Baylor, Mich. State rally to final

Spartans tie Final 4 mark by overcoming 16-point hole to defeat Tennessee, 68-64

Ncaa Women's Basketball Tournament

April 04, 2005|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS - Some things just don't happen. Wile E. Coyote doesn't catch the Road Runner. Martha Stewart doesn't leave crumbs on the tablecloth, and the Tennessee women's basketball team doesn't lose in the Final Four to a team of neophytes.

But the Lady Vols squandered a 16-point, second-half lead and a six-point advantage in the final three minutes against Michigan State in the national semifinals last night, as the Spartans won, 68-64, to claim one of the most shocking upsets in women's basketball history.

The Spartans' rally from 16 down tied the largest comeback in Final Four history.

Tennessee (30-5), in its record 16th Final Four, hadn't lost in the national semifinals or a title game to anyone not named Connecticut since 1988, but the upstart Spartans (33-3), in their first Final Four, knocked off the sport's signature program with a stunning comeback.

"I think the second 20 minutes really reflected the greatness and the heart and soul of our team," said Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie. "To come back from the deficit and to finish the game in the manner in which our team did, I am certainly proud, but not the least bit surprised, given what our team has done all year long."

Junior guard Lindsay Bowen scored 18 points to lead the Spartans, while senior center Kelli Roehrig chipped in 12, including the game-winning basket with 35.4 seconds to go to cap perhaps the biggest surprise in the 24-year history of the women's Final Four.

"This was a great game for us," said Michigan State point guard Kristin Haynie. "We hung in there, we stuck together. We kept our composure down the stretch when it really counted and our team gave all our heart and effort down the stretch when it mattered."

The Spartans will face Baylor tomorrow in the title game. The Lady Bears overcame a 15-point deficit to defeat Louisiana State, 68-57, in the first semifinal.

While Michigan State is, like Tennessee, a No. 1 seed, the Spartans had not only never played for a championship, they had never reached the Final Four until this weekend.

Meanwhile, the Lady Vols had not only gone to 16 Final Fours, but their six national titles is tops among women's programs, and their coach, Pat Summitt, has won more games (882) than any other coach in Division I basketball, male or female.

None of that history mattered, however, as the Spartans methodically came back, holding off Tennessee in the final two minutes. Tennessee's final possession saw them miss four shots at point-blank range, before Victoria Lucas-Perry hit a breakaway layup to salt away the win for Michigan State.

"I don't understand it, because it's not the way we played to get here," said Summitt. "This is a very, very disappointing loss. It will be a long time before I get this one out of my system. I'm sure the players feel the same way."

Tennessee senior Shyra Ely, who was playing in her hometown, got a few words into an answer before breaking down in tears. After the game, a gathering of about 300 or so orange-clad Lady Vols fans, whose presence dominated the RCA Dome crowd of 28,937, sat dumbfounded in their seats, unable to process what had happened.

The Lady Vols, who outrebounded the Spartans 43-33, took a six-point halftime lead and expanded it to as much as 16, at 49-33, with 14:28 remaining on a Loree Moore layup. From there, Tennessee looked well on its way to a 13th national title game appearance.

But the Spartans didn't fold. Bowen hit a pair of three-pointers in the 16-2 run, as the Lady Vols went without a basket for six minutes in the spurt.

Tennessee led 62-56 with 3:05 to go off a three pointer from freshman Alexis Hornbuckle who led the Lady Vols with 16 points. But Michigan State closed the contest with a 10-2 burst.

"The game of basketball is made of runs," said Moore, who had 11 points. "They got us on our heels and we couldn't find a way to stop them. Give them the credit, all the credit for what they did and how they did it."

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