Florida women lose 75-59 at No. 10 Tennessee

BETH RUCKER AP Sports Writer Published:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Florida had started slow plenty of times this season. The Gators quickly learned that's a bad idea when you're playing at Tennessee.

The Lady Vols jumped out to a 15-3 lead, and Florida never recovered on the way to a 75-59 loss in Knoxville on Sunday.

"We knew that they were going to come out intense, fiery," guard Jordan Jones said. "That's on us that we didn't answer like we have all season long. Honestly, we start slow a lot and normally we're able to bounce but against a great team like Tennessee and on their home court, it is not possible to do."

Florida entered the game having won five of its last seven, but hardly threatened Tennessee.

The Gators hit the first shot of the game, a 3-pointer from Jones. The Lady Vols answered with a 15-0 run behind their five seniors, who each started the game, and they never relinquished the lead.

Florida hit some layups and a pair of 3s that cut Tennessee's lead to 17-13 with 9:59 in the first half, but the Gators wouldn't get any closer than four points for the rest of the game. The Lady Vols led by 35-25 at halftime and led by at least eight throughout the second half.

Tennessee gave Florida opportunities to get back in the game with 19 turnovers, many of them unforced. The Gators couldn't capitalize with 37.9 percent shooting and 20 turnovers of their own.

"We were beat by a very good team," Florida coach Amanda Butler said. "I felt like we were outplayed in a lot of ways, and that was disappointing. Again, it is a great team on their home floor on a very emotional night, and you have to give them credit for the tone they set from the beginning."

Lily Svete scored 12 for Florida. Jennifer George added 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Lanita Bartley scored 11 points. Florida earned the SEC tournament's eight seed and will face Auburn on Thursday.

Glory Johnson led Tennessee with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Shekinna Stricklen added 15 points, Meighan Simmons had 12 and Alicia Manning scored 11.

The Lady Vols finished the Southeastern Conference regular season in second place. They'll face the winner of Vanderbilt-Mississippi State in the quarterfinals on Friday.

"We've got to be on every day," coach Pat Summitt said during her postgame radio show. "We'll have some time to prepare, but it goes fast and we'll just really have to have the focus and the toughness."

Sunday's game attracted 18,563 fans, the largest crowd to fill Thompson-Boling Arena all season. It was the final home game for the Lady Vols, who have lost the most games ever on the court named after Summitt.

The Hall of Famer revealed in August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She has only said she hopes to continue coaching as long as possible. She has spoken very little about her condition this season, instead urging others to focus on basketball instead of her.

"We don't know anything about that," Johnson said about if it might be Summitt's last game. "If she was going to do that, she would have let us know. She was just really happy to be there, and we were happy to have her there."

The Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4) have struggled this season at times, losing at home to South Carolina and Arkansas for the first time ever. They narrowly avoided tying their regular-season loss record of nine, set during the 1996-97 season and tied by the 2008-09 squad.

Johnson, Stricklen, Manning and the rest of Tennessee's seniors are on a mission to at least reach the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament this season to avoid becoming the first Lady Vols class never to reach a Final Four.

"It's a new season," Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "You've got the SEC tournament, you've got the NCAA tournament, and it's a new season."