The Tennessee Lady Vols go for their 7th College Basketball National Championship tonight against Rutgers..
It's been almost a decade since the Lady Vols last hoisted the Title Banner...
Everyone is gazing up at good ol' Rocky Top
After a nine-year title drought, Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt
are NCAA champions.
The Lady Vols captured an elusive seventh national title Tuesday
night, beating Rutgers to the ball for second and third shots in a
59-46 win to reclaim their customary place above all other
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had hoped to win her first
title, 25 years after her first national title appearance. Instead,
Summitt won her seventh, 20 years after her first.
"I can't even describe it," said Tennessee's All-American
Candace Parker. "This is what everyone came to Tennessee to do,
and we did it."
Parker scored 17 points to lead the Volunteers (34-3), but the
most outstanding player got plenty of help from Shannon Bobbitt and
a supporting cast of less-heralded teammates, who too often this
season stood around and watched her.
Not this time.
The Lady Vols, trophy-less in their past five tournament visits,
wanted this title - badly. Almost from the outset, they outworked
the young Scarlet Knights (27-9), who waited until the final game
of an improbable tournament run to show their inexperience.
"Maybe we read the headlines or realized it was a national
championship game," Stringer said. "We looked like a deer stuck
in headlights. "
After building a 16-point lead and then holding off a late push
by Rutgers, the Lady Vols could finally celebrate, dribbling out
the final 30 seconds under the Rutgers basket. When the final horn
sounded, Dominique Redding flung the ball high enough to hit the
scoreboard as Tennessee's players, some in tears, danced at
midcourt as orange, blue and gold confetti fell from above.
"To win anything you have to be a tight team," Summitt said.
"They believed in each other and they all had one goal, to be here
in Cleveland and cut down the nets. I'm real, real proud of this
Rutgers, which knocked off No. 1 Duke earlier in the tournament,
was attempting to become the third straight first-time winner
following Baylor in 2005 and Maryland in 2006.
Summitt's 947th career win could be one of her sweetest. The
Hall of Fame coach - joined on the floor afterward by her mother,
Hazel Head, in a wheelchair - had captured six national titles from
1987-98, but had been shut out for No. 7 despite having some of her
most talented teams.
"I think when we lost to LSU in the SEC tournament it was the
best thing that happened to us," Summitt said. "You never like to
lose, but we really came together as a team. I'd say they held each
other accountable. They called each other out."
Parker, too, had been looking to solidify her place among the
best to ever wear UT's orange and white. She knew only a title
would fulfill her legacy and allow her to be mentioned along with
Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Bridgette Gordon.
She belongs in their class now. And she's not going anywhere.
"Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I?" said Parker, when asked if
she would wear orange next season. "I just wanted to win a
national championship, and this team did that. Our banner is going
to be in the rafters forever, and we left our mark at Tennessee."
Bobbitt scored 13 points - 9 of them on three 3-pointers in a
lightning-quick span in the second half - and Nicky Anosike, who
made her teammates sign a pact in January to reinforce their
commitment to winning it all, had 16 rebounds for the Lady Vols,
who had 24 offensive boards.
Kia Vaughn had 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace Rutgers. But
the Scarlet Knights made far too many mistakes to challenge the
Lady Vols down the stretch.
Several times, Stringer, back in the championship game for the
first time since leading Cheyney to the 1982 game, put her hands to
her head in disbelief at seeing unforced turnovers and lackluster
Stringer had called her senior-less squad of five freshmen,
three juniors and two sophomores, a "team of destiny."
As it turned out, only Tennessee will leave Cleveland fulfilled.
Trailing by 11 at halftime, Rutgers, trying to become the
lowest-seeded team to win the women's tourney, settled down early
in the second half by matching Tennessee's intensity and closed to
35-28 on Vaughn's putback with 13:33 left.
That's when Bobbitt, a 5-foot-2 bundle of New York City
playground moves and energy, hit the first of three 3-pointers in a
span of 2:43. The first one came after two offensive rebounds by
the Lady Vols.
After a Rutgers turnover, Bobbitt drained another 3. As the
Scarlet Knights brought the ball up the floor, Bobbitt was waiting
for them. She forced a turnover that led to a layup by Alexis
Hornbuckle, and for the first time all evening, Tennessee's fans
sensed this might be the Lady Vols' night.
They were feeling even better one minute later when Bobbitt hit
Still, the Scarlet Knights weren't going to quit on Stringer,
who earlier this season kicked her team out of their locker room
and took away anything with "Rutgers" written on it because she
felt they weren't playing up to the school's standards.
A 3-pointer by Matee Ajavon ended a 7-0 run that brought Rutgers
to 50-42, but Parker made six straight free throws in 37 seconds to
make it 56-44 with 1:08 left. As she went down the floor, Parker
looked at the bench where senior Sidney Spencer was crying, knowing
all the hard work during the offseason would end the best way
Seconds later, Stringer, who dropped to 0-6 in NCAA tourney
matchups against her close friend Summitt, began clearing her
"I still love my team, and I think they did a wonderful job,"
Stringer said. "This was no doubt the most rewarding year I've had
in so long."
Still, this tournament ended the same way it has nearly
one-third of the time since it started - with Tennessee setting up
ladders to cut down the nets.
The Lady Vols are once again Champions of all they survey..