Tennessee defeats Rutgers 64-54, returns to title game
Posted: Saturday April 01, 2000 08:36 AM
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Kara Lawson found a way to score when her All-American teammates could not.
Cool, calm and collected, Tennessee's freshman point guard stared into the teeth of Rutgers' mystifying zone defense and then broke it down to help send the Lady Vols into yet another national championship game.
Lawson scored 14 of her 19 points in the second half and Tamika Catchings, the national player of the year, picked it up after scoring just two points in the first half as Tennessee beat Rutgers 64-54 Friday night to reach the NCAA finals for the for the fifth time in six years.
"Nothing Kara Lawson does surprises me," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "I have very high expectations of her. She's the type of competitor when the game is tight, she wants to make the plays. As a freshman, I haven't had one quite like her in the half-court."
Lawson and Catchings led a six-minute second-half spurt that put Tennessee (33-3) ahead to stay and Randall, a second-team All-American, scored the Lady Vols' final six points to put it away.
Tennessee has won 20 straight and will seek its seventh national title Sunday night against Connecticut or Penn State, which met in the second semifinal.
"This defense is obviously something we haven't seen much of this year," Lawson said. "It took us five or six minutes to really figure out what we were doing. Once we figured it out in the second half, we were able to pick it apart and score."
That happened when it was 36-36 in the slow-paced game, which is just what Rutgers (26-8) wanted. Tennessee started finding creases in the Scarlet Knights' feisty matchup zone and capitalized by making the shots.
First it was Lawson driving into the heart of the defense and flipping in a finger roll to break the tie with 13:57 left. Then, Kristen Clement fired a no-look pass across the court to Michelle Snow for a layup.
After Davalyn Cunningham scored for Rutgers, Catchings swished a line-drive 3-pointer and Lawson came through again, nailing a jumper from the baseline for a 45-38 lead with 9:38 to play.
"I didn't anticipate she could do that," Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer said of Lawson. "She's a big-time player, but I was disturbed at how we played. No one should be penetrating our zones like that."
A slick baseline drive by Catchings and an 18-footer by the 6-foot-5 Snow completed a 13-3 run that made it 49-39 with 7:55 remaining. From there, it was just a matter of holding off the Scarlet Knights, and the Lady Vols got it done. Lawson hit six straight free throws to keep them in control and even blocked Rutgers' last shot.
"She did it all for us," said Catchings, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. "She stepped up her game definitely, just dribbling and penetrating the gap."
Snow added 10 points and blocked seven shots, a Final Four record. Randall finished with nine points.
Shawnetta Stewart, Linda Miles and Tasha Pointer led Rutgers with 11 points each. The Scarlet Knights, who struggled on offense much of the season, got 13 more shots than Tennessee but hit just 37 percent (23-for-62).
"I think our team played well with our chest sticking out," said Stewart, a Philadelphia native who played her final game for Rutgers. "We weren't going to back down."
Rutgers closed to 49-45 when Miles sank two free throws with 6:40 to play, but Tennessee scored the next seven points, including four free throws by Lawson, to regain control quickly.
The Scarlet Knights twice got to within six after that, the last time at 58-52 when Miles scored on a drive with 1:07 to play. Randall then finished it off for Tennessee, converting a three-point play off a drive and sinking three final free throws.
Tennessee finished 22-of-29 at the line. Rutgers was 6-for-10.
Rutgers kept things the way it wanted in the first half, pinning Tennessee in a halfcourt game with its defense and excruciatingly patient offense.
Tennessee twice turned the ball over on shot clock violations. In the first 10 minutes, the Lady Vols got the ball inside only once and that did not result in a basket.
Still, Tennessee led 16-13 after Snow connected on a turnaround shot with 6:50 to play. But the Lady Vols came up empty on their next five possessions, and reserve Usha Gilmore hit two baskets in an 8-0 run that gave Rutgers a 24-17 lead.
Tennessee looked out of sync at that point, and the Scarlet Knights, an emotional bunch that celebrated almost every good play, seemed on the verge of taking command.
But Tennessee regained its composure and pulled ahead 25-24 when Lawson hit a 3-pointer off a nice inbounds play with 1:20 to go. Kourtney Walton's 3 returned the lead to Rutgers before Catchings' layup with 39 seconds left -- her first points of the game -- and Randall's free throw left Tennessee ahead 28-26.
Stringer thought her team was tired after winning the West Regional in Portland, Ore. The Scarlet Knights did not get back until Tuesday afternoon, then took a bus to Philadelphia the next day.
"We got in at the last second and we've been hopping ever since then," Stringer said. "Next time, we'll be a lot more settled. I think we were just exhausted."
It was a physical game with plenty of bumping and aggressive defense and each team had a player helped off the floor.
Tennessee's April McDivitt was carried to the bench after being knocked down near midcourt at the 13:09 mark. She was crying in pain as she held her left knee, but trainers iced the area just above the knee and she returned later in the half.
Miles left with 2:13 remaining in the half when she banged her left hip diving to try to strip the ball from Randall. She was able to start the second half.