From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, April 6, 1998
LOUISIANA TECH COACH LEON BARMORE IS SOMETHING of an expert on the Tennessee Lady Vols, having been a sideline witness to so many of their triumphs. His Lady Techsters were the victims when Tennessee won its first national championship in 1987, a 67-44 conquest that remains the most lopsided NCAA women's title game in history. And who do you suppose was in the house when Tennessee raised its 1996-97 championship banner at Thompson-Boling Arena on Nov. 21?
Yes, Barmore had seen a lot and heard even more about Tennessee, particularly this season, as the Lady Vols rolled along unbeaten in their quest for a sixth NCAA women's title and an unprecedented third in a row. He had heard the "greatest ever" hype, but he had refused to jump on the bandwagon. Other teams had gone undefeated only to crash in the postseason, he had warned. Let's see this team win it all. So, on March 29, as Tennessee and Louisiana Tech faced off for the national championship at Kansas City's Kemper Arena on the western edge of Missouri, Barmore took his seat, clasped his hands together and, in effect, said, Show me!
As they had for most of the year, the Lady Vols made their case for greatness swiftly and decisively. With the first half not even half finished, national player of the year Chamique Holdsclaw, wearing the signature shoes of another Final Four legend, Sheryl Swoopes, had scored 16 points—one more than Tech—to put Tennessee ahead 36-15. The junior All-America forward would add nine more points and finish with 10 rebounds and six assists to earn her second consecutive Final Four Most Outstanding Player award. Anyone who had suspected that Holdsclaw might be growing bored with winning championships—she has now won eight in a row: three NCAA titles, four New York state high school titles at Christ the King and an eighth-grade championship in Queens, N.Y.—was greatly mistaken.
"In the first 10 minutes of the game, when she was hitting jump shots with people in her face, taking it to the hole, I knew it was her night," Lady Vols freshman guard Semeka Randall said of Holdsclaw. "She wasn't going to let anybody take that championship home except Tennessee."
Neither were her teammates. Freshman forward Tamika Catchings, playing in front of her father, Harvey, a former NBA center, led all scorers with 27 points. Junior point guard Kellie Jolly added a career-best 20 points, including four three-pointers. Two of her treys came on back-to-back possessions that Barmore said "shut the door" on his team, which had trailed by 23 points at halftime but closed to within 18.
By the end of the Lady Vols' 93-75 win, their NCAA-record 39th this season and 45th in a row, Barmore counted himself among the converted. "We got beat by the best women's team I've personally ever seen," said Barmore, who has coached for 16 years and been to the NCAA title game four times. "Whatever they needed, they got it done."