This Week in UT Sports History: March 8 – March 14

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(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

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

Tennessee’s men’s basketball team (17-7, 10-7 SEC) finished the regular season on Rocky Top with a win against conference rival Florida (13-8, 9-7 SEC) by a final of 65-54 on Sunday. The SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament begins Wednesday, March 10, and will run through March 14. The Vols will play on Friday as a No. 4 seed.

Tennessee has won four SEC men’s tournament titles, the last of which came in 1979. The orange and white previously held the title in 1936, 1941 and 1943. Tennessee hosted its first conference title win at Alumni Memorial Gymnasium in 1936, beating Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama under head coach Blair Gullion, who notably led Tennessee to its first win against Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp.

The Lady Vols hold 17 conference basketball tournament titles, the most recent of which came in 2014. The 2020-21 team exited the tournament on Saturday following a loss to No. 7 South Carolina, 67-52.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee baseball team improved to 11-2 overall with a win against Georgia State on Sunday to sweep the series. Lady Vol softball holds an impressive 17-1 record following a 14-0 win against Campbell University in five innings Sunday afternoon. Tennessee’s volleyball and soccer teams also picked up wins over the weekend.

As traditions continue, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at moments this week in UT sports history:

March 11, 1951

Four days before opening baseball play in 1951, the Volunteers traveled to South Georgia and Florida for spring practice. Tennessee planned to face Florida in Gainesville March 15-16. Rain in Knoxville had prevented Cy Anderson’s squad from practicing, holding only one hitting session.

“We hope to have the squad in tip-top shape when they return home,” Anderson told Knoxville Journal writer Ed Harris. “On this trip, we will hold a long practice session previous to each of the games.”

Practice remained necessary, as Tennessee held high hopes for its program that season. The Vols prepared to play on a permanent field of their own for the first time in 1951. With a new field “comparable to that of any other SEC team,” Tennessee anticipated capacity crowds. Athletic director Robert Neyland looked forward to the spring sport.

“President C.E. Brehm will be asked to toss out the first ball,” Neyland said. “The university band will be on hand. We hope to fill every one of the 3800 seats to be erected at our new baseball plant.”

Tennessee opened its spring trip with scrimmages against Georgia Teachers College and Georgia State before facing Florida. They would live up to the hype worthy of a new field that season, earning a 16-1 record. They finished as runners-up to Oklahoma in the 1951 College World Series.

March 14, 1998

Following an undefeated regular season and SEC regular-season and tournament titles, the Lady Vols launched their 1998 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament run. They barely beat Alabama for the conference tournament title, 67-63, on March 1. But following nearly two weeks of preparation, Pat Summitt’s defending national champions looked for the three-peat.

The win margin far surpassed the last.

No. 1 Tennessee defeated Liberty, 102-58, in the NCAA sub-regional round at home in Knoxville before a crowd of 12,577. The victory marked the Lady Vols’ 34th that season. Liberty had also held an undefeated 28-0 record heading into the matchup.

The two teams stood as the only unbeatens of 64 in the tournament. Tennessee remained the team to beat as back-to-back champions, but the Flames entered with some fire.

“I was saying, ‘This team came to play,’” Tennessee forward and Hall of Famer Chamique Holdsclaw said. “They were boxing us out and coming right at us. A lot of people thought they would be scared, but they came right back at us.”

Holdsclaw scored 22 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for a double-double in the game. Tennessee’s size and athleticism overpowered Liberty, but then Tennesseean sports writer Chris Low noted the Flames’ dribble penetration kept them in the first half.

Summitt said Liberty beat her team off the dribble, just one of many strategies opponents tried to outmaneuver her experienced squad. The Flames kept a quick pace in the first half that helped them stay within 20 points.

“Liberty had good quickness,” Summitt said. “[The Flames] spread us out and hit open shots.”

However, Tennessee quickly extended a 19-point halftime lead, largely relying on physicality inside the paint. The Lady Vols scored 62 points to Liberty’s 16 on the inside. Coach Rick Reeves conceded his team paled in comparison to the Lady Vols as far as strength.

“They’re just so big and strong,” he said. “The only chance we had to win the game was to control the paint and not give them second shots.”

His team failed at that aim. The Lady Vols would go on to a perfect 39-0 record and a third-consecutive NCAA title.

Current Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper played for Summitt on all three of those championship teams, making her one of the most decorated collegiate players. She has led Tennessee to a 16-7 overall record so far in 2020-21, going 9-4 in conference play.

The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament selection show is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 15. Harper and her team will wait until then to see the field of 64 for this year.

Lexie Little is a journalist from Kingsport, Tennessee, who holds a Bachelor of Communication degree from the University of Tennessee with majors in both Journalism & Electronic Media and French & Francophone Studies. She's a contributor to RTI and writes the weekly column "The Week in UT Sports History." Lexie formerly worked as a feature writer for VIPSEEN Magazine and continues to freelance for various publications as she earns her master's degree from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.