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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Lady Vols Find Some Perfection

Women's basketball: Tennessee (39-0) hailed as greatest ever after defeating Louisiana Tech, 93-75, for national championship.

March 30, 1998|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KANSAS CITY — OK, we've seen enough. Case closed.

Tennessee is the best women's college basketball team ever.

There will be no discussion on this--it's firm, final and not subject to further consideration.

Sorry Cheryl Miller and you 31-2 1983 USC Trojans, you 34-0 1986 Texans and you 35-0 1995 Connecticut Huskies.

This Tennessee team beats you, all of you, for fun.

The Lady Vols dismantled a fast, talented Louisiana Tech team Sunday night, 93-75, before 17,976 at Kemper Arena.

With three starters scoring a combined 72 points, and the Lady Vols taking a 55-32 halftime lead (it was, 42-17, 12 minutes into the game), Louisiana Tech Coach Leon Barmore stated the obvious:

"That's the greatest women's basketball team I've ever seen. They came to a point in time tonight where they had to get it done, and they did what they had to do--they got it done."

By the numbers:

* It's three NCAA championships in a row for Tennessee, a total of six for Pat Summitt--all in the last 11 years.

* The Lady Vols have won 45 straight and their 39-0 season is the best NCAA season, men or women.

* This team even makes money, a rarity in the women's game. It averaged 14,969 in 25,000-seat Thompson-Bohling Arena in Knoxville, 4,000 more than anyone else in the country, and had eight crowds over 15,000.

* In this one season, Summitt, 45, raised her career mark from 625-143 to 664-143. She has taken Tennessee to 15 Final Fours in the last 21 seasons.

They may have turned out the lights on the season, but the glow remains . . . an orange glow that will continue to dominate the women's game for at least three more seasons.

And yes, 6-foot-1 junior Chamique Holdsclaw (25 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) will return for her senior season.

In the postgame news conference, she called her decision to return "firm and final."

This is a cocky, confident bunch. Their media guide cover, published last September, depicts them winning a third straight crown . . . and they did just that Sunday.

Louisiana Tech, like so many teams before them, got "Meeked."

That's what the guy's sign said: "The Meek Shall Inherit the NCAA."

Chamique was only 11 for 25 shooting, but she was a force at both ends of the court. Freshman Tamika Catchings had 27 points.

And here's a new definition for assertive womanhood: Semeka Randall. If she continues to play defense the way she did in Kansas City, it's only a matter of time before she gets pinned with the "Mad Dog" nickname.

Largely because of her, Tennessee forced 11 Louisiana Tech turnovers in the first half, 20 for the game.

Barmore said afterward that the plays that broke his team were two second-half three-point baskets by Tennessee point guard Kellie Jolly, who scored 20.

This was halfway through the second half and Louisiana Tech was trailed, 72-54.

Then Jolly made two three-pointers within 24 seconds, Holdsclaw added a free throw and the 79-54 lead officially launched the Tennessee victory party.

A woman ran down an aisle with a sign reading: "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"--site of next year's Final Four.

Question to Barmore afterward: Is this good for the women's game, a team no one can beat?

"No, they add a great deal to the women's game," he said.

"What they did this year did a lot for our game. Now, if they make it five or six in a row . . . I don't now about that."

Notes

Two Pac-10 players, Arizona's Adia Barnes and Stanford's Kristin Folkl, made the 10-player U.S. Basketball Writers Assn. All-American team. The others: Alisa Burras (Louisiana Tech), Dominique Canty (Alabama), Chamique Holdsclaw (Tennessee), Murriel Page (Florida), Ticha Penicheiro (Old Dominion), Tracy Reid (North Carolina), Nykesha Sales (Connecticut), Alicia Thompson (Texas Tech). Player of the year: Holdsclaw.

Barmore, talking Saturday about Holdsclaw: "The Tennessee program has developed her like no other could have. She now understands intensity at both ends of the court. I think she's the most complete player I've ever seen."

Summitt, talking Saturday about Barmore's program: "I think a lot of coaches, when they recruit a player, think: 'Can this player help us beat Tennessee?' When I recruit a player, I wonder: 'Can this player help us beat La. Tech?' I told my team: 'We're not going to beat them in quickness or coaching, so let's get ready to execute.' "

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