Lady Vols fall in regional final

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Lady Vols fell one game short of the Final Four for the second season in a row, ending the orange-and-white careers of five seniors. Go inside for game story, analysis and videos.

Pat Summitt addressed the players after the 77-58 loss and told them she was proud of their effort and that she loved them.

That resonated well with the Lady Vol seniors, who didn't reach a Final Four but who left Des Moines, Iowa, knowing they had fought from opening tip to the end.

Tennessee (27-9) saw its 2011-12 season end at Wells Fargo Arena after Baylor (38-0) extended its perfect season and reached its second Final Four in three years.

"Hats off to Baylor," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "They played a great game. Odyssey Sims was fantastic.

"We had five seniors who battled and fought. I'm extremely proud of them and the way they represented the University of Tennessee."

It was an emotional night for the Lady Vols and its coaching staff. As Warlick left the locker room with Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen, who were in tears, she wrapped an arm around each player.

Warlick got emotional in the post-game press conference.

"This team is about Pat Summitt, and this team has battled all year," Warlick said. "I'm proud of them. I thought our team and coaching staff obviously was in a difficult situation, but this team has battled. I think, like Pat, this team never gave up."

The status of Summitt, who announced last August she had early onset dementia, as the head coach going forward has been a source of speculation all season - and the players and coaches were peppered with the question for four days in Des Moines - but Tennessee refused to make it about Summitt and instead focused on the seniors and the team.

The staff said the topic hasn't even been brought up in months, and there was no timetable for any decision.

It was an emotional season with the seniors wanting a Final Four and the health status of their head coach.

"I think it was probably a little emotional at times (during the season)," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "It was just different. I never thought I would experience something like this on a staff and I'm sure Holly and Dean (Lockwood) either. And then these players.

"I think we all had to rally around each other and just keep moving forward. I think all in all, we did a great job of the players and the staff and Pat holding it together. As coaches you have to have great focus. It just narrowed our focus.

"We didn't pay a lot of attention to (the questions about Summitt). If somebody asked we said you've got to ask Pat. We're focused on this next game. And that is genuinely what we focused on. We had to focus on how to guard Baylor. We kept a good focus on the task at hand."

The Lady Vols collapsed the paint around Brittney Griner and held the 6'8 post to 3-10 shooting in the first half, but Baylor guards Sims and Kimetria Hayden shot 5-8 from the arc before halftime and Tennessee was in a 35-20 hole at the break.

"They're not going to invent a new defense to guard Griner, so I figured we'd see them sagging in the paint, zone, challenge us to shoot the perimeter shot," Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey said. "Nae-Nae (Hayden), Jordan (Madden), and Odyssey have done it time and time again.

"They can shoot it. Our offense flows and goes through Brittney Griner, but if you're going to leave us open we have to take that shot. I thought Nae-Nae and Odyssey nailed it."

Griner, Jordan Madden and Terran Condrey were not around for the final 46 seconds of the game after Sims missed two layups and ended up on the floor.

Stricklen went to help her up, but she was standing over Sims, who took it another way, and brusher away Stricklen's offer . The two players then engaged in a verbal discussion, with Lady Vol Cierra Burdick wrapping up Stricklen and pushing her away.

"We got caught in the heat of the moment," Sims said. "We both just got a little rattled. That's it."

"If you watched me play the four years that I've been here, you know I'm not that type of person," Stricklen said. "I tripped, I tried to catch myself, I tried to help her up, and she just took it the wrong way. We just started talking back and forth to each other."

Stricklen, who played USA ball with Sims, wasn't surprised at the reaction.

"Not at all," Stricklen said. "I know her attitude."

The three Baylor players left the bench - as did Lady Vols Vicki Baugh and Alicia Manning, but the officials didn't see them and they apparently didn't appear on the TV footage reviewed at the scorer's table - and were ejected from the game.

A statement issued by official Bryan Enterline through a pool reporter stated the three were ejected for leaving the bench area. Double technical fouls were called on Sims and Stricklen, which offset the need for any free throws.

"A bench technical foul should have been assessed regardless of the number of players that left the bench," Enterline stated.

The incident occurred directly in front of Baylor's bench, and Manning and Baugh both said they saw Baylor's players on the court and reacted.

"From where we were at, it's where Baylor's bench is, I saw their bench clear, and I wasn't about to leave Strick out there to dry so me and Vicki came in there to help her out," Manning said. "Nothing really happened, but we have each other's back no matter what happens."

"Have my teammate's back," Baugh said. "I didn't know what happened. I looked up and saw some people jump off the Baylor bench, so I was just going in there to have my teammates' back."

There was also an incident in the first half in which Johnson was fouled at the 4:23 mark and landed hard on her hip - she said the pain shot down her leg - and she needed assistance to leave the court.

Three people at the end of Baylor's bench - two in warmups and another in street clothes - yelled at Johnson while she was down.

Johnson returned to the bench with about a minute left to play in the first half and took the court for the start of the second half.

"I can't leave my teammates out to dry, no matter what the pain is," Johnson said. "A game like this, you can't sit out."

Tennessee got out to a good start in the second half and cut a 15-point deficit to nine points, 35-26, at the 17:58 mark after Baugh found Johnson inside, Manning hit a baseline jumper, and Stricklen found Baugh inside.

Mulkey called timeout and Sims hit a three on Baylor's next possession to extend the lead back to double digits. The Lady Vols trimmed it to eight, 44-36, on a catch-and-shoot stick-back by Isabelle Harrison with 12:43 to play and again on layup by Stricklen, 46-38, with 11:39 to play and again Sims stuck a three to boost it back to double digits.

"Our defense broke down a few times on their guards," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "We were so consumed with Griner. I thought we let Odyssey Sims get loose on us, Hayden a few times in the first half, so that kind of separated them.

"That's what it boiled down to. They made it tough on us to get good looks. We got some good looks, but we were shooting threes three steps behind the three-point line.

"But basically our defense on their guards broke down. That was the difference in the game."

A trey by Stricklen and layup by Ariel Massengale fueled one last Tennessee run when the Lady Vols cut the lead to 64-53, with 4:50 to play, but Baylor answered on its end.

Scoring in the game was completed with 2:20 left to play when Griner completed a three-point play at the foul line and the final 77-58 score.

The final two minutes were missed shots by both teams, the confrontation between Stricklen and Sims, and a lengthy delay to review the courtside monitor before ejecting the three Baylor players who left the bench but not the two Tennessee ones because the three officials didn't notice them.

Baylor was led by Sims with 27 points. Griner tallied 23 points, 15 boards and nine blocks, while Hayden added 18 points. The trio accounted for 68 of Baylor's 77 points.

The Lady Bears shot 41.9 percent (26-62) overall, 53.3 percent (8-15) from the arc and 77.3 percent (17-22) from the line.

Baylor had 14 assists, 13 turnovers, 10 blocks and four steals.

Tennessee was led by Stricklen, who tallied 22 points and 11 boards. Johnson had 19 points and 14 rebounds, giving her 1,218 boards for her career, the second-best mark in Lady Vol program history.

The Lady Vols shot 30.3 percent (23-76) overall, 19.0 percent (4-21) from long range and 66.7 percent (8-12) from the line.

Tennessee had 11 assists, 11 turnovers, seven steals and three blocks.

The teams were knotted on the glass at 47 rebounds each. Baylor got 32 points in the paint to 20 for Tennessee. The Lady Vols prevailed in points off turnovers, 10-9; second-chance points, 12-11; fast break points, 10-2; and bench scoring, 13-2.

The Lady Vols headed to the locker room while the Lady Bears trimmed the net and celebrated the Final Four berth.

Summitt spoke to the team during the cooling-off time period, and then the media was allowed inside the locker room, where players huddled in their lockers with red eyes and tears still flowing.

The seniors were sad it was over, and the others expressed disappointment that they didn't get the seniors to a Final Four.

Taber Spani was nearly inconsolable, but she handled the interviews.

"We battled, and we're proud of that," Spani said. "We never gave up until the final buzzer. It hurts no matter what, but it just really hurts for these seniors.

"It hurts not to do it for that senior class and for coach. That really hurts. Our coaches and everyone in here said they (the seniors) can't hang their heads because they battled. They battled so hard."

Massengale had her head buried in her hands - as did Kamiko Williams - but both were able to speak about the game.

"It hurts bad," Massengale said. "Today we had the opportunity to make it to the Final Four and it didn't happen. But Tennessee is still one of the best programs in the country, and we've just got to get back to work."

"Five seniors … and that was our last time playing with them," Williams said. "I hope they succeed in whatever they do in life and keep in touch."

Massengale said the players discussed at halftime that they were getting good looks but needed those shots to fall.

"But all credit to Baylor," Massengale said. "They played their game plan to a T. They played hard and got after it. We just couldn't hit shots when we needed to."

Tennessee also had issues with foul trouble. Baugh had four fouls, and Isabelle Harrison fouled out in six minutes of play.

"It really hurt when Vick got into foul trouble," Stricklen said. "But she held her ground. Izzy came in, and she held her ground. This team, I love it, we fought.

"I think we started out focusing too much on Griner. They were getting open threes. I give them a lot of credit. They were knocking down shots and some shots weren't falling for us."

"We got a good start, but we got cold, and we couldn't get out of the slump," Briana Bass said. "But we don't regret anything. We left everything we had on the court.

"There was no pressure. We were the underdogs. Nobody expected us to win."

Baugh shed tears in her locker while trying to wrap up the five years she spent at Tennessee. She leaves with a national title ring from 2008.

"I have no regrets of anything that happened," Baugh said. "We played a hard basketball game against one of the best teams that I've played in my career. I am extremely proud of this team and how we pulled together.

"It's not over for Tennessee. We're still going to get a lot better. I am just looking forward to being able to watch and continue to support the program."

Stricklen got emotional when asked about the end of her career.

"I learned a lot these four years that is going to help me in life, in the real world, not just in basketball but in life, too," Stricklen said. "Playing under the best coach, she teaches you for life. I don't take nothing for granted.

"If I had to do it over, I still stay at Tennessee. I wouldn't go to another school."

INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE

Tennessee knew that to have success against Baylor it would need to manage Brittney Griner, take care of the ball and hit shots from the perimeter.

The Lady Vols managed to do two of the three. Tennessee had just 11 turnovers - only four in the second half - and managed to bottle up Griner in the first half, but they shot 11.1 percent (1-9) from the arc before halftime.

It didn't get any better after the break. The Lady Vols were 3-12 from long range in the second half and shot 19.0 percent for the game from the arc.

Baylor, meanwhile, connected at 53.3 percent from long range and Griner got on track in the second half - she was 5-8 from the field after starting 3-10 - and while the Lady Vols managed to get within striking range they could never mount a sustained threat.

The Lady Vols seniors became the first class to not make a Final Four, but they also had the misfortune in timing to twice have to face Baylor in the postseason.

The Lady Bears, led by the 6'8 Brittney Griner, have a player that no college team can match in terms of shot-blocking dominance and the ability to finish on the offensive end and play above the rim.

If Baylor's perfect run is to be derailed, a team will have to hit shots from the outside. Tennessee did so to open the game - the senior lineup did its job - and had a 9-4 lead at the first media timeout after Vicki Baugh drove and kicked back to Shekinna Stricklen, who drained the three-pointer.

But then Baylor got hot, and Tennessee went cold. Baylor took the lead at the 12:48 mark of the first half, and the Lady Vols were in catch-up mode the rest of the way.

"I said it before the game: It goes further than Brittney Griner," Holly Warlick said. "They all play well together, and they were exceptional tonight. We look at what they did offensively, but they're outstanding on the defensive end.

"They force you to take quick shots. They're just a great basketball team."

Baylor's defensive pressure has improved as the guards were stickier on the shooters than in the first matchup last November in Knoxville. They can apply tight pressure, because Griner roams around the paint and its edges and erases mistakes with blocks and alters shots.

"The shots just weren't falling," Shekinna Stricklen said. "I give credit to Baylor. They were really pressuring me, face guarding me."

Tennessee drew a tough regional by landing with the overall No. 1 seed in Baylor. But freshman Cierra Burdick said she had no issue with the matchup.

"I thought if anybody defeated Baylor, I wanted it to be us," Burdick said. "My teammates and my coaches accepted the challenge with open arms. The regular season is important because you obviously want to win, but I don't think it's as important as some people believe it to be."

What Burdick meant is that seeding and matchups are not to be fretted over once they're made. It's an attitude that will serve her well going forward because the Lady Vols seem to end up with stacked brackets, even when earning a top seed.

The way Burdick sees it, a team needs to focus on the present and getting better. With that in mind, she plans to be in Pratt Pavilion on Tuesday to work on her game.

Starting her off-season this week wasn't what Burdick had in mind.

"I just wanted this so bad," Burdick said. "I just wanted to get to a Final Four for these seniors."

The staff saluted the seniors after the game in a recognition of their efforts, especially to reach the Elite Eight and then to battle throughout the game.

"They put us in a position to get to a Final Four two years in a row," Mickie DeMoss said. "There are eight teams left playing, and we were one of them. We know our standards are very high at Tennessee, but it wasn't a lack of effort."

The seniors didn't make a Final Four, but that is not how they should be remembered. They absorbed more blows on and off the court - none more gut-wrenching than Summitt's diagnosis last summer - and they stayed on their feet.

Vicki Baugh returned for a fifth season after recovering from three knee surgeries. The four true seniors endured one of the worst seasons in Lady Vol history when they were thrust into roles as freshmen that they weren't ready for because of graduation and injuries.

They survived Summitt and Heather Mason's boot camp after the 2009 season and responded with double SEC titles, regular season and tourney, the following season.

All five seniors wore the academic torch patches on their jerseys and three graduated already and pursued master's degrees in their final year. The other two will graduate on time.

"They did a lot," DeMoss said. "They've been great leaders for these young kids, particularly this year. Pat told them how much you appreciated everything they've done and how they've represented Tennessee."

PRESS STUFF: Links for press conference transcripts provided by the host site school. University of Northern Iowa, and videos, provided by the NCAA, are below.

Click on the school name to view or read.

TENNESSEE VIDEO

TENNESSEE TRANSCRIPT

BAYLOR VIDEO

BAYLOR TRANSCRIPT

TENNESSEE-BAYLOR BOX SCORE

VIDEO COVERAGE

Meighan Simmons

Cierra Burdick

Alicia Manning

Glory Johnson

Dean Lockwood


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