The Lady Volunteers (24-8) had a frustrating SEC season by their lofty standards, but Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen and their fellow seniors pulled together to lead the team to its 16th overall conference tournament title.
|Therese Plaisance and Adrienne Webb helped key a strong defensive effort, but LSU couldn't catch Tennessee in the second half.|
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 crown in coach Nikki Caldwell's first season. Caldwell won six titles as a Tennessee player and assistant coach, but no former Lady Vols player has ever beaten Summitt.
LSU (22-10) now awaits an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament when the field of 64 is announced on March 12 at 6 p.m.
"I'm very proud of this group," said LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, who was facing her mentor in Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "I saw fight in them. I saw a team that stuck together. I feel like this team has shown that they cannot only play with some of the best teams in the country, but we've beaten some of the top-ranked teams in this country.
"This team has a uniqueness about them. We talk about whenever there is a setback, there's a comeback. This group has shown it time and time again. We've got a lot more basketball in us."
Adrienne Webb, who was named to the SEC All-Tournament team, finished with a team-high 16 points. Theresa Plaisance came off the bench for 13 points.
Barrett scored 9 points before hitting the floor and suffering a head injury with 14:18 left in the game. She was carted off the floor on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital for evaluation. She was conscious when carted off, able to move all extremities and diagnosed with a concussion.
"We could have easily folded after LaSondra went down but we took it as a challenge," Webb said. "Even though we fell short, we gave it 100% and gave our all out there on the floor."
Glory Johnson tallied a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds and was named SEC Tournament MVP. Shekinna Stricklen added 16 points for the Lady Vols.
LSU trailed 35-30 to start the second half, but the Lady Tigers rallied to tie the game 41-41 on a Plaisance 3-pointer. Barrett was injured at the 14:18 mark with Tennessee holding a 45-41 advantage.
Despite losing Barrett for the game, LSU continued its inspiring effort as Webb knocked down a 3 to cut the lead to 45-44 with 13:51 to go.
Tennessee went on a 9-0 run following Webb's shot to take control of the game. Stricklen was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three foul shots. Stricklen scored seven straight points in a span of 2 minutes as the Lady Vols led 54-47 with 8:19 remaining.
Webb refused to let the Lady Tigers go away, burying another 3 and converting a layup as LSU closed within 56-51 with 5:13 to go. Tennessee responded with four straight points and put the game away at the free-throw line.
LSU out-shot Tennessee, 43% to 42 %, but the Lady Vols owned the boards by a 39-23 margin and also and went 21-for-24 at the free-throw line.
The Lady Tigers are playing host to the first and second rounds at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on March 18-20. For tickets to the NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds hosted by LSU, visit www.LSUtix.net or call the LSU Athletic Ticket Office at (225) 578-2184.