Tennessee erases Arkansas Lady Vols sputter early, but 15-3 run starts them on road to 86-58 romp

March 28, 1998|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, MO. — KANSAS CITY, Mo.-- In his heart of hearts, Arkansas women's basketball coach Gary Blair knew his team had blown its last chance.

For about a half of last night's NCAA tournament semifinal at Kemper Arena, Blair's Lady Razorbacks had hung around two-time defending champion Tennessee, forcing a few mistakes here and there, hoping to stay close enough to throw a scare into the Lady Vols down the stretch.

But the unbeaten Lady Vols blew Arkansas away with a 15-3 run to start the second half, winning 86-58 and earning a chance to capture an unprecedented third straight NCAA title, as well as cap an unbeaten season.

"We're right where we want to be," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "We wanted to be in a position to play for a national championship and we're right there."

All-America forward Chamique Holdsclaw completed a day on which she was named Naismith Player of the Year with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Semeka Randall had 22 points, 14 in the first half.

The Lady Vols (38-0) were hardly at the top of their game, committing turnovers and showing sloppy play galore, but Holdsclaw, Randall and fellow "Meek" Tamika Catchings, who chipped in 13 points, were good enough to dominate Arkansas (22-11), its Southeastern Conference neighbor, which it had beaten early in the year in conference play.

"I thought our first-half defense was right where it needed to be, but our shot selection was poor," said Summitt. "I thought we did a much better job of shot selection in the second half."

In particular, the Lady Vols neutralized All-SEC point guard Christy Smith, who had just three points and had great difficulty negotiating the Tennessee press.

"It was just the nature of me coming out and forcing her to make more turnovers," said Randall, who guarded Smith for most of the night.

The Lady Razorbacks, the ninth seed in the West Regional and the lowest seed ever to make a Final Four in the women's tournament, were outmanned at the game's start, and had to play a near perfect game to stay close.

Instead, Arkansas committed 28 turnovers, but was actually able to stay in the game because of Tennessee's less-than-flawless first-half play.

However, when the Lady Vols began their second-half blitz, led by Holdsclaw, who had five points in the run, the Lady Razorbacks' Cinderella run had effectively ended.

Early on, Arkansas, which lost to Tennessee by 30 in January, showed no signs of fear against the Lady Vols, pressing and trapping them and slowing down their transition game, seeming to frustrate Tennessee.

However, Arkansas could not capitalize on its success because its was too busy turning the ball over, usually with little Tennessee provocation. The Lady Razorbacks committed a whopping 17 turnovers in the first half, and Tennessee's inability to convert many of them was about all that kept Arkansas in the contest.

Arkansas was able to connect from long distance, hitting four three-pointers to keep Tennessee from breaking the game open. Junior Treva Christensen hit two threes in the final four minutes of the half to keep the Tennessee lead within 10.

The Lady Razorbacks also got into early foul trouble, with seven team fouls before Tennessee was whistled for its first, with 11: 56 remaining in the half, causing Blair to bow mockingly to the officials.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, looked out of offensive sorts, a carryover, perhaps, from Monday's regional final in which they were pushed to the limit by North Carolina.

Tennessee shot just 40 percent for the half, and Holdsclaw hit just five of 12 for 10 points.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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