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Tennesse women right at home at Arena

DULUTH -- The Arena at Gwinnett Center is truly a part of Southeastern Conference women's basketball lore now.

Tennessee celebrated its 14th tournament title at midcourt Sunday night and then the team's legendary coach took the partying a step further.

Pat Summitt grabbed the microphone as her players started to cut down the nets and began singing along in a serenade to the Tennessee faithful as the pep band played "Rocky Top" for what seemed like the 100th time.

When she was done, Summitt told the remainder of the mostly Orange-clad crowd of 5,854, "You are the best fans. We love you."

With the 70-62 victory over Kentucky, Tennessee (30-2) completed its seventh season sweep of SEC championships, but first in 10 years.

The Volunteers were 15-1 during the regular season, losing only at Georgia, and will go into the NCAA tournament on a 14-game winning streak in addition to a likely No. 1 seed.

The Arena at Gwinnett Center is the ninth venue in which Tennessee has won a SEC tournament title. There was an extra touch to this championship celebration, though.

"I thought she was just going to say, 'Thank you fans, for coming out,'" Tennessee guard Angie Bjorklund said of her coach's impromptu vocal performance. "When she started singing, I just looked at our team and I started laughing. We all started laughing. It was great."

"I know I don't have a great voice, but our fans love 'Rocky Top,'" Summitt said.

Tennessee lost in the semifinals to LSU in 2007 when the SEC tournament was first held in Duluth, but the Volunteers went on to claim the NCAA championship anyway.

This year the Volunteers will go into the NCAA tournament with a lot of momentum, although unbeaten Connecticut is a prohibitive favorite to win another title with former Collins Hill superstar Maya Moore leading the way.

The SEC tournament will be played in Nashville the next two years, then return to the Arena at Gwinnett Center in 2013 and 2014.

Tennessee is the SEC's big women's draw, but attendance was down from 2007 despite the Volunteers' march to the title.

The crowd for the championship game, which included only a couple hundred Kentucky fans, was up from two years ago when Vanderbilt beat LSU. But the attendance of 6,148 for Saturday's semifinals was down considerably from the 10,142 drawn in 2007.

Of course, Georgia made the semifinals in 2007. Georgia lost to Mississippi State in the quarterfinals this year.

Six players from Gwinnett County played in the SEC tournament, but the only one to make it past the quarterfinals was Vanderbilt's Tiffany Clarke. The Norcross graduate, who made the SEC all-freshman team, had 19 rebounds and 16 rebounds in three games.

Tennessee, which defeated Vanderbilt in the semifinals before facing Kentucky, did feature two players from other parts of Metro Atlanta, however.

Kelly Cain, who won three state high school championships in the Arena at Gwinnett Center while playing for St. Pius, had 11 second-half points in the title game, while Etowah's Alicia Manning made the all-tournament team after grabbing a tourney-best 30 rebounds in three games.

Manning was joined on the five-player all-tournament squad by teammates Alyssia Brewer, the MVP, and Shekinna Stricklen, who had 20 points in the title game.

All are sophomores, as is the 6-foot-6 Cain. Tennessee doesn't have a single senior.

Kentucky's Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies were the other all-tournament selections. Dunlap, a junior, had 21 points against Tennessee and freshman Mathies scored 11.

Kentucky (25-7) took a 42-38 lead with a 13-3 start to the second half. But Tennessee broke a tie at 50 with an 11-3 run of its own and was in control the rest of the way.

"I told them we needed this to make sure we get a No. 1 seed," Summitt said. "We talked about that even during the game. I said, 'We're not losing a No. 1 seed. If we do, that's not going to be good for us.'"