NEW ORLEANS – Another game, another head-scratching, nail-biting finish for Tennessee’s women’s basketball team.
After close calls and controversies surrounded the Volunteers’ trip to this year’s Final Four, the last second yet again fell in their favor Sunday night at New Orleans Arena, as they defeated LSU 52-50 in a game that left many with mouths agape.
After struggling to find a rhythm most of the game, Tennessee turned the ball over on its own side of the court with six seconds to play and the game tied 50-50.
LSU inbounded the ball to a triple-teamed Temeka Johnson, who was stripped of the ball by LaToya Davis and wound up with an open layup to put the Volunteers back into the national championship.
“I walked in (to the locker room) and told them that I was proud of them, but I didn’t know how much more I could take,” said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who coached in her 101st NCAA Tournament game.
“You don’t want to check mine,” she said of her blood pressure afterwards. “But this team was very calm in the final moments.”
It was the third-straight game in which the Volunteers won by two points, pushing the team to 11-4 all-time in the national semifinal.
The Tigers, though, came out strong early, with 6-foot-3-inch forward Tillie Willis blocking a Volunteers’ shot in the opening seconds, aiding in LSU’s 5-0 run to start the game.
The low scoring affair was tight throughout as the two teams played stingy defense. LSU especially showed its defensive prowess at the end of the first half. Guard Doneeka Hodges stole the ball from Tennessee three times in the final minute while the Tigers did not allow a Volunteers’ field goal in the final 5:48 and led 25-19 at halftime.
After the break, the two teams were more equal as Tennessee got back into the game and tied it at 34-34 with a Shanna Zolman three-pointer with 10:32 to play.
The Volunteers led by as many as four points with 1:39 left, but the inside play of the Tigers pulled the game back to its seventh tie with 26 seconds remaining and set up the dramatic conclusion.
And it’s those final moments that irk acting coach Pokey Chatman, but not only because LSU lost.
“It’s going to be unfortunate that the last six seconds is all anyone is going to talk about,” she said, “and that’s not why we lost.”
“Eighteen second-chance points,” she said, and then repeated the phrase referring to Tennessee’s feat. “That’s the ballgame right there. Bottom line, it’s those 18 second-chance points.”
Zolman led Tennessee with 12 points and was one of three team players in double figures.
The Volunteers, who scored 18.1 points below their season average in a game that featured the lowest combined points ever in a Final Four game, move on to face Connecticut in the NCAA championship game at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.