Holdsclaw proves Hill-stopper Lady Vols go to 35-0 as star **aces rare test, W. Ky., 82-62

March 17, 1998|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Because Chamique Holdsclaw and Michael Jordan wear the same number, 23, have a similar fluidity to their games and are the vital cogs to championship teams, there is a temptation to compare the Tennessee forward with the Chicago Bulls superstar, and the comparison is probably unfair to both.

But there are moments, like last night, when Holdsclaw looks every bit as dominant in her world as Jordan is in his.

With the top-ranked and unbeaten Lady Vols looking as vulnerable as they have in quite a while against 15th-ranked Western Kentucky, they climbed aboard Holdsclaw's back and she carried them to an 82-62 victory and a berth in Saturday Mideast Regional semifinal against Rutgers at Vanderbilt University.

Holdsclaw, a unanimous All-America choice and heavy favorite to be named national Player of the Year, was brilliant, scoring a game-high 34 points -- 22 in the second half -- to go along with 11 rebounds.

Oddly enough, Holdsclaw, a 6-foot-2 junior from Astoria, N.Y., and the fulcrum of the Lady Vols' two national championship efforts, has to be told from time to time by her coach Pat Summitt that she is not a mere role player.

"Coach reminds me every day in practice that I'm not here to lead the team in assists. When the game is on the line, she wants the ball in my hands," said Holdsclaw.

The Lady Hilltoppers (26-9) played valiantly, refusing to wilt under the Tennessee pressure, while taking the Lady Vols (35-0) out of their desired running game.

Western Kentucky found success in the middle, where Tennessee is most vulnerable, as center Leslie Johnson and forward Danielle McCulley combined for 33 points. What Western Kentucky couldn't do was stop Holdsclaw, who took over when the moment demanded it. When the Lady Hilltoppers shaved a 12-point halftime deficit to six with about 12 minutes to go, it was Holdsclaw who shooed them away with a dazzling 90-second sequence.

Holdsclaw hit a baseline jumper, scored a layup off a steal, then scored another layup off a feed from Tamika Catchings, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

"When the game is that close, we have to turn on the skates," said Holdsclaw. "We're probably in better shape than most teams. We may not be there mentally, but we can get up and down the floor and get easy baskets."

Western Kentucky coach Steve Small, whose team had been on the verge of giving Tennessee -- which is 32-0 in home NCAA tournament games -- a little discomfort in its final home game of the year, instead had to burn a timeout.

"That might have been the game right there," said Small. "Our adrenalin was flowing and we were feeling pretty good. I was starting to dream of the things I was going to say when we beat Tennessee. But they did what they're supposed to do. They turned to their All-American."

Said Summitt: "Chamique, for an extended period, came up with all our points. We needed a big play person and she was it. This is my favorite time of the year and I'm looking forward to Nashville. This team is as ready as it can be."

Just as long as Holdsclaw makes the bus ride, it is.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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