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Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A return to championship form

Tennessee tops Rutgers for first title since 1997-98

April 4, 2007

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— Everyone is gazing up at good ol' Rocky Top again.

After a nine-year title drought, Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt are NCAA champions.

The Lady Vols captured an elusive seventh national title Tuesday night, beating Rutgers to the ball for second and third shots in a 59-46 win to reclaim their customary place above all other programs.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had hoped to win her first title, 25 years after her first national title appearance. Instead, Summitt won her seventh, 20 years after her first.

"I can't even describe it," said Tennessee's All-American Candace Parker. "This is what everyone came to Tennessee to do, and we did it."

Parker scored 17 points to lead the Volunteers (34-3), but the most outstanding player got plenty of help from Shannon Bobbitt and a supporting cast of less-heralded teammates, who too often this season stood around and watched her.

Not this time.

The Lady Vols, trophy-less in their past five tournament visits, wanted this title - badly. Almost from the outset, they outworked the young Scarlet Knights (27-9), who waited until the final game of an improbable tournament run to show their inexperience.

"Maybe we read the headlines or realized it was a national championship game," Stringer said. "We looked like a deer stuck in headlights. "

After building a 16-point lead and then holding off a late push by Rutgers, the Lady Vols could finally celebrate, dribbling out the final 30 seconds under the Rutgers basket. When the final horn sounded, Dominique Redding flung the ball high enough to hit the scoreboard as Tennessee's players, some in tears, danced at midcourt as orange, blue and gold confetti fell from above.

"To win anything you have to be a tight team," Summitt said. "They believed in each other and they all had one goal, to be here in Cleveland and cut down the nets."

Rutgers, which knocked off No. 1 Duke earlier in the tournament, was attempting to become the third straight first-time winner following Baylor in 2005 and Maryland in 2006.

Summitt's 947th career win could be one of her sweetest. The Hall of Fame coach - joined on the floor afterward by her mother, Hazel Head, in a wheelchair - had captured six national titles from 1987-98, but had been shut out for No. 7 despite having some of her most talented teams.

"I think when we lost to LSU in the SEC tournament it was the best thing that happened to us," Summitt said. "You never like to lose, but we really came together as a team. I'd say they held each other accountable. They called each other out."

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