March 29, 2005
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Tennessee already gave coach Pat Summitt the record for career wins in this tournament. On Tuesday night, the Lady Vols gave her something even more meaningful - a trip to the Final Four.
Shanna Zolman broke out of a slump with a couple of big baskets down the stretch, Nicky Anosike scored 14 points and the top-seeded Lady Vols beat No. 3 seed Rutgers 59-49 in the Philadelphia Regional final.
Tennessee will play Michigan State (32-3) in the national semifinals in Indianapolis on Sunday night. The top-seeded Spartans beat Stanford 76-69 in the Kansas City Regional final on Tuesday night.
"They were tough down the stretch," Summitt said. "We had some big plays from a lot of different people."
The Lady Vols (30-4) are in the Final Four for the fourth straight year, fifth time this decade and 16th time overall, all under Summitt. She extended her NCAA record with her 882nd career win.
Tennessee survived a long scoring drought, woeful shooting and a fine performance by Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter in avenging a December loss to the Scarlet Knights (28-7).
For the first time in the tournament, Tennessee's win didn't come easy.
Pondexter scored 25 points and made nine of the Scarlet Knights' 18 baskets, but she had little help until it was too late. The Scarlet Knights' physical defense kept them in it until the end.
Rutgers seemed poised to pull within three on Matee Ajavon's shot from the left side, until it was reviewed by officials who determined it was a 2-point basket. That made it 49-45. Then Essence Carson had a steal for Rutgers and was fouled by Loree Moore.
Carson calmly sank the free throws - her first two points of the game - pulling Rutgers to 49-47 with 1:08 left.
Tennessee, though, sank its last 12 free throws and that was just the cushion the Lady Vols needed to win their 12th straight game. The Lady Vols made 29 of 35 free throws; Rutgers was just 8-for-13.
Tennessee's free throws compensated for only 31 percent shooting from the floor.
The Lady Vols went over 12 minutes without a basket bridging the first and second half. They were rushed into bad shots, missed a couple of easy attempts under the basket and committed seven turnovers in the first 8 minutes of the second half.
Rutgers used a 9-0 run and grabbed the lead for the first time since scoring the first two baskets of the game. The lead was short lived.
The Lady Vols went ahead on a couple of free throws and Zolman's fast-break layup pushed the lead to 43-39. Zolman, who missed seven of her first 10 shots, buried a 3-pointer for a 46-41 lead.
"We were really focusing on trying to go inside, but I saw a man go on a screen, so I had to take it," Zolman said of her 3.
Tennessee reached its 15th 30-wins season and first since 1997-98 - the last of its three straight national championships.
Zolman and Shyra Ely are ready for a happy homecoming. The former Miss Indiana Basketball duo have made it a mission to return to their home state for the Final Four - Ely even scribbled "Homeward Bound" on the back of her sneakers.
"I told my mom, just don't give away tickets," said Ely, who scored nine points. "If you've been to a Tennessee game, I'll give you a ticket."