TENNESSEE 52, LSU 50: Shyra Ely steals a pass and LaToya Davis scores in the last second as the Vols escape again.
By EMILY NIPPS
Published April 5, 2004
NEW ORLEANS - Tennessee can chalk another one up to its run on destiny.
After getting to the Final Four by winning two games that were decided in the last minute, the Volunteers did it again Sunday, forcing a crucial turnover and scoring in the last second to defeat Louisiana State 52-50.
Tigers guard Tameka Johnson took an inbounds pass and attempted to drive toward the other end of the court with six seconds left. Before she could get to halfcourt, junior forward Shyra Ely stole the ball and passed it to forward LaToya Davis. She carefully made her way to the basket and took the winning layup.
"It's funny we were talking about that in the locker room," Ely said. "And I guess the way we feel is that we're supposed to be here, because we keep finding ways to win."
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt returns to the championship game for the second straight season after making her 15th Final Four appearance. She joked that the past few games, including a 71-69 win over Baylor and 62-60 over Stanford, have taken a toll.
"Well, I walked in (the locker room) and told them I was really proud of them," Summitt said. "But I don't know how much more of this I can take."
Tennessee, the lone No. 1 seed in the Final Four, plays Connecticut, a 67-58 winner over Minnesota. It will be the second straight title game between the two, and the fourth time in the last 10 years. Connecticut has won all three meetings.
It was LSU's first Final Four appearance, and fan support weighed heavily toward the Tigers.
"It's going to be unfortunate that we're probably going to talk most about the last six seconds of this game," said acting coach Dana "Pokey" Chatman, who has filled in for Sue Gunter while she battles bronchitis. "And in my opinion, that's not where this game was lost."
LSU led for almost the first half after coming out strong with a 5-0 start. The Vols struggled, making only 8-of-28 from the field.
Tennessee (31-3) went on a run, capped by a LaToya Davis jumper, giving it its only first-half lead at 6-5, but the Tigers responded with six unanswered points by four players.
They kept enough of a lead to frustrate the Vols, and by the end of the half, LSU led 25-19.
The Tigers (27-8) were up 34-29 in the second when Tennessee caught them. Tye'sha Fluker hit a jumper, and a 3-pointer by Shanna Zolman (12 points) tied it.
From that point, the game stayed tight. Bit by bit, LSU kept scoring and Tennessee kept answering, never letting the Tigers lead by more than two.
It got more intense when Doneeka Hodges fouled Tasha Butts (11 points, 11 rebounds) as she scored on a putback. Butts went to the line and made two free throws to give Tennessee its first lead of the second half at 43-42.
LSU's Doneeka Hodges made a jumper, but Zolman again put the Vols ahead with two free throws and a 3-pointer.
Tennessee kept its lead until LSU's Tillie Willis made a layup to tie with 26 seconds left. On the Vols' next possession, Butts slowly made her way up the court but missed her layup, putting the ball in LSU's hands.
Summitt called a timeout, told Ely and Davis to double team Johnson and put 6-foot-5 Ashley Robinson on Seimone Augustus' inbounds pass. The play wound up being the winner.
"I just lost the ball, I guess," said Johnson, who finished with nine points and eight assists. "I owe Doneeka an apology for not getting her what we were trying to get."
Keeping Augustus well-guarded was also key, as the Vols held her to 16 points. Augustus entered the semifinal with six consecutive 20-plus games.
Tennessee outrebounded LSU 44-35, which made its mark most in the second half.