DULUTH, Ga. — Shekinna Stricklen scored 20 points and No. 4 Tennessee beat Kentucky (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) 70-62 on Sunday to win the SEC tournament and possibly wrap up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Pat Summitt was so pleased she brought down the house with a postgame song.
Tennessee completed its first sweep of the Southeastern Conference’s regular-season and tournament championships in 10 years. In each case, the decisive win came against Kentucky, which improved from a .500 finish a year ago to play in its first tournament final in 28 years.
Tennessee (30-2) earned its 14th straight win to give Summitt her 19th 30-win season.
Kentucky (25-7) played tough in its first championship game appearance since winning its only title in 1982. The Wildcats, led by Victoria Dunlap’s 21 points, played even with the Lady Vols until midway through the second half.
Tennessee players celebrated at midcourt before starting to cut down the nets. Summitt then stole the microphone — and the show — when she started singing “Rocky Top.”
“You are the best fans! We love you!” Summitt said after her song.
Tennessee fans dominated the Gwinnett Arena crowd of 5,854. The orange-clad fans were especially loud when the Lady Vols took control with an 11-3 run for a 61-53 lead following a 50-50 tie.
Tennessee set a school record with 15 blocks when it clinched the SEC regular-season title with its 81-65 win over Kentucky on Feb. 25. The Wildcats showed no sign of intimidation in the rematch, even after Tennessee took an early 19-9 lead.
Kentucky answered to take its first lead with 5 minutes remaining in the half.
A layup by A’dia Mathies cut the Tennessee lead to 23-22. Amber Smith then stole the ball, drove toward the basket and made a behind-the-back pass to Dunlap, who was fouled as she scored. Dunlap’s free throw gave Kentucky a 25-23 lead.
Freshman Kamiko Williams, who didn’t score in Tennessee’s first two tournament games, answered Dunlap’s three-point play with four straight baskets, helping the Lady Vols lead 35-29 at halftime.
Tennessee center Kelley Cain picked up two quick fouls and played only three minutes in the first half. The Lady Vols’ depth showed as they held a 31-14 advantage in rebounds even playing most of the half without the 6-foot-6 Cain.
Cain had 11 points, all in the second half.
Kentucky opened the second half with an 13-3 run for a 42-38 lead. Stricklen’s three-point play and 3-point shot helped Tennessee pull even at 46-46.
Following the last tie at 50-all, Tennessee took the lead for good with an 11-3 run, which included another 3-pointer from Stricklen.
Tennessee’s Alyssia Brewer, who had eight points, was named tournament MVP.
Great job by my LadyVols! The road 2 redemption continues…Pat Summitt once again is genius for adding Alicia Manning to this starting line up, and I give much props to Alicia for understanding her role on this team, and doing it beyond anything, we could have imagined. And for her relentlessness on the offensive boards..she get’s the fans MVP. And understand I noticed the games Alyssia Brewer has been having, but Manning just doing it through hustle plays, and on both ends of the floor.
Game ball goes to the freshman Kamiko Williams…when she entered the game, the momentum was turned around back into the Lady Vols favor. Kamiko played solid on both ends of the floor, and proved that when she is focused, Shekinna Stricklen is free to be that go to player we need. Her game just becomes so much easier.
Now it will be interesting to see, if the committee will give us our WELL-EARNED #1 seed in the NCAA tournament?…San Antonio the road to redemption leads to you. Go LadyVols!!