7:30 PM ET, March 31, 2003
Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tennessee
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 we could.'' 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.''
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