Tennessee arrived at the women’s Final Four with more losses than any previous team. But the Volunteers also arrived with Chamique Holdsclaw, and that’s what mattered most.
Holdsclaw was brilliant Sunday night, leading Tennessee to a 68-59 victory over Old Dominion that gave the Vols their second straight national championship and fifth overall.
She scored 14 of her 24 points in the second half and made the key plays down the stretch to help her team recover after temporarily losing the lead. In the final 6:48, the sophomore All-American scored 10 points, assisted on two baskets and blocked a shot.
Shut down in the first half by Old Dominion’s pressure and her own reluctance, Holdsclaw settled down and settled in when the Vols needed her most.
“I felt I let their pressure get to me early,” said Holdsclaw, who wore one of the nets around her neck. “My teammates and coaches stayed on me: ‘Chamique, just take your time.’ I can’t hide on this team.”
An aggressive, physical defense that took the free-spirited, emotional Old Dominion players out of their game also was key, as was the coaching acumen of Pat Summitt.
Summitt has guided Tennessee (29-10) to all of its titles. UCLA’s John Wooden is the only coach in major college basketball, men or women, with more titles than Summitt.
“Fifth in the SEC and No. 1 in the country,” Summitt said. “Doesn’t that just sum up what this team has just accomplished?”
With 9.3 seconds left and the title secure, Holdsclaw slapped hands and bumped bodies with jubilant teammates. Indicative of the way the game went, Old Dominion All-American guard Ticha Penicheiro threw the ball away on the Monarchs’ last possession, then went to the bench in tears. It was her 11th turnover and Old Dominion’s 26th.
Those turnovers were the result of a Tennessee defense that was allowed to bump and knock people around without fouls being called while the Vols were building a 16-point lead in the first half.
Penicheiro, Old Dominion’s darting, slashing point guard from Portugal, bore the brunt of the Tennessee defense. She went scoreless in the first half and finished with 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting. But she did set a championship game record with eight steals.
“In the first half, we were a little intimidated by the kind of pressure Tennessee put on us,” Penicheiro said. “We turned it over way too much. That had a lot to do with the result.”
Machanguana’s 16 points led Old Dominion (34-2), which was seeking a return to the glory years that produced AIAW national championships in 1979 and 1980 and the NCAA crown in 1985. But Tennessee was too relentless and the Monarchs saw their 33-game winning streak end.
The title capped a long bumpy ride for Tennessee, which suffered through injuries and the nation’s toughest schedule in the first half of the season. Tennessee stood 10-6 after losing at Old Dominion 83-72 on Jan. 7 and looked nothing like a team that could win the national championship.
But point guard Kellie Jolly returned from a knee injury after that game and the Vols regrouped to become only the second team in 16 years of NCAA women’s play to win consecutive titles. Southern Cal won in 1983 and 1984.
Tennessee’s 10 losses are the most ever for a national champion. The most previously were six by Tennessee’s 1987 title team.
Old Dominion took the lead on three occasions in the second half, the last time at 49-47 on reserve Amber Eller’s 3-pointer from the left corner with 7:05 left.
But Holdsclaw, who had carried the Vols through the early part of the season, came through again in the final game.
First, Holdsclaw got a basket inside to tie the score at 49 with 6:48 left. Then she fed Niya Butts for a short bank shot in the lane that put the Vols up 51-49. That was followed by a pass to wide-open Pashen Thompson for a layup, stretching the lead to 53-49, and Tiffani Johnson’s basket made it 55-49 with 4:46 left.
Tennessee 68, Old Dominion 59
Tennessee (29-10) - Johnson 4-4 0-0 8, Holdsclaw 11-20 2-3 24, Thompson 4-4 0-3 8, Elzy 1-3 0-1 2, Jolly 1-5 2-2 5, Butts 4-7 0-0 8, Milligan 0-0 0-0 0, Green 0-1 1-2 1, Laxton 0-0 0-0 0, Stephens 0-0 0-0 0, Conklin 4-5 2-2 12. Totals 29-49 7-13 68.
Old Dominion (34-2) - Andrade 2-7 0-0 4, Machanguana 7-13 2-2 16, Roberts 6-8 1-2 13, Himes 0-1 0-0 0, Penicheiro 4-13 2-2 10, Eller 2-4 0-0 5, Eblin 3-11 2-4 11, Small 0-0 0-0 0, Diaz 0-5 0-0 0, Bradley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 7-10 59.
Halftime-Tennessee 34, Old Dominion 22. 3-Point goals- Tennessee 3-5, (Conklin 2-2, Jolly 1-3), Old Dominion 4-18, (Eblin 3-10, Eller 1-2, Penicheiro 0-1, Diaz 0-2, Andrade 0-3). Fouled out-Andrade, Machanguana. Rebounds-Tennessee 29 (Holdsclaw 7), Old Dominion 32 (Machanguana 10). Assists-Tennessee 18 (Jolly 11), Old Dominion 15 (Penicheiro 8). Total fouls- Tennessee 13, Old Dominion 16. A-16,714.
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