From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED PRESENTS, April 12, 2007
WHEN THE LADY VOLS ARRIVED IN CLEVELAND FOR the Final Four on March 29, they must have felt an eerie sense of d�j� vu. This was the scene of last year's premature exit from the NCAA tournament, when they fell to North Carolina 75-63 in the Cleveland Regional final, failing to make the Final Four for the first time in five years. Here they were a year later, in the same arena in the same city, ensconced in the same locker room and facing the same opponent. But no one in the Tennessee contingent saw these coincidences as anything but a positive portent. "It was meant to be," said coach Pat Summitt.
The Lady Vols arrived in Cleveland leaving a trail of crushed upstarts in their wake. In their first four tournament games they had destroyed the dreams of four would-be Cinderellas. Top-seeded North Carolina, the winner over Purdue in the Dallas region, would be a different animal.
Tennessee struggled to score (it shot just 27% for the game, a Final Four-record low), and neither team could hang on to the ball. (Together they turned it over 50 times in 40 minutes.) Somehow the Tar Heels built a 48-36 advantage with 8:18 to go in the game. "At that point," said sophomore Candace Parker, "we looked at each other and said, If we're going to go down, we're going to go down fighting."
The Wade Trophy winner and first-team All-America went to work. She scored six of her 14 points and got three of her 13 rebounds and a critical steal in the last 4:38. After senior Sidney Spencer sealed the Lady Vols' 20-2 run with two free throws for a 56-50 win, Parker extended her index finger and said, "One more game."
Tennessee's final opponent, No. 4 seed Rutgers, had never won an NCAA title, and neither had its legendary coach, C. Vivian Stringer, though she had taken teams to the Final Four in each of three decades.
The Lady Vols required great defense, superior rebounding and a team effort to beat the Scarlet Knights 59-46 and win their seventh national title. Midway through the first half Tennessee took control of the game, going on a 17-6 run to stretch the lead to 29-18 by the intermission. Junior Alberta Auguste, a reserve forward, was the star of the run, scoring eight of her 10 points and grabbing four rebounds. Guard Shannon Bobbitt, her fellow junior college transfer, would star in a second-half run, hitting three of her four three-pointers in less than three minutes and helping to push the score to 46-30 with 10 minutes to go.
And so Tennessee's title drought came to an end, after nine years. As Summitt climbed the ladder as champion, the passage of time was marked in part by this detail: In order for her son, Tyler, to ascend with her as he had on every such occasion since he was born in 1990, a second ladder needed to be positioned under the rim for him. "Last time I was small enough to stand on the same ladder with her," said Tyler, now 16. If that particular arrangement was different, the feeling of snipping the net was sweetly familiar for Pat Summitt. "This was not about winning number 7," she said. "This is about this team winning their first."