The Tennessee Lady Volunteers (22-5, 14-1 SEC) defeated the Texas A&M Aggies (21-8, 11-4) 82-72 on Thursday to win their 17th SEC regular-season championship.
While the Lady Vols are no strangers to winning SEC titles, this year was the first for head coach Holly Warlick, who became only the second coach in SEC history to win a regular-season conference championship in his or her first year, and many other Lady Vol players.
"It was a little bit of a feeling of disbelief, I guess I didn't know how to act because I've never done that before," Warlick said. "I'm obviously extremely excited for this program and our players. It's just a great opportunity to make sure we carry on the tradition that coach Summitt has done and so it's a little surreal for me right now."
Winning the SEC regular season title certainly made the night a special one, but for seniors Taber Spani and Kamiko Williams, clinching the conference on Senior Night put the icing on the cake. The emotion of the night, however, didn't seem to get to either of the girls.
"We most definitely shut it out," Williams said. "We talked about it in shootaround before and we just wanted to stay focused and get this win and get this championship for them, and of course for us being seniors, so we just shut it out."
Williams and Spani not only won their second SEC regular-season crown but they were also an important part of the win, with Williams' career-high 18 points to go along with seven rebounds. Spani contributed eight points of her own.
"When it's Senior Night you have a lot of pressure on you, your family is here and you are expected to perform and I though those two performed at the highest level," Warlick said. "I can't say enough about those two. Those two are special, they are special young women and I'm extremely proud of our team and our staff to get an SEC championship."
"I wish my senior year could of been like that at the end but I flunked out after my freshman year in baseball so I never got to have a senior year," Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said jokingly about Williams.
The Lady Vols were led by sophomore forward Cierra Burdick, who had 15 points and 14 rebounds, nine of which were offensive boards that coach Warlick thought were key for the team tonight.
"She was awesome," Warlick said. "I thought she came up with key offensive rebounds and then down the stretch she hit those two jumpers at the free throw line. I thought she was key tonight."
For a team that was picked to be fifth in the conference by coaches, winning the championship seems to be a bit more satisfying this time around because of the hard work they put in.
"They didn't like being picked fifth," Warlick said. "They had a little chip on their shoulder and they went to work. I think this is the one team that has been the most focused, has the hardest working team in practice that we have had here in a very long time, so when you do those things you get great results and it's been a huge team effort."
The night didn't go perfectly for the Lady Vols, however, as sophomore guard Ariel Massengale and sophomore forward Isabelle Harrison went down with right knee injuries and didn't return. Coach Warlick was proud of how her team fought through the adversity in the game and all season long.
"We won but we lost almost half our team," Warlick said. "It's just what we've been battling and dealing with all year. Our team was pretty upset, especially after Izzy went out, to have two of our players go down. Some of them were crying and upset, but they held on and that's the resiliency of this team. They've been hit and they've been knocked down but they keep getting back up and it's amazing how they have performed under the circumstances that they have all year."
The Lady Vols will play their last game of the regular season against the Kentucky Wildcats on March 3 in Lexington, Ky.