KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Because they wear the same number, 23, and have a similar fluidity to their games and are the vital cogs to a championship team, there is a temptation to compare Tennessee forward Chamique Holdsclaw and Michael Jordan, and the comparison is 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, when the ease with which they have been pummeling opponents all year wasn't present 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's Mideast Regional semifinal against Rutgers.
Holdsclaw, a unanimous All-America choice and the 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.
The Lady Hilltoppers (25-9) played valiantly, refusing to wilt under the Tennessee pressure, while taking the Lady Vols out of their desired running game.
What Western Kentucky couldn't do was stop Holdsclaw. When the Lady Hilltoppers shaved a 12-point halftime deficit down to six with about 12 minutes to go, it was Holdsclaw who shooed them away with a dazzling 90-second sequence.
The 6-foot-2 junior from Astoria, N.Y., hit a baseline jumper, scored a layup off a steal, then scored another layup off a feed from Tamika Catchings. Western Kentucky coach Steve Small, whose team had been on the verge of making the game close, instead had to burn a timeout and the game was effectively over.
Catchings, a 6-1 freshman and second-team All-American, was also special, with 18 points and 12 rebounds in support of Holdsclaw.
The Lady Hilltoppers had spent a good part of the time following their first-round win over Stephen F. Austin talking about not being afraid of the Tennessee mystique, and for the first half, they certainly weren't.
Western Kentucky, the Mideast's eighth seed, forced the tempo behind junior point guard Katashia Witcher, who took Tennessee's Kellie Jolly off the dribble twice on drives in the first four minutes.
But the Lady Hilltoppers could not contain Holdsclaw. She hit a baseline jumper, a quick turnaround and a layup off a steal to give the Lady Vols a three-point lead with 12: 48 to go in the half.
They led at the intermission, 37-25.
Pub Date: 3/17/98