Senior Days are always fun affairs, with the seniors getting the green light they always kind of wanted throughout their career. Ariel Massengale and Cierra Burdick took full advantage of the "go", leading the Lady Vols one last time to a win over in-state rival Vanderbilt and giving their fans plenty to cheer about, and plenty to hope for. A cathartic boatracing of a 79-49 win was the kind of win everybody wanted to see one last time from the three seniors, and they did not disappoint.
For a game that wraps up a regular-season career, there are a lot of "almosts" to note. Ariel Massengale finished one assist shy of 500 for her career (which would make her the third Lady Vol to get 1,000 points and 500 assists). Burdick finished 5 points shy of 1,000 herself. Massengale tied Meighan Simmons for the most threes in a single game by a Lady Vol (eight) and had the crowd praying she'd jack one more up and set a record. Tennessee even finished as regular season co-champions, for which we all thank Kentucky very much for doing the dirty work today in a 67-56 win over South Carolina (more in a bit).
And in the most applauded and touching moment of the game, Holly Warlick put Isabelle Harrison in the game for the final 4 seconds. While Vanderbilt took their final free throws, Izzy hung out at halfcourt to take the applause of the fans one final time. After a rebound, Andraya Carter sped over to Harrison to let her hold the ball until the clock ran out (to the horror and delight of everybody in attendance). She ends her career in the most unusual of fashions - a member of Club Trillion receiving a standing ovation.
(We should also note that the Vanderbilt fans at the game applauded Tennessee's seniors during opening ceremonies and when they checked out. It was a classy moment.)
Looking forward, Tennessee is the second seed in the SEC tournament and will wait until Friday to play, waiting the Georgia/Missouri winner. Barring the turnovers today, if Tennessee plays as well as they did on Senior Night, they're looking at a rematch with South Carolina in the SEC championship game and a chance to improve their NCAA tournament seeding.
About the NCAA tournament. Of note:
- Baylor lost two in a row to Oklahoma and Iowa State, playing themselves out of a potential 1 seed and putting Tennessee in the driver's seat to headline a bracket.
- Maryland is Tennessee's only real competition for a 1 seed now. With two losses, they could still get the committee's nod, but their nonconference schedule and a weakened Big Ten leaves them with a thin resume.
- South Carolina's loss gives Tennessee the chance to skip them to the third 1 seed if UT wins the SEC tournament. Kentucky's win not only gave the Gamecocks an SEC loss and gave Tennessee a share of the regular season title, it showed everybody (along with the UConn loss) how to beat USC: sag off the three, pack in the paint, and keep Mitchell uncomfortable. Not many teams can follow the script, but enough can to make them nervous.
- As noted by Mickey Dearstone, Holly Warlick has won at least a share of an SEC title (regular season or conference tournament) every year she's been a head coach. After following a legend like Pat Summitt, that's an accomplishment worth acknowledging. Kudos to her and to all the Lady Vols for keeping on top of the SEC.
- Tennessee likely splits 1/2 with Maryland in Oklahoma City (where UT is likely the 1 and Maryland the 2, but either works). This would make a great rematch from last year, and it avoids having to run through UConn or Notre Dame to make the Final Four.
- If UT jumps Carolina for the 3rd 1 seed, they'd likely get Baylor, which is also very much fun (for reasons that won't get written here: it's Senior Night, and the focus belongs elsewhere).
So the careers of three seniors draw to a near-close. They'll get two more games in Knoxville in the NCAA opening weekend, at which point Massengale and Burdick will have passed some big round numbers in the record books.
We'll have more up as the SEC tournament approaches.