|No luck needed for 13th Lady Vol crown |
|NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Lady Vols know when the games really count. That’s when they start taking home championships. |
Candace Parker hit a jumper with 1:57 left that put Tennessee ahead to stay, and the No. 3 Lady Vols won their record 13th Southeastern Conference title and third in four years by beating No. 7 LSU 61-55 Sunday night. And they did it against the team that handed them their worst SEC loss since 1985 last month to deny them a regular season championship.
Parker said the Lady Vols play for the postseason.
“Obviously, that gives a little bit more motivation and a little bit incentive to play harder. I think we just came out, we stepped it up for the postseason. We had something to prove. We lost the regular-season SEC title to them. I think we came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Parker said.
They leave with a third straight tournament title at LSU’s expense, but this win is a little sweeter after the Lady Tigers defeated the Lady Vols 78-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 14. The Lady Vols (30-2) reached 30 wins for a sixth straight season and for the 18th time in coach Pat Summitt’s 34 years.
Now Tennessee will get three days off before preparing to defend its national championship. Summitt said her Lady Vols have a chance to win a record eighth title if they play in the NCAA Tournament as they hard as they did in winning three games in three days.
“For a team coming off a championship, they had a hard time being motivated for 40 minutes game in and game out. Unfortunately with the schedule we played, that made it very challenging in a lot of games. But right now, I think they can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Summitt said.
Parker finished with 28 points and Shannon Bobbitt had 12 for Tennessee. Nicky Anosike had a team-high 11 rebounds for the Lady Vols.
LSU (27-5) hoped to add the school’s third tournament title and first since 2003 in the Lady Tigers’ fourth straight chance in the title game. But the Lady Tigers could not score again after Sylvia Fowles hit only one of two free throws with 1:37 to go.
Fowles finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds for LSU, and Quianna Chaney added 13.
The Lady Tigers refused to concede that Tennessee was much better, not when they missed four shots and had a turnover in the final 47 seconds.
Coach Van Chancellor called Parker’s jumper, which came as the shot clock wound down, the difference in the game.
Senior guard Erica White said she saw little difference on the stat sheet.
“The only thing that I can think of, they had to have wanted it more than us. Maybe they prayed more last night, I don’t know,” White said.
Fowles said she’d rather have both titles if given a choice.
“For the most part, I’m glad we won the regular season,” she said.
Nobody has played the Lady Vols tougher or tighter over the years than LSU, especially with titles on the line.
The past two tournament championships played by these teams had been decided by a combined four points.
They swapped the lead 16 times with five ties. LSU last led 54-51 on a drive by Chaney with 3:35 left.
Bobbitt answered with a 3 to tie it, and Parker hit an 18-foot jumper at the end of the shot clock to put Tennessee back up 56-54 with 1:57 remaining.
Parker added two more free throws as Tennessee was 5-of-7 at the line in the final 45.7 seconds to clinch the victory before a record crowd of 12,392 — the largest ever to watch an SEC tournament game, with most of the fans wearing Lady Vols’ orange.
The Lady Vols were not happy after blowing a 21-2 lead to LSU in Knoxville. That loss tied a loss to Georgia in 1985 for the worst SEC defeat in Tennessee history at home. And it prompted a meeting between Summitt and her staff with the Lady Vols, plus a players’ only session.
They now have won six straight since the loss that Summitt called a wakeup call for a team still enjoying the national championship the Lady Vols won last spring. And it’s now the sixth time the Lady Vols have finished second in the SEC in the regular season only to bounce back and win the tournament title.
The loss sent Chancellor home without a tournament title yet again. The Hall of Fame coach didn’t win this tournament in his 19 seasons at Mississippi, and having the regular season crown didn’t help either. LSU now has gone home empty-handed in six of the Lady Tigers’ eight appearances in the title game.
“If Tennessee is good enough to win a national championship, we are too,” Chancellor said he told his players after the game. “We beat them at home, we had a great game here today. I don’t see much difference in the two teams.”
Tennessee led most of the first half and was up 25-22 at halftime.
The game picked up when LSU tied it for the third time, at 33, when Allison Hightower hit a 3-pointer that capped seven straight points. As Tennessee went without a field goal for more than five minutes, the Lady Tigers went ahead, but by no more than four, the last 39-35 on a bucket by Fowles.
Parker tied it with a layup off a fastbreak, and her free throw put Tennessee back up 40-39 to start a furious stretch as the teams went up and down the court swapping the lead back and forth.
It was such a physical game that official Joe Cunningham pulled a calf in the first half and had to be replaced by standby referee Mary Day with 4:32 to go.