By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell has high expectations for her Tiger team. She learned that from Pat Summitt, the person leading the opposing team across the court on Sunday.
Caldwell has been in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament many times as a player and assistant coach. In fact, she has reached that title game in nine of her 12 appearances in the league tournament.
But to do so in her first season at LSU is an impressive feat. After a slide in late January where the Tigers lost five consecutive conference games, an opportunity to vie for the league’s tournament title seemed unlikely.
LSU exploded in February, winning eight of its previous nine games heading into Sunday’s championship game, which the Tigers lost 70-58. Caldwell says it has been a single-minded focus on each game that has helped LSU on its latest victory spree.
“This team has really been focused on one game at a time,” Caldwell said. “I think that’s why we’ve been able to string along back-to-back-to-back wins. As soon as we win, we leave it and move on to the next opponent. That’s been their mentality. This team, going into a tournament, they have every belief in each other that they can win it all.”
Despite that fact and an impressive SEC semifinal victory against Kentucky, the league’s regular-season champion and the tournament’s top seed, Caldwell knew few gave her team a chance to win Sunday’s matchup. While Caldwell’s squad entered the game with every intention of winning, the head coach is pleased with her team’s showing at the annual event.
“I thought this team played under the radar because a lot of people didn’t expect us to be in this championship game,” Caldwell said. “But they laid it on the line. You can’t ask for anything more from your student-athletes, to be gracious and humble for the opportunity, and to go out there and perform to the maximum of their ability. They did that; that’s why I’m extremely proud of this team, for the body of work that they’ve accomplished, not only these last six or seven games, but the whole season.”
Johnson In Elite “Board” Company
Tennessee senior Glory Johnson finished with a game-high 11 rebounds in her team’s SEC Tournament Championship victory on Sunday. For Johnson, who also finished with a game-high 20 points, it marked the 35th double-double of her Tennessee career.
She currently ranks second all-time in program history with 1,164 rebounds and needs 132 more boards to catch the program’s leader Chamique Holdsclaw, who pulled down 1,295 in her storied career.
Her performance on Sunday sparked a big rebounding edge for the Lady Vols, who won the battle of the boards 39-23.
“Coach always emphasizes crashing the boards on the offensive and defensive ends,” Johnson said. “LSU does a great job of crashing the boards and their defense is amazing. We just tried to keep up with them, making sure if they’re going to play good defense, we’re going to play good defense. If they’re going to crash the boards, we’re going to crash. That was our mentality.”
Update on Barrett
Senior LSU forward LaSondra Barrett was injured at the 14:18 mark in the second half of Sunday’s championship game and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.
In a statement that LSU spokesman Bill Martin issued on Sunday evening via Twitter, Barrett was taken to the Vanderbilt Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a concussion and had a CT scan pending. Martin stated that Barrett had fully resumed her feeling and range of motion.
Barrett got tangled up with a few Tennessee players and collided with the knee of Tennessee’s Glory Johnson.
“I think she caught my knee; she was laying down,” Johnson said. “I think she missed a layup when Vicki [Baugh] blocked it. Right when she was getting up, I tried to run past and Alicia Manning slid this way and I slid that way. I think she caught the outside of my knee. She’s a great player. I grew up playing with her. I think she’ll be alright, but we’ll keep praying for her.”
Martin tweeted later Sunday evening that Barrett had been cleared to fly back to Baton Rouge with the team.
Summitt Closing In On Next Milestone
Pat Summitt, in her 38th season as Tennessee’s head coach and the winningest coach in college basketball history, has moved closer to her next historic win milestone.
Summitt now has 1,095 career victories and needs just five more wins to reach 1,100 for her career.
For Summitt, Sunday marked the 16th SEC Tournament crown of her career and it was the third consecutive year in which Tennessee has captured the SEC Tournament title.