COMMITTEE CERTAINLY DIDN'T do Tennessee any favors. Of its record 26
consecutive NCAA trips, this one threatened to be the toughest. After a
heartbreaking nine-point loss to LSU in their SEC tournament semifinal game,
the Lady Vols had to contend with a Dayton region bracket that included
defending-champion Maryland (No. 6 in the RPI), Big 12 champion Oklahoma (No.
7) and Big Ten champion Ohio State (No. 9).
Making the Final
Four is never easy, and for only the third time the Lady Vols' road would snake
outside Tennessee. "The situation now with women's basketball," said
coach Pat Summitt, "is that teams [like ours] are sometimes going to have
to travel and sometimes face opponents on their home floor."
First up for
Tennessee was No. 16 Drake, a team that was happy just to have an invitation to
the Big Dance. After weathering a rough 6–18 midseason stretch, the
Bulldogs—who had lost three starters, including top scorer Jill Martin, to
season-ending injuries—rallied to four wins in as many days to claim the
Missouri Valley Conference tournament title. "We've all heard about what it
takes to overcome obstacles and how through great adversity comes triumph, and
it's all true," said Drake coach Amy Stephens, who dubbed her plucky
Bulldogs the Mighty Warriors. "We believe that the greater the difficulty,
the more glorious the triumph."
In terms of degree
of difficulty, Drake couldn't do better than its first ranked opponent of the
season, the Lady Vols, who have never lost a first-round NCAA game. Stephens's
warriors put up a brave fight at the beginning. Even with a smaller, less
athletic lineup, they kept the score close until midway through the first half.
Twelve minutes in, Tennessee could muster only a 13–9 lead that it pushed to
21–14 two minutes before halftime.
"At the half
someone said, 'What's the deal? What's wrong?' " Summitt said. "But
[Drake] just came out and matched our intensity."
So after the break
the Lady Vols turned it up to a level that few teams are capable of matching.
Forward Candace Parker and point guard Shannon Bobbitt led a 25–0 run to open
the second half. Parker scored the first two baskets, then Bobbitt, 0 for 4 in
the previous half, got off the schneid with a pair of three-pointers and a
basket off a steal. "I didn't settle down in the first half," said
Bobbitt, the 5' 2" spark plug from New York City's Murry Bergtraum High
School. "I didn't run the team well. My job is to get the game up-tempo in
in the second half—hardly a waltz anymore—was so fast that overwhelmed Drake
couldn't score until Freshman forward Monique Jones hit two free throws with
nearly 13 minutes gone. By then the Lady Vols had opened a 31-point lead. They
went on to hold the Bulldogs to 19.4% shooting in the half en route to a 76–37
victory. "I think having been off [for two weeks], we came into the first
half a little anxious," said Parker, who had 13 points and six rebounds.
"I feel we settled down in the second half and picked up our defensive
Drake finished 12
for 56 from the field, with its starters going a combined 9 for 49. "Our
goal was to hang around, and we were able to do that for a long time," said
Drake guard Lindsay Whorton, limited to nine points on 3-of-15 shooting.
"Then they made us play at a pace we're not used to."
In lieu of pace,
the Pittsburgh Panthers had the advantage of place for their second-round
matchup against the Lady Vols. With the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh
serving as the backdrop for the Dayton subregional, the No. 8–seeded Panthers
had the luxury of playing their first NCAA tournament games on their home
floor. Their 71–61 defeat of James Madison in round 1 delighted their many
To survive and
advance in this hostile environment, Summitt said before the game that her team
would have to unpack its "defense and board play." Both parts of that
critical cargo were on display early on as the Lady Vols jumped to a 14–7 lead
in the first eight minutes and held a 16-point edge by halftime. Parker
contributed 12 points and a monstrous block on 6' 3" Panthers junior center
Marcedes Walker, Pittsburgh's top scorer and rebounder. "Had we not had
those first eight minutes, the game would've been different," coach Agnus
Berenato would say later. "We maybe felt like we couldn't compete or didn't