Tennesssee 57, Texas Tech 44
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ A limping Tamika Catchings couldn’t shoot, yet the All-American managed to do everything else in leading Tennessee to the Final Four for a record 12th time.
Catchings, playing with a sprained right ankle for much of the game, scored just seven points but grabbed 16 rebounds as top-seeded Tennessee held off Texas Tech 57-44 on Monday night in the Mideast Regional final.
The junior, the focus of Texas Tech’s defense, was 2-for-11 from the field.
``To counteract that, I went down and made sure I rebounded and played great defense so I wouldn’t be sitting on the bench with Pat,″ Catchings said, referring to Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.
For awhile, the game looked like a replay of last year’s East Regional final, when Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw couldn’t hit a shot. The Lady Vols lost that game to Duke, ending a run of three straight national championships.
But Catchings refused to let the Lady Vols (31-3) lose to Texas Tech (28-5).
The 6-foot-1 forward tipped away passes, took charges and matched her career high with the 16 rebounds. She had three steals and six assists.
``She is the player of the year, and players of the year tend to make plays in a lot of different ways that hurt people,″ Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. ``She hurt us on the boards a lot. It’s just those little things that separate teams this time of year. When you got a player like that, they normally can bail you out.″
Kara Lawson led Tennessee with 13 points. Michelle Snow and Semeka Randall each had 12 points for the Lady Vols, 7-of-7 in regional finals played in Tennessee.
``It was ugly, but it was also beautiful,″ said Summitt, who matched former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden with her 12th Final Four trip.
``I told our basketball team that we were in this situation a year ago and the ball wouldn’t fall. We just couldn’t come up with the plays you have to come up with. That’s where we go back to our rebounding and defense.″
Texas Tech hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1993, when Sheryl Swoopes led the Lady Raiders to a national championship in their one and only appearance. The Lady Raiders used their defense to harass Tennessee into one of its worst shooting performances this season.
Tennessee led most of the game, but Texas Tech got within 42-40 with 8:37 left on Aleah Johnson’s basket. Randall scored six points in a 10-2 spurt that sealed the victory for Tennessee.
``I guess we just forgot about her,″ Johnson said. ``I don’t know. Some players step up, some don’t, and she was the one that stepped up in that run.″
Johnson led Texas Tech with 12 points. Plenette Pierson had all 10 of her points in the first half.
Tennessee routed Furman, Arizona and Virginia to reach the regional final, and the Lady Vols looked like they would add Texas Tech to the list after taking a 12-4 lead.
But Texas Tech got Snow into quick foul trouble, and she went to the bench with 14:11 left. With the 6-foot-5 Snow sitting, the Lady Raiders started heading to the basket. Pierson scored eight of her 10 up close.
Tennessee had more trouble midway through the half.
Catchings landed awkwardly on her right foot after missing a jumper from near the free throw line, badly wrenching her ankle with 10:17 left before halftime. The pro-Tennessee crowd fell silent as she was helped off the court by a team official and team trainer Jenny Moshak.
It was the same court and almost the same spot where Cincinnati star Kenyon Martin broke his right leg 2 1/2 weeks ago during the Conference USA men’s tournament.
Catchings’ ankle was wrapped heavily and she returned to the game with 3:02 left in the half.
``It hurt when I came back out, but I wanted to be out there for my teammates,″ she said.