Tennessee repels ODU, keeps title 68-59 victory gives Lady Vols a record fifth women's crown

Holdsclaw scores 24

16-7 closing run puts Lady Monarchs away

March 31, 1997|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CINCINNATI -- The talk in women's basketball circles in January was that Tennessee, with a 10-6 record, had lost the magic that had brought last year's national championship.

The Lady Vols, playing a murderous schedule, appeared to be on the verge of playing their way into a low seed in the NCAA tournament, or at worst, not even getting in, as coach Pat Summitt feared.

But two months later, Tennessee claimed what seems to be the team's birthright, another national championship, with a 68-59 win over No. 2 Old Dominion.

And as she has all season, sophomore Chamique Holdsclaw carried the Lady Vols (29-10) to a record fifth title, the most in women's history, with 24 points, including 10 in the final burst.

Tennessee, the nation's 10th-ranked team, gave back a 12-point lead, but regained its composure with a 16-7 closing run that put away the Lady Monarchs (34-2).

For the second time in less than a week, Tennessee, which beat previously unbeaten Connecticut in last Monday's Midwest Regional final, had not only avenged a regular-season loss, but snapped an opponent's 33-game winning streak in the process.

Much the way they had in Friday's overtime win over Stanford in the semifinal, the Lady Monarchs charged out of the dressing room behind their All-Americans, Ticha Penicheiro and Clarisse Machanguana, two-thirds of their vaunted Portuguese connection.

After Holdsclaw hit a short jumper in the lane, Penicheiro and Machanguana combined for 14 points in a 27-13 run. When Aubrey Eblin hit a three-pointer from the left corner with 9: 06 to go and was fouled. Her free throw gave Old Dominion a 44-43 lead, and the Lady Vols looked to be in trouble.

Amber Eller hit another three-pointer two minutes later to give the Lady Monarchs a 49-47 lead, but Tennessee began to exploit the absence of Mery Andrade, the Lady Monarchs' best perimeter defender who had locked up Holdsclaw for a long stretch of the game, but fouled out with 8: 01 to go.

Holdsclaw, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Astoria, Queens, hit eight straight points in a 1: 30 span to put the contest away and give Tennessee its fifth title in 10 years.

The Lady Vols looked substantially different last night than they did in January, when they lost, 83-72, to Old Dominion in Norfolk. In that game, the Lady Monarchs erased a 10-point second-half deficit, aided in no small way by a sequence in the second half where Tennessee was called for six fouls in a 1: 05 span, as an eight-point lead became a two-point deficit.

For one thing, Kellie Jolly, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in October, dressed out for the first time that night and returned to the lineup one game later, to take over ball-handling duties from Holdsclaw. The Lady Vols were 10-6 after the ODU loss, and 18-4 after Jolly's return.

Jolly calmly ran the offense in the first half with six assists and only four turnovers. The game opened at a furious pace, with both teams pressing to force the tempo. The Lady Monarchs in general, and Penicheiro in particular, looked tight, as Old Dominion turned the ball over on its first five possessions with the All-America point guard responsible for four.

Holdsclaw, meanwhile, was sensational early on, with a layup off a Jolly steal, a turnaround banker and a pull-up 15-foot jumper to give Tennessee an 8-4 lead.

After Old Dominion center Nyree Roberts got two baskets along the baseline to pull the Lady Monarchs to within two, the Lady Vols went on a 17-3 run, as freshman Niya Butts scored on three layups and Jolly hit a three-pointer with 5: 07 left, giving Tennessee a 27-11 advantage.

The Lady Vols played great team defense, particularly on Penicheiro as first Kyra Elzy and then Butts harassed her into six of Old Dominion's 16 first-half turnovers.

The Lady Monarchs put on a mini-burst late in the half, as Machanguana hit a short jumper in the lane and sank two free throws, and Andrade scored on a reverse layup to cut the Tennessee advantage to 10.

However, Holdsclaw hit a 14-foot jumper that appeared to come after the 30-second shot clock buzzer and Abby Conklin hit a three-pointer in the left corner to take the lead back to 15.

On the final play of the half, Penicheiro got a steal, tossed out to Machanguana on the sideline, who fired down court to Eblin. She banked in a three-pointer from about 30 feet out at the first-half buzzer to give the Lady Monarchs a slight measure of hope and whittle the Tennessee lead down to 12 at 34-22 at the break.

Pub Date: 3/31/97

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