Tennessee Junior Puts On a Good Show
By Jim Brady
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 30, 1998; Page D6
KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 29 There was about one minute in tonight's NCAA women's championship game when Louisiana Tech had any hope of coming back against Tennessee. And while it wasn't at all surprising that the Lady Vols rudely rebuffed the uprising, the person most responsible was a surprise.
For once, it wasn't the Lady Vols' "Three Meeks" Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall who did the damage, but point guard Kellie Jolly.
Jolly, a 5-foot-10 junior from Sparta, Tenn., had a career-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, and made the Final Four all-tournament team for the second straight season. And it was her back-to-back three-pointers that ended the Lady Techsters' hopes in the Lady Vols' eventual 93-75 victory at Kemper Arena.
Tennessee Coach "Pat [Summitt] told me before the game to be aggressive offensively," Jolly said. "I had some open looks and happened to knock them down."
Louisiana Tech, which had trailed by 25 points, pulled to within 72-54 with 11 minutes 52 seconds to play, resuscitating its bench and fans for the first time since the game's opening minutes. But Jolly answered with a three-pointer and after a Louisiana Tech miss pulled up from 24 feet and made another to push the lead back to 24, sending the Lady Techsters' bench and fans right back into their seats.
"Any hope that we had, those two threes she made shut the door," Louisiana Tech Coach Leon Barmore said.
Said Jolly: "Back-to-back threes like that will hurt another team."
Jolly was also one of the Lady Vols' Final Four heroes a year ago, as she battled through injuries all season. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in October 1996 but to the shock of many returned three months later. She then injured her ankle in the Lady Vols' NCAA tournament victory over Grambling but again returned to the lineup for the next game. She then set a championship game record with 11 assists against Old Dominion and had 20 assists in the Final Four.
Jolly's recovery from her knee and ankle injuries plays a major role in an HBO documentary about the 1996-97 Tennessee team, which debuted this week.
"I saw the HBO thing, about the injury she had and how she fought through it," Barmore said. "Those are the things you do to be a champion. I really admire that kid."
Summitt said she told Jolly to look for her shot while watching tape of Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
"I really felt like Kellie would have an opportunity to get some shots off," she said. "Because you obviously have to be concerned about other players on our basketball team that put up numbers."
Those would be the "Three Meeks," who did more than their share tonight as well. Holdsclaw glided around and through the Louisiana Tech defense for 25 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Catchings drove inside almost at will, finishing with 27 points and seven rebounds. Randall added 10 points and eight rebounds.
And as if this evening's coronation wasn't enough to keep the Lady Vols happy, Holdsclaw declared definitively after the game that she will be back next season. The decision "is firm and it's final," she said.
But Summitt still was enjoying talking about this season too much to worry about the next one.
"It's a team unlike any that I've coached in terms of their competitiveness and their will to win," Summitt said.
As for declaring this team the best ever, she said, "I really think that it's probably best for the coaches that are out there that played against us" to decide.