March 29, 2005

(1) LSU 59, (2) Duke 49

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- LSU was finally picking on someone its own size, and it looked at first like the top-seeded Lady Tigers had gone soft from feasting on lesser opponents.

But not even Duke could long withstand All-American Seimone Augustus and LSU's furious defense. The top-seeded Lady Tigers are going to a second straight Final Four after beating the second-seeded Blue Devils 59-49 Monday night in the Chattanooga Regional final.

LSU was down early but tied it at halftime, went ahead in the opening minutes of the second half and never trailed again.

The Lady Tigers (33-2) will face second-seeded Baylor, a 72-63 winner over top-seeded North Carolina, in the national semifinals Sunday in Indianapolis.

Augustus finished with 22 points and Sylvia Fowles added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

LSU beat its first three opponents in the tournament by an average of 36 points, but the competition was much tougher Monday.

The Blue Devils (31-5) had a good game plan to go inside and take advantage of their bigger posts, and it worked early. Duke was ahead by as many as 12 in the first half, putting the Lady Tigers in their biggest deficit of the season.

Then LSU turned up its defensive pressure, tipping passes and blocking shots, and brought in Fowles, the 6-foot-5 freshman, from the bench to help clog up the middle. She helped the Lady Tigers outrebound Duke 42-27.

LSU's shooting was cold to start the game, and the Tigers went down 12 points when Alison Bales made a basket over Fowles with 8:14 to go in the first half.

LSU trimmed the lead and then took control when they keyed an 8-0 run to finish the half with three straight takeaways and tie it at 30.

Duke could not regain the intensity they had at the beginning. The Blue Devils got as close as two points with 13:40 remaining, but couldn't stop LSU.

Duke's All-American Monique Currie, who hasn't decided whether she is returning for her senior season, finished with 11 points. Mistie Williams added 15.

(2) Baylor 72, (1) North Carolina 63

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The ugly stain on Baylor basketball is fading. The women are taking care of that.

Sophia Young scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and the second-seeded Lady Bears are headed to the Final Four for the first time in school history after beating No. 1 North Carolina 72-63 Monday night.

Young, whose mother came from the West Indies last week to see her play in college for the first time, was named the MVP of the Tempe Regional.

The Lady Bears (31-3) extended their school-record winning streak to 18 games, leading by as many as 19 points in the second half against the Tar Heels (30-4), who had won 16 straight going into the game.

``You can coach a lifetime and have great teams that are expected to be in the Final Four and never make it,'' said coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, who took over in 2000 and built the lackluster program into a powerhouse. ``For our team to do it in five short years, I can't say enough about our coaches and players. These are tears of joy.''

The Baylor men's basketball team made it to the Final Four in 1948 and 1950, but that program gained infamy when a former player was accused of murdering a teammate in 2003.

``This means a lot and speaks volumes for what we've done for the Baylor University community,'' said Steffanie Blackmon, holding a piece of the net the players cut down. ``Last year we decided to be the shining light for the university because of everything that happened. We wanted to be something positive for Baylor.''

Chameka Scott, 0-for-9 from 3-point range in her previous two games, was 4-for-8 against North Carolina and scored 18 points for Baylor. Blackmon added 14 points.

The Lady Bears, who hadn't even been to a regional final before, advance to the national semifinals on Sunday in Indianapolis where they will face LSU. The Lady Tigers beat Duke 59-49 on Monday night.

``Baylor has been through so much,'' Scott said. ``If you go back to Waco, we have the whole community behind us. That's part of our momentum and part of what got us so far.''

North Carolina, trying to join the Tar Heel men in the Final Four, shot just 32 percent. Ivory Latta, North Carolina's 5-foot-6 point guard, scored 21 but was bounced around all night by the Baylor defense and was just 6-for-22 shooting, 3-for-13 from behind the 3-point line. Leah Metcalf scored 11 and Nikita Bell 10 for the Tar Heels.

``We know we could have won that game,'' North Carolina freshman Erlana Larkins said. ``We beat ourselves down pretty badly. We didn't box out and we just didn't do the little things.''

Larkins, who scored 18 in North Carolina's victory over Arizona State on Saturday, was held to just six points.

``We took her out of her game,'' Young said. ``I think we got in her mind.''

Two more victories for Baylor would give the Waco school its second national title in any sport. Baylor won the NCAA men's tennis championship last year.

Baylor outscored the Tar Heels 12-2 over the final 5:16 of a sometimes-frenetic and often-sloppy first half to take a 33-24 lead at the break. Scott's 3-pointer with 12:01 to play made it 49-31, and Young's two free throws with 11:01 remaining gave Baylor a 53-34 lead.

The Tar Heels had not faced that big a deficit all season, and responded with an 8-0 run to cut it to 49-38 La'Tangela Atkinson's rebound with 6:57 left. But the closest North Carolina got was seven in the final seconds.

``We didn't get it to Erlanda enough,'' said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, looking for only her second Final Four berth in 19 seasons with the Tar Heels. ``We weren't setting screens and getting people open. We were trying fadeaways instead of taking it to them.''

The game was not the up-and-down, freestyling showcase it was supposed to be. There were 42 turnovers, 25 by Baylor and 17 by North Carolina. Eight of the Lady Bears' turnovers were committed by Chelsea Whitaker.

``Hey, Chelsea's my point guard,'' Mulkey-Robertson said, ``and Chelsea's heading to the Final Four.''

West Virginia 80, Kentucky 75, 2OT

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- West Virginia ended its offensive drought just in time against Kentucky.

West Virginia squandered a 22-point second-half lead, but rode a 31-point, 11-rebound performance by Meg Bulger to an 80-75 double-overtime win over Kentucky in the semifinals of the Women's NIT on Monday night at Memorial Coliseum.

West Virginia (21-12) extended its longest postseason run ever and will play Southwest Missouri State on Thursday in the tournament's title game.

``Every time they took the lead, one of our young ladies came down and hit a big shot,'' West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. ``I'm very proud of that. This was a tough place to play, probably the loudest place we've played in all year.''

West Virginia was scoreless for more than 11 1/2 minutes in the second half and lost its sizable lead before rallying and outscoring Kentucky 14-9 in the second overtime.

Bulger, a sophomore guard and the leading scorer in the Big East Conference, had eight points in the second overtime and went 4-of-4 from the free-throw line in the final 26.8 seconds.

``She took the ball to the basket more,'' Carey said. ``I thought in the second overtime, we finally started pushing the ball on a miss.

``It seemed like when we got the 22-point lead, we played not to lose. We didn't play to win. We were a little bit tentative. Finally in that second overtime, I said, 'Let's push it,' and we were able to get six points off the break.''

West Virginia shot 11-for-23 from 3-point range. Sherell Sowho led the way, going 5-for-7 and scoring 21 points. Bulger, who set a school record with her fifth 30-point game of the season, shot 4-for-9 from 3-point range.

West Virginia led 49-27 with 16:43 left, but didn't score again until 5:09 remained. After Sowho's 3-pointer put the Mountaineers ahead by 22 points, West Virginia had just three baskets and nine points in the final minutes of regulation.

``That's not a pretty stat,'' Bulger said of the scoring drought. ``It's something you never, ever want to happen in a game. But luckily we pulled together in the end, and our defense kept us in it when we weren't scoring.''

Kentucky (18-16) took its first lead at 53-52 with 2:27 left in regulation. West Virginia regained the lead before Sara Potts made a 6-footer with 7.8 seconds left to tie the game.

``I don't think this team has ever given up during a game,'' said Potts, who scored 29 points after scoring 32 and 31 points in Kentucky's two previous games. Entering the WNIT, the senior guard's career high was 30 points.

After a West Virginia turnover, Kentucky freshman Samantha Mahoney missed a well-guarded 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The teams traded the lead in the first overtime. West Virginia went just 4-of-8 from the line, and Potts made two free throws with 15.9 seconds left to tie the game at 66. Yolanda Paige missed at the buzzer for West Virginia.

Kentucky didn't score for the first 3 minutes of the second overtime. Bulger scored with 1:53 left to give West Virginia a 72-66 lead, and the Mountaineers shot 6-for-8 from the line to help seal the win.

``We had to exert a lot of energy in the game,'' Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss said. In the second overtime, ``it may have caught up with us.''

Freshman center Sarah Elliott finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Wildcats, who matched their season high with 23 turnovers and completed their longest postseason run.

Kentucky hit just 3 of 17 shots from beyond the arc, including 2-of-10 by Potts.

Paige had 12 assists for West Virginia, giving her 892 in her career and tying the senior for eighth on the NCAA Division I career list.

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