Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lady Vols Down Vandy to Earn Spot in SEC Final

DULUTH, Ga. -- The rest of the Southeastern Conference has only one more chance to disprove a conclusion stated by Tennessee coach Pat Summitt after her team's 13th straight win.

"I think we have the best team," Summitt said following No. 4 Tennessee's 68-49 victory over Vanderbilt in Saturday's SEC tournament semifinal.

Added Summitt: "I wouldn't have known that when the year started."

Tennessee's argument for SEC supremacy is looking as strong in the postseason as in the regular season.

The Lady Vols (29-2) moved within one victory of a sweep of the SEC regular-season and tournament championships, something they've accomplished six times. They'll play Kentucky or Mississippi State for the title on Sunday night.

Tennessee won 15 of 16 conference games in the regular season before opening the tournament with a 76-51 rout of Mississippi. The Lady Vols' third win of the season over Vanderbilt (22-10) was just as lopsided.

Summitt said her players are motivated by sweeping the regular-season and tournament championships for the first time in 10 years.

"I think our team is very motivated," she said. "The regular season, I think, gave them a lot of confidence and also inspired them. I think they want more. They want to win here.

"It's their idea and it works a whole lot better when it's their idea."

Vanderbilt trailed 45-36 following a 3-pointer by Marsh with 9:17 remaining, but Tennessee pulled away with 11 straight points.

Angie Bjorklund finished with 12 points for Tennessee, while Hannah Tuomi had 12 points before fouling out and Merideth Marsh added 11 for Vanderbilt.

The challenge facing the smaller Vanderbilt team was obvious from the minute starting lineups were announced. Tennessee's shortest starter, 6-foot Bjorklund, was as tall as Vanderbilt's tallest starters, Tuomi and Tiffany Clarke.

Vanderbilt's top scoring threat, the 5-foot-6 Marsh, was guarded by 6-foot-2 Shekinna Stricklen and 6-foot-1 Alicia Manning. Tuomi was looking up at 6-6 Kelley Cain and 6-3 Alyssia Brewer.

Vanderbilt, playing its third game in three days, couldn't overcome the mismatches.

"It's tough because we know each other so well, and they played like Tennessee and we didn't take their strengths away," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "They did a better job taking our strengths away."

Tennessee's superior size showed in the first half when its 12 offensive rebounds equaled Vanderbilt's total rebounds. The Lady Vols claimed a 9-0 advantage in second-chance points in the opening 20 minutes, providing the cushion for a 31-22 halftime lead.

Tennessee finished with a 42-27 advantage in rebounds.

Vanderbilt's best chance was the 3-point shot, but Tennessee's defense was ready. The Commodores made only 3 of 17 3-pointers, including 3 of 11 by Marsh.

"I just thought we really bought into our scouting report defense," Bjorklund said. "We knew who were the shooters, who were the drivers. ... I just thought our team did a great job having that sense of urgency to not let them get the open looks that they got the last couple games we played them."

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