Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tennessee 74, Oklahoma 59

OKLAHOMA CITY -- At the start of her first year as Tennessee's head coach, Holly Warlick could not have envisioned how Kamiko Williams would impact her team on the sport's biggest stage.

On both ends of the court Sunday night, Williams left her imprint to put the Lady Vols one win away from the Final Four.

Williams scored 15 points and led Tennessee's defense against Oklahoma star Aaryn Ellenberg, leading the Lady Vols to a 74-59 victory in the regional semifinals of the NCAA women's tournament.

"She's just taken this team, she's wrapped her arms around this team and said, 'Let's go,' " Warlick said. "At the beginning of the year, if I had to say Kamiko was going to be our leader, I would say no. But our players love her."

In the first half, Williams had 13 points, three assists and two steals as second-seeded Tennessee (27-7) opened a 20-point lead.

She also played the lead role in limiting Ellenberg to a 1-for-11 shooting start that didn't get much better after halftime.

"It's not a secret. I think Kamiko Williams is an extremely talented young lady," Warlick said. "When she puts it all together and she gets a great mindset, she can do just about anything."

Tennessee will face No. 5 seed Louisville on Tuesday night in the round of eight.

The Lady Vols have lost in the regional finals the past two seasons and haven't made it to the Final Four since winning the national title in 2008.

Tennessee also went through an Oklahoma City regional on its way to the championship that season, with Candace Parker leading the way.

Sharane Campbell scored 22 points and Joanna McFarland had 14 for No. 6 seed Oklahoma (24-11), which got an upset to make it to the round of 16, but couldn't capitalize on a friendly home environment in the Oklahoma City regional. McFarland also matched her career best with 16 rebounds.

About 9 minutes into the game, the Sooners were already down by 11 -- having yielded eight straight points -- when starting point guard Morgan Hook was tripped up by Meighan Simmons and hit her head on the way down.

She was helped to the bench by a trainer and sat out the rest of the game with concussion-like symptoms.

"That was one of those where you're like, 'Really? Really? Seriously?' After everything, now we're going to drop another one right here in the Sweet 16?" said Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale, who had managed to guide her team this far despite losing four players to season-ending injuries.

Oklahoma was already down to eight scholarship players after a series of four season-ending injuries, including team captain Whitney Hand's knee surgery. Two volleyball players were brought in at midseason for practice help.

There simply wasn't enough firepower to keep up with the deeper SEC regular-season champs, who got 13 points from Cierre Burdick and 12 apiece from Izzy Harrison and Taber Spani while holding the Sooners to 31 percent shooting.

Oklahoma made just 5 of 29 from 3-point range and got just six points from reserves, compared to 30 for the Lady Vols.

"This team has done incredible things this year in the face of situations where most people would just succumb and say, 'All right, let's get them next time,' " Coale said. "Not these guys."

The Lady Vols dissected Oklahoma's defense early on, getting easy baskets right under the hoop and putting together a 20-3 run to take control while keeping the Sooners' hometown crowd from getting involved.

Williams hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get the run going, and her second layup in the stretch pushed Tennessee's advantage to 36-16 with 4:54 to go before the half.

Even when the Sooners were able to force eight straight misses to start the second half, they couldn't dent Tennessee's lead.

Nicole Griffin and Aaryn Ellenberg each had baskets during the Lady Vols' 4½-minute dry spell, but that only got the deficit down to 44-31 before three straight makes pushed it right back up to 19.

The Sooners started the second half 3 for 21 from the field, with Tennessee's lead growing to 63-35.

"We wanted to set the tempo early and dictate to them that we were going to be the ones pressuring, and then we were trying to get them out of their offense because they're a great offensive team when they are able to run their sets," Spani said.

Ellenberg missed 14 of her first 16 shots, including her first seven 3-point attempts. She made a couple of baskets late to finish with 13 points, but had nowhere near the same impact as she did while averaging 24.5 points in the first two rounds of the tournament.

Simmons, Tennessee's leading scorer, was 1 for 15 and had just five points but got much more help.

Harrison also had eight rebounds and three blocks, making her biggest contribution in two injury-plagued months.

She missed nine games in that span, including the SEC tournament, with injuries to both of her knees. Harrison also had eight rebounds and three blocks.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lady Vols' Simmons emerges as more complete player

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons has bounced back from a disappointing
sophomore season to emerge as the Southeastern Conference's leading
scorer in her junior year.

Now she wants to become a more consistent defender.

The second-seeded Lady Vols (26-7) need Simmons to deliver a complete
performance Sunday when they face No. 6 seed Oklahoma (24-10) in an
Oklahoma City Regional semifinal matching two of the nation's
highest-scoring teams.

''I've matured a lot on both ends of the floor,'' Simmons said.
''Defense is one of the things I've been trying to focus on. I know at
the next level, they're going to be looking at a lot of things, and
defense is one of those things. When I continue to focus on that, it
makes me become an all-around player. I am an all-around player right
now, but when I put my mind to it, I can do anything.''

Simmons averaged 13.5 points and was the SEC newcomer of the year in
2010-11, but she followed that up by scoring just 11.1 points per game
and shooting 37.5 percent from the floor as a sophomore.

She learned from the experience and improved her numbers across the
board this year.

''I've become more patient,'' Simmons said. ''My freshman year, there
are so many shots I'd take that I think about (now) and watch film
from the last couple of years and I'm like, `Oh my God, what was I
doing?' Now my shots are more within the offense.''

Simmons averages 17.3 points per game and holds a narrow edge over
LSU's Theresa Plaisance (17.0) for the SEC scoring lead. Simmons is
aiming to become the first Lady Vol to top the SEC in scoring since
her favorite player Candace Parker accomplished the feat in
Tennessee's 2008 national championship season.

Her remarkable speed allows Simmons to run up and down the floor with
just about anyone in the country. Simmons comes from an athletic
family and lists former Butkus Award-winning linebacker Aaron Curry
and former NFL linebacker Eric Barton among her cousins. The 5-foot-9
junior from Cibolo, Texas, expects to have 15-20 friends or relatives
watching her in Oklahoma City this weekend.

''She's incredible at putting the ball in the basket,'' sophomore
guard Ariel Massengale said. ''We know whenever we're in crunch time
and need a basket, we can count on her to make that happen for us.''

Although offense comes naturally to Simmons, her defense is a work in progress.

''Meighan is learning the complete game, the total game,'' Tennessee
coach Holly Warlick said. ''We all know she's a scorer. I think she's
had to understand she's got to do different things for us to be
successful. She's becoming a better defender, a better rebounder, and
that's what we need from her.''

Ever since she took over the program last April, Warlick has
emphasized the importance of defense to Simmons. Warlick and her
assistants have reminded Simmons that scoring in bunches won't help
the team if she's giving up an equal number of points on the other end
of the floor.

''It's just holding her accountable, being consistent with her,''
assistant coach Kyra Elzy said. ''Just because you're scoring doesn't
mean you're going to get to stay on the floor if you're not getting it
done on the defensive end. ... I think she's stepped up to the

Tennessee's opening game in the NCAA tournament showed how far Simmons
has come in that regard.

Simmons went on one of her customary scoring spurts Saturday by
reeling off 10 straight Tennessee points during a 15-3 run that put
the Lady Vols ahead for good in an 83-62 victory over Oral Roberts.
This time, her defense created her offense. Simmons made a pair of
steals during the run that led to layups.

''That's a step in the right direction,'' Elzy said. ''Now we just
need it consistently. That's what we're looking for from her every

They'll definitely need it from her Sunday.

Tennessee's chances of going on its first Final Four run since 2008
could depend on how well Simmons and her teammates defend. Tennessee
averages 77.7 points per game to rank fourth nationally, while
Oklahoma (73.0) ranks 15th.

Oklahoma has averaged 81.5 points in each of its first two NCAA
tournament games. Aaryn Ellenberg has averaged 24.5 points and has
shot a combined 10 of 20 from 3-point range in the first two rounds of
the tournament.

''She's a great player,'' Simmons said. ''She's the head of the snake.
I think if we take her down, we should be fine.''

NC State fires Kellie Jolly Harper after 4 seasons

North Carolina State has fired women's basketball coach Kellie Harper
after four seasons.

The school said Tuesday that the 35-year-old coach wouldn't return
after missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. Harper,
a former player under Tennessee's Pat Summitt, was the successor to
late Hall of Famer Kay Yow, who died in 2009 after a long fight with

Harper's first team went 20-14, made a surprise run to the Atlantic
Coast Conference tournament final and reached the NCAAs in 2010. But
that season ended up being the high point.

The Wolfpack never reached 20 wins again, going just 50-50 with a
16-32 mark in ACC play and two trips to the WNIT in the past three

Harper also struggled to lure difference-making recruits who could
help one of the league's most traditionally successful programs
re-establish itself in a conference now controlled by Duke, Maryland
and North Carolina.

Harper's Wolfpack beat the rival Tar Heels in each of her first two
seasons and upset No. 5 Duke in last season's ACC tournament. But
preseason optimism drained quickly this year when Harper's team
started 0-7 in ACC play. The Wolfpack (17-17) ended the season with a
loss at James Madison in the second round of the WNIT on Sunday, which
wasn't enough for a school that with goals of being a consistent
presence in the top half of the league standings as well as being a
perennial NCAA tournament team.

Michael Lipitz, senior associate athletics director and women's
basketball supervisor, said he and athletic director Debbie Yow met
with Harper on Monday and Tuesday before notifying her she wouldn't
return for the final year of her contract. The school will owe Harper
her base salary - $247,209 - for that final season.

They notified the players of the coaching change Tuesday afternoon.

''It just came down to I think we agree on where we want to go as a
program and what our goals are, but we probably have different visions
on how to achieve those goals,'' Lipitz said.

Harper didn't immediately return a call to her cellphone for comment
Tuesday evening.

Lipitz said the school has no specific timeline for conducting a
national search to find Harper's replacement. Assistant coach Ken
Griffin will lead the program as the interim coach.

Harper came to Raleigh in 2009 after five seasons at Western Carolina,
where she compiled a 97-65 record while leading the Catamounts to two
NCAA tournament bids and a pair of Southern Conference championships.
Harper also played under Summitt as part of Tennessee's three straight
national championship teams from 1996-98.

The decision to hire Harper signaled the school was ready for a fresh
start for a program defined by Kay Yow's success on the court for
three decades and her courage fighting cancer away from it before her
death in January 2009. That decision by then-athletic director Lee
Fowler was a sensitive one for many surrounding the program
considering Yow had hoped that the school would designate longtime
assistant Stephanie Glance as her successor.

Glance - who served as the interim coach after Yow's death - spent a
year as an assistant at Tennessee before becoming head coach at
Illinois State in 2010.

Debbie Yow, Kay's sister, replaced Fowler as N.C. State's athletic
director that same year.

Harper was just the third coach in team history.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tennessee 68, Creighton 52

Kamiko Williams scored 15 points and Tennessee pulled away in the
second half to beat Creighton 68-52 on Monday night, advancing to the
Oklahoma Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

The second-seeded Lady Vols (26-7), who improved to 52-0 in NCAA
tournament games on their home floor, will play Oklahoma on Sunday.

Tennessee is the only program to play in all 32 women's NCAA
tournaments. The lone time the Lady Vols lost in the first or second
round came when they fell 71-55 to Bowling Green in a 2009
opening-round game.

Alexis Akin-Otiko scored 12 points for No. 10 seed Creighton (25-8),
which was denied its first appearance in a regional semifinal.

Tennessee led 35-31 early in the second half before a 13-0 run broke
the game open. Creighton couldn't cut the margin below nine points the
rest of the way.

The Lady Vols won by silencing Creighton's 3-point attack.

Creighton came in ranked second nationally with just over nine
3-pointers per game, but Tennessee outscored the Bluejays from beyond
the arc. The Lady Vols were 6 of 10 from 3-point range, while the
Bluejays went 4 of 22.

Ariel Massengale, Meighan Simmons and Taber Spani each went 2 of 3
from long range. Massengale scored 11 points for Tennessee, while
Simmons and Spani each added 10.

Tennessee improved its all-time NCAA tournament record to 114-23, a
mark that includes eight national titles and 18 Final Four
appearances. Creighton is 3-5 in NCAA tournament games.

But neither Tennessee's partisan crowd nor the Lady Vols' rich
postseason history intimidated Creighton in the early going.

Creighton briefly led 16-15 midway through a first half that also
featured five ties, the last coming after Creighton center Alyssa
Kamphaus made it 24-24 on a layup with 3:38 left. Tennessee led 35-29
at halftime.

Kamphaus, a 6-foot-3 junior, is Creighton's only player over 6 feet --
Tennessee has six players taller than that -- but the Bluejays
finished the first half with just as many rebounds (16) as Tennessee
and actually outrebounded the Lady Vols 9-7 on the offensive glass.

But the Bluejays couldn't maintain that momentum and missed 11 of
their first 12 shots in the second half.

After McKenzie Fujan's basket cut Tennessee's lead to 35-31 with 17-35
remaining, Tennessee turned up its defensive intensity and broke the
game open.

Spani started the run with a 3-pointer and followed with a steal.
Bashaara Graves delivered a basket in the paint. Williams then made a
steal and passed to Simmons, who threw it back to Simmons for a
fast-break layup. Massengale and Simmons capped the 13-0 spurt by
sinking consecutive 3-pointers.

Tennessee eventually led by as many as 19. Creighton got back into the
game with a 7-0 run, cutting the deficit to 59-50 on a pair of Ally
Jensen free throws with 4:42 left, but that's as close as the Bluejays
got the rest of the way.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tennessee 83, Oral Roberts 62

Meighan Simmons scored 18 points, and the Tennessee Vols defeated Oral
Roberts 83-62 in their first NCAA tournament game of the post-Pat
Summitt era.

The Vols (25-7) got points from all 11 players and improved to 51-0 in
NCAA tournament games on their home floor.

Tennessee is 49-1 in first-round and second-round games, falling to
Ball State in a 2009 opening-round game.

Tennessee advanced to a second-round game against No. 10 seed Creighton.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mercedes Russell named Gatorade Player of Year

Mercedes Russell, the No. 1 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2013 class, was named the Gatorade National Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year on Wednesday.

The 6-foot-6 Tennessee recruit finished her high school career at Springfield (Ore.) with 2,273 points, 1,642 rebounds and 562 blocked shots. As a senior, she averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.5 blocked shots, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game. She has also won two gold medals with USA Basketball.

Russell, a two-time Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year, will play in the McDonald’s All American Games next month in Chicago. She maintained a 3.15 GPA and has volunteered for Oregon Amateur Basketball, the Special Olympics, a community beautification project and an elementary education literacy-outreach program.

Past winners of the Gatorade player of the year include Breanna Stewart (2012), Skylar Diggins (2009), Maya Moore (2007), Candace Parker (2003-04) and Lisa Leslie (1990).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pat Summitt presented 2013 Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s College Basketball Award

Pat Summitt, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, can add one more career achievement award to her trophy case.

Summitt, the women’s basketball head coach emeritus at Tennessee, was presented the 2013 Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s College Basketball Award on Tuesday by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

First given in 1999 to Margaret Wade, the Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s Basketball Award is presented annually to individuals whose extraordinary efforts have made contributions of outstanding significance and have created a long-lasting positive impact on the game of basketball.

The recipients display character, integrity and dignity, and have contributed mightily to the growth, success and viability of basketball. To be eligible, an individual must have been involved with the sport in a capacity related to coaching, broadcasting, college administration or the news media.

Summitt is the only coach in NCAA history with 1,000 victories and holds a career record of 1,098-208. She retired in 2012 after spending her entire 38-year career coaching at the University of Tennessee. During her tenure, Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight NCAA Women’s National Championships and 16 SEC Championships, and was named Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year five times (1987, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2004). On May 29th, 2012, President Obama presented Summitt with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Selected by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Directors, Summitt was recognized at the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Naismith Awards Banquet.

“If it’s possible to be both proud and humbled at the same time, I am at being named as the winner of the 2013 Naismith Outstanding Contributor to Women’s College Basketball Award,” Summitt said. “Any award associated with the name Naismith is a special award. I have always enjoyed my association with the Atlanta Tipoff Club and have appreciated all they have done to grow and promote the game of basketball.”

“It’s hard to imagine what women’s college basketball would be today had Pat not been the pioneer that she was,” said Eric Oberman, Atlanta Tipoff Club executive director. “Her contributions, both on and off the court, embody the very meaning of this award and her imprint on the sport will live on forever.”

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

SEC Awards

Holly Warlick was a unanimous choice as SEC Coach of the Year. Freshman center Bashaara Graves was picked as newcomer of the year on every ballot. Meighan Simmons was a first-team choice.

Warlick stepped into some mighty big shoes at Tennessee. She replaced the winningest coach in college basketball history after Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

The Lady Vols (24-7) didn't miss a beat, romping to another SEC championship and heading into their 32nd straight NCAA tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Warlick, a former Tennessee player and longtime Summitt assistant, still leans on her former boss, who remained part of the program as the coach emeritus.

''The whole season has been different, and at times, it's hard,'' Warlick said. ''Other times, it's OK. But I still have her there. She's still around these young ladies. She's still there in spirit and everything else, and she's still a vital part of this team.''

Warlick also was chosen as coach of the year by her SEC colleagues.

''Holly deserves all the credit,'' Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said. ''She's got the hardest job in America. Remember how many people tried to replace John Wooden? They're still trying to replace him. You've got the right person in Holly. She's doing a great job, because Pat Summitt is our John Wooden.''

''I'm just doing what I've been taught to do,'' Warlick said. ''I just wanted to come in, put a stamp on this program and make sure we carried on the tradition.''

The transition was helped along by the arrival of Graves, a 6-foot-2 force in the frontcourt. The freshman averaged 13.8 points (ninth in the SEC) and ranked sixth in rebounding (8.3 per game). Graves made the SEC second team.

''I would like to still consider myself a freshman, but everybody else (does) not,'' Graves said. ''The coaches tell me all the time, `Bashaara, you're not a freshman, so you don't have time to play like a freshman. You can't be out there like a freshman.' I'm not (a freshman) in everybody else's eyes.''

Warlick knew right from the beginning that Graves would play a major role in the post-Summitt era.

''Bashaara showed up ready to work from day one,'' the coach said. ''She has battled inside for us all year and put in a lot of minutes against some very talented players in this league and around the country. You certainly don't find that kind of consistent production from a freshman very often, and it became obvious fairly quickly that she was going to be one of those players for us.''

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lady Vols await first tourney of post-Summitt era

Tennessee will need to produce at least one more surprise in order to earn the program's first Final Four appearance since its 2008 national championship.

The second-seeded Lady Vols (24-7) open the NCAA tournament Saturday on their home floor against No. 15 seed Oral Roberts (18-12). Tennessee is in the Oklahoma City regional that includes defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Baylor, which beat the Lady Vols in two of the last three NCAA tournaments.

''Of course, I don't know of too many people who would say, `Gosh, I'd love to be in Baylor's bracket,' '' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''I think everybody in Baylor's bracket would want to be in the others, but it is what it is.''

That puts Tennessee in a position where it has to beat the odds again.

Although Tennessee is the only team that has reached the tournament ever since the NCAA started running it in 1982, this marks the first year Pat Summitt isn't on the bench. Tennessee traditionally has watched the unveiling of the NCAA brackets at Summitt's home, but she was out of town Monday and the Lady Vols instead viewed Monday's selection show from a Neyland Stadium club overlooking the 50-yard line on one side and downtown Knoxville on the other.

''I think this team enjoys the underdog role,'' Warlick said.

That role isn't typical for Tennessee, but this season has been anything but typical.

Summitt announced in 2011 that she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, and she ended her 38-year coaching tenure last April with 1,098 wins, eight national titles and 18 Final Four appearances. Summitt remains on staff as head coach emeritus, attends most practices and was in the stands for nearly every home game this season.

Not much was expected of these Lady Vols - at least not by Tennessee standards.

Tennessee didn't return a single player who started an NCAA tournament game last year during its run to a regional final. The Lady Vols were ranked 20th in the preseason Top 25. After getting stunned by Chattanooga in their season opener, they dropped to 24th, their lowest ranking since 1985.

Tennessee was picked to end up fifth in the SEC by the league's coaches, while the SEC media had the Lady Vols finishing fourth. Tennessee instead won its 17th regular-season conference title, but lost in the SEC tournament.

''We take it as motivation,'' sophomore forward Cierra Burdick said. ''People have been calling us underdogs all year. They picked us fifth in the SEC. ... We've just proved all these people wrong. It would just make a statement for the season that we've had if we could make a lot of noise in the tournament and make a deep run. It would just be the ultimate conclusion to our season.''

Tennessee also has had to overcome injuries to get to this point.

Freshman guard Andraya Carter underwent season-ending shoulder surgery after starting five of Tennessee's first seven games. Burdick missed eight games with a broken right hand. Sophomore center Isabelle Harrison has sat out nine of Tennessee's last 11 games with an injured left knee that required surgery, though she has returned to practice and hopes to play this weekend.

''This team has surprised a lot of people,'' Warlick said. ''Nothing really fazes us.''

No. 2 Seed in Oklahoma City Region

Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Region. Baylor is the No. 1 seed in the region.

Tennessee will host the first and second games and play on their home floor. The first round match-up will feature the Lady Vols against Oral Roberts. A possible second round match-up would feature the Lady Vols against either (7) Syracuse or (10) Creighton.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

(19) Texas A&M 66 - (9) Tennessee 62

When Tennessee led Texas A&M by 10 points midway through the second half, Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said her players got comfortable.

Courtney Walker and the Aggies got busy.

Walker had back-to-back baskets to start No. 19 Texas A&M's comeback, and Courtney Williams delivered the go-ahead jumper with 33 seconds remaining as the Aggies beat ninth-ranked Tennessee 66-62 in the Southeastern conference semifinals Saturday, ending the Lady Vols' bid for a fourth straight championship.

Taber Spani had a career-high 33 points for top-seeded Tennessee (24-7), the SEC's regular-season champion. The Aggies, the No. 4 seed, are playing in their first SEC tournament.

Meighan Simmons had 10 points for the Lady Vols. No other Tennessee player scored in double figures, but Warlick focused on the Lady Vols' defensive problems.

"It boiled down to us getting stops, and we couldn't get any stops," Warlick said. "Texas A&M was persistent and they hit big shots. We didn't have an answer."

Spani, a senior averaging 10.2 points, made 11 of 13 shots from the field -- including five of six from 3-point range. She set her previous career high with 24 points against Vanderbilt on Jan. 24. It was her only game with 20 or more points in the regular season.

Spani became the first Tennessee player to score 30 points against a conference opponent this season.

"I was just trying to do everything I could to keep us in the game, hopefully with a W," Spani said. "Unfortunately, we came up short."

Friday, March 08, 2013

(9) Tennessee 82, Florida 73

DULUTH, GA — A late rally from Florida left Tennessee coach Holly Warlick thinking the Lady Vols haven't learned how to put a team away.

Meighan Simmons scored 20 points and Tennessee turned back Florida's late run to beat the Gators 82-73 Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

No. 9 Tennessee (24-6), the three-time defending champion, has won 10 straight games in the tournament since its loss to Auburn in the 2009 semifinals. Warlick, previously the longtime assistant to Pat Summitt, wasn't satisfied with her first postseason win as coach.

"I think the first 10 minutes we set the tone and then we just get comfortable," Warlick said. "We get a lead and we get comfortable. We've got to have that killer instinct in us and finish the game the way we start the game."

The Lady Vols will face the South Carolina-Texas A&M winner in Saturday's first semifinal.

Tennessee took its biggest lead of 13 points at 17-4, but couldn't put the game away.

"I think on the offensive end we're just talented," said Cierra Burdick, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. "We've got a bunch of people that can score the basketball. ... We've got to continue to pick it up on defense, because offense is not our problem. It's the defensive end."

Sydney Moss led Florida (18-14) with a career-high 22 points. Moss had a steal and basket with 49 seconds remaining to cut Tennessee's lead to 75-69 — the Lady Vols' smallest of the half.

Ariel Massengale and Simmons each made two free throws in the final 43 seconds to help seal the win. Taber Spani missed a one-and-one free throw with 30 seconds remaining, but Jaterra Bonds missed a layup for Florida.

Spani, who had 13 points, made three free throws in the final 16 seconds.

Bonds had 18 points and Carlie Needles scored 12 on four 3-pointers for Florida.

Tennessee edged Florida 78-75 in overtime in Gainesville on Jan. 13, giving the Gators confidence they could win the rematch.

"We didn't come here to play close or make it respectable or with any other expectation except to win," said Florida coach Amanda Butler.

After Moss opened the game with a driving basket for Florida, Tennessee scored the next 12 points and never lost the lead.

The Lady Vols ran on every opportunity, sometimes forcing Florida to foul. Tennessee outscored Florida 23-6 on free throws.

"Tennessee did a great job of getting themselves to the free-throw line and really capitalized on those opportunities," Butler said.

Warlick said she wanted her players to force the tempo with a "make or miss" mentality.

"We wanted a fast-tempo game," Warlick said. "I thought we set the tone early. I thought Florida did a great job of adjusting."

Tennessee closed the regular-season with a loss at Kentucky. Simmons said the renewed emphasis on pushing the tempo was "a major difference" against the Gators.

"We came out a lot more hungry this game," Simmons said. "We had a lot of high energy from the coaches on down."

Moss scored the Gators' first eight points. Florida cut into the Lady Vols' lead when it found more help for Moss — especially from long-range shots. Florida had six 3-pointers in the first half, including three by Needles. A 3-pointer by Lily Svete cut the Lady Vols' lead to 24-22.

Tennessee stretched its advantage to 47-36 at halftime.

Florida got within seven points midway through the second half. Tennessee led 63-56 with 7:23 remaining when Simmons drew her fourth foul on a charge and left the game. The Lady Vols produced an 8-2 run that included two baskets by Burdick, pushing the lead to 71-58.

Simmons returned for the final 2:39 and had a layup with 1:05 remaining after Florida pulled within eight points.

Tennessee won 16 SEC tournaments and eight national championships in 38 seasons with Summitt, who stepped down last April after announcing in 2011 she has early onset dementia. She did not attend the game.

Tennessee's Warlick SEC Women's Coach Of The Year

Tennessee's Holly Warlick is the Southeastern Conference coach of the year after replacing Pat Summitt and leading the Lady Vols to a league regular-season title in her inaugural season, league officials announced Tuesday.

Kentucky's A'dia Mathies and Tennessee's Meighan Simmons are co-players of the year. Tennessee forward Bashaara Graves was selected freshman of the year. South Carolina's Ieasia Walker was named defensive player of the year. Arkansas' Sarah Watkins and Missouri's Morgan Eye shared the 6th Woman of the Year award. Auburn's Blanche Alverson was named the conference's scholar-athlete of the year.

Awards and all-conference teams were chosen by the league's 14 coaches.

First-team all-conference picks included Mathies, Simmons, Graves and Walker plus Georgia's Jasmine Hassell, Kentucky's DeNesha Stallworth, LSU's Theresa Plaisance, Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone and Vanderbilt's Tiffany Clarke.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

(10) Kentucky 78, (8) Tennessee 65

Only after A'dia Mathies beat No. 8 Tennessee did the Kentucky senior guard show some sentimentality over playing her final home game with the Wildcats.

She was typically reserved in thanking the sellout crowd at Memorial Coliseum, which witnessed Mathies at her cool and collected best during a second-half run that helped No. 10 Kentucky send her and fellow senior Brittany Henderson out as winners.

Mathies scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers during Kentucky's 19-6 run, helping the Wildcats pull away from Tennessee for a 78-65 victory on Sunday.

Simmons led Tennessee with 17 points.

A depleted roster might have been a reason for regular-season champion Tennessee (23-6, 14-2). The Volunteers played without center Isabelle Harrison, who sustained a right knee injury Thursday and is considered week to week.

Point guard Ariel Massengale, who was also questionable with a knee injury, started and finished with five points. Bashaara Graves had 12 points, Cierra Burdick added 11 with 11 rebounds and Taber Spani also had 11 for Tennessee.

There was nothing on the line for the Lady Volunteers, who took care of their most important matter by clinching the SEC on Thursday. But they were concerned about the future of Harrison, who dressed but spent most of the game with an ice pack on her knee. She had already missed six games this season with a left knee injury requiring surgery.

Injuries have been an issue for Tennessee, which lost freshman guard Andraya Carter for the season with a torn labrum on her right shoulder while Burdick missed eight games with a broken bone in her right hand. Kamiko Williams also hurt her right leg in the first half Sunday but returned to play 26 minutes.

"It's just things that we've had to deal with," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said of the injuries. "It's part of the game. People have to step up, and we didn't step up today."

Friday, March 01, 2013

Legendary Coach Pat Summitt to Speak at Minnesota Alzheimer's Conference

Doctors call it an epidemic and in Minnesota almost 98,000 people are suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

This weekend hundreds of people from across the country are coming to St. Paul to talk about dementia and there will be a special guest on hand to help. Pat Summitt will speak during a conference called "Meeting of the Minds" hosted by the Alzheimer's Association and Mayo Clinic.

Summitt is the winningest college basketball coach of all time, capturing 8 national titles during her 38 year career. In 2011, Summitt announced that doctors at Mayo clinic had diagnosed her with early onset Alzheimer's.

"What courage it takes to step outside of your box that you are used to being in and say, 'I am going through something and it's difficult and I'm going to need help but I'm also going to fight it,'" said Michelle Marciniak, who played for the Lady Vols under Summitt.

Marciniak remembers when her former coach started to change.

"Ok, now we just had a conversation, it was a very intense conversation, it was a great conversation, and then the next morning, she wouldn't remember it. For me, that was the trigger," Marciniak said.

Summitt is not alone. More than half of all Americans know someone with Alzheimer's. Every 68 seconds someone in America develops the disease.

"It's very difficult but it's also something that we're all trying to celebrate her while she's here and while we still have her," Marciniak said.

Dee and Chase Israelson live in Sacramento, California but come to Mayo Clinic several times a year for treatment. They will join more than 1,300 people at the conference Saturday.

"I don't think anyone could say when it started but it was noticeable enough that our adult children were saying, 'Hey something's wrong here,'" Chase Israelson said.

Dee Israelson does not have Alzheimer's but about a year ago she was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

"I think it's important for me to plan somewhat for the future but at the same time not to get obsessed with it... If I'm obsessed with it, I'm more apt to go into depression, that would just make it worse," Dee Israelson said.

Summitt speaks at 8:30 Saturday morning at the St. Paul RiverCentre. The conference is sold out.

"If you are going through this with someone, you just have to love them. And you just have to be there. And you may be sitting in a room and it may be absolutely silent and that's ok," Marciniak said.

At the current rate, doctors believe as many as 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer's by 2025.