Tennessee bounces Duke, 66-56

Jackson scores 25 points, leads second-half surge for Vols, who meet UConn

April 07, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Tennessee forward Gwen Jackson took a bit of an unplanned vacation in the middle of last night's women's Final Four semifinal game with Duke, going scoreless for 20 minutes.

Fortunately for the Lady Vols, Jackson sent a late-game postcard to the Blue Devils, powering Tennessee into tomorrow's national championship game with a 66-56 win over Duke.

The Lady Vols will meet Connecticut, which beat Texas, 71-69, for the NCAA title.

Jackson, who finished with 25 points and 15 rebounds, made up for lost time, scoring nine straight points in the Lady Vols' decisive second-half kick.

"I've been consistent all year, but what counts is when it counts," said Jackson, a 6-foot-2 senior. "This game had a special meaning for me and Kara [Lawson], and I didn't want to come off the court having any regrets about how I played. I think I'm a big-time player and my teammates look for me to score, but also they look for me to play defense. My defense is good and my offense is great."

From a one-point Tennessee deficit at the 12:55 mark, Jackson would score 14 of Tennessee's next 29 points, as the Lady Vols (33-4) broke open a nail-biter to earn their 10th championship game berth in the 22-year history of the women's Final Four.

Jackson redeemed herself for a poor performance in the Lady Vols' first meeting with Duke in November, when the Blue Devils (35-2) ran Tennessee out of the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh, N.C., 76-55.

Jackson had just 12 points in that game, and her coach Pat Summitt wondered where her forward had gone.

"She showed up [last night]," Summitt said. "In November, she didn't compete. She looked very frustrated on the offensive end and wasn't inspired to run the floor and play defense. Gwen has made a decision now to show up for us every night and she's with us whether she's making shots or not. She's just been steady. She's playing with a great deal of confidence. She did not do a lot in that game, but she did enough tonight to make me forget about that game."

The Lady Vols, who were playing their first game outside of Knoxville in 27 days, started well as they ran out to a 13-6 lead in the first six minutes, with Jackson scoring nine in the spurt.

Just inside the 12-minute mark, Duke coach Gail Goestenkors made an adjustment, throwing a half-court trap at the Lady Vols. Lawson turned the ball over and All-America guard Alana Beard scored on a layup off the steal, to cut the Tennessee advantage to 15-12.

From there, the Lady Vols appeared to be rattled for the rest of the first half, with just one basket over a five-minute span. That was all the Blue Devils, who averaged 81 points a game in the regular season, needed to get ignited.

Beard, who finished with a game-high 29 points, hit a tough floating one-hand banker at the 6:44 mark to give Duke its first lead of the half at 18-17. After Loree Moore scored on a lay-in, Duke's Sheana Mosch came off the bench to score on a drive, then hit a tough off-balance shot and was fouled on the play. Mosch made the free throw, and Duke had its largest lead of the half, at 23-19.

Tennessee led briefly with 2:10 to go, but the Blue Devils closed the half on a pair of three-pointers from their All-Americans. Forward Iciss Tillis hit a banker from the right baseline with 1:39 to go, then following a baseline shot from Moore with 44 seconds left, Beard made a three-pointer from the right wing just before halftime to send Duke to the locker room with a 29-27 lead.

"We weren't nervous in the first half, but we had a lack of energy and we weren't playing with the type of intensity that we had in the beginning of the tournament," said Lawson, an All-America guard. "So, halftime was kind of a wake-up call for us. When we start out 20 minutes and you realize that it could be the last 20 minutes of your season and for Gwen and me, our careers, that really puts things in perspective. So we wanted to be the team that brought the most energy."

The Blue Devils, who swept the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament for a second straight year, led only once in the second half, off a put-back from Beard with 6:33 to go, and were pounded at the free-throw line 21-6 by Tennessee.

"It wasn't a pretty game, but I thought it was a tremendous game," Goestenkors said. "Both teams fought hard on the defensive end. Unfortunately for us, we hit a stretch where we couldn't hit shots and they pounded the ball inside and we really had no answer. Gwen Jackson played a phenomenal game for them."

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