Closer Look: Tennessee-UNC
Vols' vaunted defense overrides futile shooting effort
Posted: Monday April 2, 2007 2:02AM; Updated: Monday April 2, 2007 3:13AM
CLEVELAND -- So much for star power. Or firepower, for that matter. Tennessee and North Carolina, the only top seeds to reach the Final Four, were missing both in their semifinal matchups Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena. North Carolina's Ivory Latta spent about as much time on the bench as she did the floor during the first half. Latta picked up her third foul 11 minutes in. Tennessee got even less time from Candace Parker. She played just eight minutes.
The Lady Vols did come through with a record-setting performance, though. It wasn't one you'd expect from two of the nation's most productive offenses. North Carolina led the country with 84.6 points a game. The Lady Vols average 74.5.
But Sunday, Tennessee shot just 27 percent in its 56-50 win, the lowest shooting percentage by a winning team in Final Four history.
"So, we're in the record books again?" Tennessee coach Pat Summitt asked. "I like that. It ain't pretty, but we're there."
The Lady Vols are also in the championship game for the first time since 2004. The six-time national champions are looking for their first title since 1998.
It looked as though Tennessee would be denied the chance on Sunday. The Tar Heels, who were just as bad on offense as Tennessee in the first half, managed to start scoring, thanks to Rashanda McCants and Camille Little. The duo helped North Carolina to a 48-36 lead with 8:18 to play.
That's when things fell apart for the Tar Heels. They didn't hit a single field goal the rest of the game. Their only points came on a pair of free throws by Latta. It didn't help their cause that a pair of fouls within a two-minute span sent Little and Pringle, who had four blocks and seven rebounds, out of the game.
An injury to McCants left the Tar Heels with two starters in the game. The Lady Vols had their entire starting rotation on the floor down the stretch and regained control
PLAYER WHO IMPRESSED ME
Tennessee's Nicky Anosike wouldn't make you take much notice on offense, but she was a presence on the other end of the floor and on the boards. Anosike grabbed seven rebounds, blocked four shots and had five steals. She also did a good job of getting to the line where she was 8-for-12. With the Lady Vols trailing by four with less than four minutes left, Anosike scored five straight points to put them ahead for good. McCants was just as good for the Tar Heels. McCants, whose brother won a national championship with North Carolina in 2005, did her best to get her team to the title game, too. McCants was about the only accurate shooter on the floor, hitting 6-of-12 from the floor. She also grabbed nine rebounds and five steals.
The support Tennessee men's coach Bruce Pearl provides for the Lady Vols has been no secret this season. Pearl showed up to a televised game against Duke sporting a bare chest, covered in Tennessee orange paint. Summitt returned the favor by dressing up in a cheerleader outfit when Pearl's team played Florida. Pearl was on-hand to lend support again on Sunday. This time, fully clothed, and impressed by the Lady Vols' defensive effort against the Tar Heels.
"This is what separates Pat from other coaches," Pearl said. "She's a tremendous, tremendous defensive coach. Her team doesn't take possessions off. Twenty steals. Defense is one thing you can control. You can control defense, and that's what Pat focuses on. It was sloppy, but that was because of the excellence of the defense." Pearl planned to head back to the men's Final Four in Atlanta before returning to Cleveland in time for the women's championship on Tuesday.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Lady Vols proved they could also win an ugly defensive battle. But it's hard to believe their offense will struggle so badly two games in a row, although Rutgers has a way of making teams do just that. Still, Tennessee has a big size advantage in the paint. The Lady Vols are likely to take advantage of it, especially with Parker. With a title on the line, the Wade Trophy winner isn't about to have a repeat performance of 3-for-12.