Sha Brooks wouldn’t let 11th- ranked Florida lose again to its Southeastern Conference rival. She scored 29 points to lead Florida to a 66-57 win over No. 12 Tennessee on Sunday night.
The win was only the Gators’ third in the past 40 meetings between the schools and left Florida tied with Auburn atop the SEC standings.
“It meant a lot to everybody, just to show everybody that we are who we say we are,” Brooks said.
The Gators (22-2, 8-1) hadn’t beaten the Lady Vols at the O’Connell Center since Jan. 21, 1997. Florida beat Tennessee for the first time since Feb. 26, 2006, and UT’s 57 points Sunday were its fewest ever against the Gators.
Certainly Tennessee (17-6, 6-3) is not the same team that won the past two national titles — the Lady Vols play seven freshmen, two sophomores and a senior. But with 1,000-game winner Pat Summitt at its helm, the program remains the measuring stick in the SEC and women’s college basketball.
“There’s no question Tennessee does set the standard and I think that’s because of all the things that have transpired to this point,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “The 1,000th win and that sort of thing signifies a lot of consistency. Freshmen, sophomores, seniors, whatever they have, you always know that Tennessee is going to be a contender to win our league and a contender to win the national championship. That’s just how it is in women’s basketball.
“(Florida) is a program, this is a team in particular, that wants to be the best, and if you aspire (to be the best) then you’ve got to beat the best, so it is a big night in that regard,” Butler said.
Brooks single-handedly erased Tennessee’s seven-point lead late in the second half by scoring 12 consecutive points. The Lady Vols led 50-43 before Brooks’ run, which began with a 3-pointer with 7:06 to play. She followed with another 3, two free throws, another 3 and one more free throw to put the Gators ahead 55-52 with 3:19 to play.
Brooks also hit a free throw with 52.5 seconds to play to give the Gators a 61-57 lead and added one more with 27.8 to play to put Florida ahead 62-57.
“I basically took what the defense gave me,” said Brooks, who is from Jackson, Tenn. “It was a lot of teamwork. I can’t just take it all by myself because when I was missing layups somebody else came in and picked up some slack.
“It’s just something about wanting to beat Tennessee. Not saying I don’t want to beat every other team, but I really, really want to beat Tennessee.”
Summitt, who picked up her milestone win with a 73-43 rout of Georgia on Feb. 5, said the Lady Vols lack Brooks’ toughness and leadership.
“It’s amazing because her toughness, how she comes after you ... obviously she plays both ends of the floor and plays with great passion,” she said. “(Brooks) makes big plays, takes care of the basketball. I think she, without a doubt, has the biggest influence on how Florida plays the game.
“We’re lacking that. We don’t have a player that’s going to come out there and demand everybody step up their level of play.”
Angie Bjorklund led Tennessee with 16 points. Kelley Cain had 12 points and 10 rebounds.