With time expiring, Tennessee pulls off comeback

Updated: February 15, 2006, 11:06 PM ET
By Melanie Jackson | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 22, Tennessee's last-second win in the 2004 Final Four after a surprising turnover from LSU's Temeka Johnson.

Candace Parker
AP PhotoTennessee defender LaToya Davis, left, ultimately scored the game winner off a turnover from Temeka Johnson, right.

The play had an escape route, a door No. 2, just in case things went wrong.

But when you've got one of the most heady, sure-handed point guards in the country, you don't ever really expect to use your backup plan.

And that's why no one expected to see LSU guard Temeka Johnson trapped on the dribble in between two Tennessee defenders. Falling. Turning over the ball.

And instead of a stunning end to Tennessee's season in the national semifinals, the Lady Vols converted an easy layup with 1.6 seconds left on the clock to advance to the 2004 title game. LSU, playing in nearby New Orleans, was left to ponder what could have been in front of an overwhelmingly purple-and-gold clad crowd.

"The play was designed to get the ball in," Johnson said afterward. "If we get in trouble, then come back to the ball. But it didn't work. We didn't execute it."

Instead, Tennessee won 52-50 on a miraculous last-second play for the second time in three games. (Yes, that controversial win over Baylor in the 2004 Sweet 16 will make an appearance a little later in our countdown.) LSU looked to be in control after Lady Vols guard Tasha Butts missed what could have been a game-ending shot, leaving the score knotted at 50. And a spitfire guard like Johnson with talented teammates such as Seimone Augustus could do plenty of damage with seven seconds left.

Tye'sha Fluker
APTye'sha Fluker and Tennessee's in-your-face style of defense helped eliminate LSU.

But, as ESPN The Magazine's Eric Adelson wrote for ESPN.com at the time, "Tennessee coach Pat Summitt drew up an ingenious defensive play, double-teaming Johnson and putting tall timber Ashley Robinson on Augustus." And sure enough, after the Lady Tigers inbounded the ball to Johnson, she ran right into a swarm of orange, led by Robinson, then "lost the ball and watched helplessly as Tennessee's Shyra Ely fed LaToya Davis for the winning two," Adelson chronicled.

"Temeka didn't lose the game for us," Augustus said. "There were a lot of things we could have done to win it and we didn't do it. It wasn't her."

As disappointing as the turnover was, the fact it helped bail out Tennessee was even harder for Lady Tigers fans to take. For the game, LSU outscored Tennessee 38-20 in points in the paint and 44-20 in fast-break points. But the Lady Vols' defense came through again in the end. And Davis, for the third time that season, had a defensive hand in a game-saving play.

Johnson, who set an NCAA Tournament record with 50 assists in five games in 2004, has said on several occasions that she never relived the turnover in her mind -- only the fact that LSU had lost.

Two nights later, Tennessee lost to Connecticut as Diana Taurasi helped the Huskies win their third straight national title.

Two years later, after leading LSU to a second straight Final Four (the Lady Tigers again lost in the semifinals), Johnson still can't call herself an NCAA champ. Now, she's the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year.

Moment No. 21 will be unveiled Feb. 9, during the first half of ESPN2's Big Monday game between LSU and Tennessee.

Melanie Jackson | email

Women's Basketball
Melanie Jackson is ESPN.com's women's basketball editor.

ALSO SEE