Lady Vols, Tar Heels Move On
By Jim Brady
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 22, 1998; Page 11
NASHVILLE, March 21 Rutgers showed this season it was ready to begin its ascent back up the women's basketball ladder. But in tonight's Mideast Region semifinals, it found out who is atop that ladder. And Tennessee made it clear it wanted no company.
The Lady Vols broke open a reasonably close game with a 10-2 run to open the second half and rolled to a 92-60 victory over the Scarlet Knights before an orange-clad crowd of 14,711 at Memorial Coliseum. The victory left Tennessee (36-0) one victory from its 11th Final Four appearance and three from an unprecedented third straight national championship and sixth title overall.
On Monday, the top-seeded Lady Vols will take on No. 2 seed North Carolina, an 80-74 winner over No. 3 seed Illinois in the evening's second game.
Tennessee was led by junior forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman forward Tamika Catchings, who had 23 points. Freshman guard Semeka Randall added 17 points and 13 rebounds and spearheaded the pressure defense that eventually overran the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers (22-10), which shot 33 percent and committed 27 turnovers, was led by junior guard Tomora Young, who scored 18. The Scarlet Knights' Natasha Pointer, the Big East rookie of the year, was the recipient of much of Tennessee's defensive attention and finished with just four points on 2-of-10 shooting. She also committed nine turnovers.
"I really felt like we could defensively disrupt Rutgers's offense if we played at our level of intensity," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said. "Their youth might have benefited us."
Leading 38-30 at the half, Tennessee which has beaten its opponents by an average of 31.2 points per game wasted little time extending that advantage. Holdsclaw and Randall each scored four points during the 10-2 run, and when Catchings made a short bank shot with 16 minutes 10 seconds to play, the Lady Vols held a 48-32 lead.
A three-pointer by Young and a three-point play by freshman center Tammy Sutton-Brown helped Rutgers pull back within 12, but the Lady Vols responded with a 10-0 run. Tennessee's lead didn't fall below 20 again.
"Clearly, Tennessee's pressure got to us and forced us to do some things that are uncharacteristic for us," Rutgers Coach Vivian Stringer said.
That pressure was spearheaded by Randall, who checked Pointer most of the night, had four steals and was credited by her teammates for setting the tone of the game.
"We were laughing at her in warm ups," Holdsclaw said, "because she was so intense."
Said Randall: "The whole philosophy of the game was to take [Pointer] out of her game, and that's what we did."
In the second game, North Carolina forward Tracy Reid scored 17 of her 20 points after halftime to lead the Tar Heels back from a six-point halftime deficit.
Illinois (20-10) opened a 14-5 lead over the smaller but quicker Tar Heels, and fended off a few runs in taking a 38-32 halftime lead. But in the second half, the Fighting Illini were drawn into a fullcourt game and paid the price. Still, the game was tied at 46 with 15:36 to play when North Carolina (27-6) took control with a 14-0 run that took just 2:32.
Freshman guard Nikki Teasley (St. John's/Prospect Hall) started it with a double-pump layup and freshman guard Laquanda Barksdale ended it with a short jumper that gave the Tar Heels had a commanding 60-46 lead with 12:47 left.
But Illinois rallied within 75-69 on two free throws by senior guard Ashley Berggren (team-high 28 points) with 3:02 left.
"We started playing some defense and rebounding in the second half," North Carolina Coach Sylvia Hatchell said, "and I think that was the difference in the game."
Junior guard Chanel Wright led the Tar Heels with 25 points, while Teasley added 11 points.
Monday's final will match two teams that like to run and press, though the Lady Vols are better- suited to a half-court game.
"I think certainly North Carolina reminds me more of Rutgers, though a somewhat more experienced version," Summitt said. "They'll certainly bring a real challenge to us in their ability to match up with our strengths."
Said Hatchell: "They just have so much talent and they're so athletic. We're just going to go out and play the best we can."
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