On the final day of a week honoring Pat Summitt, Tennessee paid tribute to its former coach by continuing a tradition she had started: beating Alabama.
Bashaara Graves had 21 points and eight rebounds as one of five Tennessee players to score in double figures Sunday as the ninth-ranked Lady Vols trounced Alabama 96-69 for their 39th consecutive victory over the Crimson Tide.
"They wanted to play this in honor of Pat," said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, who played for Summitt and worked as an assistant on her staff for 27 seasons. "Hopefully Pat saw what she has built this program on, and that's hard work with a foundation of defense and rebounding."
Alabama hasn't beaten the Lady Vols since an 85-66 victory in the 1984 SEC tournament. Tennessee leads the all-time series 46-2 and has never lost to the Tide during the regular season.
Most of those Tennessee wins over Alabama came when Summitt was coaching the Lady Vols. Sunday marked the last day of the SEC's "We Back Pat" week to support former Summitt's foundation and its fight against Alzheimer's disease. During the game, Summitt received checks totaling $32,145 toward her foundation from Sam's Club, the SEC women's basketball officials and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Warlick and each of her assistants wore orange "We Back Pat" T-shirts under their blazers for the game. Before the game, Tennessee's coaches and players crossed the width of the court to hug Summitt, who was seated in the front row at midcourt. The team watched videos honoring Summitt before taking the floor.
Summitt, 60, stepped down as Tennessee's coach in April after winning 1,098 games and eight national titles in 38 seasons. She was diagnosed in 2011 with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Summitt remains on staff as head coach emeritus, attends just about every practice and watches each home game from the stands.
"It was really emotional for all of us, to have a coach who's made such an impact on everybody's lives, including ours," Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons said. "It was a really emotional time, just to give her a hug, to feel her and to let her know, `Coach, I appreciate you. We love you.' It was one of those things. She just told every single one of us, `Let's go. Let's get ready.' We were able to refocus very well after that."
Simmons scored 16 points as the Lady Vols (15-3, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) earned their eighth straight win overall. Isabelle Harrison, Jasmine Jones and Taber Spani each added 14 points.
Daisha Simmons scored 19 points, Kaneisha Horn added 14 points and Shafontaye Myers had 12 points for Alabama (11-7, 1-4). Horn also had 10 rebounds.
"I think Holly's done a great job stepping into her role, especially stepping into Pat's footsteps," Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said. "She's done a great job and has them playing at a very high level."
Tennessee's 39-game winning streak over Alabama is tied for the second-longest active streak in any conference rivalry. Stanford has beaten Pac-12 rival Washington State 53 straight times. UCSB has 39 straight wins over Cal State Fullerton in the Big West.
Alabama's lack of success in this series didn't bother the Crimson Tide in the early going. The Tide capitalized on Daisha Simmons' hot shooting and Tennessee's turnover problems to pull ahead early. Simmons scored 12 points in the first seven minutes of the game.
Tennessee took the lead for good at 20-18 on Harrison's layup with 10:20 left in the first half, but the Crimson Tide didn't go away immediately. Alabama was within five points until the Lady Vols closed the half on a 14-5 run to take a 49-35 lead into the intermission.
Alabama just couldn't slow down Tennessee.
The Lady Vols shot 62.9 percent (22 of 35) in the first half. Harrison and Graves, who had shot a combined 3 of 15 Thursday in a 75-66 victory at Auburn, teamed up to shoot 10 of 10 and score 23 points in the first half.
"We just couldn't get our shots off (against Auburn) and it was just horrible for us," Graves said. "We wanted to come out the Alabama game and make up for that game. I think we did that."
Graves and Harrison stayed hot in the second half as Tennessee put the game out of reach. Graves ended up shooting 9 of 11, while Harrison was 4 of 7 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Tennessee's inside strength made up for the fact it shot just 1 of 11 from 3-point range.
"It was a big factor," Horn said. "They're really long. They were able to get some rebounds and putbacks. They were pretty good players. I respect them."
Tennessee opened the second half on a 15-5 run and never looked back. After that 15-5 spurt, the Lady Vols led by at least 20 points the rest of the way.
Alabama has given up over 90 points in three of its last five games. The Tide fell 91-52 at Texas A&M on Jan. 3 and 95-83 to Georgia on Jan. 10. And they had no answers Sunday for a red-hot Tennessee team motivated to honor its former coach.
"We just wanted to make sure we represented UT and Pat in the fashion that we needed to," Warlick said.
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