NASHVILLE — It wasn’t so much that Angie Bjorklund was open Sunday. Instead, Tennessee’s senior guard was open-minded.
When she pulled up in front of the Lady Vols bench in the second half with Kentucky forward Victoria Dunlap lurking, Bjorklund had no intention of pulling the trigger.
But then teammate Kamiko Williams got in her head.
“I heard Kamiko on the bench saying, ‘I bet you won’t shoot it. I bet you won’t shoot it,’ ’’ Bjorklund said.
So Bjorklund shot it and swished one of her seven treys, one of a school single-game record 16 by Tennessee in a 90-65 victory in the SEC women’s basketball tournament championship game.
Playing before a crowd of 11,150 at Bridgestone Arena, Tennessee (31-2) won its second consecutive tournament championship and the 15th in program history.
It was the third time the Lady Vols won the tournament after going undefeated in conference regular-season play. Thanks to their dominance, a top seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament is a virtual certainty.
“They deserve what they got today because they went after it,’’ said UT coach Pat Summitt, who sang “Rocky Top” twice on the court afterward.
Bjorklund’s take-a-dare accuracy was just the sort of moment her mind’s eye was seeing with uncanny clarity.
“In my head, every single shot was going in,’’ said Bjorklund, who was 7 for 8 on 3 pointers for the day and 12 for 14 for the tournament. “I don’t know. It was a fun feeling.”
Several of Bjorklund’s teammates shared in her joy, collaborating on an amazing 16-for-21 sharpshooting exhibition.
Shekinna Stricklen shot 5-for-6 from 3-point range in scoring 19 points and earning tournament most valuable player honors. Meighan Simmons was 2 for 3 from long range in scoring 16.
Taber Spani hit the other two treys.
Once the shooting stopped, Bjorklund and Glory Johnson joined Stricklen on the all-tournament team.
Overall, Tennessee shot a season-best 56.5 percent from the floor, including 70.4 percent (19 for 27) in the second half.
Kentucky (24-8) couldn’t keep pace. Dunlap and Bernisha Pinkett scored 15 points apiece and the Wildcats outrebounded taller UT, 46-41. But the Wildcats shot just 27.3 percent from the floor (21 for 77).
“I just think they’re very, very good,’’ Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said of the Lady Vols. “When they’re on like tonight, they’re tough to beat.”
Their long-range accuracy inspired some post-game humor.
“Finally,’’ forward Alyssia Brewer said, laughing.
Fellow forward Alicia Manning, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds, joked about how the shooting was cramping her blue-collar style.
“I’m kind of mad at them,’’ she said. “I didn’t get any more rebounds. I’m trying to get my rebounds up here and then they have to make every shot. I’m just kidding.”
Seriously, the shooting covered for some potentially serious problems.
Assistant coaches and players alike speculated that the Lady Vols missed more layups than they did 3-pointers. That certainly wasn’t a laughing matter.
Neither were Kentucky’s 31 offensive rebounds, which led to a whopping 28-11 edge in second-chance points, a statistic UT typically dominates.
“Try making a living like that in the next six games,’’ said assistant coach Dean Lockwood, referring to the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Vols hemorrhaged more turnovers against Kentucky’s pressure as well, committing 14 in the first half and 22 overall.
But when they did advance through the press or throw over it, the court opened up for the shooters. And Bjorklund and Co. didn’t mind taking aim and firing.
“It just seemed like everyone was hitting today,’’ Bjorklund said. “When we play like that nobody can beat us.”