- Associated Press - Sunday, March 9, 2014

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) - Tennessee’s late-season surge has produced another Southeastern Conference tournament championship and perhaps a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

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.

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

“I think we’ve come on strong at the end of the year,” said second-year coach Holly Warlick after her first SEC tournament title.


Asked if she thought her team deserved consideration as a No. 1 NCAA seed, Warlick said “I would think so.”

Tennessee came back from double-digit deficits in each of its three SEC tournament wins. Kentucky led by 10 points in the first half and kept small leads most of the second half.

“I would really like to lead by double digits early if we could,” said Warlick, wearing a white SEC championship cap after the game.

Simmons, who struggled with her shooting from the field throughout the tournament, made the two free throws to snap a 63-63 tie. The free throws gave the Lady Vols only their second lead of the second half, and they didn’t trail again as Simmons added a layup and two more free throws in the final 22 seconds.

Isabelle Harrison had 16 points as Tennessee claimed its record 17th Southeastern Conference tournament title, including four in the last five years.

Kentucky (24-8) played in its fourth final in the last five years but still hasn’t won the tournament since 1982. DeNesha Stallworth led the Wildcats with 21 points.

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. Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said the plan was for O’Neill to miss the third free throw with the hopes Kentucky would grab the offensive rebound.

“Like I told Jenn, we don’t practice missing enough,” Mitchell said.

Following the third free throw, the Lady Vols passed the ball inbounds and launched their celebration with hugs at midcourt.

Simmons, the senior guard who ranked sixth in the SEC with her average of 16.2 points in the regular season, struggled in the Lady Vols’ first two games in the tournament, making only 8 of 36 shots from the field (22.2 percent). She made only six of 18 shots against Kentucky.

Jordan Reynolds had 11 points for Tennessee.

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