Expectations have always been high for the Tennessee women’s basketball team. They will remain high even if the winningest NCAA basketball coach in history does not return next season. Regardless, this year was one that Volunteer nation will remember for years to come.
The beginning of the 2011-2012 Lady Vols’ basketball season was like standing in line for a roller coaster ride. Many questioned if the devastating news of head coach Pat Summitt’s early onset dementia would be a hurdle in the team’s goals.
They fought through adversity to finally find success and won their third-straight SEC Championship, but it truly was a roller coaster season.
“This team has battled all year,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “I’m proud of them. I thought our team and coaching staff obviously was in a difficult situation, but I think this team was responsive.”
UT is no stranger to strong competition. Summitt has never shied away from creating a tough non-conference schedule, and this season was no different. In addition to the already tough SEC schedule, the Lady Vols were set to play top-ranked teams such as Baylor, Stanford and Notre Dame, all of which are currently in the Final Four. Although they were unable to defeat these three monsters, Tennessee made up for it by going 12-4 in the SEC.
The Lady Vols entered the SEC Tournament as the No. 2 seed and blew through the bracket, beating Vanderbilt and South Carolina with ease, and then showing their true colors with a double-digit championship win over LSU, 70-58. Glory Johnson put up a double-double and was named tournament MVP.
“Glory is as hard of a playing player that I’ve been around in 30 years,” assistant coach Dean Lockwood said of the senior forward. “Male or female, Glory Johnson plays as hard and as fiercely competitive as any player that I’ve had the honor of coaching.”
Following the SEC Championship, the Lady Vols went into the NCAA Tournament taking down UT-Martin, DePaul and Kansas before running into top-seeded and undefeated Baylor in the Elite Eight.
“The shots just weren’t falling,” senior forward Shekinna Stricklen said. “I give credit to Baylor; they were really pressuring me, face guarding me. We were rushing a little bit, but, you know, the shots just weren’t falling.”
This season Ariel Massengale led the team in assists (162), Shekinna Stricklen led in points (529) and Glory Johnson led in blocks (41), steals (49) and rebounds (355). Meighan Simmons, Vicki Baugh, Taber Spani, Cierra Burdick and Alicia Manning were also large contributors to the Lady Vols’ season record of 27-9.
With the bad losses, broken hearts and the shorter than desired run in the NCAA Tournament, the Lady Vols battled through a dramatic year and delivered the University of Tennessee a 16th SEC Championship and a season that die-hard Vols fans and long-time Summitt followers will not soon forget.
In the final postgame press conference following the Elite Eight loss to Baylor, a choked up and teary-eyed Warlick spoke.
“This team is about Pat Summitt,” Warlick said. “I wouldn’t trade anything that we did this year. Obviously, I want Pat’s health to be better. I think, like Pat, this team never gave up and never used it as a crutch for how they played or what they did this year.”