Massengale helps No. 6 Lady Vols breeze past Vandy 79-49
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee closed the regular season with a couple of pleasant surprises.
First came a cameo appearance from injured center Isabelle Harrison, who received a standing ovation Sunday when she took the floor for the final 4.5 seconds of a 79-49 win over Vanderbilt. Then came the news that the sixth-ranked Lady Vols had earned a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.
No. 13 Kentucky's 67-56 triumph over No. 2 South Carolina allowed Tennessee (25-4, 15-1) to tie the Gamecocks for the league championship. That represents the 18th time that the Lady Vols have won at least a share of the SEC regular-season crown.
''It's awesome,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''These players, they deserve it. It's all credit to them and how hard they've worked.''
Because it beat Tennessee 71-66 on Monday in their lone regular-season meeting, South Carolina will be the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament that starts Wednesday in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Tennessee enters the postseason with plenty of belief it can make a deep run even without Harrison, who was leading the Lady Vols in scoring and rebounding when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament on Feb. 15. That confidence was apparent after Sunday's game when senior forward Cierra Burdick spoke to a festive Thompson-Boling Arena crowd.
''I promise we are not done,'' said Burdick, who had 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds. ''We are going to get to (the Final Four in) Tampa.''
It was the last regular-season home game for Burdick, Harrison and Ariel Massengale, who each received a framed jersey and a bouquet of orange roses before the game. They're the final three Lady Vols to play for former coach Pat Summitt, who stepped down after the 2011-12 season.
With Summitt watching from the stands, Massengale scored 26 points and tied Meighan Simmons' school single-game record with eight 3-pointers. Massengale went 8 of 11 from 3-point range to help Tennessee shoot 12 of 22 from beyond the arc.
''I texted (Summitt) yesterday afternoon just to make sure she was coming to the game, knowing we'd really love to see her and we're the last class that played for her,'' Massengale said. ''It's kind of special. Having her here tonight, seeing her and being able to give her a hug - I went and gave her a hug and she told me she loved me - it means a lot and it's something I'll cherish forever.''
Jaime Nared added 13 points and Andraya Carter had 12 points for Tennessee. Paris Kea scored a career-high 18 points and Marqu'es Webb had 10 for Vanderbilt (14-15, 5-11).
Vanderbilt, which is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999, shot 1 of 11 from 3-point range and committed 25 turnovers to lose its third straight. The Commodores are 0-30 against the Lady Vols in Knoxville.
''We couldn't get our shooters open, not that we have a lot of shooters right now,'' Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcolmb said. ''The shooters that we have, we couldn't get them good looks.''
The one-sided nature of the game allowed the Lady Vols to put Harrison on the court for the closing seconds. Harrison was ruled out for the season after tearing her ACL, but the all-SEC center at least got a chance to participate in her final regular-season game as a Lady Vol. The ball was in her hands as the final horn sounded.
''I just thought it would nice for Izzy to hear the crowd one last time for her at home,'' Warlick said.
Vanderbilt: Webb continued her recent accuracy by shooting 5 of 7 before fouling out. The 6-foot-1 forward has shot 67.7 percent (21 of 31) over her last five games and is shooting 59.3 percent (67 of 113) this season.
Tennessee: Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick was wearing an orange cast on her right wrist. Warlick broke a bone in her wrist Wednesday while slipping on the ice at Tennessee's campus.
''I'd rather have to share (the title) than not have it at all,'' Burdick said just before Kentucky had completed its victory over South Carolina. ''We're pulling for the Kentucky Wildcats right now, and I never thought those words would be coming out of my mouth.''
Vanderbilt is the No. 11 seed in the SEC tournament and plays No. 14 seed Alabama on Wednesday in Little Rock.
Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament and plays either No. 7 seed Missouri or No. 10 seed Georgia in a quarterfinal Friday in Little Rock.