KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Kamiko Williams scored a career-high 18 points in the final regular-season home game of her career Thursday and No. 8 Tennessee defeated No. 13 Texas A&M 82-72 to clinch its 17th Southeastern Conference regular-season title outright.
Tennessee (23-5, 14-1 SEC) already had wrapped up a share of its 17th SEC regular-season crown Sunday, but this victory clinched sole possession of first place in the SEC and guaranteed them the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament that begins Wednesday in Duluth, Ga.
Tennessee, a perennial conference favorite, wasn’t expected to win the SEC title this season in the first year of the post-Pat Summitt era.
Summitt, who led the Lady Vols to eight national titles and 18 Final Fours in 38 seasons, stepped down last April after announcing in 2011 that she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She remains on staff as head coach emeritus.
The Lady Vols also didn’t return a single player who started an NCAA tournament game last year in their run to a regional final.
The SEC coaches predicted Tennessee would finish fifth in the league. Tennessee was fourth in the preseason media poll, the first time the Lady Vols were picked to finish below third since that poll started in 1990-91.
Yet the Lady Vols won consistently all season by having one of the highest-scoring teams in the country. The Lady Vols relied on that formula again Thursday with a balanced attack.
Cierra Burdick added 15 points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee. Meighan Simmons scored 17 points, Bashaara Graves had 14 points and Isabelle Harrison added 10 points. Williams had seven rebounds to go along with her 18 points.
This represented the final regular-season home game for Williams and Taber Spani, who exchanged high-fives with fans in the front row of seats as the Lady Vols cut the nets to celebrate their title.
Both seniors were honored before the game with their families in a ceremony that included Spani’s brother-in-law, 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist and former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein.
Adrienne Pratcher scored 20 points, Kelsey Bone had 14 points, Courtney Williams added 13 points and Courtney Walker had 12 for Texas A&M (21-8, 11-4). The Aggies lost for the third time in their past four games.
Tennessee and Texas A&M have spent the season battling for the SEC lead with No. 10 Kentucky, so it came as no surprise that Thursday’s game went back and forth.
The first half had six ties and seven lead changes, with neither team up by more than five points.
Simmons scored seven points and stole an inbounds pass during a 9-0 run late in the first half that allowed the Lady Vols to turn a 30-25 deficit into a 34-30 advantage.
Texas A&M’s Karla Gilbert ended the spurt by making a layup with 37 seconds left, but Kamiko Williams made a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining to give Tennessee a 37-32 halftime lead.
The game stayed tight in the second half.
Tennessee built an eight-point lead at 53-45 with 12:43 left, only to watch the Aggies score five straight points over the next 37 seconds on Pratcher’s 3-pointer and Bone’s layup.
That’s when Graves went to work. Graves scored the first five points in a 7-0 run that gave the Lady Vols a 12-point lead, the first double-digit advantage by either team.
Just when it appeared Tennessee was about to take control, Pratcher brought the Aggies back.
Pratcher made two 3-pointers and a pair of jumpers to score all 10 Texas A&M points during a 10-1 run that cut Tennessee’s lead to 67-64 with 7:01 left.
Tennessee was clinging to a 76-72 lead before scoring the final six points over the last three minutes.
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