Lady Vols go forward, back, then forward again
Posted: Wednesday, December 14, 2011 7:02 pm
By DOUG FEINBERG
AP Basketball Writer
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Meighan Simmons and Tennessee had been struggling in the second half against Rutgers.
The sixth-ranked Lady Vols lost all of a 13-point lead and found themselves down by three before taking control with a late run to seal their 67-61 victory over the 11th-ranked Scarlet Knights. Simmons hit two clutch 3-pointers during the game-changing spurt.
“It was a great win for us, great win against a very good, well-coached team,” Tennessee associate coach Holly Warlick said. “I thought when we needed to we made the big play.”
Trailing 54-51 with 8:33 left, Tennessee (6-2) scored 13 straight points, holding Rutgers without a point for nearly eight minutes. Vicki Baugh started the burst with a layup and Simmons hit consecutive 3-pointers to give the Lady Vols a 61-54 lead. Taber Spani hit another three with 1:52 left to seal the victory.
“I feel like there’s a time and place for everything,” said Simmons, who missed eight of her first 10 attempts. “At that time it was a moment where we hadn’t scored in four or five minutes, I was open and happened to take the shot, thank God it went in.”
The game featured two Hall of Fame coaches with Pat Summitt and C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers. The long-time friends have combined for nearly 1,950 victories during their illustrious careers. They stand first and third on the women’s basketball all-time victory list.
Summitt received a warm standing ovation from the crowd before the game and shared a long embrace with Stringer. Rutgers players wore warmup shirts that said “We Back Pat” in honor of Summitt’s battle with Alzeheimer’s. The school also presented Tennessee with a collage of Stringer’s favorite photos with Summitt and a commemorative jersey at the half.
“I saw them with the shirts ‘We back Pat’ and the crowd got loud when she walked out, people respect Pat and people back her and care about her,” said Shekinna Stricklen, who led Tennessee with 22 points. “It’s a great feeling for us to be playing for Pat.”
Stringer hasn’t had much success against Summitt in her career, winning only twice in 17 meetings, including losing the last eight games. There have been some memorable games lately in this series, starting with the NCAA title game in 2007 which Tennessee won. The teams met the next year in Knoxville and the game ended in controversy with a last-second clock issue.
The last time the teams played at Rutgers, in 2009, the Scarlet Knights blew a 20-point halftime lead.
“It’s been intense,” Summitt said of the rivalry after her team’s practice Saturday. “Both teams are going to be very focused.”
After the game, Summitt walked over to the end line and said a few words to former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed making a tackle on a kickoff return against Army in October 2010.
April Sykes scored a season-high 27 points to lead Rutgers (9-2), which was looking for its first win over Tennessee since 2004.
It was the Scarlet Knights second loss to a Top 10 team this season.
Published in The Messenger 12.14.11