Sloppy Lady Vols still superior to Texas Tech, 57-44

Catchings' 16 rebounds push UT to 12th Final Four

Mideast at Memphis, Tenn.

March 28, 2000|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- It's a good thing that they don't award Final Four berths on the virtue of style points or it's pretty clear that the Tennessee women's basketball team's trip east would stop in Knoxville rather than continue to Philadelphia this weekend.

The second-ranked Lady Vols looked as sloppy as they have throughout the NCAA tournament, but were just good enough to beat No. 11 Texas Tech, 57-44, in the Mideast Regional final last night at the Pyramid.

"It was ugly, but it was also beautiful," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who ties UCLA men's coach John Wooden this weekend with her 12th trip to the Final Four.

In the end, the Lady Vols, who go in quest of a record seventh national championship, relied on their defense and rebounding to pull out a game they survived more so than won.

Tennessee (32-3) shot a paltry 32.8 percent from the floor, including only 31 percent in the second half, as their three junior starters, forwards Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall and guard Kristen Clement hit a combined 7-for-26 from the field.

But the Lady Vols played brilliant defense, particularly in the game's final 7: 30 where they allowed Texas Tech (28-5) only two points, while scoring 13 to break open a close game.

"They did what they had to do to win the game," said Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp. "They came out in the second half and made a lot of plays to give themselves a chance to win. They have a lot of different weapons, and we just didn't make enough plays to give us a chance to stay in it."

In the decisive sequence, Tennessee ate up nearly two minutes of clock time on one possession with four offensive rebounds -- two by Catchings, who had just seven points, but a career-high 16 rebounds to earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honors.

Catchings, the consensus national Player of the Year, suffered a severely sprained right ankle midway in the first half, and, though she hobbled badly to a post-game news conference, she showed no ill effects in the second half.

"My foot just kind of rolled over and I've never sprained it like that on that side. The first one's a killer, but it felt a lot better after I came back," said Catchings.

The Lady Raiders, who dropped the 1995 Mideast Regional final to Tennessee, harassed Catchings throughout the evening, but that freed up her teammates to step in to the void.

The biggest contributions came from Tennessee's centers, sophomores Michelle Snow and Shalon Pillow. Snow, the 6-foot-5 starter, labored in foul trouble for most of the night. But she poured in 10 points in the second half -- 12 for the game -- including the basket that essentially clinched the contest, a putback with 4: 11 to go that gave Tennessee a 50-42 lead.

"Like Catch [Catchings] said, if you want to be in the game, you have to know your role and my role then was to rebound," said Snow.

Pillow, a 6-3 reserve who played one minute of garbage time in Tennessee's 21-point win over Virginia in Saturday's regional semifinal, hit three big turnaround jumpers in the first half after Snow picked up her second foul six minutes into the contest.

"She [Pillow] got in there and got some points that we needed at a crucial time," said Randall, who also had 12 points.

The Lady Raiders, who shared the Big 12 regular-season title, had their own offensive struggles, but battled gamely, drawing to within 44-42 when point guard Melinda Schmicker-Pharies' scoop shot dropped through with 7: 30 to go.

But Texas Tech would score just once more the rest of the way, on a short baseline jumper from Aleah Johnson with 3: 17 to go, as the Lady Vols choked off their sets and crashed the boards on both ends, on the way to a whopping 47-31 rebounding edge.

"We struggled on the offensive end and a lot of times, you see some players worry and relax and not compete. I'm really proud of this team for the way they hung in," said Summitt.

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