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This Week in UT Sports History: Feb. 22 – Feb. 28

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

Volunteer fans watched a moment that will go down in University of Tennessee sports history as a signature win last Thursday evening. Second-year head coach Kellie Harper’s No. 21 Lady Vols upset No. 2 South Carolina, breaking an SEC win streak of 31 games for the Gamecocks. Tennessee edged past the conference rivals in a 75-67 victory at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. Trailing by as many as 16 points in the game, the Lady Vols turned up the tempo on offense in the second half, scoring 50 points for the win.

“I’m proud of our team and proud of our second-half effort,” Harper said postgame. She also gave credit to South Carolina’s discipline in reaching the conference win streak that commenced March 8, 2019. Their streak ranks second only to Tennessee’s 36-game conference victory run from 2010-2012.

The win marked Tennessee’s first against a top five opponent since 2017, giving the team momentum to finish out the season and head to Harper’s first postseason as a Lady Vol head coach. However, Tennessee lost to No. 22 Georgia on Sunday, 57-55.

Another box score blemish for the university came on Saturday as the No. 19 men’s basketball team fell to border state rival Kentucky, 70-55, after having beaten the Wildcats, 82-71, earlier in the month. Tennessee (15-6, 8-6 SEC) looks to make some noise in the postseason, though No. 8 Alabama (18-5, 13-1 SEC) currently tops the conference standings.

On the diamonds, the 2021 Tennessee baseball and softball seasons got off to a hot start despite cold temperatures over the weekend. No. 19 Tennessee baseball opened play at Georgia Southern with a clean sweep in three games (5-3, 5-3, 7-3). Meanwhile, the No. 23 Lady Vols moved to 5-1 on the season with two wins against Southeast Missouri State University and a split series against Miami (Ohio) University. They face Ohio University in a doubleheader today at 2:00 p.m. at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville.

While these four ranked teams look to dominate this winter and spring, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at other moments this week in UT sports history:

Feb. 22, 2010

Tennessee still holds the record for conference win streak with 36 games after ending South Carolina’s hopes for a similar run in 2021. One game on that impressive run gave the Lady Vols share of the regular-season conference title. Tennessee defeated LSU, 70-61, to clinch part of the crown before winning the title outright against Kentucky just a few days later.

No. 4 Tennessee (25-2, 13-1 SEC) relied on Kelley Cain’s efforts on both ends of the court to pull out the win against LSU. Cain put up 16 points in the matchup, but her defense left the league talking. She broke former Tennessee center Ashley Robinson’s record for blocks in a single game. Cain blocked 12 shots to take the record away from Robinson, who had set it with eight against Rutgers in 2003.

Cain had opted out of a road game against Alabama, with head coach Pat Summitt’s permission, four days earlier. Summitt privileged academics over all else with a 100% graduation rate during her tenure. When Cain asked to skip the game to focus on a class that she had missed because of other road trips, Summitt approved.

Refocusing on basketball, Cain made her presence known.

“She’s a force,” teammate Alyssia Brewer, who led the team with 18 points, said postgame. “It’s like [LSU’s] guards ran into a force field and got rejected.”

Cain’s 82-inch wingspan gave her an advantage against the Lady Tigers. Tennessee retained a size advantage overall, which LSU player Katherine Graham noted after her team’s loss. Calling the Lady Vols “big, athletic and strong,” Graham knew the matchup would be an inevitable problem.

Tennessee’s strength propelled them not only to the regular-season conference title in 2010 but to the SEC Tournament title, both victories coming against Kentucky.

The 2020-21 Lady Vols take on Missouri this Thursday in Columbia at 8 p.m.

Feb. 27, 2010

That same week, the men’s basketball team pulled off a significant upset against the No. 2 team in the country. No. 19 Tennessee beat No. 2 Kentucky after the Wildcats nearly rallied for the win after overcoming a 19-point deficit. Senior Vol J.P. Prince sunk four free throws to put the game away for the orange and white, sending Big Blue home with heads hung.

Tennessee (21-7, 9-5 SEC) defended its home court against Kentucky (27-2, 12-2 SEC), breaking an eight-game win streak for the Cats with a narrow victory. The visitors had tied the game at 65 with around two minutes remaining in the game after trailing by 19 earlier in the second half.

Wildcat and later NBA player John Wall put up 19 points and passed to DeMarcus Cousins for two fastbreak dunks, erasing their deficit late in the game. Prince scored 20 points in the game, six coming in the last 90 seconds to move past Kentucky on the box score.

“That was a mature win,” Prince said postgame, as reported by the Associated Press. “We had a big lead, let them come back, but didn’t panic.”

Tennessee had already found the calm to win big games at the last minute. The Vols beat No. 1 Kansas earlier in the season, the only blip on the top team’s record.

Head coach Bruce Pearl praised his team and the program after the win, pointing to momentum they would carry into the postseason. The 2009-2010 men’s basketball team became the first in program history to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Vols fell one point – just one point – shy of the Final Four. They exited the tournament following a 70-69 loss to Michigan State.

The 2020-21 team will take on Vanderbilt in Nashville this Wednesday at 9 p.m. before facing Pearl and Auburn on Feb. 27. The conference anticipates the start of the SEC Tournament on March 10.

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