Kentucky edged by Tennessee, 71-70, in SEC final

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm •  Published: March 9, 2014
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DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — Kentucky's fourth SEC tournament championship appearance in the last five years produced its fourth loss.

What was missing? Just one point, according to Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell.

Meighan Simmons scored 17 points, including two go-ahead free throws with 1:45 remaining, and No. 6 Tennessee edged 12th-ranked Kentucky 71-70 on Sunday to win its 17th SEC tournament title.

Kentucky (24-8) has become a consistent championship contender in the SEC, but it still hasn't won the tournament since 1982.

"I don't know that anything was missing today other than they came up one point better than us," Mitchell said when asked what it would take to get the Wildcats over the hump.

"I can't tell you how much respect I have for this tournament. It's real special to all of us at Kentucky. Our players wanted to win it bad. I don't know what was missing. Didn't look like a lot. We just came up one point short today."

DeNesha Stallworth, who led the Wildcats with 21 points, said the loss would motivate the team in the NCAA tournament.

"Definitely it's a motivation," Stallworth said. "Like coach said, it was a great day for us to come together. Regardless of what happened on the court, we stuck together. That's just the most important thing.

"Just going to the NCAA tournament, everybody is focused. We just have to focus on the task at hand, and that's going to the Final Four."

The Wildcats trailed by four before Jennifer O'Neill sank three free throws with 0.7 seconds remaining to cut Tennessee's lead to one point. Mitchell said the plan was for O'Neill to miss the third free throw with the hopes Kentucky would grab the offensive rebound and have a chance to tie the game.

"Like I told Jenn, we don't practice missing enough," Mitchell said.

Kentucky opened strong, taking an 18-8 lead. Linnae Harper, who had 12 points, scored nine of the Wildcats' 11 points in a 12-2 run that built the 10-point lead.

Tennessee didn't panic. The Lady Vols rallied from double-digit deficits in each of their three tournament wins.

The Lady Vols (27-5) have won seven straight, including a win over No. 5 South Carolina to close the regular season.