This wasn't supposed to go like this. Well, I mean, sure, it was; Tennessee was the rightful favorite, and although Nikki Caldwell has done a fantastic job with this LSU squad, at the end of the day it wasn't quite enough. Part of the reason it wasn't quite enough was due to an accidental Glory Johnson knee to LaSondra Barrett's face with 14 minutes to go in the second half; following that unfortunate injury, Tennessee went on a 7-0 run, which provided just enough separation to hold through to the final whistle.
Still, what a game on both ends. Remember the things John Calipari was saying about Tennessee's men's team after the first Kentucky game and where they are now? The same applies to LSU's team, who I have nothing but respect for. Losing Destini Hughes in Knoxville, losing Barrett tonight, and not losing focus or drive until the game was over. The game ended with Theresa Plaisance and Glory Johnson in a loose ball fight on LSU's side of the court, which is as appropriate a symbol of the game as you'd care to imagine. LSU never gave up; they're going to be back, and they're going to be good.
But this isn't about LSU, is it? Not when there's hardware to talk about. This is Pat Summitt's 16th SEC Tournament Championship, her 1,095th win (yeah, you can do the math to see if she can top 1,100 this year), and one of the more difficult trophies we've seen in a while. She will once again lead a team that's no worse than a 3 seed into the NCAA Tournament.
This senior class, though. For all the discussion about if they're good enough and if they're strong enough, they're certainly talented enough and they're certainly resilient enough. The South Carolina game was applying the gas; this game was against a team who refused to go away. Both wins were huge for the Lady Vols' confidence, both wins mean more because of the time of year we're in, and both wins serve as a jumping-off point to the one venue this senior class hasn't broken through yet: the NCAA tournament.
A bit of a digression: like more than a few people, I grew up basically expecting the Lady Vols to be good and to win, always. The 2008-09 season - which was the freshman year for much of this class - was surprising to me because they weren't winning always, or even frequently. That team - not 1997, or 1998, or 2007, or 2008 - is why I started following the Lady Vols. This season was the hardest season this class has gone through; they didn't have the weight of expectations in 2008-09, 09-10 was a growing season, in 10-11 we all knew they had one more chance, but this season, with the distractions and upheaval and the giant targets on their back - and yes, getting smoked by three separate #1 seeds, you can't ignore that - it means more. They needed this, a trophy, a championship they could all point to and go "hey, we did this!". That matters. To say that I'm happy for them is an understatement. Faced with expectations, they came through. Who expected us to say that back in February?
And yes, it's Glory Johnson's world and we should consider ourselves lucky she chooses to let us stay. For all Shekinna Stricklen's first half struggles, this team relied on Glory to carry them through, and once again, she did. 20 points, 11 boards, 1 three (yeah, what?), 87 fouls drawn against her, and - always - reliable production. That doesn't preclude Stricklen, who delivered the final blows to LSU and did the one thing you want to see struggling shooters do: get to the line. 16 points on the night, but 5-13 from the floor and 1-5 from beyond the arc. How'd she get 16? 5-5 from the line, and that one three turned it into a nine-point game with 57 seconds left. That doesn't preclude Vicki Baugh, who's been dangerous as the second option on the interior; tonight she added 10 points and 7 boards (which goes well with her 8-10 against South Carolina and 6-8 against Vanderbilt). That doesn't preclude Alicia Manning, who was all energy and adding a handful of boards to go with the energy. That doesn't preclude Briana Bass, left at the end of the bench for the better part of the last two seasons, only to start every game in the SEC Tournament and stabilize ball distribution. Those five players were on the court when the game ended, and that's how it should've been.
Glory Johnson was named the SEC Tournament MVP; Stricklen and Glory were both named to the all-SEC Tournament team. We wouldn't have it any other way, would we? She gets the breadsticks, and good luck stopping her from taking them if you didn't want to give them to her. It might've taken four months and some painful learning, but we have a team. A real, honest team that's playing their best basketball when the game matter most. What else do you want?
Well, other than Denver. I want that, too. So do they. And you know what? They just might do it after all.
Game notes after the jump.
- Your clubhouse leader for strange stat line of the night: Ariel Massengale, who scored 9 points on 0 shots. Yeah, she went 9-10 from the line with 6 assists.
- I can't get over how much this game felt like a heavyweight bout; LSU knew what the Lady Vols were going to do, knew how to counter it, and it cut both ways. Great tactical battle, and after the Arkansas coaching clinic, wasn't it nice to see Tennessee respond?
- I would love watching Theresa Plaisance; her game is straight of the Wayne Chism playbook. 6'5", 13 points on 4/8 from the floor - oh, and 2/4 from beyond the arc. Four boards, and yes, even she ended up in foul trouble (thanks, Glory!).
- Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm really hoping Barrett can recover. All's fair in the game, but this LSU team is too good to suffer Barrett going down. They'll fight - with Nikki Caldwell at the helm, they will definitely do that - but for a team that should at least challenge for the Sweet 16, losing their other senior leader might be too much.
- The remainder of the all-SEC tourney team: A'Dia Mathies and Keyla Snowden from Kentucky; Barrett and Adrienne Webb from LSU. (Webb had 16 points in the loss.)