The faces change, but the result remains the same for Tennessee’s top-ranked women.
Fifth-seeded Rutgers came in Saturday wanting to add another upset against Tennessee. The Vols, though, kept their bid for a record third straight basketball title alive by routing the Scarlet Knights 92-60 in the Mideast Regional semifinal.
Tennessee (36-0), the tournament’s lone remaining top seed, will meet North Carolina (27-6), an 80-74 winner over Illinois, when the Vols make their 14th appearance in the regional championship game Monday night.
The Scarlet Knights (22-10) thought they were young and fearless enough to ignore the home-floor advantage for Tennessee. The Vols were playing 3 hours away from home in Knoxville.
And Rutgers did for a while, staying closer to Tennessee than the Vols have been used to this season, trailing 38-30 at halftime.
But the Vols opened the second half with a 29-10 run and led 67-40 midway through the half. They stretched the margin to 30 as All-American Chamique Holdsclaw scored 10 of Tennessee’s 13 points and coach Pat Summitt started pulling her starters.
The “Meeks” led the way for Tennessee, with Holdsclaw finishing with 25 points, Tamika Catchings with 23 and Semeka Randall adding 17. Kellie Jolly had 12.
Randall guarded Natasha Pointer, Rutgers’ freshman point guard, most of the night. She harassed Pointer into nine turnovers and limited her to four points, 10 below her average.
“I just wanted to come out tonight and really make a statement by playing hard defensively and giving it all to my team,” said Randall.
Rutgers had history on its side. The Scarlet Knights surprised then-No. 1 Tennessee in 1994, becoming the only unranked team to pull such an upset.
But Tennessee forced Rutgers into 27 turnovers, worth 29 points.
North Carolina 80, Illinois 74
Tracy Reid, held to three points in the first half, came back with 17 in the final 20 minutes as the Tar Heels rallied past the Illini and into the regional title game against Tennessee.
Illinois (20-10) had led by six at halftime.
Chanel Wright led North Carolina with 25 points.
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