Tennessee takes out three No. 1 seeds for first title

Updated: March 31, 2006, 12:16 AM 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. 13, Tennessee taking down three No. 1 seeds to win its first NCAA title in the first Final Four sellout.

Pat Summitt
Coach Pat Summitt's first of six NCAA championships at Tennessee came in 1987.

With more NCAA titles on her resumé than any other women's coach, it's hard to think of a time when Pat Summitt wasn't winning national championships.

But for as much as title No. 7 has seemed elusive these past few seasons, Summitt's first crown was a long time coming, too.

Counting four trips to the AIAW national semifinals, Summitt actually came up empty-handed in her first seven trips to the Final Four. Trip No. 8, Tennessee's second appearance in the NCAA title game, was another story, however.

In 1987, Tennessee wasn't the favorite. That role belonged to defending NCAA champion Texas, which had won 65 of its past 66 games and was playing in front of a partisan crowd -- which bought up the event's 15,823 tickets for the first women's Final Four sellout -- in Austin, Texas.

The Lady Vols weren't even really considered the No. 2 team, either. That would be Tennessee's Final Four opponent, Long Beach State, which was 33-2 and averaging a nation's best 95.8 points, with Cindy Brown leading the way. And the fourth team in the semifinals, Louisiana Tech, had beaten the Lady Vols in 11 of the last 12 meetings.

But Tennessee had already proven it didn't pay attention to the odds. The second-seeded Lady Vols had knocked off No. 1 seed Auburn 77-61 -- the Tigers had twice beaten Tennessee by six points earlier that season -- to earn the trip to Austin. So facing yet another No. 1 seed in Long Beach State didn't seem too daunting.

Trouble was, Tennessee ended up taking on two more No. 1 seeds. That's right, after downing the 49ers 74-64, the Lady Vols advanced to face Tech, which had topped Texas behind a near-perfect game and 19 points, 11 assists and 11 steals from Teresa Weatherspoon.

In the final, Tennessee came out firing and never looked back. The Lady Vols led 33-24 at the half and extended the lead to 14, 47-33, with 13 minutes remaining. In the end, Bridgette Gordon, Tonya Edwards and Sheila Frost each netted 13 points as Tennessee topped La. Tech 67-44 (the 23-point win remains the largest margin of victory in the national championship). The Lady Vols dominated the two areas they built their dynasty on -- rebounding and defense -- grabbing 11 more boards than the Lady Techsters and holding them to 33 percent shooting (16-of-48) in front of a title-game record crowd of 9,823.

Said Tech's Leon Barmore afterward: "Tennessee played as good a defensive game as I've ever seen or played against. We never got any easy shots. In fact, the points we got were well-earned."

Weatherspoon, as well Long Beach State's Brown and Texas' Clarissa Davis, landed on the All-Tournament team. But Tennessee put two players on the squad -- Gordon, who had a game-high 12 rebounds in the final and averaged 22.2 points in the tournament, and Edwards.

To this day, Summitt still refers to the '87 title -- which came in her 13th season in Knoxville -- as her most special because of the time and commitment both she and the University of Tennessee had given each other.

And her team's effort was pretty special, too.

"Well, the monkey's off my back," Summitt said. "I do not think I could go without recognizing that it was a tremendous team effort ... has been for the last three weeks. This team has played as hard and as smart as I could ask any team to play."

Click here to see when the next memorable moment will air in our countdown.

Melanie Jackson | email

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

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