Published February 25, 2010
On Thursday night, the Lady Vols showed their demanding coach just how far they've come since that lowly day.
Fourth-ranked Tennessee celebrated another Southeastern Conference championship in that same locker room after an 81-65 win over No. 16 Kentucky.
"We went crazy in the locker room," said Tennessee sophomore Shekinna Stricklen, who was one of five Lady Vols in double figures.
The victory gave Tennessee its 15th SEC regular season title and first since 2007, when they won the school's seventh national championship.
"I think they understand what it takes now," Summitt said. "I think this game meant a lot to our team. They wanted to win something, something very important."
Tennessee (26-2, 13-1) used several runs to pull away in the first half and stayed firmly in control in the second half thanks to consistent play inside and near-perfect free throw shooting (25 for 27).
Kelley Cain, who was coming off a school record 12-block performance against LSU on Monday, led the Lady Vols with 14 points and seven blocks, even though she sat out the final 16:46 of the first half after picking up her second foul.
She scored 11 of her points, pulled down all six of her rebounds, and had all but one of her blocks in the second half.
Victoria Dunlap scored 22 points for Kentucky (23-5, 11-4). But the fourth-leading scorer in the SEC shot just 6 of 19 from the field.
Trailing from the opening minutes, the Wildcats managed to get within 23-16 on a layup by Amani Franklin, but the Lady Vols followed that with a 14-0 run that included consecutive 3-pointers from Angie Bjorklund.
"I watched a lot of film on them, and I think tonight they showed you another gear that they had," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Alyssia Brewer added 10 points, as Tennessee outscored Kentucky 36-26 in the paint.
"We're excited we finally won something," Bjorklund said. "We're all pretty excited after this game. That was our focus. If we take this team out, then we win SEC. That's our first goal, and we accomplished it."
The Wildcats did not have the size to match up against a Tennessee team with all five starters at 6-foot or taller.
"Sometimes it's tough to handle big people when you don't have somebody on your bench that has the same kind of body that they have, but that's not the mentality you have to take," Dunlap said. "If they're bigger or smaller, you just have to play hard the whole time and not worry about it."
Tennessee now has 29 blocks in its past two games.
"I think if teams watch film, they have to take that into account," Bjorklund said. "This team, they're tall, they get a lot of blocks inside, and that helps us keep people out of the middle."
But the Lady Vols got balanced scoring from their backcourt as well, with Bjorklund and Stricklen each adding 12 points.
"Obviously some nights guard play is going to be more open than post game," Summitt said. "I think having balance is important, but at the same time, you have to take what good looks you have."