Xavier upsets No. 1 seed Tennessee 80-65
Updated: Sunday March 25, 2001 9:06 AM
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- There will be no Final Four trip for Tennessee this year, not even a regional final.
Xavier brought the Lady Vols' season to a stunning end, sending them to their earliest exit in the NCAA tournament in seven years.
The Musketeers overcame top-seeded Tennessee's height advantage and athleticism with sharp shooting and outstanding team play to earn an 80-65 victory Saturday in the Mideast Regional semifinals.
Xavier (31-2) built a 10-point lead in the first half, fought off Tennessee's repeated comeback attempts and, remarkably, won going away for its 21st consecutive victory.
"We didn't want to go into this game intimidated," Xavier's Nicole Levandusky said. "If you go into a game like that, you're already defeated. You've got to go in with positive thinking, 'We can beat this team,' and that's exactly what we did."
Tennessee's unmatched tradition, which includes six national championships, and all of Pat Summitt's coaching acumen could not save the Lady Vols (31-3) in this one.
It was the first time Tennessee failed to reach the regional finals since a 1994 semifinal loss to Louisiana Tech.
Instead, it will be fourth-seeded Xavier, which before this season had only one NCAA tournament victory, advancing to Monday night's regional championship against the Purdue-Texas Tech winner.
"We hope this puts us on the map," Xavier's Amy Waugh said. "We've been looking to get some national recognition all year. But we're not satisfied. We want to go to the Final Four."
Sensing defeat, Summitt sat passively on the bench as the final two minutes were played and Xavier made enough free throws to stay safely ahead. Her anger surfaced afterward.
"I am more upset with this team and disappointed in this team than I am for this team," Summitt said. "This team did not deserve anything other than the outcome they got."
Summitt's players showed little emotion as Levandusky dribbled out the final seconds and no tears were evident as they trudged to the locker room while the Xavier players celebrated at midcourt.
It was, indeed, a victory to get excited about. Consider this: When Tennessee won its fifth national title at Cincinnati in 1997, Xavier was one of the host schools and had just completed a 10-17 season.
Now the Musketeers are one game from the Final Four.
"Our rap is that we're slow and we're non-athletic," Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb said. "I don't think we're that slow and I don't think we're that non-athletic."
Tennessee had made five Final Four trips in the past six years and won three national titles. But there won't be another for seniors Semeka Randall and Kristen Clement, who were part of a ballyhooed freshman class that helped the Lady Vols go undefeated in winning the 1998 championship.
The third member of that class and the team's best player, Tamika Catchings, has not played since tearing a knee ligament Jan. 15.
"They beat us in transition. We got killed," said Randall, who was 0-for-9 and scoreless in her final game. "Things happen for a reason. For some odd reason, this happened to us."
As usual, Xavier had balanced scoring, which is what makes the Musketeers so hard to defend. Levandusky led with 19 points, Jennifer Phillips scored 17, Waugh had 14, Taru Tuukkanen 12 and Reeta Piipari 10.
"When you play a team like that, you can't have breakdowns on defense," Summitt said. "They made us pay every time we had a mental breakdown.
Tennessee outrebounded Xavier 43-33 but shot only 38 percent. Gwen Jackson led the Lady Vols with 16 points and nine rebounds. Ashley Robinson scored 12, while Kara Lawson and Tasha Butts each had 10.
Xavier made nine of its first 12 shots in jumping to a 21-11 lead, forcing Tennessee into a game of catchup.
Down 40-36 at halftime, the Lady Vols pulled into five ties in the second half, the last at 58-58 on Michelle Snow's turnaround jumper with 10:06 remaining.
Eight seconds later, Levandusky hit a baseline jumper, Waugh followed with three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point shot and the Musketeers went on to outscore Tennessee 22-7 the rest of the way.
"You can score, but if you don't stop your opponent from
scoring, you won't win," Robinson said. "Regardless of whether we
were hitting our shots, if we would have stopped them on defense,
we probably would have won this game."