KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The road to the Final Four this year has
been unlike any other for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
"No question, it's been the toughest," said Summitt, making
her 15th trip to the NCAA women's championship tournament.
The top-seeded Lady Vols (30-3) cruised through the first two
rounds of the NCAA tournament before a disputed call by officials
and clutch shooting helped them win the Midwest Regional and
advance to New Orleans.
"Look at the two games that we've had to play and the
controversial end to the first one," Summitt said after Tuesday
night's 62-60 victory over Stanford. "The last 48 hours, the kids,
every time they turned on the TV, they had to listen to all this
talk about it, almost like we didn't deserve to win."
Tennessee beat Baylor 71-69 in the regional semifinal after
officials called a disputed foul as time expired, then put
two-tenths of a second back on the clock and Lady Vol Tasha Butts
at the foul line. She sank both free throws for the win.
The officials' call was widely criticized and decried as "an
embarrassment to women's basketball" by ESPN analyst Stacey
But the Lady Vols moved on to play Stanford, a team they beat in
overtime in December, for a chance to reach the Final Four.
Tennessee was in for another close game.
With the score tied and 8.4 seconds remaining, Summitt drew up
the final play during a timeout. She positioned two of Tennessee's
best 3-point shooters on the wings to draw out the defense and gave
the ball to Butts to drive to the basket.
Butts dribbled toward Stanford All-American Nicole Powell, spun
around her and shot the ball, which banked off the glass and into
the basket with 1.7 seconds left.
Powell's desperation 3-pointer at the other end bounced short
off the rim. The Lady Vols screamed, hugged each other and donned
regional championship T-shirts and hats before cutting down the
Summitt was concerned her players might have been distracted
after the Baylor game.
Clearly, the Lady Vols had made some enemies just by having a
disputed call go their way.
A sports columnist for the Norman Transcript in Norman, Okla.,
where the regional was held, called on readers to back Stanford
because "cheering for Tennessee is like rooting for the Yankees,
IBM and Microsoft."
"I really have to applaud their efforts with all the
distractions that could have potentially been there," Summitt
said. "I asked them about it earlier (Tuesday) and they were
completely numb to it. They said, 'Coach, we're ready to go
The Lady Vols advanced to the national semifinals on Sunday
against LSU, which Tennessee beat 85-62 in the regular season
finale Feb. 29.
Connecticut and Minnesota will play in the other semifinal,
setting up a possible national championship Tuesday night between
Tennessee and the Huskies.
The Lady Vols didn't practice Wednesday, and Summitt stayed at
home to watch film. Tennessee planned to leave for New Orleans on
Tennessee has not won a national title since 1998, and the
current Lady Vols team is far from emulating that dominating, 39-0
Instead, this season was full of tense games and last-second
victories despite some poor performances. The Lady Vols have
rallied to win 10 games in which they trailed at halftime, and they
have won three of four overtime contests.
The Lady Vols have even managed without a true point guard since
Loree Moore tore a knee ligament Jan. 24 at Duke. Minus Moore,
Tennessee is 14-2 with losses to Connecticut, then Georgia in
overtime in the SEC tournament.