March 7, 2010
DULUTH, Ga. -- Pat Summitt encouraged her team to reach for a No. 1 NCAA seed during the SEC tournament championship game.
Then the Tennessee coach reached for the high notes in a surprise postgame song.
Shekinna Stricklen scored 20 points and No. 4 Tennessee beat Kentucky (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) 70-62 on Sunday night to win the Southeastern Conference tournament and possibly wrap up that No. 1 seed.
Summitt was so pleased she brought down the house by grabbing the microphone and singing "Rocky Top" in front of the scorer's table to the Tennessee fans who dominated the Gwinnett Arena crowd, while her players cut down the nets.
"I thought she was just going to say, 'Thank you fans, for coming out,'" said guard Angie Bjorklund. "When she started singing, I just looked at our team and I started laughing. We all started laughing. It was great."
Most players left the net-cutting ceremony to stand in front of Summitt. After the short song, she said "You are the best fans! We love you!"
Said Summitt after leaving the court: "I did that for the fans. I know I don't have a great voice, but our fans love 'Rocky Top.'"
Tennessee (30-2) completed its first sweep of the SEC'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's 14th straight victory gave Summitt her 19th 30-win season.
The Lady Vols were focused on more than the conference title. Summitt said she talked to her players during the game about needing to win to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"I told them we needed this tonight to make sure we get a No. 1 seed," Summitt said. "We talked about that even during the game. I said, 'We're not losing a No. 1 seed. If we do, that's not going to be good for us.'"
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.
"We came here to win and came up a little short," said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, a former graduate assistant for Summitt at Tennessee. "But I thought our players battled against a really fine basketball team today, and I thought we found out a lot about our team."
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 by scoring Tennessee's next four 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. They finished with a 51-32 advantage.
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 the tournament MVP.