March 29, 2004

LSU Tops Georgia to Reach First Final Four

SEATTLE - Back in Baton Rouge, Sue Gunter must have been leaping off her couch. Seimone Augustus scored 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting and gritty point guard Temeka Johnson added 16, leading LSU to its first Final Fourwith a 62-60 win over SEC rival Georgia on Monday night.

The Lady Tigers (27-7), seeded fourth in the West Regional, will make about an hour drive from their campus to play in New Orleans. They'll meet the winner of Tuesday's Midwest Regional final between Stanford and Tennessee.

It was a close contest, but Gunter's team will finally go to the Final Four in her 40th season of coaching. She hasn't been with the team for the past two months, staying home with acute bronchitis.

Gunter was expected to make the trip to New Orleans, but she'll probably sit in the stands or remain at the team hotel.

Christi Thomas had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Georgia, but she missed four of five free throws in the final five minutes. Coming into this one, she was 19-for-19 from the line in the SEC and NCAAtournaments. Janese Hardrick added 18 points.

The third-seeded Lady Bulldogs (25-10) had a chance to win it in the closing seconds.

Hardrick brought the ball downcourt, but there was contact with Johnson. No foul was called, and Hardrick skidded to her knees and lost control of the ball.

The horn went off as players scrambled, and LSU had the win safely in hand. The Lady Tigers rushed off the bench in a wild celebration, and Johnson raced to the sideline to find acting coach Pokey Chatman for a long hug.

Augustus, named Most Outstanding Player in the regional, also had eight rebounds and two blocked shots. In the regional semifinal win over Texas, she scored 29 on 14-of-19 shooting.

Georgia had its biggest lead at 54-47 with 6:53 remaining after Sherill Baker, who was 0-for-7 at that point, swished a 3-pointer.

The Lady Bulldogs couldn't extend the lead, though,

LSU charged back, getting a 3-pointer from Augustus, an inside basket from Treynell Clavelle and a jumper by Augustus to trim the margin to 56-54 with 4:37 to play, but Hardrick hit another 3-pointer to extend Georgia's lead.

Doneeka Hodges completed a three-point play, putting the ball back and getting fouled after she missed an open layup on the break. That pulled LSU to 59-57. The play started when Johnson made a steal.

Johnson tied it moments later, hitting a 16-footer from the left wing with 1:54 to play. She finished 8-for-15.

Georgia led 32-28 at halftime.

The Lady Bulldogs got a basket by Thomas and two free throws by Hardrick to go up 32-26 — a sizeable lead at that point. Augustus, though, answered for LSU with a jumper in the lane with 3.5 seconds on the clock.

Though Gunter hasn't been with the team for games, she still attended practices and film sessions, and she often called Chatman to talk strategy.

Gunter went to Nashville for the SEC tourney, but watched on TV from the hotel.

Chatman looked comfortable as acting coach, chatting up the referees and directing her team from the bench.

Georgia, which beat LSU 80-74 on Jan. 25 at Athens, Ga., was seeking its sixth Final Four but first in five years.

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