Tennessee completes rebound Marciniak lifts Vols to women's title

April 01, 1996|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Outside the Tennessee women's basketball team's locker room in Knoxville is a sign that simply reads: "Offense fills seats, defense wins games and rebounding wins championships."

The statement may be cliched, but the fourth-ranked Lady Vols will hang their fourth national championship banner from the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters in large measure because they proved it true in their 83-65 win over No. 5 Georgia in last night's NCAA title game, in both the literal and the metaphorical.

For all their rebounding prowess, Tennessee celebrates its fourth crown in the past nine years because senior point guard Michelle Marciniak made a rebound of her own.

Marciniak, who was outplayed badly in last year's championship game by Connecticut's Jennifer Rizzotti and had to live with the memory for a year, made a comeback with a heady floor game that didn't light up the scoreboard, but provided an emotional lift for her team.

"Until [yesterday] I could not forget the loss to Connecticut last year. This will definitely make me erase it from my memory. It hurt so bad and I just wanted to make up for it," said Marciniak.

Although Marciniak had just 10 points and five assists last night, the 5-foot-8 native of Macungie, Pa., was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for her fiery play and leadership.

To be sure, the Lady Vols (32-4) won last night because they had enough offense to keep their fans happy, and more than enough defense to keep Georgia's Saudia Roundtree, the consensus national Player of the Year, under wraps, with a tournament-low eight points -- 10 below her average.

But the game was decided on the boards, where the Lady Bulldogs (28-5) were out-rebounded 54-39. The Lady Vols, led by freshman sensation Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 14 rebounds, shot 44 percent for the game, but pulled down 24 offensive rebounds, to give themselves second and third tries at the basket, which they usually converted.

"They got us on the boards by [15], and that's too many," said Georgia coach Andy Landers, who was denied his 500th career coaching win. "One reason they got so many was that they did it off the drive. Somebody would rotate to help, and you have a post player standing there all alone. That hurt us. The difference between the earlier game and this game was that we shot the ball well and didn't turn the ball over in that game."

Tennessee received a total team effort. When it wasn't Holdsclaw, who had a team-high 16 points, pulling down rebounds and getting stickbacks, it was centers Tiffani Johnson -- a Charlotte native -- and Pashen Thompson combining for 28 points and 16 rebounds, to outplay Georgia's Tracy Henderson.

Tennessee power forward Abby Conklin, who had 14 points, stepped out on the perimeter to hit four three-pointers, two in the first half to choke off potential Georgia comebacks and two in the first five minutes of the second half to help stretch ...V...VTC five-point halftime lead into a 16-point margin. She also helped to negate a brilliant 25-point, 16-rebound performance from Georgia's La'Keshia Frett.

"This basketball team could not have responded any better to our game plan. They tried their hardest to do everything we told them to do," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "I told the players in the locker room, 'We're getting ready to take on our last exam of the year. Do you feel prepared?' They said yes. I said, 'There's no way you can fail this course, but you can ace this exam.' Well, they aced it and I'm proud of them."

After the game, Marciniak sat on the platform with the nets around her neck and clutching the championship trophy.

"I've had a few people pinch me and I still can't feel anything. Ever since I was a little girl, I had this dream that I would win a national championship. I can't believe it's come true," said Marciniak.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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