Lady Vols hit the three Tennessee routs Tech, 93-75, to cap 39-0 year, record 3rd title in row

55-point 1st half record, too

After 45 straight wins, Vols to lose only 1 sub

March 30, 1998|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, MO. — KANSAS CITY, Mo.-- So, what do they do for an encore?

The Tennessee women's basketball team completed arguably the greatest season in the history of the sport with a convincing 93-75 win over Louisiana Tech last night that not only netted the Lady Vols an unprecedented third straight title, but capped an unbeaten season.

Despite something of a second-half lull, in which the Lady Techsters pared a 23-point deficit down to 15, Tennessee (39-0) was never serious challenged in its quest for perfection.

"I cannot imagine this team not getting what they deserve. They deserve a national championship," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose six NCAA Division I basketball titles are second only to the 10 of UCLA's John Wooden. "They came out in the opening minutes ready to play. I felt good about it. I told them I've been to 15 of these. I said I've never felt better going into a championship game."

When you have a perfect team, led by the best player in the game, junior Chamique Holdsclaw, it's easy to feel as good as Summitt. Holdsclaw, a 6-foot-2 forward from Astoria, N.Y., was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four for a second straight year, scoring 25 points, including 14 as the Lady Vols jumped out to a 27-10 lead.

"I really enjoyed it. It's exciting. I mean, I'm kind of used to winning right now and everyone is, 'Meek, you're not really excited,' " said Holdsclaw, who is now 7-for-7 in championships -- four state titles at Christ the King High School in New York and three NCAA crowns at Tennessee. "But I was excited to be there and win this with this team."

The Lady Vols, who have not lost since the 1997 Southeastern Conference tournament semifinal -- some 45 games ago -- looked on track to become the first team to score 100 points in the 17-year history of the women's final, as they shot 62 percent from the floor in a record 55-point first half.

As it was, they ended up with the second highest point total in an NCAA women's final, falling just short of the 97 racked up in 1986 by Texas, one of two other unbeaten teams in NCAA history.

"I was asked this question earlier in the season and I thought it was too early to say, but I'll tell you now. That's the greatest women's basketball team I've ever seen," said Tech coach Leon Barmore.

The Lady Techsters (31-4) were out of it before they even knew what had hit them. After senior center Alisa Burras scored the first basket off the opening tip, Tennessee broke out on a 23-6 run that broke Louisiana Tech's spirit.

"We knew what we had to do and there were too many times we didn't get it done. We knew we had to handle their pressure," said guard Tamicha Jackson, who had 26 points. "It's hard to come back against a great ballclub like that, and being in that position made it harder."

Trailing by 23 at the half, Louisiana Tech, which lost to Tennessee, 75-61, in the season opener, made a valiant second-half run, scoring the first seven points.

However, Tennesee junior point guard Kellie Jolly, who had a career-high 20 points, hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions with just under 12 minutes to go to take the lead back up to 24.

Later, Jackson hit a three-pointer with 8: 07 left, then sank a layup to pull the Lady Techsters to within 15 with 6: 52 to play.

But forward Tamika Catchings, the national Freshman of the Year, who had a game-high 27 points, hit two free throws and a layup a minute later, salting the game away and giving the partisan Tennessee crowd of 17,976 what it had been waiting for, another national championship.

"Holdsclaw is certainly the Michael Jordan-type player of our college game. But I really thought the kid that was big time was Catchings," said Barmore. "We simply did a pitiful job on Catchings. To me, I look back and think that Catchings, more than any other player, really killed us."

After the horn sounded, it didn't take long for the Tennessee mascot to hold up a sign reading "Do You Know The Way to San Jose," the site of next year's Final Four. The Lady Vols may very well find themselves there, as they lose just one senior, Laurie Milligan, an oft-injured role player, and add two post players, who should help add to what was considered Tennessee's Achilles' heel, an inside game.

"You don't always win when you're supposed to," said Summitt. "But certainly with this freshman class and Chamique coming back, and Kellie will be a senior, we should have a terrific team."

Said Holdsclaw when asked what she planned for an encore: "Come back as a better player, win another championship and leave here in style. Next year's team will be the best ever."

A shudder, no doubt, just went through the rest of women's basketball.

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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