Nicky Anosike’s family didn’t arrive in time for Tennessee’s senior night ceremony Thursday night.
While that was a disappointment for the 6-foot-4 center, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
“I have no clue when they got here,’’ Anosike said. “But they’re always late. I kind of expected it.
The Anosike cheering section missed a touching tribute to their favorite Lady Vol as well as her rousing start. Anosike snagged four rebounds in barely more than a minute and set the tone for the Lady Vols’ 88-61 SEC women’s basketball victory over Florida in the final regular-season home game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
UT coach Pat Summitt wondered whether Anosike’s situation worked to the Lady Vols’ advantage.
“I think she was mad because her family was late, Summitt said. “It looked like that.”
Anosike, who scored 15 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, ignited a team effort that featured five double-figure scorers. Candace Parker and reserve Alex Fuller led No. 3 Tennessee (26-2, 12-1 SEC) with 18 points apiece. Angie Bjorklund scored 14 and Vicki Baugh added 11.
Sha Brooks scored a career-high 27 points for Florida (16-12, 5-8) but no other Gator scored more than nine.
“This was a special night here at Tennessee and this is a special place,’’ Florida coach Amanda Butler said.
Butler, a native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., added, “I’m from Tennessee and I can appreciate the loyalty and the energy and the passion with which people support this program. This is a fantastic group of seniors that deserved all those folks to be in the stands.”
The seniors helped UT record a season-high 27 assists. Alexis Hornbuckle had eight and point guard Shannon Bobbitt recorded seven. However, it was the other season high — 57 rebounds — that drew Parker’s praise.
“I think the most important thing about this game was the rebounding,’’ she said. “We pounded the glass.”
If so, nobody’s effort was more important than Anosike’s, whose family finally joined her on the court for a makeshift moment together during a timeout in the second half.
If Anosike was mad at anyone beforehand, it was herself. The final home game inspired her to review the season and rebuke her contributions to date. She considered herself to be a late arrival as well.
“I guess I kind of had a meeting with myself,’’ she said. “I feel like I’ve been letting this team down in terms of my leadership. It’s not too late to step up. I’m going to try to do everything I can to lead this team to a championship.”
Her self-assessment mirrored an underlying theme to the evening. Afterward, the seniors thanked the crowd of 16,523 on hand. Parker, a redshirt junior who is forgoing an extra season of eligibility, told the fans, “This has been the best four years of my life.” But there were no final good-byes.
“It has been a great time,’’ said Hornbuckle, who also had 10 rebounds. “It has been a great journey and it is not over yet.”
Along with the senior review, there was an encouraging preview of the future, particularly from Fuller. The redshirt junior forward, who was splintered from this senior class after undergoing multiple knee surgeries her freshman year, shot 7 for 12 from the floor and grabbed five rebounds.
“Alex is a player who could’ve been out there tonight,’’ Summitt said. “She chose to stay. I told our (coaching) staff during the course of the game, ‘Aren’t we glad Alex is going to stay.’”
Freshman Bjorklund, meanwhile, hit four of UT’s nine 3-pointers. It was her most treys since tying the school single-game record of seven against Arkansas on Jan. 24.
“We’re going to need to make some shots,’’ Summitt said. “Just feeling like we can count on some people to stretch the defense.”
UT couldn’t count on Hornbuckle, Bobbitt or fellow senior Alberta Auguste, who shot a combined 4 for 21 from the floor. Their off night will result in a senior day of shooting today in preparation for Sunday’s regular-season finale at Georgia.
“We’re going to be in the gym (today); we’re going to get a lot of shots in,’’ Summitt said. “Lex said tonight ‘I couldn’t buy one, Coach’ … At this time, I’m not going to put a lot of emphasis on it. I want them just to stay confident and the best place to get your confidence is in the gym.”