9:00 PM ET, March 29, 2005
Liacouras Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Shanna Zolman and Shyra Ely smiled as the clock ticked down and the euphoria sunk in -- the former Indiana high school stars were going home to play in the Final Four.Zolman broke out of a slump with a couple big baskets down the stretch, Nicky Anosike scored 14 points and the top-seeded Lady Vols beat No. 3 seed Rutgers 59-49 in the Philadelphia Regional final on Tuesday night.Tennessee will play Michigan State (32-3) in the national semifinals in Indianapolis on Sunday night. The top-seeded Spartans beat Stanford 76-69 in the Kansas City Regional final on Tuesday night.Zolman and Ely can't wait for their happy homecoming. The former Miss Indiana Basketball duo have made it a mission to return to their home state for the Final Four -- Ely even scribbled "Homeward Bound" on the back of her sneakers."I told my mom, 'Just don't give away tickets,'" said Ely, an Indianapolis native who scored nine points. "If you've been to a Tennessee game, I'll give you a ticket."There could be a whole lot of people in line for a freebie.The Lady Vols (30-4) are in the Final Four for the fourth straight year, fifth time this decade and 16th time overall, all under coach Pat Summitt. She extended her NCAA record with her 882nd career win."They were tough down the stretch," said Summitt, who shared a postgame hug with former Chattanooga star and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. "We had some big plays from a lot of different people."For the first time in the tournament, Tennessee's win didn't come easy.Tennessee survived a long scoring drought, woeful shooting and a fine performance by Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter in avenging a December loss to the Scarlet Knights (28-7).Pondexter scored 25 points and made nine of the Scarlet Knights' 18 baskets, but she had little help until it was too late."We will be a Final Four team," said Pondexter, named the regional's most outstanding player. "We can use this as motivation going into next year. All we can do is get better."Only the Scarlet Knights' physical defense kept them in it until the end.Rutgers seemed poised to pull within three on Matee Ajavon's shot from the left side, until it was reviewed by officials who determined it was a two-point basket. That made it 49-45. Then Essence Carson had a steal for Rutgers and was fouled by Loree Moore.Carson calmly sank the free throws -- her first two points of the game -- pulling Rutgers to 49-47 with 1:08 left.Tennessee, though, sank its last 12 free throws and that was just the cushion the Lady Vols needed to win their 12th straight game. The Lady Vols made 29-of-35 free throws; Rutgers was just 8-for-13.Tennessee's free throws compensated for only 31 percent shooting from the floor.Rutgers was denied its first Final Four since 2000 and coach C. Vivian Stringer's fourth trip overall. She was the only coach to take three different teams to the Final Four until Louisville's Rick Pitino joined her this year."Normally, I'm kind of emotional. I don't have any feelings right now," Stringer said. "I did not expect to give a farewell speech. I fully intended to win."Ajavon scored 12 points. Chelsea Newton left midway through the first half with a knee injury. She returned early in the second half with a brace and plenty of tape on her leg and scored only two points.The Lady Vols went over 12 minutes without a basket bridging the first and second half. They were rushed into bad shots, missed a couple easy attempts under the basket and committed seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of the second half.Rutgers used a 9-0 run and grabbed the lead for the first time since scoring the first two baskets of the game. The lead was short-lived.With just-hired men's coach Bruce Pearl cheering behind their bench, the Lady Vols went ahead on a couple free throws and Zolman's fast-break layup pushed the lead to 43-39. Zolman, who missed seven of her first 10 shots, buried a 3-pointer for a 46-41 lead."We were really focusing on trying to go inside, but I saw a man go on a screen, so I had to take it," Zolman said of her 3.Zolman, the 2002 Indiana Miss Basketball from Wawasee, Ind., expected her hometown fans to come out and support the Lady Vols."I know my whole entire town is going to be there," she said. "Probably in buses and caravans. It will be so exciting just to play in front of the crowd we're going to be playing for."What they'll see is a Tennessee team chasing its seventh national championship, though none since the last of three straight titles in 1998.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||19-50 (.380)||13-42 (.310)|
|3P Made-Attempted||6-20 (.300)||4-9 (.444)|
|FT Made-Attempted||8-13 (.615)||29-35 (.829)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||27 (0/0)||14 (0/0)|