There was nothing but smiles on the faces of five Tennessee Lady Vol seniors after defeating the Florida Gators 75-59 on Senior Day in their final home, regular season game inside a packed house at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The victory over the Gators for the No. 10 Lady Vols tasted a little like revenge, considering an unranked Florida team spoiled Tennessee’s Senior Day back in 2006 when they knocked off the fifth-ranked Lady Vols 95-93 in OT.
“It was a great crowd, a terrific crowd today, and a wonderful way to send our seniors out in style with a big win over a tough Florida team,” Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt said after the game (via UTLadyVols.com).
For the first time this season, 38-year head coach Pat Summitt placed all five seniors in the starting lineup—Briana Bass (PG), Vicki Baugh (C), Glory Johnson (F), Alica Manning (F) and Shekinna Stricklen (G). It also marked the eighth different starting lineup the Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4) have used this season.
"Right now they’re (seniors) our starting five unless it proves something different in practice the next couple of days," Lady Vols assistant head coach Holly Warlick said. "I’m excited for them. I’m not going to say it’s deadest, but it was a great group to start the game."
The seniors paced the way to victory by combining for 47 of the team's 75 points and there was only one point in the game that the Lady Vols trailed—after the Gators (18-11, 8-8) opened the game with a three-point basket.
"All five of our seniors came ready to play and got off to a good start," Summitt said. "That was really important for this team. I know they were excited and a little anxious but I liked the way they got us going after they settled down."
Johnson and Manning combined for 12 of the team's first 17 points and Manning’s 16-foot jumper put Tennessee up 17-8 with 11:30 left in the first half.
The Lady Vols never looked back from there, outscoring the Gators 58-51 the rest of the way.
The two finished with considerably their best stat lines of the year, despite missing their season-high points total by one, as Johnson finished with 21 points (8-of-17 FG) and a team-high 10 rebounds while Manning ended up with 11 points (5-of-9 FG), eight rebounds and a season high six assists.
Stricklen, a first team All-American, finished her final home game with 15 points.
The double-double for Johnson marked the 32nd time in her career that she has done so.
"When Glory went to work today she gave her teammates so much confidence," said Summitt. Obviously, she is a difference maker for our team. Glory is a handful when you are battling her on the boards."
With one minute left in the game and the Lady Vols leading comfortably 72-57, Summitt replaced the remaining seniors on the court, including Johnson, Manning and Stricklen, which drew tremendous applause from the 18,000-plus in the crowd.
"It feels good," Lady Vol senior forward Alicia Manning said of playing in her last game at home. "It gets emotional. I’m going to miss playing with everybody here and having the fan support that we here unlike any program in the country."
The question on whether or not Summitt has coached her last home game as the head coach of the Lady Vols remains.
"We don’t know anything about that," senior forward Glory Johnson said on whether or not Coach Summitt has coached her last home game ever. "If she was going to do that, she would’ve let us know. She was just really happy to be there, and we were happy to have her there. Until she says when, we’re going to keep on being happy."
While the Lady Vols didn’t achieve their goal of winning the regular season SEC title—finishing second behind Kentucky—they will set their sights on trying to win the SEC Tournament and making a deep run into the NCAA Tournament in March.
“It’s a new season,” Warlick said. “You’ve got the SEC tournament, you’ve got the NCAA tournament, and it’s a new season"
The five Lady Vol seniors will determine a great amount of what happens the rest of the way for the team.