LEXINGTON, Ky. — As far as rematches go, it wasn't much. There was no bloodbath, no Cheryl Miller getting thrown out of the game. In fact, Friday night, Miller asked to be taken out.
By then, USC had already demoralized Tennessee in an NCAA women's Final Four semifinal game. By then, the USC bench was already celebrating its advancement to the championship game against Texas (another rematch). By the time the Trojans (31-4) got their 83-59 win, the celebrations had stopped. On to new business.
The USC women's basketball team is not the same as it was last December, when it came from behind to beat Tennessee, 85-77.
For one thing, freshman Cherie Nelson has matured into a confident, energetic post player. The 6-3 Nelson was an important wall of defense against the tall and beefy Volunteers, who like to throw their weight around.
Earlier this season, Miller and Karla Horton played tag with their elbows. When Miller tagged Horton in the face, Miller was out.
USC Coach Linda Sharp watched the game film and identified Tennessee's game plan as "Beat up Cheryl Miller."
When Miller was ejected in the first half of that game, you could say that Tennessee had executed its game plan.
So, after 33 minutes of elbows under the boards in Rupp Arena Friday night, Miller looked to Sharp--to take her out.
"I asked coach to pull me out," Miller said. "After she (Horton) stepped on my leg, I wanted to get out before I got hurt. It wasn't intentional, it's part of the game, people stepping on your head."
Miller wasn't needed when she left the game with 5:43 remaining. USC held a 70-51 lead, and a few hundred of the orange-and-white pompons that Tennessee fans had been furiously shaking had come to a halt. By then, it was 11:30 p.m., and many of the 9,894 fans had gone home.
If they were Tennessee fans, they left behind an ugly sight. The Volunteers (24-10) shot only 36% from the floor and committed 24 turnovers.
"I thought Southern Cal was a very impressive team tonight," Tennessee Coach Pat Head Summitt said. "Their fullcourt press allowed them to dictate the tempo of the game. Their press affected our team in the backcourt. I thought our shot selection in the first half could have been better."
The Volunteers were better than USC in at least one area: Tennessee outrebounded USC, 48-34.
"It's not often you win a ball game and get beat on the boards," Sharp said. Summitt had this week praised Miller as the nation's best offensive rebounder, but Tennessee boxed Miller out effectively. Miller had three offensive rebounds.
USC countered by shutting down Shelley Sexton. The junior guard is the second-leading scorer for Tennessee and has been on a late-season tear. But USC held Sexton to two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
"We expected more from her," Sharp said. "We put Rhonda Windham on her in the first half and she did a great job."
The entire USC team did a good job. Four Trojans scored in double figures, and Sharp got clutch play from freshmen Nelson and Karon Howell.
Howell was as accurate as ever, hitting on 7 of 9 from the floor for 14 points. Nelson had 16 points.
It was Tennessee that looked rattled in the first half. Sheila Frost, who can ill-afford to sit on the bench for her team, picked up two fouls in the first 1:05.
"It certainly hurt us when Frost got into foul trouble," Summitt said.
Despite innocent protests before the game that theirs is not a particularly physical style of play, Tennessee pushed and shoved as it had in the game at Los Angeles.
At first, USC pushed right back. Each team had seven fouls in the first half. The difference was that USC mended its ways and had only five in the second half, while Tennessee accelerated and ended with 23.
USC accelerated its fast break and began to control the tempo in the second half. The Trojans pulled out to a 23-point lead at 74-51 with 5:21 left in the game.
"We didn't start off running," Windham said. "I think the physical aspect of the game deterred our running game."
Windham had 10 points for USC, Miller 17, Cynthia Cooper 14 and Holly Ford 8.
Bridgette Gordon led the Volunteers with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Horton had 16 points and 11 rebounds.