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Another missed opportunity

Despite four Final Fours, Lady Vols' seniors titleless

Posted: Monday April 4, 2005 7:33PM; Updated: Monday April 4, 2005 7:33PM
Shyra Ely, left, and her senior classmates were unable to deliver Tennessee it's first national title since 1998.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee coach Pat Summitt picked up loss No. 172, and the Lady Vols left the Final Four again without a trophy.

This is not how Tennessee envisioned the season ending. The Lady Vols finished an up-and-down year on a low by losing to Michigan State in the national semifinals on Sunday in Indianapolis.

The seniors -- Shyra Ely, Loree Moore and Brittany Jackson -- went to four straight Final Fours but could not win it all. Tennessee won its last title in 1998.

"It was a great year overall. You can always sit around and wonder what if. I guess I've been in it long enough to know it's not about what if, it's about what we do have, not what we don't have," Summitt said Monday. "If you look at 30-5 and a Final Four appearance and an SEC tournament championship, these student-athletes have a lot to be proud of."

Tennessee appeared to be well on its way to giving Summitt her 883rd win and playing for a seventh national championship before Michigan State began a furious rally to erase a 16-point deficit and take the lead with a minute left.

The Lady Vols failed to tie the game when Shanna Zolman missed a 3-pointer, and Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike missed consecutive putbacks in the last seconds.

Ely, the season's leading scorer and rebounder, put her hands to her face in shock when the buzzer sounded. The Indianapolis native, who wrote "Homeward Bound" on her sneakers during the tournament, had 9 points and eight rebounds.

Summitt watched game tape in her hotel room Sunday night and replayed the final 3 minutes of the game Monday before returning to Knoxville. Then she took a nap.

"Sometimes because the bar is so incredibly high we have to really remind ourselves how successful we've been and see the big picture and not just the last game because only one team in college basketball ends the season with a W," Summitt said. "You've got to keep it in perspective."

Tennessee lost to a team other than Connecticut in the national semifinals for the first time since 1988, when Louisiana Tech beat the Lady Vols.

Tennessee still accomplished much during the season despite not reaching its annual goal.

Summitt set the NCAA record for career wins when she passed Dean Smith with victory No. 880 in the second round in Knoxville. After the game, university officials announced they were naming the hardwood at Thompson-Boling Arena "The Summitt" in her honor.

Another run to the Final Four looked in doubt early this season when Tennessee began 4-2 with losses to Duke and Texas.

The Lady Vols searched for leadership to replace last year's inspired seniors Tasha Butts, Ashley Robinson and LaToya Davis, who led them to the championship game against Connecticut.

The Lady Vols lost two players for the season because of injury and two others redshirted to recover from surgery. Moore missed playing time in December after her tonsils were removed, but she didn't miss any time after breaking her nose in February.

LSU ended the Lady Vols' run of seven straight Southeastern Conference regular-season titles. Tennessee got back at the Lady Tigers by beating them in the championship game of the SEC tournament.

The Lady Vols avenged an embarrassing 65-51 loss to Rutgers in December with a win over the Scarlet Knights in the Philadelphia Regional final to earn their 16th trip to the Final Four.

Tennessee also welcomed six freshmen who comprised a recruiting class many considered the best ever in women's college basketball.

Hornbuckle and Anosike earned starting spots, offering a hint of what's to come for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols look forward to having forward Candace Parker ready to play next season. She redshirted to recover from knee surgery, a disappointment for fans who wanted to see her after she won the dunk contest as a McDonald's high school All-American a year ago.

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