April 05, 2004

Lady Vols Edge LSU by 2 to Play for Title

NEW ORLEANS - LaToya Davis scored with 1.6 seconds left after LSU's Temeka Johnson lost the ball in the backcourt, giving Tennessee a 52-50 victory over the Lady Tigers in the national semifinals Sunday night.

Tennessee's LaToya Davis (4) celebrates after her last second shot beat Louisiana State, 52-50, in the NCAA Women's national semifinals Sunday, April 4, 2004, in New Orleans.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt yells to her team in the first half against Louisiana State in the NCAA Women's national semifinals Sunday, April 4, 2004, in New Orleans.

Tennessee, the lone No. 1 seed in the Final Four, will play Connecticut, a 67-58 winner over Minnesota. It will be the second straight title game between the two, and the fourth time in the last 10 years. Connecticut has won all three meetings.

Nothing has come easy for the Lady Vols this season, but remarkable balance and resiliency have put them in their 11th NCAA championship game.

It was the third straight two-point, last-second victory for the Lady Vols, who had only three players score in double figures.

With the score tied 50-50 and the clock running down, once again Tennessee put the ball in the hands of Tasha Butts, who scored the winning points in the Lady Vols' last two narrow wins.

She missed this time, giving LSU the ball with 6 seconds left. But Tennessee trapped Johnson in the backcourt, forcing the turnover. The ball squirted out and Shyra Ely came up with it and quickly fed Davis underneath for an uncontested layup.

Tennessee will seek an NCAA-best seventh title against Connecticut.

Seimone Augustus led LSU with 16 points and nine rebounds, but her shooting percentage plummeted from the previous games in the tournament. She carried the Lady Tigers to their first Final Four by making 67 percent of her shots.

She finished 7-for-21 against Tennessee. Johnson had nine points and eight assists for LSU.

Shanna Zolman led Tennessee (31-3) with 12 points, hitting a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer with 1:38 left to give Tennessee a 50-46 lead.

LSU (27-8) rallied to tie it at 50 when Johnson drove and passed to Tillie Willis with 27.2 seconds left.

But Davis made the final basket. Tennessee players leapt and punched their fists in the air, while LSU looked stunned. The Lady Tigers inbounded to Johnson, whose half-court attempt left her hands late and was well off the mark.

It was the lowest scoring game in women's Final Four history. The previous was in the 1985 semifinal game in which Old Dominion defeated and Louisiana-Monroe 57-47.

It was a sour end to a feel-good run by LSU. Longtime coach Sue Gunter has been watching games from home since early this season because of respiratory problems.

Assistant Pokey Chatman took over and led the Tigers to their first Final Four. Gunter watched the semifinal from a nearby hotel room.

What she saw was fierce defensive intensity from her players, who frustrated Tennessee's shooters throughout the game only to come up heartbroken in the wild final seconds.

Butts had only 11 points to go with 11 rebounds for Tennessee, while Davis finished with 10 on her buzzer-beater.

Tennessee shot only 29 percent from the floor through the first 30 minutes, but LSU could not capitalize because Augustus started 4-for-15.

The Lady Vols, who started 0-for-9 from 3-point range, suddenly got the shooting they needed midway through the second half, with 3s by Sidney Spencer and Zolman and a strong inside basket by Tye'sha Fluker comprising an 8-2 run to tie the score at 34.

Tennessee is used to dominating its Southeastern Conference rivals. The Lady Vols were 31-7 against LSU, including an 85-62 victory on Feb. 29.

But Tennessee looked tight early, hitting less than 30 percent of its shots through the first 12:02 in falling behind 15-10.

The Vols briefly tied the game at 18 on Butts' jumper, but LSU maintained high-intensity defense.

Doneeka Hodges had three steals in the final minute of the first half, the first led to a fast-break basket inside by Augustus that gave LSU a 25-19 halftime lead.

It was the lowest-scoring first half of the season for the Vols, who were shooting only 29 percent (8-of-28) from the floor.

Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt looks on as her son, Tyler, twirls a ball during practice at the Women's Final Four, Saturday, April 3, 2004 in New Orleans. Tennessee plays LSU in the national semifinals on Sunday night.

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