Lady Vols to play for SEC tourney title

NASHVILLE - Pat Summitt has said all season she likes the depth of her team - and she had it on display Saturday to send the Lady Vols into the SEC tourney title game - but what may be more noteworthy is the lack of selfishness on a Tennessee squad that goes deep into the bench with players sharing minutes.

Tennessee, 30-2, had 10 players log double-digit minutes with all 13 taking the court in Saturday's 82-58 semifinal win over Georgia, 21-10, in the 2011 SEC Women's Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.

Kentucky, 24-7, held off Vanderbilt, 20-11, with a 69-56 win in the second semifinal - the Commodores trailed by as many as 27 midway through the second half but cut the deficit to eight with three minutes to play - and the Wildcats will square off against Tennessee in a rematch of the 2010 SEC tourney championship game.

Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Central (ESPN2, Lady Vols Radio Network) in a matchup that is perfect for Nashville organizers as the orange of Tennessee was responsible for the overwhelming majority of the 10,207 fans in attendance Saturday. The blue of Kentucky has clearly been the second-biggest fan base inside the arena.

The Lady Vols went through the SEC regular season undefeated at 16-0 and have two wins in Nashville over Florida and Georgia. A win Sunday would be a conference sweep.

The last Tennessee team to go undefeated in SEC play and win the tourney was the 1998 one led by the Three Meeks - Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall.

The big three of Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and Alexis Hornbuckle went 14-0 in the regular season in 2007 but fell in the semifinal in Duluth, Ga., to LSU, which went undefeated in league play in 2008 but fell to Tennessee in the tourney title game in Nashville.

"I think our team was very focused on trying to go through our conference undefeated," Pat Summitt said in her post-game press conference Saturday. "I don't think our coaching staff really thought about it. It's one day of practice at a time and one game at a time.

"But as we got closer, I didn't want to lose. I started to feel my hands a little sweaty when I was coming into the gym because I thought, ‘We've gone this long; we don't want to lose.' I think it's something special. It came from this team."

On Friday it was freshman Meighan Simmons who had a case of the postseason nerves, and her play reflected her anxiety. Summitt used sophomore Kamiko Williams in relief of Simmons, but on Saturday the rookie was back in the saddle.

"I didn't want to let my coach or my teammates down," Simmons said. "That's just part of the process. You have to learn from your mistakes and move forward."

It also speaks to the depth of Tennessee. On Friday, Simmons logged 15 minutes and scored five points with no assists and three turnovers. Williams logged 26 minutes, handled the bulk of the point guard duties and had nine points, four assists and zero turnovers.

On Saturday, Simmons logged 34 minutes with 18 points, five assists and three turnovers. Williams played 11 minutes on the perimeter, and freshman Lauren Avant logged seven minutes at the point guard spot.

Having a combination of those three handle the point has meant junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen has been free to roam, and she can do damage inside or out.

"Stricklen ran right by us from the corner right in front of our bench - which would have been right-side corner to the front of the rim - got an offensive rebound, put it back," Georgia Coach Andy Landers said.

"I mean, just ran right by us. I think that was like the second possession."

Landers was speaking to the inability of his team to box out Tennessee on a consistent basis but Stricklen is also 6'2 and shifty on the perimeter, and she usually has a smaller defender trying to check her. By moving off the ball she can make more plays like that.

"I am very happy," said Stricklen while Avant listened nearby and smiled. "It takes a lot off of me. I am able to be more free, able to be on the wing and move around a lot more."

Avant, a true point guard while Simmons is more at ease on the wing, has been hindered this season by injuries and illness, but she logged seven minutes Saturday split between both halves without a dropoff at the position.

"Trying to get back into the flow of things and hopefully get into some more practices before the NCAAs," Avant said.

Avant said her fellow rookie settled down Saturday.

"She was more into the game," Avant said. "She was more focused. You could tell. She was taking great shots, making great decisions, great passes, and her energy was there the entire (game), and that's what we need."

Avant is deceptively quick - teams don't have much scouting film on her - and she scored three points by driving, getting fouled and hitting 3-4 from the stripe.

"Get to the free throw line," Avant said. "That is what Holly (Warlick) and I talk about all the time."

The rotation of players - with minutes varying from game to game - also could lead to team dissension and chemistry issues, but that has not been the case with this group.

"I haven't had a lot of teams that got along with each other and liked each other to the extent that they do," Summitt said. "But I think if you look at it, just the maturity of our team, how long they've been together. I mean, Meighan is a new kid on the block. I'm sure at times when she came in, she was thinking, ‘Oh, will I ever get it?'

"They've really brought her along. I think that's where she feels a lot better. Kamiko is more confident. It's a team that's really like family.

"I've enjoyed, really enjoyed, the opportunity to travel with them and listen to them. I mean, they'll work hard. But off the court sometimes they can be a little crazy. That's when I go to my room."

Williams was sitting near Stricklen in the locker room and singing while the junior conducted media interviews. Williams played well Friday and didn't play as many minutes Saturday, but was smiling afterwards - a state of mind that sums up this Lady Vol squad.

"I just think we have so much talent," Alicia Manning said. "We are so unselfish, and we all love each other so much. We want everyone of our teammates to play well and put a smile on their face. … The depth that we have is insane. You never know who is going to step up and for opposing teams they don't know who to guard."

Perhaps the best example of team chemistry came late in the game when reserves Briana Bass and Sydney Smallbone were on the floor. Manning, a blue-collar player known for board work, defense and an emerging offensive game played 20 minutes Friday and 11 on Saturday.

The junior guard/forward had not scored a point Saturday but got two steals late in the rout of a game and had a clear driving path to the basket. Instead, Manning pulled up, motioned to Bass to stay behind the arc and passed the ball. Bass drained the trey much to the delight of the crowd.

Manning did the same thing a few seconds later and passed Smallbone the ball. The senior guard missed the shot - the fans really wanted her to score, too - but the crowd applauded the play anyway.

"What I did at the end … that's Bree," Manning said. "Everyone loves that Bree hit the three, and she finally got out there so I want to give her the ball."

"That's being a team player," junior Glory Johnson said. "She wanted Briana to get a shot. She wanted Sydney to get a shot. This is how our team is. Bree and Syd don't get as much playing time as everyone else. Let them make the best of their time out there on the floor.

"Don't underestimate any player no matter who it is. Don't underestimate what she can do and what she can do for our team."

Tennessee's depth isn't just on display late in lopsided games. Summitt used 11 players in the first half against Georgia. Through two games in the SEC tourney, nine players are averaging double digits in minutes.

"I think this team can win a championship," Summitt said. "There's no doubt in my mind. But in order to do it, you can't have an off night. So the one good thing is I go back to our depth. If somebody is having a bad night, then somebody else has to step up," Summitt said.

"Fortunately, with the depth of this team, this junior class in particular, I think that keeps the coaching staff with a lot of options. I think every player is really invested in trying to win a championship."

Tennessee's depth is such that the program's all time leader in treys can miss six games with a right foot injury - and the team go 6-0 in that stretch - and come off the bench when she does return.

Angie Bjorklund, a 6'0 senior guard, played in the last three games of the regular season to try to get her bearings, and after shooting 1-4 from behind the arc in her first two games back, has gone 9-10 in her last three games, including 5-6 (83.3) percent in Nashville from long range.

"First, my foot has been doing really well, and the treatment 24/7 has definitely helped and also just getting back into game shape and getting minutes out there has really helped, just getting back into the flow of the game," Bjorklund said. "Shot selection is huge for me. I am going to take shots I know I am going to hit."

Several players have filled in for Bjorklund in the starting lineup in a show of Tennessee's versatility ranging from Williams to Kelley Cain to Alyssia Brewer, depending on post health.

Bjorklund could move back into the lineup, but it's another sign of good team chemistry that it's been a non-issue among the players. In fact, Bjorklund said the more players who log minutes, the better Tennessee tends to do.

"I think the games that we have been the most unselfish and we have the most success are the games that we just blow teams out," Bjorklund said. "So I think when we continue to play like that, continue to work the ball and have player and ball movement on offense, that is when we play so well together, and we share the ball.

"And Coach continually tells us, ‘We're not going down and playing one on one. We're going to play team ball, and we're going to play team defense.' And I think it's just getting used to each other on the court. The more you play with each other the more you're going to play well."

The Lady Vol players, even with a deep bench, generally understand their roles with the added benefit of being able to increase or lower their presence in a game, depending on the circumstances.

"We're at a point where we kind of know our roles, and we know how we can help each other and how we can help the whole team every game and every practice," Johnson said. "We know our role, and we try to help each other no matter what.

"If I am off I am going to help Shekinna get her a double-double. It really depends on who is hitting, and we have to make sure that we hit the open player, and we hit the person that has the hot hand."

Johnson started out slow in Saturday's game and had just two points and two boards by the break after erupting for 25 points and11 rebounds in Friday's 92-75 win over Florida.

That just meant Kelley Cain logged 13 first half minutes with five points and two rebounds during that stint. When Tennessee dropped into its 2-3 matchup zone, the 6'6 Cain settled in as the goalkeeper - a soccer position she played as a 5'11 middle school student - and patrolled the paint. Cain also held her own in the man scheme, an indication her hip and back are feeling better.

"Georgia is so good at penetrating," Bjorklund said. "If you get beat one-on-one you know Kelley is going to have your back, especially in our five (switching man defense). We did a good job of helping each other out there."

"I love the fact that she is back," Johnson said. "Having her play confident and play strong and she'll be back to her normal self."

Johnson regrouped at halftime and finished the game with 14 points and nine rebounds. She scored by overpowering the Georgia defenders and getting to the rim, even using the backboard as Summitt has implored her to do in practice this season.

"I think she's doing a much better job at using the glass," Summitt said. "I think she has a lot of confidence in the paint. She (used to like) to step out, shoot the three ball occasionally. Not happening anymore, not this year, not on my dime. I think we got that squared away."

Johnson has been in the gym with Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood to work on her face-up game in the paint, post moves and midrange shots.

"I really love to see her just assert herself," Lockwood said. "Obviously she is so very talented and her skill set has improved. When she really goes out there and plays with poise but also picks her spots where she asserts herself and really imposes her will on another team, it's a beautiful thing.

"I love to see her growth and evolution. She's doing those things more and more."

The Tennessee locker room, after being rather sedate on Friday, was upbeat Saturday and the players cheered during Summitt's post-game remarks to them.

"It was because we actually came out as a team and played defense," Stricklen said. "Rebounding still wasn't as good as she wanted it, but we came out with high energy, and we came ready to play as a team."

Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 41-39, with Johnson getting nine and Spani grabbing six.

Spani got Tennessee on the board first with a baseline jumper, and Simmons followed that with a three-pointer set up first by a Spani defensive board. Glasswork was a point of emphasis for Spani before the game, and she added eight points to her rebounds.

"Definitely," Spani said. "Georgia is a very physical team. Porsha Phillips is one of the best rebounding four/fives in the SEC. Anytime if I was in zone or man I really wanted to get on the boards and offensively be really aggressive and see if I could get a couple of boards and get a couple of extra possessions for us."

Johnson got a layup off a pass from Simmons for a 7-0 lead, and Stricklen got an offensive board off a Johnson miss and hit the turn-around jumper for a 9-0 lead, causing Landers to call timeout less than four minutes into the game.

"They're not going to be easy to box," Landers said. "I mean, I know they're quick. I got all that. That's not what bothers me. The tough thing about what bothers me about not boxing them out is you work on box-outs almost every single day for this. You don't have to box the bad teams out to beat them.

"But if you have the habit of boxing, then when you get to this you're in a much better place. That's what concerns me about our team."

Stricklen got an offensive board off a Simmons' miss for a leaner and an 11-2 lead at the 14:59 mark of the first half and then Simmons connected inside the top of the key for a 13-2 lead. That was followed by a Spani step-back three for a 16-2 lead with 13:51 left before halftime.

"Obviously, Taber started out playing well," Summitt said.

Georgia opened the game by missing its first 14 shots - Meredith Mitchell connected on a trey at the 9:51 mark of the first half - and Tennessee opened with that 16-2 lead. The Lady Vols then struggled to score - missed layups were an issue - but Georgia couldn't close the gap.

"We were really energetic on defense, and we were focused on getting stops," Spani said. "We started strong offensively and then I think it was like a six-minute time when we didn't score. I think our defense kept us up. It was just our energy and our focus."

The offensive deviation for Tennessee came with the missed layups - Cain said she rushed her two and needed to slow down - and settling on jumpers instead of moving the ball.

"We've got to take the better looks and hit the easy shots," Johnson said.

The Lady Bulldogs shot 21-49 (42.8 percent) after the early misfires but couldn't chase the Lady Vols, who shot 56.3 percent in the second half and scored 47 points to Georgia's 36 after the break.

The Lady Vols' first-half lull, however, did let Georgia hover at halftime, down 35-22, but the Lady Bulldogs couldn't muster enough of a second-half charge.

"Well, there's not a whole lot you can say other than they whipped us," Landers said. "We, for much of the day, did some of what we needed to do. But when you have breakdowns doing what you need to do to be successful against a team as good as Tennessee, you pay for those."

Of the 11 Lady Vols that logged minutes in the first half, eight got in the scorer's column with Tennessee getting the ball to the paint - Bjorklund had two nice passes inside to Cain - and shooting from outside. Bjorklund got the ball behind the arc, faked inside, and her defender bit, allowing the senior to bury the three.

Tennessee's last basket before halftime came when Stricklen received a pass at the corner of the free throw line. She was wide open when the ball arrived, but she fumbled the pass, allowing the defender time to recover. Stricklen had intended to shoot, but when the defender arrived, she put the ball on the floor and exploded to the rim.

The second half began with a Simmons three-pointer and a 38-25 lead with 19:20 left to play. Simmons connected again on a jumper and then Spani drove, hit the bank shot, was fouled and converted for a 43-28 lead with 17:55 to play.

The Lady Vols extended the lead with back-to-back offensive boards and stick-backs by Johnson and a Stricklen drive to the rim with the layup, foul and free throw for a 53-34 lead with 13:36 left.

Baugh had entered three seconds earlier and went to work on offense with a bank shot for a 55-36 lead and then a shot fake, turn-around, foul and free throw for a 58-36 lead with 12:24 remaining. That basket caused the crowd to erupt, as much a reaction for the points as the player who got them.

"She came in the second half and really made an instant difference," Spani said. "It's not necessarily that she comes in and scores - she does that - but she can get a block on defense, she can pull down a board and then it has a spiraling effect for her game. She gets one thing and then it just goes off.

"When she made that and-one we were going nuts. I was so excited for her."

Bjorklund's one missed trey - it went in and out - was rebounded by Johnson, who hit the layup and got knocked down for the foul call. She missed the free throw, but Baugh tipped the ball to keep it alive, and Tennessee retained possession.

"I love playing with Vicki," Johnson said. "With her knee injury and seeing what she does and how she drives to the basket and how she elevates when she gets the rebound is crazy. When she forgets about the fact that she has a (reconstructed) knee and just plays her game, she's incredible, and I love it."

Johnson went to work again, got the layup, foul and free throw for a 63-42 lead with 10:28 remaining, followed by a Simmons basket, Williams' layup and a reverse layup by Johnson off a Simmons' pass for a 69-44 lead with 6:22 left.

When Johnson left the game with 6:18 to play, she got a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.

Alyssia Brewer continued her stellar passing when she fired to the opposite wing from the low block and found Bjorklund for a three-pointer and a 74-49 lead with 5:25 left. Brewer also made two free throws for a 79-53 lead, and Bass' trey with 30 seconds left finished the Tennessee scoring and caused the Lady Vol bench to leap nearly onto the court in celebration.

Georgia was led by Jasmine Hassell with 20 points, while Porsha Phillips added 10, and Khaalidah Miller chipped in with eight. The Lady Bulldogs shot 33.3 percent (21-63) overall, 28.6 percent (4-14) from long range and 70.6 percent (12-17) from the line. Georgia had six assists and 14 turnovers.

Tennessee was led by Simmons with 18 points. Johnson added 14 points, and Bjorklund reached double figures with 10. Baugh and Cain combined for 12 points. The Lady Vols shot 48.4 percent (31-64) overall, 36.8 percent (7-19) from long range and 65.0 percent (13-20) from the line. Tennessee had 12 assists and 10 turnovers.

The Lady Vols will next take the court Sunday afternoon against Kentucky in a venue that has felt like a home game for the past two days. It will be Tennessee's 20th appearance in the tourney title game. Saturday's victory also was the 30th of the season and gave Summitt her 20th 30-win season.

"The standard is so high at the Tennessee program," Manning said. "Nothing is good enough besides the championship so we've got to keep our heads focused on (Sunday's) game.

"Having good warm-ups and everyone's focused and high energy before the game even starts. By the time we play all these games and get to the championship, it's really a conditioning game after playing back-to-back games. Good thing we have the best strength coach in the country in Heather Mason so we'll be well prepared."

Tennessee was under pressure - it's a constant at the program as Manning nonchalantly noted - to make it to Sunday's game but Stricklen said the players also are enjoying Nashville, although there are mandatory study periods on the road.

"We are having fun," Stricklen said. "We're doing what we need to do on the court. Off the court we're studying, and we even have time to go hang with our family and stuff, so we are having a great time.

"Just getting to the championship game is a big relief. We wanted to get there, we're there now and we've just got to finish it."

Avant, a Memphis native and lifelong Tennessee fan whose mother Dana Avant is a graduate of the Knoxville campus, said the team has noticed the orange.

"We have a lot of support and not just family and friends," Avant said. "Our Lady Vol fans are the best fans in the nation, and they come from all over the world to Nashville for the weekend and they're taking off of work and these are really difficult (economic) times, and they're here supporting us.

"We feel obligated to come out and give them a good game."

Spani added, "It's not the pressure that we put on ourselves but the expectations that we have for ourselves. We expect to win this tournament because we expect to be one of the best teams in the country. And that's not putting anybody else down. That's just Tennessee. That's the way we think.

"You look around and it's orange. It is unbelievable. We do feel like we want to represent Tennessee, because our fans are the best in the country. But we also feel like if we play the best that we can play, everything will take care of itself."

PROBABLE STARTERS:

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 freshman guard, No. 10 (13.7 points per game, 2.8 rebounds per game); Taber Spani, 6'1 sophomore guard/forward, No. 13 (8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 junior guard/forward, No. 40 (12.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 junior forward, No. 25 (12.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg); and Alyssia Brewer, 6'3 junior forward/center, No. 33 (2.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg).

Summitt hasn't shaken up her starters in Nashville, but she has options if she wants to do so. Angie Bjorklund, a 6'0 senior guard, could return to the starting lineup at some point in postseason.

The center spot has been held down this season by the healthiest player - and it can vary game to game - with Brewer getting the nod for three of the last four regular season games and both SEC tourney games. Kelley Cain also is a candidate, and Stricklen can move inside if Summitt wants to start a four-guard lineup.

Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell is expected to start:A'dia Mathies, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 1 (13.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Bernisha Pinkett, 5'7 redshirt freshman guard, No. 10 (7.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Keyla Snowden, 5'7 junior guard, No. 4 (9.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg); Brittany Henderson, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 40 (5.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg); and Victoria Dunlap, 6'1 senior forward, No. 34 (17.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg).

Mathies suffered an injury of her lower back after taking a charge last month and left Saturday's game with some discomfort after taking another charge. Mitchell said she could have reentered had the game not been in hand early and when Vandy made its comeback after scoring just 11 points in the first half, Mathies, who scored 11 points in 21 minutes, had been out for too long and was stiff.

"So we don't know anything that would prevent her from playing (Sunday), but we'll just have to see," Mitchell said after the game ended Saturday. "We're trying to be as cautious as possible with her health obviously. But it's a contusion. That's all we know right now.

"She's going to go for an X-ray to make sure that there's nothing structurally wrong there. So we'll keep everybody up to date on that."

Dunlap led Kentucky with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Henderson had a huge game for Kentucky in the win over Vandy with 18 rebounds and nine points.

"We knew it was going to be a rough game on the boards and things like that," Henderson said. "We took a couple punches, and we gave some back, and we came out with a win."

Mitchell noted, " Obviously 18 boards in one game is unbelievable. But just her mindset allowed her to do that. She was tough and tenacious. I can't say enough good things about her performance. Really happy that she played so hard. We'll need something like that from her (Sunday).

"We have a very, very tough opponent that we had a tremendous game with in Lexington. They are a very talented team. They are a team that poses you a lot of challenges. We came down here with the goal of winning this tournament. You know, as a coach, I figured that if we could get to Sunday, I figured we'd see Tennessee, and that's what's happened.

"We will try to get back to the hotel and get ready. Have to rely on our defensive fundamentals, what we worked so hard for to get to this point, turn it loose, give it everything we have, see if we can be the champions of this great, great tournament that I love so much."

SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Kentucky game. Here is his assessment.

When Kentucky has the ball: The Wildcats like to score quickly when they can and if early offense isn't there, settle into half-court sets.

"They're very good with ball screens," Lockwood said. "They run high ball screens. They run wing ball screens. They are very good on the dribble drive. Obviously, (Victoria) Dunlap is a big key for them. She kind of plays all over the floor. You have to be ready to defend her from the high post, low and mid post. She can step off to the wing and drive. She just does a lot of things.

"(A'dia) Mathies, those two really key their attack. They've got enough shooters around them that they can certainly keep you honest. Their ball screens are very, very big in being able to defend that. At any point in time they can attack you off the dribble drive. They are very good in transition."

Defensively, the Wildcats will come after teams, and they like to use their defense to generate offense.

"Especially off turnovers," Lockwood said. "They feed off those like piranhas feed on meat in the water. Turnovers to them are points. They are like us. In that sense you've got to be able to take care of the ball."

Kentucky will being pressure in the full court to disrupt an opponent. Tennessee had 24 turnovers in the first matchup - with 17 coming before halftime - and trailed 33-30 at the break. Despite just seven miscues in the second half, the Lady Vols only won by six points, 73-67, in the Feb. 7 game at Kentucky.

"We did not handle it well in the first 12 minutes at Lexington," Lockwood said. "It took us some time to adjust. They do a great job of getting you out of rhythm. You have to be able to adlib a little bit against Kentucky. We've got to be able to adlib when they throw that press on us to boom, boom, make some passes.

"If we do that I am confident we'll be OK. But if the press rattles us and we're not poised and composed, they could give us a lot of trouble with it."

When Tennessee has the ball: The staff follows the same philosophy regardless of which five are on the floor for the Lady Vols - player movement and ball movement.

The coaches also want the Lady Vols to play good defense against Kentucky to help the offense. If the Wildcats miss, they can't set up their full court pressure. That means Tennessee can get the ball and go.

"They're retreating on a miss," Lockwood said. "On a made shot they're able to get set and match up with you. When we do have the ball, we want to push. We want to be able to handle their pressure off a made shot. And by all means we want to go inside."

Defensively, Tennessee won't hesitate to show different looks, as the Lady Vols are flexible. After playing nearly all zone against Georgia in the first game, Tennessee was in its man schemes for long stretches of second game but also switched back to zone at times.

"Probably much of the same," Lockwood said of Sunday's game. "I think you have to feel out what's really working with them. If they're shooters are on, you're going to have to come out and get them. If they're more drive-oriented and their shooters aren't going, you can play some more zone.

"It really is going to depend on how the game is unfolding and who is playing well for them or what we're getting them to settle for or who's shooting well or who's not for them."

OFFBEAT OBSERVATIONS

LEAST BUSY PERSON: No, it wasn't the scorekeeper for Alabama's 36-point game Thursday or South Carolina's 34-point one Friday - Bama tied Ole Miss' tournament record for fewest points, set in 2008 against LSU, and then South Carolina broke it in 2011. It was the lonesome guy sitting at the IT help desk in the media workroom, a spot he stayed at for hours.

The wireless connection at Bridgestone Arena was superb - dependable and quick.

BEST ASSIST: The one off the court by senior guard Angie Bjorklund. She talked to freshman guard Meighan Simmons, who had a tough opening tournament game.

"I think she needed to get the first game tournament nerves out of her system," Bjorklund said. "I told her about my freshman year and how it's different kind of basketball. The SEC Tournament is a whole different kind of game. It's one and done for everyone.

"I think she had to get used to tournament play. She just went out (Saturday) with complete confidence and that's what we expect from her all the time."

BEST DEFENSE: That of Glory Johnson in the second half against Georgia. The Lady Vols were in their "five" defense - a man scheme and they switch on all screens - when Johnson and Kamiko Williams switched, and the 6'3 Johnson ended up on the point guard.

The guard backed up, and Johnson got low and spread out her arms and went with her. The possession ended with a shot clock violation, and the crowd roared.

"I like guarding guards on the perimeter," Johnson said. "I didn't want to be the one they scored on, so I just had to get low and move my feet and get my hands up."

LOUD SOUND: That of the Tennessee pep band blaring "Rocky Top" and the fans cheering during team introductions. It drowned out the Georgia band members yelling, "Who cares" when the Lady Vol names were announced. The shouts were audible in Georgia's first game of the tourney against South Carolina.

MORE VOLUME: During timeouts the big screen showed photos of past players of the teams currently on the court. The fans erupted when a shot of Chamique Holdsclaw's action photo appeared.

BEST SONG: That improvised by the Tennessee pep band when the Georgia pep band played "Glory, Glory Hallelujah," and their orange counterparts belted out "Glory, Glory, Glory Johnson."

BEST SILENCE: That of the Georgia band after Tennessee took a 16-2 lead just over six minutes into play. The pep band had peppered the Lady Vols with questions and remarks while they warmed up.

Alicia Manning was asked if she was related to Peyton Manning.

"I am not going to ignore them," Manning said. "I answered them back. I played with them a little bit."

The commentary continued with the entire team, and it seemed to annoy the players as it changed from lighthearted name queries to smack talk.

"They actually fired us up a little bit," Manning said. "They had something to say. We just shut them up with our game."

Put this incident in Pat Summitt's maturity file. When the current junior class were freshmen, they played at George Washington, and the band members taunted them good-naturedly before the game. They went back to the locker room and mentioned it and Summitt said they seemed rattled.

"It says a lot about the team in general," Manning said. "Before we would talk the talk, but we didn't walk the walk. And now we don't have to talk because we're doing the walk."

BEST CRYSTAL BALL That of Alicia Manning's. Tennessee played in the first semifinal so when the players conducted media interviews, they didn't know yet who would be the opponent on Sunday.

"My prediction? I don't really care who we play, but for some reason I've just got a feeling that Kentucky might pull it out (against Vanderbilt) just because they're so aggressive and athletic and talented," Manning said.

Kentucky did indeed defeat the Commodores, 69-56, to earn a spot in Sunday's title game."

FISHING FOR PLAYERS: Pat Summitt said Friday in Nashville that she realized how laidback Shekinna Stricklen was during her recruiting trip to Morrilton, Arkansas, and the main topic of family conversation was fishing.

"We were talking about it the whole time," Stricklen said. "I tried to get her to go. I am a laidback person."

Stricklen was asked to actually imagine having Summitt along on a fishing trip, an endeavor that can take hours and is supposed to be relaxing.

"Oh, no, no," Stricklen said, shaking her head.

Stricklen indicated Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood should stay home, too, with maybe Holly Warlick being a suitable companion.

"I don't think Pat could," Stricklen said. "Mickie definitely couldn't. She has no patience at all. Dean is hyper. Holly might be able to.

"I could see Pat just throwing it back out, reeling it in, throwing it back out, reeling it in. I don't think she could go."

LOCKER ROOM VIDEO COVERAGE

Kelley Cain

Vicki Baugh

Meighan Simmons

Pat Summitt


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