s NCAA tournament. They’re still planning on

making a run at the national championship that has eluded them.

Led by its senior class, 13th-ranked Tennessee blew confidently

through the Southeastern Conference tournament and got a 70-58 win

against LSU on Sunday in the championship game.

”We want to show people we haven’t stopped working,”

tournament MVP Glory Johnson said. ”You should see a whole new

mentality when we get out there. We have a whole new mindset. You

should see it in our faces every time we step on the floor.”

Johnson is one of five seniors who are trying to change their

legacy after several early exits from the NCAA tournament and a

disappointing 2011-12 season by the Lady Vols’ lofty standards.

Tennessee (24-8), which won the last of its eight national

championships in 2008, suffered a program-worst three losses at

home this season and got blown out in several road games.

Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and the rest of the seniors pulled

together during the SEC tournament, leading the team in each game

en route to Tennessee’s 16th conference tournament title. Johnson

had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Stricklen added 16 points and senior

Vicki Baugh added 10 points against LSU.

Tennessee fans cheered ”We back Pat” after the win in honor of

coach Pat Summitt, who announced before the season she’d been

diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Summitt

helped her team cut down the basketball net after the game and

twirled it above her head to further cheering.

LSU (22-10), which upset regular-season champion Kentucky to

reach its ninth championship game, missed a shot to win its third

tournament title in coach Nikki Caldwell’s first season. Caldwell,

a native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., won six titles as a Tennessee player

and assistant coach, but no former Lady Vols player has ever beaten

Summitt.

”I wouldn’t be the coach that I am right now without that

competitive spirit by playing at Tennessee,” Caldwell said. ”I’m

going to make sure our team is prepared to beat not just Tennessee

but anybody that steps up in front of us. (The Lady Tigers) have

taken on that attitude, and that’s why they’ve battled and

competed. Like I told them, they stood toe-to-toe with a giant

today.”

Caldwell, who is pregnant with a due date of March 24, counts

Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick among her best

friends. Warlick calls and texts Caldwell frequently and couldn’t

resist sending her friend a message the night before their teams

met.

”I texted her, and I told her I hope her water broke last night

so she wouldn’t be on the court,” Warlick said. ”She texted me

that it did and she had a little point guard ready to play.”

The Lady Tigers outshot Tennessee 43.8 percent to 42.3 percent,

but the Lady Vols held a 39-23 rebounding advantage and went 21 for

24 at the free-throw line.

The score was tied at 41 with 15:32 to play, when Tennessee used

a 13-2 run to take the lead, with Stricklen scoring nine points

during the stretch.

Adrienne Webb, who led LSU with 16 points, responded with a

3-pointer that launched a 7-2 run to cut the Lady Vols’ lead to

56-51 with 5:13 to play. A 5-0 run by the Lady Tigers got the

margin down to four points with 2:04 to play, but it was as close

as they would get.

Stricklen, who missed Tennessee’s 65-56 win over LSU in the

regular season because of a sprained knee, sank a jumper and then

found herself open at the perimeter on the next possession. She

squared up, and hit nothing but net on the 3-pointer that iced the

Lady Tigers with 58 seconds left.

Theresa Plaisance added 13 points for the Lady Tigers.

The Lady Tigers lost forward LaSondra Barrett with 14:18 to play

in the game. The senior had fallen after missing a shot, and as the

players turned to head back down court, Johnson’s knee hit

Barrett’s temple.

Barrett was briefly knocked out. Trainers and paramedics

strapped her to a backboard and put a brace around her neck before

taking her to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to be checked

out. Barrett waved to fans as she was wheeled out on a

stretcher.

”We could have easily folded after LaSondra went down,” Webb

said. ”But we took it as a challenge to not go out there and quit,

but give it our all, put our hearts into the game. Even though we

fell short, we still played a hundred percent and gave our all out

there on the floor.”