No. 13 Tennessee 70, LSU 58

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell knows very well how teams can wilt in

an arena filled with Tennessee orange and the physical and athletic

Lady Vols on the court.

Her Lady Tigers lost to 13th-ranked Tennessee 70-58 Sunday in

the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament championship.

Caldwell never saw them back down, not even after teammate

LaSondra Barrett was strapped to a backboard and taken off the

court on a stretcher after being briefly knocked unconscious.

”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 grew up about 25 miles away from Knoxville in Oak Ridge

and won six SEC titles as a player and assistant coach at

Tennessee. This was the third time she’d faced her mentor, Pat

Summitt. But no former Lady Vols player has ever beaten Summitt,

and Caldwell couldn’t become the first as Tennessee (24-8) won its

16th SEC tournament title and third straight.

”Even though this stings right now, I told them you need to

take this with you. Every day you go to practice, you need to

remember today and use it to get better in the next couple weeks,”

Caldwell said. ”Again, when there’s a setback, there’s a

comeback.”

Caldwell missed on becoming the first coach to win an SEC

tournament title in his or her first season. The Lady Tigers fell

to 2-7 in the tournament championship, but this was their first

appearance in the title game since 2008.

The Lady Tigers reached the title game after knocking off

Arkansas and upsetting No. 10 Kentucky. But winning eight of their

last 10 games should position LSU (22-10) for a return to the NCAA

tournament after missing out a year ago with a 19-13 record. LSU

will be hosting first and second round games for the first time

since 2009 with their 21st NCAA berth.

”We’ve got a team that is starving to advance one game at a

time,” Caldwell.

LSU ran into a Tennessee team featuring five seniors 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. Glory Johnson scored 20 points and grabbed 11

rebounds, while Shekinna Stricklen scored 14 of her 16 points in

the second half. Senior Vicki Baugh added 10 points and seven

rebounds.

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.

LSU 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.”