No. 4 Tennessee (30-2) vs. Kentucky (25-7)
It wasn’t the cakewalk Tennessee might have expected, but they still got the sweet reward at the end, a 70-62 win over Kentucky and a 15th Southeastern Conference Tournament championship.
It went nicely with the SEC regular-season championship the Lady Vols (30-2) won with their win over UK in Knoxville less than two weeks ago. It’s the first time since UK Coach Matthew Mitchell and assistants Shalon Pillow and Kyra Elzy sat on the Volunteers’ bench in 2000 that Tennessee won both the regular season and tournament titles.
It was much more of a challenge for the Lady Vols, who won their 12th straight game, than its game against Kentucky at Knoxville had been. UT won by 16 points and UK never offered much of a challenge.
Kentucky, playing in only its second SEC Tournament championship game and its first since 1982, made the Volunteers earn it by grabbing several leads in the second half. The final dagger seemed to come with seven minutes to go when Shekinna Stricklen hit a three-pointer to cap a 7-0 Vols run to give them a 57-50 lead.
UK got within five points twice after that, but never got any closer.
Victoria Dunlap led Kentucky (25-7) with 21 points.
The Volunteers were paced by Stricklen’s 20 points. Kelley Cain, who battled foul trouble all game, added 11 points.
In the first half, Kentucky used a 16-4 spree to grab its first lead of the game 25-23 with five minutes to play on a Dunlap layup and made foul shot. Dunlap got the assist from Smith, who stole the ball away on the run.
The Lady Vols responded with a 12-4 run to end the first half with a 35-29 advantage. In that late rally, freshman guard Kamiko Williams had eight points.
The Cats opened the second half with a 13-3 run to take a 42-38 lead with 15:52 to play. It was back and forth from there until that 7-0 Vols run.
Live play by play …
- Amani Franklin three-pointer in the left corner pulls the Cats within five points 61-56 with three minutes left in the game. Tennessee is going to the free throw line.
- Orange and white have erupted after a Shekinna Stricklen three-pointer gives the Vols a 57-50 lead with seven minutes to go.
- Cats trail 54-50 with 7:45 remaining in the championship game. Kelley Cain has just picked up her fourth foul for Tennessee, though, taking away its top inside presence.
- UK reserves Watkins and Henderson score four straight and give the Cats a 48-46 lead with 11:04 to play.
- Amber Smith has just picked up her fourth foul on a ticky tack cut through a screen. She sits with 14:10 to go.
- Still 40-38 at the under 16 minute media timeout. Watkins will be at the free throw line to try to extend UK’s advantage. The Vols have turned it over four times in the first four minutes of the second half.
- Coach Summitt calls a timeout, clearly upset after Kentucky’s 11-3 run gives the Cats a 40-38 edge.
- A 9-3 UK run out of the break ties it up 38-38.
- HALFTIME: TENNESSEE 35, KENTUCKY 29: Dunlap leads Cats with 14 points, but has just one rebound for a UK team that is being bested on the boards 31-14. Mathies has seven points. Williams leads UT with eight points. Kentucky has made 12 of its 31 attempts (38.7 percent) and Tennessee 15 of 38 (39.5 percent).
- The Lady Vols have scored six straight and have grabbed a 35-29 advantage with 26 seconds remaining in the first half. They also have the ball for what likely will be the last shot of the half. Summitt has called a timeout.
- After missing the entire semifinal versus Mississippi State, Carly Morrow is in to replace Rebecca Gray, who took a shot that appears to make her coach unhappy.
- Amber Smith picks up her third foul for UK with 3:10 to go and has to head to the bench.
- Kamiko Williams, a freshman from Clarksville, Tenn., has scored six straight for the Lady Vols, who have a small 29-27 lead with 3:32 to go in the first half.
- Dunlap just scored in the lane off a feed from Amber Smith, who stole it away. Dunlap’s layin and subsequent made foul shot gives UK its first lead 25-23 with 4:30 to go.
- A little 9-2 run got Kentucky within a point 19-18 before UT scored again. It’s now 23-18 with 7:00 to go and UK’s Lydia Watkins at the free throw line. A’dia Mathies had four points in that aforementioned run.
- With 11:59 left, UK still trails 17-9 and still has the ball. Cats have made just 4 of 11. They are being outrebounded 11-4 so far.
- Victoria Dunlap has seven of UK’s nine points. Cats have the ball and trail 17-9 with 13:24 left in the first half.
- The first four minutes have been tight, with Tennessee scoring the first four points and grabbing a 13-6 edge early. Star center Kelley Cain is out after picking up a quick second foul just three minutes in.
We are live here at Gwinnett Center for the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game, which looks a bit like a home game for the Lady Vols. The arena is about two-thirds full and all but about one section is bright orange. Coach Pat Summitt just got a loud ovation and is giving Cats Coach Matthew Mitchell a hug on the court. Mitchell was previously a graduate assistant at Tennessee.
It is UK’s first trip to the title game since 1982, when the Cats won it. Tennessee is making its 18th appearance in the finals and going for its 15th championship. These two teams met on Feb. 25, with UK falling 81-65 at Knoxville.