By all accounts, Gonzaga didn’t let momentum slip away Saturday night; Tennessee seized it by the throat.
Down 17 points with 6 1/2 minutes to play in their NCAA regional semifinal at the Arena, the Lady Vols staged a rally for the ages – even by Tennessee standards.
“They picked it up a notch,” understated Gonzaga guard Georgia Stirton said after an epic 73-69 overtime win by one of the nation’s most storied programs.
Add another chapter to the story, written at Gonzaga’s expense.
When it mattered most, the Volunteers forced turnovers at one end of the court and drove hard to the basket at the other. Their aggression was rewarded, especially in overtime, when Tennessee didn’t make a single field goal, but went 10 for 10 at the free-throw line.
With 6:34 to play, overtime was far from anyone’s mind. Shelby Cheslek had just completed a three-point play to give GU a 57-40 lead as an Arena crowd of 8,686 roared its approval.
Tennessee, the winner of eight national titles, seemed beaten.
But as GU coach Lisa Fortier said, “Programs like Tennessee don’t fade away. They never have and they never will.”
Tennessee turned to the press, full-court, run and jump, as Tennessee coach Holly Warlick described it.
“We were getting our butts kicked, so I thought we had to try something different,” Warlick said.
The lead was still 12 after Keani Albanez hit two foul shots with 4:44 left, but she later missed the front ends of two one-and-one opportunities. The comeback was in full roar by then, as Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick drew a foul and made both free throws to cut the lead to 61-58 with 2:24 to play.
“They were the aggressors, they were making the plays, and unfortunately, we couldn’t reciprocate,” GU’s Elle Tinkle said.
Sure enough, seconds later, Bashaara Graves stole the ball and made a layin to make it a one-point game, and Jordan Reynolds turned another turnover into a pair of free throws that gave the Vols their first lead, 62-61, since early in the game.
Emma Wolfram’s layup with 58 seconds left helped the Zags reach overtime, where they took a brief lead on Sunny Greinacher’s jumper. They tied it at 67 when Greinacher got the last of her game-high 24 points on a layin with 2:54 to play, but things went downhill from there.
On its next possession, Tennessee grabbed four offensive boards before Burdick canned two free throws with 1:38 left. On their next two trips down the court, the Zags committed a shot-clock violation and watched Greinacher miss a jumper with 17 seconds left.
Burdick got the rebound, drew the foul and canned both foul shots to give the Vols a 71-67 lead with 17 seconds left.
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