Top-seeded Tennessee defeats Virginia Tech 68-52
Posted: Wednesday March 24, 1999 09:48 PM
GREENSBORO, N.C. (CNN/SI) -- Virginia Tech had tried to imagine what it would be like to play the three-time defending national champion Lady Vols.
When the two teams met Saturday in the East Regional semifinal, Virginia Tech found out just how tough Tennessee really is.
With Tennessee guard Semeka Randall back in the lineup, the Lady Vols defeated the Hokies 68-52 and advanced to play third-seeded Duke Monday in the regional final.
"They turn your turnover into a layup drill," said Virginia Tech coach Bonnie Henrickson, whose club was forced into 26 turnovers and a season-low point total against the pressing Lady Volunteers. "What most people don't understand is how much ground they can cover and how fast they can cover it."
The Hokies even brought in men to practice against in the week leading up to the program's first regional semifinal game, but it proved futile as the Hokies were outscored 23-6 in points off turnovers.
"You think of a passing lane and let go of it and all of the sudden you've got a [Tennessee] jersey running underneath it," Henrickson said. "We went a couple of possessions where we didn't respect their athletic ability."
The result extended Tennessee's winning streak in the NCAA tournament to 21 games.
The victory over the No. 4 seed was no surprise, but the method the Lady Vols used may have been.
One of the nation's top offensive squads turned up its defensive pressure to suffocate the upstart Hokies and move within one game of still another Final Four.
Tennessee (31-2) advanced to the regional title game Monday night to face No. 3 seed Duke with a shot at its 12th Final Four berth since 1982. The Blue Devils beat Old Dominion 76-63 earlier Saturday.
Coach Pat Summitt improved to 64-11 in the tournament in getting career victory No. 695 as Chamique Holdsclaw led the way with 27 points, while Tamika Catchings added 15.
Michelle Houseright led the Hokies (28-3) with 13 points.
There were eight lead changes and three ties in the opening 10 1/2 minutes as the Hokies were able to hurt the taller Lady Vols inside. But Tennessee's talent, size and experience soon became too much for Virginia Tech.
Holdsclaw had 11 of her 15 first-half points midway through the period to become the fifth women's player to crack the 3,000-point barrier for a career, but it was injured guard Semeka Randall who sparked Tennessee.
The Lady Vols trailed 18-17 before going on a 16-0 run as Randall, who entered the game with 10:34 left in the half, scored six points and was key on the defensive end.
Randall, who finished with eight points, two assists and two steals in 13 minutes, had missed Tennessee's second-round victory over Boston College with a left ankle injury.
"Our basketball team was really waiting for Semeka to step on the floor," said Summitt. "That elevates our intensity and confidence and certainly her emotional leadership was present."
The Hokies turned the ball over on six straight possessions and were held scoreless for more than seven minutes as the Lady Vols wouldn't let Virginia Tech get into its offense.
Point guard Lisa Witherspoon had the most difficult time against the Tennessee defensive pressure. The 5-foot-6 senior came into the game third in the nation in assists, but coughed the ball up nine times in the opening 20 minutes alone.
"I lost my poise after getting trapped and not getting to see any of my help," said Witherspoon, who finished with 10 turnovers. "I wasn't prepared for as much."
"We wanted to keep the heat on her for 40 minutes," Summitt said of Witherspoon.
Tennessee's 13-point halftime lead grew to 20 points with 13:47 left and the Hokies never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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