With One to Go, It's Tennessee in a Waltz
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 28, 1998; Page E1
KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 27 Tennessee's freshmen, Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt said the other day, get too excited and too enthusiastic on occasion. The exuberant kids, Summitt said, can put too much energy on display and show too little poise.
The Tennessee freshmen, true to form, were exceedingly energetic in tonight's NCAA tournament national semifinal, but this time Summitt couldn't offer a word of complaint. Freshmen scored 19 of the Lady Vols' first 21 points, propelling Tennessee to a lead it never lost while piling up an 86-58 victory over Arkansas before 17,976 at Kemper Arena.
It was the widest margin of victory in a Final Four game in the women's tournament's 17-year history. Connecticut beat Stanford, 87-60, in a semifinal in 1995-the year the Huskies finished undefeated.
Tennessee (38-0) advanced to its fourth consecutive national final. It will try to complete one of the finest seasons in college basketball history men's or women's Sunday against Louisiana Tech. With tonight's victory, the Lady Vols set an NCAA record for most victories in a season by a men's or women's team in any division; the 1986 Duke men's team and the 1987 Nevada-Las Vegas men's team each won 37 games.
The Lady Techsters (31-3) advanced to the final by defeating North Carolina State, 84-65, in tonight's early game. Louisiana Tech took control of the game with a 14-0 run in the first half and put it away with a 12-0 run early in the second half.
The Lady Techsters, NCAA champs in 1982 and 1988, are seeking their third NCAA title.
The Lady Vols are seeking their third in a row.
Last year, the Lady Vols became the first tournament champions to have 10 losses. This year, they are striving to become only the third undefeated NCAA champion and the first with 39 victories. One of those victories was over then-No. 2-ranked Louisiana Tech, 75-61, on Nov. 21 in Knoxville. It was Louisiana Tech's first game of the season, Tennessee's second.
Tonight, despite a difficult opening to the game for junior Chamique Holdsclaw, the national player of the year, Tennessee gained and maintained a comfortable lead. And a remarkable blast of energy from the entire team including Holdsclaw to start the second half assured that Tennessee wouldn't be going home early.
With Holdsclaw, who finished with 23 points, shaking off her early woes and scoring eight quick points in the opening minutes of the second half, the Lady Vols went on an 18-5 scoring run. That outburst quieted the Lady Razorbacks, who had trailed by 11 at halftime. In just three minutes, Tennessee's lead had grown to 22 points, 55-33.
Arkansas, which shot poorly all night and turned the ball over countless times, seemed overwhelmed by Tennessee's defensive pressure. And maybe just overwhelmed by the pressure of making its first Final Four appearance. Traveling violations and air balls were among a host of lowlights for the Lady Razorbacks.
Holdsclaw did not score her first points of the night until nearly nine minutes had gone by in the game. While Holdsclaw sputtered, freshman guard Semeka Randall and first-year forward Tamika Catchings kept the Lady Vols in the lead, contributing a combined 25 first-half points. They also led a high-octane defensive effort. Randall finished with 22 points and Catchings added 13.
All night long, their energy was on display. Minutes into the game, Catchings was fouled on a successful layup and, on her back, shook her feet and waved her arms gleefully. Seconds later, Randall forced two straight turnovers and jumped around like she had just won the lottery. After being fouled on a layup that would turn into a three-point playing, giving Tennessee a nine-point lead 11 minutes into the game, Randall kicked her foot and pumped her fists.
Meanwhile, Holdsclaw couldn't get started. After she missed a three-point attempt, making her 0 for 3 on the night, Summitt yanked her out of the game and offered a heated commentary on her shot selection.
Only Arkansas forward Treva Christensen, who didn't even start, kept Arkansas from being blown out in the first half, scoring 10 of her team's 28 points. Tennessee, it is worth noting, averaged a 32-point victory margin during the regular season.
Tennessee defeated Louisiana Tech in the team's only meeting this year, last Nov. 25 in Knoxville. Holdsclaw had 24 points and 11 rebounds in that 75-61 victory.
Tennessee entered the tournament ranked No. 1 in both polls. Arkansas (22-11) stood at 35th in the Associated Press poll and a lofty 47th in the USA Today poll. The ninth seed, the Lady Razorbacks were the lowest seeded team ever to advance this far.