Vols Hit the Shot That Matters

By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2008

TAMPA, April 6 -- Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said coming into Sunday night's national semifinal game she felt that it would be hard for the Lady Vols to win without a strong offensive showing from Alexis Hornbuckle.

Summitt was wrong. Tennessee needed only one basket from the senior guard, and what a basket it was. Hornbuckle grabbed Nicky Anosike's missed layup and made the putback with 0.7 of a second left on the clock to lift the Lady Vols to a 47-46 victory over Louisiana State at St. Pete Times Forum.

Tennessee (35-2) overcame a poor shooting night to earn the chance to defend its title in Tuesday night's championship game. The Lady Vols will play Stanford, an 82-73 winner against Connecticut in the earlier semifinal.

"Of course I realized I didn't make a shot all night," said Hornbuckle, who missed her first seven field goal attempts. "It was frustrating. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't give up on myself and my team. It's bigger than yourself when you come to the Final Four."

After Erica White, one of LSU's five senior starters, made two free throws to put the Lady Tigers (31-6) up by one with 7.1 seconds remaining, Tennessee put the ball in its best player's hands. Candace Parker dribbled upcourt along the right sideline. Rather than take the shot, Parker threw the ball to Anosike underneath the basket. At first, it looked like a bad decision on Parker's part when Anosike missed. But then, Hornbuckle corralled the rebound and her basket sent the Lady Vols to the final.

"I'm happy my team still had confidence in me after this game, shooting as poorly as I did," said Parker, who scored 13 points on 6-of-27 shooting. "To put the ball in my hands at the end of the game, that's what I wanted. I knew I wanted to just come down and create, whether it was a shot or a pass."

The biggest question coming into the game was how well Parker's shoulder would hold up. The all-American dislocated her left shoulder twice in the Oklahoma City Region final and wore a brace underneath a long-sleeved white shirt throughout the game. She seemed eager to prove early on that the shoulder wasn't going to inhibit her. She came out shooting -- and missing. Parker failed to connect on her first five shots before finally making a jump shot 11 minutes 23 seconds into the game.

"I'm not going to make any excuses about my shoulder," Parker said. "It's fine."

It wasn't until she got her shot swatted away by Sylvia Fowles that Parker seemed to get into a rhythm. She scored on three consecutive possessions to give Tennessee its largest lead, 19-11. Her scoring outburst came while she was having to defend Fowles. The two all-Americans normally wouldn't go up against one another, but they were forced into a head-to-head matchup once Anosike drew her second foul at the 8:50 mark and went to the bench.

LSU seemed determined to go inside to Fowles throughout the game, especially with Anosike in foul trouble. The 6-foot-6 all-American center took 24 of the Lady Tigers' 54 field goal attempts, going 10 of 24 for 24 points. Fowles, who also grabbed 20 rebounds, got little help offensively from her teammates. Quianna Chaney scored nine points, and White added seven.

After Fowles's jump shot tied the score at 39, LSU missed its next six shots as well as a pair of free throws and turned over the ball twice. Yet, despite this four-minute drought, the Lady Tigers trailed by four. Fowles had a chance to tie the score at 43 with 1:18 left but missed the second of two free throws. LSU made just 7 of 19 foul shots in the game.

Neither team could make a basket early on. Shots were bouncing off the rim in every direction, refusing to fall. Tennessee missed 11 of its first 12 shots, while LSU made only one of its first 11. For the longest time, the scoreboard remained stuck on 3-2.

The Lady Tigers, who were making their fifth straight trip to the Final Four, a feat matched only by Connecticut (2000-04), have yet to win a game at this event. Last year, LSU lost to Rutgers, scoring a mere 35 points, the lowest output in a Final Four game.

"For any team to make it to the Final Four one time, I don't care what anyone says, is an accomplishment," White said. "For us to get here every year is definitely something that no one can discredit. . . . I think that the one thing we just lacked [was] confidence on the offensive end. And Coach Van [Chancellor] has done an excellent job in helping us with that this year, but for whatever reason we just weren't confident tonight."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company