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THE 2008 FINAL FOUR
Kelli Anderson
April 17, 2008
IN TAMPA, TENNESSEE AVENGED ITS TWO REGULAR-SEASON LOSSES AND GRABBED AN EIGHTH TITLE
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April 17, 2008

The 2008 Final Four

IN TAMPA, TENNESSEE AVENGED ITS TWO REGULAR-SEASON LOSSES AND GRABBED AN EIGHTH TITLE

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The other story line was this: Stanford, once a Final Four fixture, hadn't reached the final weekend in 11 years and hadn't won a championship since 1992. Many experts—including former Lady Vol and current ESPN analyst Kara Lawson—predicted the school would finally get its third title, against Tennessee.

The Lady Vols had noted the number of experts who were predicting a win for Stanford, and they were duly offended. One article they took particular exception to declared that Tennessee could not hold the Cardinal under 50 points. (The Lady Vols were holding tournament opponents to 52.4.)

To emphasize the enormity of the disrespect, assistant coaches plastered highlighted and underlined press clippings (helpfully provided by sports information director Debby Jennings) to a mannequin. In the locker room before the game Lockwood took a baseball bat and smashed the doll to bits. "What motivated us was the negativity, everybody doubting us," said Hornbuckle.

Tennessee's pressure defense overwhelmed Stanford almost from tip-off. Unlike in December, the Lady Vols shut down Stanford's high-low game and stuck to the perimeter players like flypaper. Senior Alberta Auguste, assigned to shadow Wiggins, had vowed to "follow her to the restroom" if she had to. She held Wiggins to 14 points, half her tournament average. More problematic for the Cardinal was its 25 turnovers (twice its tournament average of 12.6), its 3-for-11 shooting from the three-point line and its 7-of-14 shooting from the free throw line. "We struggled in basically every facet of the game," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.

Every Lady Vol on the court did something to make life miserable for the Cardinal. Anosike grabbed six of Tennessee's 13 steals and added 12 points and eight rebounds. Hornbuckle had another bad shooting night (1 of 7), but she hounded Stanford point guard JJ Hones and hit 4 of 5 free throws. Shannon Bobbitt hit three demoralizing three-pointers in the first half. Freshman reserve forward Vicki Baugh notched eight points and four rebounds in 13 minutes before she fell to the ground with a sprained left knee after making a layup with 7:14 to go in the game. Moshak was on the case immediately. By the time Baugh returned to the court on crutches with a giant wad of ice around her injured knee with a minute and a half to go, Tennessee had extended its lead to 62-48. Two free throws by Parker and freshman Sydney Smallbone made the final score 64-48. What was somebody saying about the impossibility of keeping Stanford below 50?

Parker may have missed getting a double double on the stat sheet, but she got one very few players can claim: two consecutive Most Outstanding Player awards and two consecutive national titles. "Some players don't get one," Parker said of her team's national titles as she stood on a stage at midcourt. "I'm fortunate enough to get two."

As Parker and the four senior starters—Anosike, Auguste, Bobbitt and Hornbuckle—leaned on one another under a shower of confetti, they formed a tableau that was a testament to both the team's warrior mentality and Moshak's healing magic. Hornbuckle had twin braces around her knees. Auguste wore a blue shoulder brace and twin bands around her knees. Parker had her shoulder brace, hidden beneath her long-sleeved shirt and far from her mind at the moment. Bobbitt and Anosike would get their ice in the locker room.

All of them had been through battles with opponents on the court and with Summitt off it. "It's been a roller coaster, physically, emotionally," says Hornbuckle. "I came in as an immature freshman, thought I knew everything. Turns out I knew a lot less than I realized."

Summitt admitted that this group "drove me crazy on a lot of days, but I love [them], and I'm so proud of them," she said. Furthermore, this second title proved that they had indeed learned a few things in their time in Knoxville. "They're smart enough to realize the system has worked," says Summitt. "It worked six times before they got there, and it's worked two times since."

There was one Lady Vol who apparently still needed reminding of the system's efficacy. As Summitt stood outside the locker room after the game, Parker appeared with Jennings, cradling the championship trophy. "We're going to take this up to ESPN to show Kara," said Parker.

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