No. 8 Lady Vols seek to clinch SEC title outright

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick sends out directions to the team during the game against Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday, February 17, 2013. Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 83-64. 

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick sends out directions to the team during the game against Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday, February 17, 2013. Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 83-64. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has followed a new path to its familiar destination atop the Southeastern Conference standings.

The eighth-ranked Lady Vols wrapped up a share of its 17th SEC regular-season crown Sunday by winning 60-54 at Arkansas while Kentucky was losing 77-72 at LSU and Texas A&M was falling 61-51 at Vanderbilt. Tennessee (22-5, 13-1 SEC) can clinch the championship outright by beating No. 13 Texas A&M (21-7, 11-3) on Thursday or winning Sunday in its regular-season finale at No. 10 Kentucky (23-4, 11-3).

"We've got to take care of business," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We don't want to share it. We want to win it outright. That's been our goal all along. Sharing's great. Please don't misinterpret that. I'm not unappreciative. But we want the title to ourselves."

This drive toward a conference championship has been different from the rest. Tennessee, the SEC's perennial heavyweight, began the season as an underdog.

The Lady Vols say that makes this year's title chase particularly special.

"It would mean a lot," senior guard Kamiko Williams said. "Coming from a place where people don't think or expect much of you and you prove them all wrong, that always feels good to me. I'm pretty sure I can speak for the team on that too."

This represents Tennessee's first year without former coach Pat Summitt, who stepped down last April after announcing in 2011 that she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Summitt had led the Lady Vols to 1,098 victories, eight national titles and 18 Final Fours in 38 seasons. The Lady Vols didn't return a single player who started an NCAA tournament game last year during their run to a regional final.

Tennessee was predicted to finish fifth in the SEC by the league's coaches and fourth by the conference media. Never before had Tennessee been picked to finish below third since the SEC started its media poll in 1990-91. The only three times the Lady Vols were picked third (1990-91, 1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the national title.

The Lady Vols still haven't shown they're legitimate contenders for a national title or Final Four this year. They're 0-3 against teams currently ranked in the top five. Their lone SEC loss was an 80-63 rout at Missouri, which has dropped all five games it has played since.

"Honestly, no one (from the outside) thinks we're going to make it to the Final Four," senior guard/forward Taber Spani said. "But we don't really care because I believe honestly if we play how we can play, we're going to take it one game at a time and I think it will be special, the result we'll get."

Tennessee has benefited from a favorable conference schedule. The Lady Vols are playing Kentucky and Texas A&M once each, whereas Kentucky and Texas A&M squared off twice.

But they've also overcome plenty of adversity.

Freshman guard Andraya Carter started five of the Lady Vols' first seven games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in December. Sophomore forward Cierra Burdick missed eight games with a broken right hand. Sophomore center Isabelle Harrison returned to action Sunday after missing six games with an injured left knee.

Yet they've continued finding ways to win.

Junior guard Meighan Simmons averages 17.8 points per game and is in a neck-and-neck competition with LSU's Theresa Plaisance (17.8) and Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone (17.6) for the SEC scoring title. Freshman forward Bashaara Graves ranks third in the SEC in rebounding (8.7). Tennessee leads the SEC and ranks fourth in the nation with 78.6 points per game. Spani calls this "the most competitive and most preserving" team she's been on since arriving at Tennessee.

"We didn't look at it as a rebuilding year," Spani said. "We wanted Holly to start her career head coaching-wise off on a great foot. We have an opportunity to (take) that first step — a regular-season SEC championship. And then we'll look at the tournaments after that."

Get Copyright Permissions © 2013, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Comments » 29

PureOrange writes:

Hate to see Taber and Kamiko go. They have been critical to the success of this team. Taber has always given all she has, and this year Kamiko has really stepped up her game.

Go Lady Vols!

SoddyVol writes:

Spani calls this "the most competitive and most preserving" team..... I bet the AP Sports Writer, Steve Megargee, Misquoted her. She probably told him "persevering". A little difference there.

madrigal writes:

in response to SoddyVol:

Spani calls this "the most competitive and most preserving" team..... I bet the AP Sports Writer, Steve Megargee, Misquoted her. She probably told him "persevering". A little difference there.

He's a sportswriter. Probably doesn't have a clue what "persevering" means, let alone how to spell it. Either that, or he does not proofread anything before he posts it and lets his auto-correct speak for him. BAD mistake!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to madrigal:

He's a sportswriter. Probably doesn't have a clue what "persevering" means, let alone how to spell it. Either that, or he does not proofread anything before he posts it and lets his auto-correct speak for him. BAD mistake!

In that regard, he would seem to be shaped by the same mold--mediocre education, little reading outside his/her field--that most sportswriters come from these days. Combine that with the almost complete disappearance of old-fashioned copy editors and this is what you get.

On topic, the LVs are in a better position this time of year than many would have thought when they started last fall. Except perhaps for this year's top four teams, the LVs can give themselves a chance against anybody. It wouldn't have to be a monumental shock if they actually DID make it to the Final Four. Of course, they could still come a cropper to almost anybody in the tournament also. At least it is in their hands; again, a better position than many thought they would be in by now.

RLL59 writes:

I think any coach or sportswriter who honestly picked the Lady Vols for 4th or 5th place must also have concluded that there would be a new coach for the 2013-2014 season. They may be a surprise conference champion or co-champion, but 4th place or below would not have met anyone's expectations.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

I believe if we get another crack at Stanford we will have a chance at the final four. Creme has us in their bracket. Unless a coach come up with the perfect scheme that will work to perfection, no one will stop Baylor. Which is fine with me if it keeps Uconn from getting another title. Can't wait to say bye bye Baylor for a couple years . Welcome back Tennessee!

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Finally! Candance Parker jersey will be retired.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Man I want the crowd to yell coach of the year if our ladies win. And to hear the chant of Miko and Taber. That would be cool

johnlg00 writes:

in response to RLL59:

I think any coach or sportswriter who honestly picked the Lady Vols for 4th or 5th place must also have concluded that there would be a new coach for the 2013-2014 season. They may be a surprise conference champion or co-champion, but 4th place or below would not have met anyone's expectations.

Well, of course most of us fans thought they would do better than that, but it wasn't necessarily stupid that an outside observer might think they wouldn't be better than 4th, and even think that ranking them THAT high would be generous. After all, the LVs had NO returning full-time starters, lost two All-Americans, had a new(ish) coach, and everybody knows how hard it is to replace a legend. Why WOULDN'T it take them some time to get readjusted?

voloffaith writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Well, of course most of us fans thought they would do better than that, but it wasn't necessarily stupid that an outside observer might think they wouldn't be better than 4th, and even think that ranking them THAT high would be generous. After all, the LVs had NO returning full-time starters, lost two All-Americans, had a new(ish) coach, and everybody knows how hard it is to replace a legend. Why WOULDN'T it take them some time to get readjusted?

No one knew Ms. Graves would be an instant success. Nor did many think that Ms. Harrison would turn into the player she was prior to injury.That being said ...GO LADY VOLS beat the aggieettes!!!

Theo writes:

in response to RLL59:

I think any coach or sportswriter who honestly picked the Lady Vols for 4th or 5th place must also have concluded that there would be a new coach for the 2013-2014 season. They may be a surprise conference champion or co-champion, but 4th place or below would not have met anyone's expectations.

Perhaps we should thank those writers et al who picked us so low. I think the kids have used that as motivation. Looking at the kids on this team, the ones coming back from injury and next years class, I don't think they will pick us that low again!
Go Lady Vols, let' get those rings!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

A&M is tough.

LV's up at half, but this is going to be a real battle to get the W.

Volinflan writes:

in response to emailnodata:

A&M is tough.

LV's up at half, but this is going to be a real battle to get the W.

I'm ready to throw things at the wall. Go Ladies.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

I'm in a motel in Raleigh, NC and can't gain access to either audio or video of the game. Can anyone suggest a site other than espn3 where I might be able to watch?

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

You might be able to listen from here.
http://www.utsports.com/allaccess/

Don't know about vid.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

in response to emailnodata:

You might be able to listen from here.
http://www.utsports.com/allaccess/

Don't know about vid.

Thanks email, Tried it, but no reception. All I can get is gametracker, and boy is it frustrating following that!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

Thanks email, Tried it, but no reception. All I can get is gametracker, and boy is it frustrating following that!

okay, yeah, sorry about that.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Hey, you might try the texas a/m site and see if they have a live audio feed.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

About 8 minutes left...Massengale and Simmons have to go over screens.

What should be a huge UT lead is now down to 4.

Massengale down with a knee.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

About 3 left....UT up by 4.
UT struggling with defense.

Big possession coming up here.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

The seniors played great!!!!

Olddogsrule writes:

SEC CHAMPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
IT'S GREAT TO BE FROM T-E-N-N-E-S-S-E-E !!
CONGRATULATIONS LADY VOLS!!!!!

SMOKEY RULES!!!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

I think Holly got the team in a "us against the world" attitude, and it really panned out.

peerless1 writes:

Go L Vols beat the Kitties Sunday!

ps11824 writes:

Awesome win!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SEC Champs. Sounds so good.

lstbodeanvol writes:

predicted to finish 5th in the SEC but finsh #1 way to play lady vols hope Izzy and Ariel are going to be ok...great game by Kamiko, Taber, Cierra.meighan...and freshman of the year Graves !!!

RLL59 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Well, of course most of us fans thought they would do better than that, but it wasn't necessarily stupid that an outside observer might think they wouldn't be better than 4th, and even think that ranking them THAT high would be generous. After all, the LVs had NO returning full-time starters, lost two All-Americans, had a new(ish) coach, and everybody knows how hard it is to replace a legend. Why WOULDN'T it take them some time to get readjusted?

Player talent. No other team in the SEC has anywhere near the talent, player for player, that the Lady Vols have. Of course, high school rankings can be wrong, but these were predictions, one of the main basis for which is player skill. I think there was more wishful thinking than anything.

National rankings for the Lady Vol top 7:

Bashaara - ranked 2nd at her position and 5th best overall in 2012

Taber - ranked 3rd in her position, 13th overall in 2009

Meighan - ranked 7th at her position, 23rd overall in 2010

Cierra - ranked 1st at her position, 3rd overall in 2011

Ariel - ranked 1st at her position, 4th overall in 2011

Isabel - ranked 11th at her position, 29th overall in 2011

Kamiko - ranked 16h at her position, 75th overall in 2009.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to RLL59:

Player talent. No other team in the SEC has anywhere near the talent, player for player, that the Lady Vols have. Of course, high school rankings can be wrong, but these were predictions, one of the main basis for which is player skill. I think there was more wishful thinking than anything.

National rankings for the Lady Vol top 7:

Bashaara - ranked 2nd at her position and 5th best overall in 2012

Taber - ranked 3rd in her position, 13th overall in 2009

Meighan - ranked 7th at her position, 23rd overall in 2010

Cierra - ranked 1st at her position, 3rd overall in 2011

Ariel - ranked 1st at her position, 4th overall in 2011

Isabel - ranked 11th at her position, 29th overall in 2011

Kamiko - ranked 16h at her position, 75th overall in 2009.

You might be right about the "wishful thinking" behind some of that underestimation of this year's team. And of course the LVs have always had a rosterful of AAs. However, great talent doesn't always translate into immediate success on the court. Ask UK fans about their team this year, men's team, that is. We can say now that some of their players may have been overrated, but you were basing your argument on how the LV players were rated coming in. There are always considerations about team chemistry and how individual players will hold up under stress. There was also valid concern about Holly's ability to follow the Living Legend. There have been LV teams in the past that were just as loaded with top-drawer talent that didn't play with nearly as much heart and cohesion as this team does. So, again, while anybody who just looked at the available talent could have expected them to be a good team EVENTUALLY, there were enough question marks going in to give some basis for any "wishful thinking" that might have been going on.

RLL59 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

You might be right about the "wishful thinking" behind some of that underestimation of this year's team. And of course the LVs have always had a rosterful of AAs. However, great talent doesn't always translate into immediate success on the court. Ask UK fans about their team this year, men's team, that is. We can say now that some of their players may have been overrated, but you were basing your argument on how the LV players were rated coming in. There are always considerations about team chemistry and how individual players will hold up under stress. There was also valid concern about Holly's ability to follow the Living Legend. There have been LV teams in the past that were just as loaded with top-drawer talent that didn't play with nearly as much heart and cohesion as this team does. So, again, while anybody who just looked at the available talent could have expected them to be a good team EVENTUALLY, there were enough question marks going in to give some basis for any "wishful thinking" that might have been going on.

Personally, I think the fact that highly ranked Lady Vol recruits over the past 5 years have not developed, individually or teamwise, and that the Lady Vols had become so predictable in their approach to the game, led coaches and writers to expect more of the same with Holly. While she didn't change everything that had become ineffectual for the team (note the obligatory ill-advised bounce pass into the center on the first Lady Vol possession of the game...a play no doubt Coach Blair advised his team was going to happen), Holly has gradually made major changes to the approach, and to the handling of players. And these appear to have had no negative consequences. She deserves a lot of credit for how she's handled the transition.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features