Tennessee Wins Sixth NCAA Title
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 1998; Page D1
KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 29 For those who didn't bother watching the final minutes of the Tennessee Lady Vols' 93-75 victory over Louisiana Tech in tonight's NCAA title game at Kemper Arena, this is what they missed:
Point guard Kellie Jolly skipping joyously to a bench with both index fingers raised, offering her teammates leaping high-fives beneath a sea of orange pom-poms. And the nation's best player, Chamique Holdsclaw, rushing over a minute later, swallowing her coach, Pat Summitt, in a swaying embrace while the orange-clothed fans in the crowd of 17,976 began to chant: "Three-peat! Three-peat! Three-peat!"
Yes, this was Tennessee's third straight championship, a perfect conclusion to a perfect 39-0 season. While Louisiana Tech center Alisa Burras covered her head with a towel, dissolving in sobs as the victory became official, pure joy rushed from the the Lady Vols.
Tennessee now owns the finest season in women's basketball history. The 39-0 record is the best ever compiled by a man's or woman's team, and this women's team had only one senior. The Lady Vols' three straight titles set an NCAA record and equaled the championship mark held by Immaculata (1972-74) and Delta State (1975-77), which won in the days before the NCAA administered women's athletics.
Tonight, in seeking the designation "best team of all time" it was as if the Lady Vols were determined to play the best game of all time to support their case.
"I think it's a good game for women's basketball," Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw said. "Two athletic teams going up and down the floor. A lot of exciting plays for the people out there watching the game at home. It's women's basketball at another level."
Really, though, this wasn't a game, it was a show. The outcome never was in doubt, not from the earliest minutes to the very end, yet the Lady Vols still managed to provide an captivating contest, one of the more fascinating blowouts one will ever see. Even in pregame layups, the Lady Vols screamed and punched at each other, throwing stinging high fives, while the Lady Techsters methodically went through their routine.
Then, Tennessee carried thunder onto the court.
The Lady Techsters, officially the second best team in college basketball, found themselves trapped in a horrible dream. They seemed so often frozen, nothing but mannequins for Tennessee's highlight-film moves, which came by the dozen.
"I wasn't in shock as much as the team," Louisiana Tech Coach Leon Barmore said. "I would think they were so in shock that it was hard for those kids to get over it."
The Lady Vols have won six of the last 12 championships, all under Summitt. Summitt now trails UCLA legend John Wooden by four titles. Catching up to Wooden might seem like an impossibility for Summitt if not for the youth of this Tennessee team, which features two freshman starters, one sophomore and two juniors. Another couple of freshmen are the team's primary substitutes.
The victory margin tied the second-best in history Tennessee also defeated Georgia by 18 in 1996. What was the greatest margin? It was Tennessee's 23-point victory over Louisiana Tech for the Lady Vols' 1987 title. Tennessee won titles in 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1996-98.
When the game began, the Lady Vols deftly funneled all of their pregame energy into exquisite, perfectly executed choreography. After seven and a half minutes, the Lady Vols had a 15-point lead. Ten minutes later, the lead grew to 23. By halftime, with the score at 55-32 the 55 a title-game record high for a half the only thing left was the wait.
The Lady Vols gave the night-time newscasts plenty of choices for clips. Tamika Catchings (27 points) scored on a lob pass from Holdsclaw only it was really a missed shot. After Catchings's shot fell, Holdsclaw (25 points, 10 rebounds) wagged her finger with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. After so many comparisons to Michael Jordan, Holdsclaw, who wears No. 23, even acted the part.
There was much more. On a fast break, Kristen Clement dished to Jolly (20 points) who pitched, without a dribble, to Holdsclaw for a layup. That was only one of Tennessee's many artful transition baskets. On another, Semeka Randall took the ball the length of the court after a block by Clement and executed a whirlybird spin move as three Lady Techsters watched her score. Randall (10 points) also went behind her back to get going on a race down court that was concluded with her 15-foot jumper.
Summitt, meanwhile, paced the sidelines for no clear reason, kneeling, leaning, shouting and signaling, her actions giving her players the clear direction: Don't let up. And the Lady Vols never did.
Just when it appeared the Lady Techsters might be stealing a sliver of emotion, drawing to within 18 points with 11 minutes remaining, Jolly hit two consecutive three-point shotsthe second from about 23 feet, good enough for an NBA three-pointer. With seven minutes left, Louisiana Tech closed to 15, but within a minute and half, Tennessee snuffed out that threat.
Counting back to last season, the Lady Vols' winning streak now stands at 45. With Holdsclaw expected to return for her senior seasonthere is a possibility of her turning proTennessee should be very well prepared for next season, when the Lady Vols try for four in a row.
"You know what?" Holdsclaw said. "Next year's team will be the best ever."