All SEC-Final in Women’s Tournament
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ It didn’t turn out to be an all-Southeastern Conference Final Four. But it will be an all-SEC final.
Longtime SEC powers Tennessee and Georgia will meet Sunday to decide the national championship in women’s basketball, a fitting end to a season in which teams from that league dominated the national rankings.
As many as eight SEC teams were in The Associated Press poll at one time, seven got into the NCAA tournament and one played in each of the four regional finals.
Now two are left and they’re used to playing each other in big games, just not this one.
``Tremendous emotion pours into this game from both ends of the floor,″ Georgia coach Andy Landers said. ``We’ve played for conference championships. We’ve played for bragging rights. We’ve played for conference tournament championships. We’ve played for No. 1 seedings.
``We’ve played for a lot of things. It’s about time we played for the national championship. We’re excited about that.″
Tennessee made it by dashing the repeat hopes of defending NCAA champion Connecticut with an 88-83 overtime victory in one semifinal game Friday night. All-American Saudia Roundtree led Georgia to an 86-76 victory over Stanford in the other.
So it’ll be a pair of familiar foes going at it for basketball’s biggest prize. Georgia beat Tennessee 77-71 on Jan. 8 in their only meeting this season.
Tennessee (31-4), in the Final Four for the ninth time, will play in its sixth championship game and try for its fourth title. Georgia (28-4), making its fourth Final Four trip, has played in the finals only once, losing to Old Dominion in 1985.
The victory over Connecticut was especially gratifying for Tennessee because the Lady Vols had lost to the Huskies three straight times, including last year’s title game. And it came about after UConn’s Nykesha Sales hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left to tie the score at 75, giving the Huskies momentum heading into the overtime.
``When we came to the bench, I thought we looked like we had lost the game,″ Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. ``The first thing I told them was that the mentally solid basketball team wins the next five minutes and I don’t like the looks on your faces.
``I told them the first three minutes of overtime belong to us. We’ve got to win the tip and go from there.″
After three ties, Tennessee took the lead for good on a free throw by Michelle Marciniak with 1:43 left and the Lady Vols ended up making seven of eight free throws the rest of the way.
Trailing 86-83, Connecticut had a chance to tie with another dramatic shot. But Tiffani Johnson got a piece of the ball on Jennifer Rizzotti’s 3-point shot from the right wing and Latina Davis made two free throws to wrap it up.
``Going into overtime,″ Marciniak said, ``we talked about how our team all year long has played together, won together and now we were going to go into overtime and win this game together. And we did.″
Marciniak led Tennessee with 21 points. Davis scored 16, Johnson and Chamique Holdsclaw 13 each and Abby Conklin 11.
Connecticut (34-4), which went 35-0 in winning last year’s title, played the overtime without 6-foot-7 All-American Kara Wolters, who fouled out with 1:19 left in regulation. Sales led the Huskies with 28 points and Rizzotti scored 17. Wolters finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
``That was a great college basketball game,″ Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. ``I think they made some huge plays and I think we made some huge plays. Unfortunately, they made a few more than we did.″
Georgia got 26 points and seven assists from Roundtree and survived horrendous free-throw shooting down the stretch to end Stanford’s 23-game winning streak, the longest in the nation.
The Lady Bulldogs built an 18-point lead, then opened the door for a Stanford comeback by missing 12 of their last 15 free throws. Stanford trimmed the lead to 81-76 before Georgia steadied. Frett finally made two free throws for an 84-76 lead with 27.9 seconds left and Latrese Bush drove for a layup at the buzzer.
``That was very unusual for us,″ said Landers, whose team entered the game shooting 74 percent from the free-throw line. ``We’ve never seen it before and I doubt we’ll see it again, so we’re really not concerned about it.″
La’Keshia Frett added 22 points for Georgia, while Tracy Henderson had 17 points, six rebounds and four blocks. Kate Starbird led Stanford (29-3) with 20 points.