DULUTH, Ga. - Pat Summitt sang a happy tune Sunday night.
Tennessee's coach grabbed a microphone and broke into an impromptu version of "Rocky Top" after the Lady Vols' 70-62 SEC women's basketball tournament championship victory over Kentucky before a crowd of 5,854 at Gwinnett Arena.
"I did that for the fans,'' Summitt said.
But she was inspired by her players after No. 4 Tennessee (30-2) pulled off a conference championship sweep of the regular season and tournament for the first time since 2000.
"I'm glad her job is coaching,'' center Kelly Cain said, smiling. "She hit some of the notes."
Like their singing coach, the Lady Vols weren't always in sync with their performance, committing 20 turnovers and shooting 41.9 percent from the floor (26-for-62) against No. 19 Kentucky (25-7). They parlayed their size advantage into a 51-32 rebounding edge and 44 points from close range. Their 16-for-19 accuracy from the free-throw line also helped, especially down the stretch.
"We just found open looks,'' forward Alyssia Brewer said. "This was a game where we didn't execute our offense because (Kentucky) was coming at us so hard. We found a way."
Brewer earned tournament most valuable player honors. The award was based primarily on her first two games. Against the Wildcats, she had eight points and four rebounds.
"I wasn't expecting that at all,'' she said. "Tonight, I thought I could've helped my team more than I did."
Point guard Shekinna Stricklen, on the other hand, pretty much maxed out in scoring a game-high 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds. She played through five turnovers to score 14 points in the second half and lead UT back from a four-point deficit in a game that featured eight ties and eight lead changes.
"That's what a point guard is supposed to do - be a leader,'' Stricklen said. "We got down on ourselves. We had to get our energy back up."
Alicia Manning, who had 11 rebounds and shared game-high honors with teammate Glory Johnson, was UT's other all-tournament honoree.
Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies, Kentucky's all-tournament team members, led the Wildcats with 21 and 11 points respectively.
Playing its first conference tournament final since 1982, Kentucky overcame a 19-9 deficit at the outset and sliced a 10-point deficit in half inside the final minute before finally succumbing.
"I thought our players battled against a really fine basketball team today, and I thought we found out a lot about our team,'' said Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, whose team lost to UT 81-65 in Knoxville on Feb. 25. "One thing I do know is they wanted to win today, and it certainly showed out there on the court. They played awfully hard."
The difference turned out to be a seven-point UT scoring spree that broke the game's final tie and provided a 57-50 lead with 7:07 left. Several Lady Vols lent a hand to this stretch.
Brewer opened with a layup. Cain, who scored 11 points, recorded the assist. Angie Bjorklund then nailed a corner jumper.
Kamiko Williams and Stricklen collaborated on the final points of UT's flurry. Williams, who was a key contributor off the bench with eight points, four rebounds and three assists, poked the basketball loose for one of her two steals and took off up the court. She dished the ball to Stricklen, who swished a 3-pointer and then leaped for joy.
"Being tired didn't even cross our minds,'' Stricklen said. "The last seven minutes, we were a totally different team."
In the end, the Lady Vols were a championship team and assuredly locked up a No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA tournament. They did a victory lap with the tournament trophy and slapped high-fives with pep band members and fans.
And then Summitt broke into song. She sounded good to Bjorklund.
"I've heard 'Rocky Top' from her once or twice,'' she said, "and it's great every time."