Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On a day when Coach Pat Summitt was calling out her teammates, guard Shekinna Stricklen was named to the USBWA All-America team

The junior from Arkansas played all over the floor for the SEC champs and still averaged almost 13 points and over seven rebounds a game.

Stricklen was the only SEC player on the 10 member team.

Here is more from the University of Tennessee:

The awards and accolades keep rolling in for Lady Vol junior Shekinna Stricklen, as the do-it-all forward/guard was named to the USBWA All-America Team on Wednesday.

A native of Morrilton, Ark., Stricklen averaged 12.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg and shot 48.9 percent from the floor this season, while playing point guard, on the wing and in the post for the SEC regular season and tournament champions.

Stricklen helped lead Tennessee to a No. 4 final national ranking in both the Associated Press poll and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and the program's 24th Elite Eight appearance. UT bowed out of the NCAA Tournament against Note Dame in the Dayton Regional Final on Monday night and finished with a 34-3 record.

Along the way, Stricklen picked up numerous honors, including the SEC Player of the Year award from the league's coaches, First Team All-SEC from the coaches and the media, Third-Team AP All-America accolades and WBCA All-Region team membership.

She also captured All-Tournament honors from the NCAA Tournament Dayton Regional and the SEC Tournament, as well as earning SEC Tournament MVP accolades after scoring 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting against No. 16 Kentucky in the 90-65 championship game win.

Stricklen had 11 double-doubles and a season-high scoring mark of 26 points, including six three-pointers, at Arkansas on Jan. 30. She became the 35th Lady Vol to score 1,000 career points on Dec. 22 versus ETSU, and will head into her senior season ranked No. 23 on the all-time Big Orange scoring chart with 1,343 points. She has started all 104 games of her career.

Stricklen is one of 10 members selected for the prestigious All-America team. Joining her on the 2010-11 squad are Danielle Adams (Texas A&M), Brittney Griner (Baylor), Amber Harris (Xavier), Shenise Johnson (Miami), Jantel Lavender (Ohio State), Maya Moore (Connecticut), Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Stanford), Jeanette Pohlen (Stanford) and Courtney Vandersloot (Gonzaga).

Moore was named the USBWA Player of the Year, while Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey captured Coach of the Year and Baylor's Odyssey Sims nabbed Freshman of the Year.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Diggins helps Irish stun Lady Vols, 73-59

Skylar Diggins scored 24 points and second-seeded Notre Dame made up for 28 years of beatings at the hands of Tennessee, upsetting the top-seeded Lady Vols 73-59 Monday night to earn a spot in the Final Four.

The Fighting Irish (30-7) came in 0-20 all-time against the Lady Vols. But the operative number on this night was 3-0—Notre Dame’s record in regional championship games.

Natalie Novosel added 17 points and Becca Bruszewski—who didn’t practice Sunday and was listed as questionable to even play with a knee injury—had 13 for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame advanced to the play the winner of top-ranked Connecticut (35-1) and second-seeded Duke (32-3). They play on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.

Taber Spani and Shekinna Stricklen had 13 points for the Lady Vols (34-3). Glory Johnson added 12.

Change in lineup planned to counter Notre Dame

Game info: 7:00 pm EDT Mon Mar 28, 2011 (ESPN)

After meeting with her assistants Sunday morning, UT coach Pat Summitt added a little upheaval by rearranging the starting lineup against the Fighting Irish (29-7). Alyssia Brewer and Taber Spani will start against the Fighting Irish in place of Kelley Cain and Angie Bjorklund, respectively, as the Lady Vols revert to the starters they utilized at the SEC tournament.

Irish won't be discussing 0-20 mark vs. Lady Vols

The teams are different. These players have never met before. That was all in the distant past.

But still, Tennessee is 20-0 against Notre Dame heading into their regional championship game on Monday night. That's got to count for something, right?

The Fighting Irish's Muffet McGraw and the Lady Vols' Pat Summitt swear they're coaches and not historians. They are aware of the old meetings but won't make a big deal out of them.

"That would be really silly of me to bring that up I think," McGraw said of Notre Dame's drought against Tennessee, which dates to 1983 and includes an 0-3 mark in the NCAA tournament. "This team is a team that hasn't played Tennessee. The seniors played them once in Oklahoma City in the regional semifinal. That's the only time we've played them. So certainly we're not going to be talking about the past."

Second-seeded Notre Dame (29-7) and top-seed Tennessee (34-2) haven't met on the court since two engagements three years ago. The score was 87-63 in South Bend, Ind., on Jan. 5, and 74-64 in the Sweet 16 in Oklahoma City. Of course, Tennessee won both.

Summitt expects McGraw and the Fighting Irish to use the 0-20 mark as fuel to add to the fire.

"Absolutely. If I was in their situation, I would do the same," she said.

Her players, riding a 25-game winning streak, also figure that it will serve as motivation for Notre Dame to finally try to stamp out all that orange-tinged domination.

"It would be important to any team to be the first to beat Tennessee," said Shekinna Stricklen, who led the way with 20 points in the Lady Vols' 85-75 victory over Ohio State in Saturday's semifinal. "For them to not beat us, we need to buckle down and play great defense and play as a team."

The Fighting Irish are unbothered by the lopsided nature of the series.

"Me, personally, I haven't been a part of any of those 20 games. But we know the history between the two programs," sophomore guard Skylar Diggins said. "Two hall-of-fame coaches, and it's just going to be a great game. Teams that haven't met up with each other. We're obviously looking to break that (losing streak)."

Besides, both sides have enough to worry about dealing with the next 40 minutes on the court instead of 28 years of baggage.

The numbers for both teams are almost identical through 36 games apiece this season: Tennessee is scoring 79.9 points and allowing 55.9 points a game, while Notre Dame is putting up 77.5 points and giving up 55.4 a game.

The Lady Vols come at teams in waves, with nine players scoring against Ohio State in the first half alone and Summit going as deep as 13 players in some games. But at the same time, they have been erratic of late. The team had a players-only meeting early last week after struggling before subduing Marquette 79-70 in Knoxville, Tenn., in the second round.

Then the Lady Vols were outplayed in the opening half on Saturday — although they trailed just 42-40 at the break — leading Summitt to give a roaring halftime speech to shock her team out of its funk.

"She is one of the greatest motivators in sports," forward Taber Spani said. "After that speech we came out and played a lot different in the second half. We needed to."

Summitt, who is replacing Kelley Cain with Alyssia Brewer in the starting lineup to make her starters "more mobile," said it was a pivotal moment for her squad.

"At that time, our coaching staff was desperate to get this team to step up and do what they had to do," she said.

Notre Dame had no such problems in its semifinal, jumping on sixth-seeded Oklahoma early and coasting to a 78-53 win. The Fighting Irish aren't stocked with stars, but they've got terrific balance. Natalie Novosel leads in scoring at 14.9 points a game, with Diggins right behind at 14.2. Five others hit for at least 7 a game.

In case you were wondering, the Lady Vols have seven players averaging 7 a game, too.

So the intensity should be white hot with so many skilled performers playing without regard to foul trouble or weariness.

"It's going to be a fight between two teams that have the will to come out with the win," Brewer said. "It's whoever has the biggest heart."

The Fighting Irish could be without co-captain Becca Bruszewski, who has a sore knee. She was not cleared for Sunday's practice but McGraw said she hoped that she would be permitted to play against the Lady Vols.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lady Vols beat Ohio State 85-75

Shekinna Stricklen scored 20 points and touched off a critical 11-3 second-half run to power top-seeded Tennessee past Ohio State 85-75 Saturday in a NCAA regional semifinal.

The Lady Vols (34-2) won their 25th consecutive game, but trailed for much of it and only took control with their charge in the final minutes.

Meighan Simmons added 18 points and Kelley Cain had 16 for Tennessee, pursuing a ninth NCAA title. The Lady Vols meet either Notre Dame or Oklahoma in the regional championship game on Monday night, with a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis on the line.

Samantha Prahalis had 22 points, Jantel Lavender 19, Brittany Johnson 16 and Tayler Hill 12 for Ohio State (24-10), which had won its last 11.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tennessee beats Marquette 79-70 to head to Dayton

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt doesn’t like to overwork her players during postseason practices. She hopes Marquette has convinced the Lady Volunteers to try a little bit harder though.

The top-seeded Lady Vols survived a scrappy match with eighth-seeded Marquette to advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals with a 79-70 victory Monday night. They will face No. 4 Ohio State next in Dayton, Ohio.

“I think that we’ve had some good practices but not great practices, and the last couple have not been at the level of intensity (necessary),” Summitt said. “This is probably a good wake-up call.”

Tennessee will be making its 29th appearance in the round of 16 and is aiming for a Final Four berth after back-to-back disappointing ends to the postseason. The Lady Vols suffered their first and only first-round loss in 2009 to Ball State and lost in the 2010 regional semifinals to Baylor, despite having a No. 1 seed and playing in Memphis.

Marquette never led, but every time the Lady Vols (33-2) built a lead, the Golden Eagles fought back. It was Tennessee’s narrowest margin in a NCAA win on its home court since a 69-65 victory over Auburn in 1991 and second narrowest second-round victory.

The Lady Vols, who are now 50-0 in NCAA games played in Knoxville, led by as many as 11 points in the second half and had a 62-55 lead when Marquette’s Tatiyiana McMorris sank a 3-pointer and Angel Robinson hit two long jumpers to cut it to 63-62 with 6:15 left.

“That stretch was about making stops,” Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said. “We threw in some random traps. We started switching, doing a little more doubling inside, we got some stops and we pushed it. We were better when we were pushing it and attacking.”

Tennessee answered by scoring the next six points to make it 69-62 with 4:53 left and kept Marquette at bay by clamping down on defense and hitting six of their next eight foul shots.

Meighan Simmons led Tennessee with 18 points. Glory Johnson scored 16 points, Alicia Manning sank 11 and Shekinna Stricklen scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Tennessee, which shot 51.7 percent, also built an eight-point lead midway through the first half, but the Golden Eagles used a 7-0 run to cut it to 28-27 with 5:18 before halftime.

The Golden Eagles, led by six seniors, had spent extra time in the offseason working out in hopes of reaching their first NCAA tournament in four seasons. Marquette has reached the second round four times now but never won.

Angel Robinson led Marquette (24-9) with 19 points. McMorris added 15 points, Jasmine Collins 14 and Fiedorowicz 12.

The Golden Eagles were smaller than the Lady Vols but managed to frustrate them in the paint at both ends of the court. Marquette matched Tennessee’s 32 points in the paint and kept the Lady Vols from hitting as many layups as they would have liked.

“When they have physical guards and their whole team is physical, we have to be physical back,” Johnson said. “We can’t let them throw us around in the paint, and that’s something that we struggled with for the majority of the game.”

Both teams turned the ball over 11 times, but the Lady Vols scored nine more points off of giveaways.

Marquette shot 40.3 percent and hit eight 3s but seemed to lose what little advantage it had inside when starting forward Paige Fiedorowicz fouled out with 5:25 left to play.

“There were two good teams out there on the floor, and good teams make runs,” Robinson said. “We were back and forth with making our runs. We stopped them, and they stopped us. The outcome is who scores the most points. Everybody up here said we left everything out there. We played until the buzzer buzzed.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tennessee cruises to 99-34 NCAA win over Stetson

Even Pat Summitt will have a hard time finding fault with Tennessee’s start to the NCAA tournament.

Glory Johnson had 14 points and 10 rebounds as the top-seeded Lady Vols cruised to a 99-34 win over Stetson on Saturday in the opening round of the Dayton region.

Tennessee (32-2) has its sights set on a return to the Final Four after two seasons of frustration in the tournament, and the 16th-seeded Hatters (20-13) were little more than a warm-up act. The Lady Volunteers nearly tied their largest margin of victory in a first-round game, which came during an NCAA-record 111-37 victory over North Carolina A&T in 1994.

The Lady Vols have scored an average 23.6 points more than their opponents this season and previously had their best offensive game of the year in a 90-65 win against Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship. They hit a school-record 16 3-pointers and shot 70.4 percent in the second half in that game.

Still, Summitt had been unhappy with her team’s defensive and rebounding efforts in the SEC tournament. After two weeks of grueling practices, the Lady Vols outrebounded the Hatters 63-31 and limited them to just 18.2 percent shooting.

The two-week layoff between tournaments didn’t seem to slow Tennessee, either, as it shot 55.7 percent and hit eight 3s against the Hatters.

Stetson managed to hit a few early shots to keep up with Tennessee, which led 10-9 with 15:13 left in the first half. The Lady Vols’ size and shooting became too much for the Hatters, though, and a 23-0 run put the game away early.

The Hatters hit no field goals and only five free throws during an 11:11 stretch before halftime. Tennessee shot 57.9 percent and had a 34-13 rebounding margin at the break.

Tierra Brown, Victoria McGowan and Natasha Graboski each scored seven points for the Hatters (20-13), who shot just 21.2 percent in the first half.

Summitt had emptied her bench by that point, 13 players deep, and when Briana Bass hit a lane-driving layup with 53 seconds left in the game, every Lady Vol had scored a basket.

Shekinna Stricklen scored 15 points, Angie Bjorklund had 13 and Alyssia Brewer added 10 for the Lady Vols, who scored 52 points in the paint.

Stetson went through a 15:37 scoring drought in the second half as Tennessee expanded its lead on nearly every trip down the floor. The drought ended when McGowan hit one final layup with 29 seconds left to play.

Atlantic Sun tournament champion Stetson had surprised a lot of fans just by reaching the NCAA tournament for the second time in program history. The Hatters had been picked to finish 10th of 11 in the conference, and needed a 55-foot shot from McGowan at the buzzer for a 69-50 victory over Belmont in the A-Sun semifinals.

By contrast, Tennessee has played in all 30 NCAA tournaments. The Lady Vols’ only defeat in the first or second rounds came two seasons ago at the hands of Ball State, a loss that has stuck with them for two seasons.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tennessee draws on support of fans in NCAA tourney

Fans of the Lady Volunteers travel so well that Tennessee forward Glory Johnson says if they played on another planet at least one carload would show up.

“We’d make it there … and everyone would be wearing an orange shirt,” Johnson said.

She won’t have to worry about that now, at least not in the first round of the NCAA tournament—that’ll be more of a concern for Stetson, Marquette and Texas.

The No. 1-seeded Lady Vols (31-2) will be playing in front of thousands of their own fans on their home court named “The Summitt” in honor of their coach. They’ve won 34 straight there and have never lost a first- or second-round NCAA game in Knoxville in 36 tries.

No. 16 seed Stetson hopes to interrupt those streaks Saturday. Eighth-seeded Marquette and ninth-seeded Texas meet later that day for a chance of possibly facing the Lady Vols in the second round on Monday.

Stetson coach Lynn Bria warned her players not to get too caught up in Tennessee’s tradition. After all, the only Lady Vols team the Hatters are playing is the 2010-11 version.

But senior guard Tierra Brown enjoys the idea of going against a team that has eight national championships.

“I came in just wanting to take in the whole experience and take in Tennessee,” she said. “I grew up being a Tennessee fan. I think it’s better for me to come in and look at the (championship) banners and look at all the history. To just have the opportunity to beat the No. 1 team, it gets me a little more pumped up for the game.”

Stetson (20-12) earned its spot in the tournament after winning the Atlantic Sun tournament. The Hatters were nearly done in the semifinals until Victoria McGowan hit a 55 footer as the clock expired, sending them to a 48-46 win over Belmont.

The Hatters had been picked to finish second from last in the conference but beat Jacksonville 69-50 in the championship, so they don’t have a problem as the underdog.

“Certainly nobody thinks we’re going to win” against Tennessee, Bria said. “We’re used to it This isn’t a position we haven’t been in all year. We had confidence before (McGowan’s shot), but for her to even take that shot showed that we believe we can win if there’s time on the clock.”

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt doesn’t want to think about the prospect of her team losing an NCAA tournament game at home. She’s only lost one first-round game before—in 2009 to Ball State—and doesn’t want to be in that position again.

She’s got a lot to be confident about with the Lady Vols coming off an undefeated Southeastern Conference season and an SEC tournament championship that saw her team shot 70.4 percent in the second half of a 90-65 victory against Kentucky in the championship game.

“I’m just trying to hold onto the positives and think about what we have to do to prepare,” Summitt said. “It would not be a pretty scene. I have a lot of confidence in the maturity of our team.”

Marquette is happy to be back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2006-07 season. After a trip to the NIT last season, this year’s senior class pledged to work harder. The Golden Eagles (23-8) finished fifth in the Big East this season and believe their tough conference games have prepared them for Texas and any team they might face, should they win.

“It makes us tougher emotionally, mentally and physically to play in the Big East,” Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said. “As we prepare for Texas, we have said to our players, ‘They run like this team. They do this like this team.’ It’s given them familiarity with Texas by using Big East names.”

Texas (19-13) is also glad to be playing in the tournament after a difficult Big 12 season. The Longhorns finished seventh in the conference and were holding their breath when the NCAA brackets were announced.

Coach Gail Goestenkors didn’t actually hear Texas’ name called, but felt the sense of relief from her players as they screamed and hugged when they drew their spot in the Dayton region.

“There was that joy, but once you are in you want to make a statement,” the coach said. “You want to prove you deserve to be here.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year Finalists Announced

Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, who together have claimed 11 Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year awards, lead the group of four finalists for the 2011 honor, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today. Joining them on the final ballot are Baylor’s Kim Mulkey and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer, who won the award in 1990.

The finalists were determined by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s National Voting Academy, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The academy based its criteria on coaching performances this season. The vote was tabulated and certified by the accounting firm of Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, LLP. HA&W is the largest independent accounting firm in Georgia and one of the top 50 firms in the United States.

The Naismith Award is the most prestigious national award presented annually to the women’s college basketball coach of the year. The winner will be announced in early April.

“There is obviously a correlation between the success of these coaches and the fact that their programs each earned a No. 1 seed in the upcoming tournament,” said Eric Oberman, Atlanta Tipoff Club executive director. “Each has done a remarkable job of coaching this season, which is reflective of their entire careers. Each is very deserving of this prestigious award and we’re excited to crown a winner after the season.”


Geno Auriemma: In his 26th season at the helm, Auriemma, the BIG EAST Coach of the Year, has led UCONN to a 32-1 record. The Huskies captured the BIG EAST Regular Season and BIG EAST Tournament championships along the way, for the fourth straight season and 15th time overall. Connecticut is a No. 1 seed in the 2011 NCAA Women’s Division I Championship for the 14th time, and the fifth year in a row. Auriemma, with a career mark of 767-123, aims to win his eighth NCAA title. He has previously won the Naismith Award in 2009.

Kim Mulkey: Mulkey led the Lady Bears to a 31-2 record and captured both the 2011 regular-season and tournament Big 12 titles. She picked up the Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year honors and the team was ranked No. 1 in the country for a good part of the season. Baylor is a No. 1 seed for the first time and playing at home to start this year's NCAA women's tournament. They host SWAC tournament champion Prairie View (21-11) on Sunday at the Ferrell Center, where Baylor is 19-0 this season. Mulkey has a career mark of 295-78.

Pat Summitt: Summitt, already the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history (men or women), has eight NCAA Championships in the trophy case including her most recent back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008. She has enjoyed one of her better coaching jobs in her 37th season, going 31-2 thus far. Over her four-decade career, the Lady Vols have gone 1,068-198. In addition, the team has won eight NCAA titles, as well as 31 Southeastern Conference tournament and regular season championships. Tennessee has made an unprecedented 30 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament with 21 number one seeds. They enter the 2011 NCAA Women’s Division I Championship as a No. 1 seed in the Dayton Region, hosting Stetson on Saturday.

Tara VanDerveer: This season VanDerveer guided the Cardinals to the program's 20th Pac-10 regular season title, and 11th in a row, while Stanford finished a perfect 18-0 in Pac-10 play for the second straight year and sixth time overall. For her efforts, VanDerveer was named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year, marking the seventh time since the 2001-02 season and 11th time overall that she has taken home the conference's top coaching honor. VanDerveer joined the elite 800-win club back on Dec. 22 with a victory at San Francisco. Stanford (29-2) is the top seed in the Spokane Region of the 2011 NCAA Women’s Division I Championship against UC-Davis.

Last year, Connie Yori of the University of Nebraska claimed the Naismith Women’s Coach of the Year award, the first ever for a Big 12 Conference school.

Lady Vols have maturity needed to chase NCAA title

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had to wait for her talented Lady Volunteers to develope into championship contenders.

And Summitt isn’t a patient woman when it comes to winning.

“It was at times very frustrating for our coaching staff,” Summitt said. “At the same time, we knew it would be a process for them to get in the gym.”

The work has paid off. The players who were a part of Tennessee’s 2009 first-round loss and last year’s regional semifinal loss as a No. 1 seed have grown up. Now they understand what it takes to reach a Final Four and chase Tennessee’s ninth national championship.

“I think the real key to it is the maturity,” Summitt said. “As freshmen it was very, very challenging. As sophomores, they grew, but they still weren’t at the level where every game you knew they were going to bring our ‘A’ game and the opponent was going to get our best shot. We couldn’t fast forward that process.”

The Lady Vols (31-2) again earned a No. 1 seed this season after an undefeated run through the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament. Their attempt to reach the national semifinals in Indianapolis begins Saturday in Knoxville with 16th-seeded Stetson.

The team is anchored by their junior class, a group of McDonald’s high school All-Americans who were expected to fill the shoes of Candace Parker, Nicky Anosike and others who won back-to-back national championships in 2007-08.

Those players clearly had the talent but did not seem to listen to Summitt when she told them as freshmen that they couldn’t just put on the Tennessee uniform and expect to win championships.

“As a freshman, I just kind of did what I wanted to with my game,” junior forward Glory Johnson said. “I didn’t really put in too much extra time. I just felt like I could do this with talent, and clearly it didn’t work. You have to put in extra work outside of practice. You have to take your game seriously all of the time.”

That lesson started immediately after the first-round loss to Ball State in the 2009, the first time a Lady Vols team had ever lost on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Summitt was so angry she forced the team to return to practice as soon as they returned to Knoxville.

The message? Spend some more time in the gym working on your game.

“It took them a couple of years to buy into that concept and kind of embrace the game for themselves,” Summitt said. “Going into this junior year, it’s been a tremendous difference in what the players are willing to invest.”

The team has spent the past two offseasons going through grueling workouts with strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason and now use their free time during the season getting extra shots in at the practice gym.

That committment has helped the team develop the depth and extra skills that helped the Lady Vols go undefeated in Southeastern Conference play this season and win the SEC tournament championship.

“I think the thing about this team is if someone is not having a good game or is in foul trouble, our depth is really key,” Summitt said. “I think it really brings a lot of confidence throughout the team to know that we have a lot of options.”

The confidence also comes from the bond the players have developed through the ups and downs of their career. The Lady Vols have found they can talk frankly with each other about their struggles, mistakes and losses while managing to stay positive about the team.

“It sounds really cliche, but we definitely are like sisters,” junior forward Alyssia Brewer said. “We do anything and everything—movies, bowling, go-karting, whatever. Most of us live with each other. It’s like you have your own family here.”

Despite the maturity and confidence, the Lady Vols still occasionally have some lapses. Turnovers have frequently been a problem, and sometimes player resort to taking bad shots instead of focusing on defense to get the job done.

Every so often there’s a lapse in the Lady Vols’ effort and attitude during practice, but it doesn’t take quite as much for Summitt to get the team back on track.

“It works a whole lot better when they have leadership and make other people accountable,” she said. “We’ve been pretty good at that all year, we just had a couple of lapses.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tennessee nabs 21st No. 1 seed in NCAA tourney

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is still a little upset about her team bowing out of the NCAA tournament early two years in a row. A trip to the Final Four or national championship might help her forget, though.

The Lady Volunteers (31-2) earned their 21st No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on Monday night and will host Stetson on Saturday in Knoxville in the first round of the Dayton region.

After eight national championships, anything less than a trip to the Final Four is a disappointment for Summitt. In 2009, the fifth-seeded Lady Vols suffered the only opening-round loss in program history to Ball State, and in 2010, top-seeded Tennessee lost in the regional semifinals to Baylor.

“They’ve heard about it a whole lot,” Summitt said of the 2009 loss. “Ball State, it happened, but we learned a lot from it and we’ve improved obviously every year.”

Tennessee’s Dayton region draw puts it in position for a possible Final Four matchup with fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut, the team Summitt dropped from the regular season schedule after the 2006-07 season. Summitt and Geno Auriemma’s teams haven’t met since, despite strategic bracket arrangement by the NCAA selection committee.

Summitt isn’t talking about a potential matchup with the Huskies yet or about second-seeded Notre Dame, fourth-seeded Ohio State, sixth-seeded Oklahoma or any other Dayton region team for that matter.

“Our focus right now is on Tennessee and Stetson and finding out as much as we can about them and what we need to do to make our preparation the best it can be,” Summitt said. “I have all the confidence in the world.”

The Lady Vols have four all-time wins against Stetson, most recently a 83-33 victory in Knoxville on Nov. 20, 2005. The Hatters (20-12) earned an automatic bid after winning the Atlantic Sun Championship.

Tennessee ran through the Southeastern Conference undefeated and tacked on a tournament championship a week ago, cruising through those three games. Three other SEC teams earned NCAA bids: No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 10 seed Vanderbilt in the Spokane region and No. 6 seed Georgia in the Dallas region.

Even with the SEC accolades and No. 1 seed, the Lady Vols feel like they’re a bit under the radar with plenty of attention going to Connecticut and Baylor.

“After they got done (announcing the brackets), we all looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, they didn’t say anything about us,”’ junior forward Shekinna Stricklen said. “That’s OK. We have been down a little bit, but we feel like this is the year for us. We’ve got a lot of proving to do, proving to people that we can get to the Final Four.”

UConn, Tennessee, Baylor and Stanford No. 1 seeds

Connecticut’s path to a third straight national championship could include a renewal of the most heated rivalry in women’s college basketball.

The Huskies earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Monday night.

For Geno Auriemma to match Tennessee coach Pat Summitt with an eighth national championship he might have to go through her Lady Vols, who earned the top seed in the Dayton region. If both come through their regions, UConn and Tennessee could meet again in the national semifinals at Indianapolis.

Auriemma’s Huskies didn’t have to face Tennessee during its record 90-game winning streak that was ended by Stanford on Dec. 30. The two pre-eminent teams in the sport broke off their annual matchup in 2007 in a testy split.

First up for UConn is former star Jen Rizzotti and her Hartford Hawks, who won the America East title. The two teams have played each other over the last six years but didn’t meet this season. Hartford is winless in 11 meetings against UConn.

Baylor and Stanford were the other two No. 1 seeds. It was the second straight No. 1 seed for the Cardinal, who fell to UConn in the title game last season.

The Huskies will be trying for their third consecutive title, matching their run from 2002-04 and Tennessee’s from 1996-98. UConn is one of a record nine Big East teams in the field. The Big East got 11 men’s teams in their field announced Sunday.

Unlike the men’s bracket that expanded to 68 teams this year, the women decided to stick with 64. Indianapolis will host the Final Four on April 3 and 5.

The last time the Final Four was in Indianapolis, Baylor won the championship as a No. 2 seed.

The Lady Bears, led by sophomore center Brittney Griner, will face No. 16 Prairie View in their opener on Sunday in the Dallas region. No. 8 Houston will play No. 9 West Virginia, No. 5 Wisconsin-Green Bay takes on No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock, and No. 4 Michigan State plays No. 13 Missouri Valley champion Northern Iowa.

In the other part of the bracket, No. 6 Georgia takes on No. 11 Middle Tennessee State, which is still dealing with the death of Tina Stewart. Her Blue Raiders teammates played, and lost, their lone game in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

No. 2 Texas A&M meets No. 15 McNeese State, No. 7 Rutgers plays No. 10 Louisiana Tech and No. 3 Florida State plays No. 14 Samford.

If the seeds hold, the Aggies and Lady Bears will meet for the fourth time this season. Baylor beat Texas A&M by a total of 15 points in their three meetings—including a three-point win in the Big 12 title game.

Stanford, which opens against UC Davis, could also face UCLA for a fourth time this year. The Cardinal swept the No. 3 seed in Spokane three times, but the Bruins had a late lead in the Pac-10 title game on Saturday.

Tennessee will open at home in the Dayton region against No. 16 Stetson, which needed a 55-footer at the buzzer to advance to the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game. No. 8 Marquette will play No. 9 Texas in the other game in Knoxville.

No. 5 Georgia Tech will play No. 12 Bowling Green and No. 4 Ohio State faces No. 13 Central Florida. The Buckeyes have had a roller-coaster season, winning their first seven games before dropping seven of the next nine. They righted themselves and have won their last nine games capped by a Big Ten tournament title.

No. 2 Notre Dame plays No. 15 Utah and No. 7 Arizona State meets No. 10 Temple. Rounding out that part of the bracket, No. 3 Miami plays No. 14 Gardner-Webb and No. 6 Oklahoma plays No. 11 James Madison. The Sooners have made the Final Four the last two seasons.

In the Spokane region, No. 8 Texas Tech takes on No. 9 St. John’s. Fifth-seeded North Carolina plays No. 12 Fresno State, and No. 4 Kentucky faces No. 13 Hampton.

No. 2 Xavier plays No. 15 South Dakota State, and No. 7 Louisville faces No. 10 Vanderbilt. Xavier lost to Stanford last season in the regional finals when the Musketeers missed two layups with the clock running down and the Cardinal hit a shot at the buzzer. No. 6 Iowa plays 11th-seeded Gonzaga while No. 3 UCLA takes on No. 14 Montana.

In the Philadelphia region, No. 8 Kansas State plays Purdue; fifth-seeded Georgetown takes on No. 12 Princeton; and No. 4 Maryland faces No. 13 Saint Francis, Pa. No. 2 Duke hosts 15th-ranked Tennessee-Martin, and No. 7 Iowa State plays 10th-seeded Marist. Finally, No. 6 Penn State hosts No. 11 Dayton and third-seeded DePaul faces No. 14 Navy.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee downs No. 16 Kentucky in SEC final

Angie Bjorklund scored 23 points, including seven 3-pointers, and No. 4 Tennessee hit a school- and tournament-record 16 3-pointers to beat No. 16 Kentucky 90-65 Sunday in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

The Lady Vols (31-2), who were unbeaten in the SEC, won their 15th tournament title overall. This one was a bit special because it marked only the third time Tennessee went undefeated in winning the regular-season title before winning the conference tournament. Tennessee also did that in 1994 and 1998.

Kentucky (24-8) goes home still looking for its first SEC tournament title since 1982.

Shekinna Stricklen scored 19 points for Tennessee, Meighan Simmons added 16, and Alicia Manning had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Victoria Dunlap and Bernisha Pinkett each had 15 points for Kentucky.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee beats Georgia 82-58 in SEC tourney

Meighan Simmons scored 18 points and No. 4 Tennessee beat Georgia 82-58 on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals.

The Lady Volunteers (30-2) will play in their 20th conference championship against No. 16 Kentucky or Vanderbilt.

Tennessee scored the first nine points of the game and never trailed. A 3-pointer by Taber Spani gave the Lady Vols a 16-2 lead with 13:51 left in the first half.

The Lady Bulldogs missed their first 14 shots from the field. Khaalidah Miller broke the drought when she hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key just before the shot clock expired to cut the margin to 16-5 with 9:55 to go before halftime.

Georgia scored the next seven points to pull to 16-9 but wouldn’t get any closer with Tennessee shooting 48.4 percent for the game.

Jasmine Hassell led the fourth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (21-10) with 20 points.

Friday, March 04, 2011

No. 4 Tennessee beats Florida 92-75 in SEC tourney

Glory Johnson shied away from the TV cameras, hiding behind teammate Kelley Cain, even though she’d just had one of the best games of her career.

She didn’t want to take any credit away from her fellow Lady Vols.

Johnson scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as No. 4 Tennessee beat eighth-seeded Florida 92-75 Friday in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals. .

“Being a post player, you have to get your touches from the guards,” Johnson said. “I’m not trying to take all the credit. I have off games. There’s times where I’m not hitting shots and pulling rebounds. That’s why I rely on my teammates.”

Shekinna Stricklen added 20 points for the Lady Volunteers (29-2), who are now 8-0 against Florida in the SEC tournament. They’ll meet fourth-seeded Georgia in Saturday’s semifinals.

Tennessee won the regular-season meeting with the Lady Bulldogs 77-44 on Feb. 21.

The Lady Vols had a 38-36 halftime edge, but Johnson hit a long-range jumper, a shot in the paint and a fast-break layup in the first 1:25 of the second half to give them a 44-36 lead. She finished the game 11 of 16 from the free-throw line.

“We knew they were going to come out at halftime and come out on a run,” Florida guard Deana Allen said. “When Glory was scoring back to back to back, it deflated us in a way. We knew we had to answer.”

Jordan Jones hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the margin to five, but it was as close as the Gators (18-14) would get.

The Lady Vols shot 69.2 percent in the second half and hit 17 of 25 from the free-throw line after halftime. The Lady Vols scored 50 points in the paint, got 28 points off 18 Florida turnovers and turned a 40-32 rebounding advantage into 18 second-chance points.

Lanita Bartley led Florida with 14 points. Ndidi Madu and Allen each scored 13, Jaterra Bonds had 12 and Jones scored 10.

“I told the team in the locker room there were a lot of things we could have done better but there’s no way we could have fought any harder than we did,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “However, we didn’t come here to put up a good fight.”

Tennessee won the SEC regular-season title after an undefeated run through conference play. The Lady Vols beat their SEC foes during the regular season by an average 24.1 points per game.

The Lady Vols hadn’t had too much trouble with the Gators in their two regular-season meetings. Tennessee limited Florida to 15 first-half points in its 83-40 win on Jan. 13 in Gainesville, and the Gators hit just 25 percent of their shots and scored their fewest points of the season in Tennessee’s 61-39 win on Feb. 10 in Knoxville.

But the Gators entered the game having won four straight and had warmed up for the Lady Vols with a 68-59 victory against ninth-seeded Arkansas in Thursday’s first-round game. Florida led the Lady Razorbacks by as many as 17 points and shot 60.7 percent in the first half and scored the final nine points to win.

This time against Tennessee, Florida led 16-14 when Stricklen hit a 3-pointer from the wing and Angie Bjorklund followed with another from the corner as part of a 10-2 run by Tennessee. Glory Johnson hit six free throws and a layup over a 2:56 period that helped the Lady Vols build to a 35-24 lead with 5:41 before halftime.

The Gators fought back with a 10-0 run that included four points by Bartley and a 3-pointer by Allen, getting within 35-34 with 2:38 in the first half, and the Lady Vols entered halftime with a 38-36 lead.

“You can tell they spent a lot of time on their offensive game,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “The ball didn’t get stuck in players’ hands. I thought they were really aggressive. They’re tough.”

Florida actually shot better than Tennessee in the first half—48.4 percent to 41.9 percent—but Tennessee had four more points at the free-throw line.

Johnson had 10 points at halftime and surpassed her previous career high of 22 points, set on Jan. 23 in a win against Mississippi State, when she hit a pair of free throws with 5:49 left in the game to make it 74-61.

“Florida is a physical team,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it looked like it or not, but they were giving me an extremely hard time.”

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lady Vols Sweep SEC Awards

After going undefeated in 2011 Southeastern Conference basketball play, the University of Tennessee Lady Vols swept the trifecta of SEC Coach of the Year, Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors, announced the conference office on Tuesday.

Lady Vol Coach Pat Summitt collected her eighth SEC Coach of the Year award, while junior forward/guard Shekinna Stricklen (Morrilton, Ark.) was named the 2011 SEC Player of the Year and guard Meighan Simmons (Cibolo, Texas) was tabbed as the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year. Additionally, UT junior post Glory Johnson (Knoxville, Tenn.) was also selected to the eight player SEC First Team and was also placed on the SEC All-Defensive squad in a vote by the league's 12 coaches.

This marks the second time Tennessee has swept the top three conference awards after Summitt was named the 1998 SEC Coach of the Year, Chamique Holdsclaw was the 1998 SEC Player of the Year and Tamika Catchings was honored as the 1998 SEC Freshman of the Year.

"I am so excited for, and proud of, Shekinna, Glory and Meighan," Summitt said. "They have impacted our success in SEC play all season long and are very deserving of this recognition."

In her 37th season at the helm of the UT program, Summitt has accumulated 1,065 wins - more than any other Division I coach in the history of men's or women's college basketball. In addition to her eight NCAA Titles, eight SEC Coach of the Year Awards, seven NCAA Coach of the Year Awards and 18 NCAA Final Four appearances, the Henrietta, Tenn., native has coached 19 Kodak All-Americans, has a 100% graduation rate for student-athletes who exhaust their eligibility in Lady Vol uniforms and boasts two basketball courts and a gymnasium that bear her name.

"Anytime you are recognized by your peers it's a great compliment," said Summitt. "Those are the people for whom I have the utmost respect. I received this award because of this team and their commitment to being competitive and playing together game-in and game-out. I am fortunate to have a great staff that can teach and contribute in many ways to the success of our team and our program."

A junior for the Big Orange, Stricklen led her 2011 team in SEC scoring (13.8 ppg) while playing four positions on the floor. Asked to play inside, she grabbed 8.4 rebounds per game in SEC contests. Need help at guard? She buried 43 percent of her three-pointers (25-57) while dishing almost two assists per game. Stricklen is the first Lady Vol to garner the award since Candace Parker in 2007.

"Wow! This is a tremendous honor," Stricklen remarked. "I am surprised and blessed at the same time. I have to thank all of my teammates and our coaching staff for all of their help and support."

In addition to POY, Stricklen earned All-SEC First Team honors for the first time after placing on the Second Team in 2009 and 2010 and All-Freshman team in 2009.

"Shekinna has been a multiple threat for us this season," Summitt said. "I challenged her at the start of SEC play and she has really stepped up her game and played like an All-American."

Stricklen is joined on the All-SEC First Team by Johnson who is making her very first appearance since earning 2009 SEC All-Freshman honors. The 6'3" leaper was also named to the six player 2011 SEC All-Defensive Team. This season, Johnson was selected as the 2011 SEC Player of the Week four times and was UT's second leading scorer in SEC games at 13.7 ppg while posting 10.3 rpg.

"There hasn't been a better rebounder than Glory Johnson, night-in and night-out, in SEC play this year," Summitt said. "I think her 10.3 rpg speaks to her commitment to controlling the glass."

Simmons has been a dynamo for the Lady Vols all season. The overall scoring leader at 13.8 ppg, she was third on the UT team in SEC scoring at 11.3 ppg while dishing 3.4 helpers per game.

"Meighan has not played like a freshman for our team and has been an impact player from day one," Summitt said.

Simmons was selected as the 2010-11 SEC Freshman of the Week three times. In addition to her Freshman of the Year honors and SEC All-Freshman Team selection, she also earned a place on the All-SEC Second Team.

"I am so honored," said Simmons. "Our league has so many great players and teams, I feel so blessed to have been selected. This award is a direct reflection on my teammates and coaches - they have helped me so much this season."

The top-seeded Lady Vols (28-2, 16-0 SEC) open play in the 2011 SEC Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on Fri., Mar. 4 at noon CT (SportSouth). Tennessee will take on the winner of no. 8 seeded Florida (17-13, 7-9 SEC0 and no. 9 seeded Arkansas (18-10, 6-10 SEC) who play in opening round action on Mar. 3.

The complete 2011 SEC Women's Basketball Postseason Awards:

First Team All-SEC

Tierney Jenkins, Alabama
Alli Smalley, Auburn
Porsha Phillips, Georgia
Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky
LaSondra Barrett, LSU
Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee
Glory Johnson, Tennessee
Jence Rhoads, Vanderbilt

Second Team All-SEC

C'eira Ricketts, Arkansas
Sarah Watkins, Arkansas
Jasmine James, Georgia
A'dia Mathies, Kentucky
Kayla Melson, Ole Miss
Mary Kathryn Govero, Mississippi State
Iesia Walker, South Carolina
Meighan Simmons, Tennessee

All-Freshman Team

Kaneisha Horn, Alabama
Jaterra Bonds, Florida
Khaalidah Miller, Georgia
Bernisha Pinkett, Kentucky
Valencia Mcfarland, Ole Miss
Meighan Simmons, Tennessee
Jasmine Lister, Vanderbilt
Stephanie Holzer, Vanderbilt

All-Defensive Team

Tierney Jenkins, Alabama
Meredith Mitchell, Georgia
Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky
A'dia Mathies, Kentucky
Katherine Graham, LSU
Glory Johnson, Tennessee

Coach of the Year

Pat Summitt, Tennessee

Player of the Year

Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee

Freshman of the Year

Meighan Simmons, Tennessee

Defensive Player of the Year

Victoria Dunlap, Kentucky

6th Woman of the Year

Stephanie Holzer, Vanderbilt

Scholar-Athlete of the Year

Mary Kathryn Govero, Mississippi State