DES MOINES, Iowa — Tennessee couldn't make enough shots to muster its best shot Monday night.
After a hot start, the Lady Vols' field goal shooting steadily plunged below 30 percent, dragging their best intentions with them to a 77-58 NCAA women's basketball tournament loss to Baylor before a crowd of 9,068 at Wells Fargo Arena.
Led by Odyssey Sims' 27 points, top-seed Baylor (37-0) held off UT's second-half rallies in the final of the Des Moines Regional and advanced to the Final Four in Denver.
Shekinna Stricklen led No. 2 seed Tennessee (27-9) with 22 points. She needed 26 shots for her output, which reflected UT's chilly 30.3 accuracy (23 for 76).
Fellow senior Glory Johnson, who missed four minutes in the first half with a hip injury after a hard fall, returned in the second half and finished with 19. No other Lady Vol had more than five points.
The Lady Bears pulled most of their starters with
1:13 left. Sims stayed. She and Stricklen got tangled up in the foul lane thereafter and had to be separated, touching off a confrontation between players from both teams.
Offsetting technical fouls were called on Stricklen and Sims. Baylor's Brittney Griner, Jordan Madden and Terran Condrey were ejected for leaving the bench. The official word afterward was that none of the ejected players would be suspended for the next game.
"I just tripped; I was trying to catch myself," Stricklen said. "It looked like I pushed her. I reached down my hand and tried to help her (up). She took it the wrong way."
Stricklen said that she apologized. Sims didn't seem bothered afterward.
"We just got caught up in the moment," she said. "Everything is OK."
Sims was speaking for herself and her team. Most of the Lady Vols were an emotional wreck afterward. Sims' five 3-pointers, four assists and three steals had a lot to do with it."
"I think we overemphasized Brittney, and Odyssey killed us," UT's Alicia Manning said.
That's saying something, considering Griner just missed a triple double with 23 points, 15 rebounds and nine blocks. But the 6-foot-8 center scored 15 of her points in the final 9:28.
After suggesting otherwise, Tennessee stuck with its all-senior starting lineup. Stricklen got the Lady Vols off to a hot shooting start, scoring seven points in the first five minutes. After the senior forward swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key, UT led 9-4.
At that point, the Lady Vols were shooting 4 for 7 from the floor. They missed their next eight shots, however. By the time Meighan Simmons broke the dry spell with a pull-up jumper, Baylor had charged ahead, 15-12.
Much like the first meeting with Baylor, UT's inability to hit shots betrayed its efforts. By halftime, they had sunk to 21.6 percent accuracy (8 for 37).
"We're a team that gets frustrated when we're missing," senior center Vicki Baugh said. "We've been battling that all season. It showed tonight."
Griner's presence had a lot to do with Tennessee's struggles. Along with patrolling the foul lane like usual, she was ranging out of the paint to shadow shooters.
"They force you to take quick shots," UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "They're just a great basketball team."
Along with their defense, the Lady Bears built their 35-20 halftime lead on the strength of five 3-pointers.
Twice in the second half, Sims hit treys when Tennessee had whittled its deficit to single digits. The last time came with 11:12 left.
With the loss, Tennessee's four fourth-year seniors — Johnson, Stricklen, Alicia Manning and Briana Bass — ended their careers as the first UT class to not reach a Final Four.
Furthermore, the coaching future of head coach Pat Summitt, who's battling early onset dementia Alzheimer's type, remains uncertain. Women's athletic director Joan Cronan said afterward that there was "no timetable" for any talks on the matter.
"We've got a great foundation," Warlick said, "and this program's going to continue to do what Tennessee has always done."