Up to that point, one of the championship's anticipated subplots had not fully developed: the matchup between two of the country's best point guards, Rizzotti and the Lady Vols' Michelle Marciniak. As one might guess from Marciniak's lovingly sculpted blonde bangs, her game has a few extra flourishes; she is partial to spin moves and behind-the-back passes. Earlier in her career her penchant for glitzy play often landed her in Summitt's doghouse, despite the unusually strong bond they share.
Summitt, you see, went into labor while on a recruiting visit to Marciniak's house in Macungie, Pa., four years ago. The coach made her pitch, flew back to Knoxville, Tenn., and gave birth to her son, Tyler, hours later. "I called my mother, my mother-in-law and then Michelle," says Summitt. "She sent me flowers the next day. Shortly after that, she called to tell me she was going to Notre Dame."
Marciniak's decision was part parochial, part statistical. A 24-point-a-game scorer at Allentown Central Catholic, she wanted to continue lighting up the scoreboard as a collegian, and she thought she would have a better chance to do it under the Golden Dome. Disillusioned after the Irish lost 17 games in her freshman year, she transferred to Tennessee. Recalling that Summitt had gone into labor in Marciniak's house, folks around Knoxville wondered, Would the new girl rate special treatment?
Absolutely—harsh treatment. Lady Vol assistants used to beg Summitt to say something, anything, nice to Marciniak before practice ended. Once Marciniak got her showboating under control, Summitt backed off.
Rizzotti's style is less ornate than Marciniak's. In the first half on Sunday it was also less effective. In what she would describe as "one of the worst halves I've ever played," Rizzotti had four points, three fouls and no assists.
Unlike the Lady Vols, she finished strong. After Summitt's timeout and several missed opportunities by both teams, Elliott sank a layup that tied the score at 61 with 2:17 remaining. Then Rizzotti delivered the bucket on which the game turned. Gathering in a long defensive rebound, she went coast to coast with Marciniak right with her. An instant before she reached the basket, Rizzotti crossed over to her left and sank a sweet, left-handed layup with 1:51 remaining.
"I should have tied her up or fouled her," Marciniak said later, " 'cause that got their momentum going." Indeed, the Huskies never relinquished their lead.
There was a charming, unrehearsed flavor to UConn's championship celebration. Uncertain of the etiquette of cutting down the nets, the Huskies milled around the ladder. One asked Dailey, the assistant coach, "What do we do?"
Having snipped the last strand, Auriemma was attempting to descend the ladder when—despite his feeble protests—he was surrounded and borne away on the shoulders of his players. They carried him off the court, into a tunnel, into history.