April 3, 2007
CLEVELAND (AP) -Everyone is gazing up at good ol' Rocky Top again.
After a nine-year title drought, Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt are NCAA champions.
The Lady Vols captured an elusive seventh national title Tuesday night, beating Rutgers to the ball for second and third shots in a 59-46 win to reclaim their customary place above all other programs.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had hoped to win her first title, 25 years after her first national title appearance. Instead, Summitt won her seventh, 20 years after her first.
"I can't even describe it," said Tennessee's All-American Candace Parker. "This is what everyone came to Tennessee to do, and we did it."
Parker scored 17 points to lead the Volunteers (34-3), but the most outstanding player got plenty of help from Shannon Bobbitt and a supporting cast of less-heralded teammates, who too often this season stood around and watched her.
Not this time.
The Lady Vols, trophy-less in their past five tournament visits, wanted this title - badly. Almost from the outset, they outworked the young Scarlet Knights (27-9), who waited until the final game of an improbable tournament run to show their inexperience.
After building a 16-point lead and then holding off a late push by Rutgers, the Lady Vols could finally celebrate, dribbling out the final 30 seconds under the Rutgers basket. When the final horn sounded, Dominique Redding flung the ball high enough to hit the scoreboard as Tennessee's players, some in tears, danced at midcourt as orange, blue and gold confetti fell from above.
"To win anything you have to be a tight team," Summitt said. "They believed in each other and they all had one goal, to be here in Cleveland and cut down the nets. I'm real, real proud of this team.
Summitt's 947th career win could be one of her sweetest. The Hall of Fame coach - joined on the floor afterward by her mother, Hazel Head, in a wheelchair - had captured six national titles from 1987-98, but had been shut out for No. 7 despite having some of her most talented teams.
"I think when we lost to LSU in the SEC tournament it was the best thing that happened to us," Summitt said. "You never like to lose, but we really came together as a team. I'd say they held each other accountable. They called each other out."
Parker, too, had been looking to solidify her place among the best to ever wear UT's orange and white. She knew only a title would fulfill her legacy and allow her to be mentioned along with Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Bridgette Gordon.
She belongs in their class now. And she's not going anywhere.
"Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I?" said Parker, when asked if she would wear orange next season.
Bobbitt scored 13 points - 9 of them on three 3-pointers in a lightning-quick span in the second half - and Nicky Anosike, who made her teammates sign a pact in January to reinforce their commitment to winning it all, had 16 rebounds for the Lady Vols, who had 24 offensive boards.
Kia Vaughn had 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace Rutgers. But the Scarlet Knights made far too many mistakes to challenge the Lady Vols down the stretch.
Several times, Stringer, back in the championship game for the first time since leading Cheyney to the 1982 game, put her hands to her head in disbelief at seeing unforced turnovers and lackluster defense.
"I just wanted to win a national championship and this team did that," Parker said. "Our banner is going to be in the rafters forever, and we left our mark at Tennessee."