Charmed time for Tenn.

Lady Vols top LSU, 52-50, on basket at :01.2, advance to their record 11th final

Third straight final-seconds win

Steal in last five seconds leads to clinching points

Ncaa Women's Tournament

April 05, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - The Tennessee women's basketball team and its coach don't know how they are pulling off these remarkable finishes in the NCAA tournament, just that they are going to play for another national championship.

For a third straight game, the Lady Vols pulled off a miracle in the closing seconds, this time nipping Louisiana State, 52-50, in the national semifinals last night to earn a berth in tomorrow night's title game against Connecticut.

"I walked in [to the locker room] and told them I was really proud of them, but I don't know how much more of this I could take," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

Tennessee (31-3) didn't need a phantom foul call, which it got against Baylor at the end of the Midwest Regional semifinals, or a missed three-pointer at the buzzer, which it got at the end of the win over Stanford in the regional finals.

The Lady Vols landed a record 11th trip to the national finals with suffocating defense on the final possession, forcing a steal in the final five seconds, which senior guard LaToya Davis converted into a layup and the win.

With the score tied, LSU was poised to inbound the ball with 6.1 seconds left under its basket, after Tennessee's Tasha Butts missed a jumper and the ball landed out of bounds.

Summitt said she knew the Lady Tigers (27-8) would run a play to get the ball into the hands of point guard junior Temeka Johnson to have her drive the length of the floor or dish to All-American forward Seimone Augustus.

After seeing Stanford's Nicole Powell get off an uncontested three-point attempt in the previous game, Summitt said she decided to double-team Johnson. The LSU guard caught the inbounds pass and dribbled into Davis and Butts, while Ashley Robinson, coming over to help off Augustus, knocked the ball free.

Butts recovered the loose ball and fed it to Davis, who laid it in with 1.2 seconds to go.

"I was thinking, `Just try to contain her [Johnson], not foul her,' " said Davis. "Once she got the ball in, we double-teamed her and just tried to go for the steal. I think we did a very good job of doing that."

Said Tennessee All-America forward Shyra Ely: "We just really bought into what Coach said that last minute. At this point in the season, you do anything you can to win, so I think it was a good call by Coach and it worked out." The dramatic finish masked the fact that the game was sloppily played, with both teams missing shots and opportunities. The combined 102 points were the fewest by two teams in the 23-year history of the NCAA women's Final Four, and both teams shot poorly, with LSU hitting 38 percent from the field and Tennessee 31.6 percent.

"We played one of the ugliest games that we played all year and we still managed to win," said Butts, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds. "I think it says a lot about our team. It really doesn't matter how ugly things are going because we will never stop playing hard. We still try to do whatever it takes to get the ball in the basket. That is what I love about this team."

The Lady Vols, who beat LSU, 85-62, in the regular-season finale, played exceptional defense on Augustus, who came in as the tournament's leading scorer, averaging more than 26 points per game.

Augustus, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, had a game-high 16 points, but shot just 7-for-21 and did not score in the final 5:26, with a variety of Tennessee defenders taking turns on her.

"The shots weren't falling," said Augustus. "I had good looks, but they played Tennessee-style defense from start to finish. That's what they do, they play aggressive defense, they get up in your jersey, they do whatever they need to do to cause turnovers or alter your shots."

Off the bat, the Lady Tigers were the aggressors, blocking two of Tennessee's first three shots. The Lady Vols looked uncharacteristically rattled in the early going, unlike a team playing in its third straight Final Four and 15th overall, unlike LSU reached the national semifinals for the first time in school history.

The Lady Tigers led throughout, until Shanna Zolman hit a three-pointer with 1:39 to go to give Tennessee its largest lead of the night at 50-46. But LSU responded with a layup from Johnson, who played most of the game with a thigh bruise, and a lay-in from Doneeka Hodges in the final 1:20.

"There were just some balls that we got our hands on, and we didn't quite grab and they did. They made the big plays," said LSU acting head coach Dana Chatman.

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