Lady Vols deny Cats elusive title

Kentucky's pursuit of its first women's SEC Tournament championship since 1982 will have to wait at least one more year.

Kentucky's pursuit of its first women's SEC Tournament championship since 1982 will have to wait at least one more year.

The Wildcats have advanced to the title game in four of the last five years, but saw an all-too-familiar result Sunday as Tennessee battled from behind to edge UK 71-70 in an intense showdown in Duluth, Ga.

No. 6 Tennessee (27-5) won its 17th league tourney title and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Vols also beat UK in the 2010 and 2011 championship games.

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No. 12 Kentucky (24-8) led by as many as 10 points in the first half and by five with 13:30 remaining, but could not hold on down the stretch. After shooting 53 percent in the first half, the Cats made only 7 of 22 shots after the break. They managed only two field goals over the final 5:29 as the Lady Vols methodically pushed to the lead.

Down four with just :00.7 remaining, UK's Jennifer O'Neill drew a foul on a 3-point shot, giving the Cats hope to win or force overtime in miracle fashion. She intended to miss the third free throw intentionally, but the ball fell through the net. Tennssee inbounded and time expired on the Cats' title hopes.

"Just extremely proud of our team," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "They had a great tournament and worked really hard. Just couldn't be prouder of how they came together. Just lost a real tough game today.

"I wouldn't trade locker rooms, I can tell you that."

Meighan Simmons, a senior guard, led Tennessee with 17 points, including four free throws and a key layup inside the final two minutes. Isabelle Harrison and Jordan Reynolds added 16 and 11 points, respectively, for the Lady Vols. Cierra Burdick had a game-high 10 rebounds for the winners.

Senior forward DeNesha Stallworth and freshman guard Linnae Harper earned spots on the SEC All-Tournament team. Stallworth had a game-high 21 points against the Lady Vols, while Harper and O'Neill each added 12 for the Cats.

Kentucky now awaits its seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats are currently projected as a No. 3 seed in the Louisville region, which will include first- and second-round games at UK's Memorial Coliseum. The field will be officially announced on Monday, March 17, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports and recruiting for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for Scout since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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