KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee can finally pack its bags. The
Lady Vols are headed to the Final Four again.
Gwen Jackson scored 20 points and Kara Lawson had 15 as the
top-seeded Lady Vols advanced to their 14th Final Four by beating
No. 2 Villanova 73-49 in the Mideast Regional final Monday night.
Shyra Ely added 14 points and nine rebounds for Tennessee
(32-4), which hosted both the subregional and regional and improved
its home record in NCAA tournament games to 44-0.
Tennessee will play Duke in the national semifinals in Atlanta
on Sunday night. Duke beat Texas Tech 57-51 on Monday.
"This is a big win for this team,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt
said. "But we don't want to celebrate too much. After having a day
off, we'll get back at it.''
Villanova (28-6) completed one of the best seasons in school
history by playing the same way it had all year, and it worked well
in the first half.
The Wildcats trailed the entire game but cut the lead to one
with 1:50 to go before halftime as they controlled the tempo.
Tennessee looked frustrated but figured it out at halftime. The
Lady Vols began the second half with a 23-3 run and held Villanova
scoreless for a span of 7:15.
Loree Moore had a pull-up jumper, and Tennessee got its
transition offense going. Moore stole the ball at the other end and
bounced it to Lawson, who made the fast-break layup. Jackson scored
eight inside baskets during the spurt, and another basket by Moore
capped it with 11:33 left and gave Tennessee a 55-32 lead.
"It's like trying to hold back a river with a piece of
plywood,'' Villanova coach Harry Perretta said. "They kept coming
at us. Their defense was better in the second half.''
The Lady Vols decided at halftime that they had to increase
their defensive intensity or end the season with a home loss.
"We made a pact with each other. Once we commit to each other,
we do a good job of living up to what we say were are going to
do,'' Tennessee guard Tasha Butts said.
The same slow, deliberate motion offense helped the Wildcats end
the longest winning streak in women's basketball at 70 by beating
Connecticut in the Big East Conference tournament championship.
But Villanova's style relies on accurate outside shooting. The
Wildcats, who shot 52 percent (12-of-23) from the floor and made
five 3-pointers in the first half, went cold after halftime. They
finished 20-of-50 (40 percent) and were outrebounded 39-17.
Trish Juhline hit a 3-pointer with 18:32 to go, but Villanova
missed its next nine shots before Courtney Mix ended the drought
with 11:17 remaining. By then it was too late for a rally.
Juhline and Mix each finished with 17 points.
"Our problem is scoring. For us to win, we need to make 3s and
make tough shots,'' Perretta said. "I thought we played the best
The game provided an ending to an intriguing storyline between
the teams. Summitt befriended Perretta over the summer when she
asked if he could teach her the motion offense. Summitt and her
staff went to Philadelphia, where some former Villanova players put
on a clinic for them.
The coaches kept in touch during the season, and Summitt sensed
the teams would end up in the same NCAA tournament bracket.
Coincidentally, they wound up together in the regional final. After
the coaches and players socialized at Summitt's house for a cookout
over the weekend, they put aside the pleasantries for the game.
Summitt said her knowledge of Villanova was a help in preparing
for the game.
"I can imagine that if I didn't know about them, I wouldn't
have had much sleep,'' she said.
Perretta and Summitt shook hands and hugged after the game ended
as school staff passed out Final Four hats and T-shirts to the
players. Then, one by one, the players and coaches cut off a piece
of the net.
Asked if he would help Summitt if Tennessee ended up playing
Connecticut for the championship, Perretta said: "I don't help
anybody outside the (Big East Conference) with teams in our league.
It is an unwritten rule. Pat doesn't need any help.''