tampabay.com

Spartans stand strong to oust six-time champs

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published April 5, 2005


INDIANAPOLIS - When Michigan State arrived for the women's Final Four on Saturday, the players and coach Joanne McCallie wanted to make a few things clear.

Tennessee had a 16-1 edge in Final Four appearances, but the Spartans weren't intimidated. They respected the program, but they came to make a name for themselves.

Sunday, they did.

Senior guard Kristin Haynie stole a pass and converted a layup with 57 seconds left, and Michigan State scored twice more in the final 35 seconds, stunning Tennessee 68-64 in front of 28,937 at the RCA Dome.

It was the first loss in a national semifinal for the Vols since 2002 and the first to a team other than Connecticut since 1988. The Spartans overcame a 16-point second-half deficit, tying the record for the largest comeback in Final Four history.

The victory sets up a Tuesday NCAA final between the Spartans and Baylor, two first-time participants in the Final Four.

"It speaks to the fact that there's growth and terrific things are happening in women's basketball," McCallie said. "It's exciting for people to learn more about other teams."

Unless you're Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. The Vols were vying for their seventh national title and first since 1998. Sunday's loss - particularly losing the huge lead - hit the Division I's all-time winningest coach hard.

"This is a very, very disappointing loss," Summitt said. "It'll be a long time before I get this one out of my system."

For good reason.

Michigan State (33-3) led by eight midway through the first half, but by halftime, the Vols had rallied for a 31-25 lead, outscoring Michigan State 11-2 in the final 4:08. And 5:30 into the second half, Tennessee led 49-33.

"The first thing that went through my mind was LSU-Baylor (a 15-point deficit to LSU in the first semifinal)," said Vols guard Shanna Zolman, who had 13 points. "We knew they were going to make a run at us. We just couldn't stop it."

The Spartans outscored the Vols 14-2 as part of the run that got them back into the game. They continued to chip away, and when Victoria Lucas-Perry hit two free throws with 1:20 left, the score was tied at 62.

Haynie's layup gave Michigan State a 64-62 lead, but a jumper by Loree Moore tied it at 64 with 52 seconds left. Kelli Roehrig's layup with 35 seconds left gave the Spartans a 66-64 lead, and the Vols had one last chance. But after two rebounds and three missed shots, Roehrig grabbed the rebound and Lindsay Bowen's pass to Lucas-Perry for a layup with three seconds left sealed the win.

"I think the second 20 minutes really reflected the greatness and the heart and soul of our team," McCallie said. "To come back from the deficit and finish the game in the manner in which our team did, I'm very proud but not the least bit surprised."