March 05, 2004

No. 1 Tennessee 67, Mississippi St 57

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Top-ranked Tennessee is used to close games this season. So the Lady Vols knew exactly what to do when Mississippi State tied it late.

Tennessee outscored the Lady Bulldogs 16-6 in the final 5:39 to pull out a 67-57 win in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament on Friday.

The Lady Vols (26-2) improved to 23-0 all-time against Mississippi State, and will play No. 20 Georgia in the semifinals on Saturday. Georgia beat Florida 76-72 on Friday.

Tennessee went 14-0 in conference play to win its seventh straight regular-season title, but most of the wins weren't blowouts. The Lady Vols won half of those by fewer than 10 points. Overall, they trailed by at least four points in the second half of eight games and lost just twice.

Tennessee led most of Friday's game, but the Lady Bulldogs (14-15) didn't let their deficit exceed five points in the second half until there was just 1:05 left, when the Lady Vols went ahead 62-55 after LaToya Davis' two free throws.

``Throughout the year we've really been conditioned to these types of games,'' said Shyra Ely, who led Tennessee with 17 points and 12 rebounds. ``A lot of teams play us close. That's because they usually play their best game against us.''

The score was tied five times in the second half.

After Mississippi State, the eighth seed, last tied the game at 51, Ely hit a jumper that gave the Lady Vols the lead for good.

Shanna Zolman added 13 points, Davis 12 and Tasha Butts 11 for the Lady Vols. Ashley Robinson had 12 rebounds. Ely scored 14 of her points in the second half.

Tennessee is trying to win the SEC tournament for the first time since 2000 -- when it beat Mississippi State 70-67 in the final.

The Lady Vols beat the Lady Bulldogs in last year's semifinals, 76-75, on Kara Lawson's last-second shot.

Mississippi State looked headed toward an upset this time. Tennessee had 13 turnovers in the first half and finished with 23, which led to 28 points for the Lady Bulldogs, who had a season-low seven turnovers.

The Lady Vols had 25 turnovers in the teams' earlier meeting this season.

``We've done it before, but I didn't like the way it looked,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. ``Can we do this and win this tournament championship? I don't think so. Can we get to New Orleans like that? No, I don't think so.''

The Lady Vols also overcame a gutsy performance by Tan White, who led Mississippi State with 25 points on 9-of-32 shooting from the field, a career high for attempts.

``It's going to be hard in any league and in postseason play to win ball games with one person in double figures,'' Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said. ``We needed some other people to step up and score.''

Butts guarded White much of the game, but White got free many times for driving layups or jumpers. White also had five steals.

Tennessee was saved by its rebounding, finishing with a 47-36 edge. The Lady Vols also shot 45.8 percent from the field (22-of-48) while Mississippi State made 29 percent on 22-of-76 shooting.

The Lady Vols went ahead 14-9 in the early minutes and then extended their lead to nine after a 9-2 run that included six points by Zolman. However, after Ely's three-point play that capped the spurt with 7:52 left, Tennessee went nearly five minutes without scoring.

White had a steal and two layups and sank two free throws during the span, and the Lady Bulldogs went ahead 31-30 with 3:17 to go.

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