<
>
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP
Final
12T
RUTG182846
TENN293059

Parker, Lady Vols end drought, grab seventh national title

CLEVELAND -- Up the ladder she climbed, and when Pat Summitt
was within arm's length of the rim, she clipped the final strand of
the net.

In one motion, the coach swung the nylon above her head and
pumped her fist in the direction of Tennessee's hootin' and
hollerin' fans.

The nine-year drought is over.

The Lady Vols reign again.

Pat Summitt has already been to more NCAA title games than any other Division I coach. With Tuesday's win over Rutgers, Summit just enhanced her resume ... not that it needed any improvement.

Pat Summitt, Tennessee

12

John Wooden, UCLA

10

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke

7

Geno Auriemma, UConn

5

Leon Barmore, Louisiana Tech

5

Adolph Rupp, Kentucky

5

Dean Smith, UNC

5

Showing it was much more than a one-woman team, the Lady Vols
captured an elusive seventh national title Tuesday night, beating
Rutgers all over the floor in a 59-46 win to reclaim their
customary place above all other programs.

"We were a team that didn't want to be denied," Summitt said.
"We weren't going to leave here without a championship."

After five Final Four trips since 1998 ended without an NCAA
title trophy, the Lady Vols arrived in the home of the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame intent on leaving with a shiny souvenir. And
after beating Rutgers at its own game with a swarming defense and
relentless rebounding, the Lady Vols have the rest of the country
looking back up at ol' Rocky Top.

"This," Candace Parker said, "is why you come to Tennessee."

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had hoped to win her first
title, 25 years after her first national championship game
appearance. Instead, Summitt won her seventh, 20 years after her
first.

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 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.

"Maybe we read the headlines or realized it was a national
championship game," Stringer said. "We looked like a deer stuck
in headlights. "

C. Vivian Stringer can certainly rally a team to the NCAA Tournament, but she just can't seem to grab a title. The upside ... she's not alone.

Tournament Wins
Losses in Title Game

Andy Landers, Georgia

47

2

C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers

36

1

Gail Goestenkors, Duke

36

2

Debbie Ryan, Virginia

31

1

After building a 16-point lead and then holding off a late push
by Rutgers, the Lady Vols spent the final 30 seconds dribbling out
the clock 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 on them 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."

Rutgers, which knocked off No. 1 Duke earlier in the tournament,
was attempting to become the third straight first-time winner
following Baylor in 2005 and Maryland in 2006.

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.

"This is not about winning No. 7," Summitt said. "This is
about this team winning their first."

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, despite talk she would skip
her final two years in Knoxville and turn pro, she's not going
anywhere.

"I'll be back," she said. "I'm coming back to Tennessee. I'll
be back wearing orange next year to hang the banner. We left our
mark at Tennessee."

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.

"I've always believed that rebounding wins championships,"
Summitt said, "and our defense was a difference maker."

Kia Vaughn had 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace Rutgers. But
the Scarlet Knights made far too many mistakes (18 turnovers) and
didn't have enough 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.

Stringer had called her senior-less squad of five freshmen,
three juniors and two sophomores, a "team of destiny."

As it turned out, only Tennessee will leave fulfilled.

"It hurts a lot," Stringer said. "But I still love this team.
This was no doubt the most rewarding year I've had."

Trailing by 11 at halftime, Rutgers, trying to become the
lowest-seeded team to win the women's tourney, settled down early
in the second half by matching Tennessee's intensity and closed to
35-28 on Vaughn's putback with 13:33 left.

That's when Bobbitt, a 5-foot-2 bundle of New York City
playground moves and energy, hit the first of three 3-pointers in a
span of 2:43. The first one came after two offensive rebounds by
the Lady Vols.

After a Rutgers turnover, Bobbitt drained another 3. As the
Scarlet Knights brought the ball up the floor, Bobbitt was waiting
for them. She forced a turnover that led to a layup by Alexis
Hornbuckle, and for the first time all evening, Tennessee's fans
sensed this might be the Lady Vols' night.

They were feeling even better one minute later when Bobbitt hit
another 3.

Still, the Scarlet Knights weren't going to quit on Stringer,
who earlier this season kicked her team out of their locker room
and took away anything with "Rutgers" written on it because she
felt they weren't playing up to the school's standards.

A 3-pointer by Matee Ajavon ended a 7-0 run that brought Rutgers
to 50-42, but Parker made six straight free throws in 37 seconds to
make it 56-44 with 1:08 left. As she went down the floor, Parker
looked at the bench where senior Sidney Spencer was crying, knowing
all the hard work during the offseason would end the best way
possible.

Seconds later, Stringer, who dropped to 0-6 in NCAA tourney
matchups against her close friend Summitt, began clearing her
bench.

Still, this tournament ended the same way it has nearly
one-third of the time since it started -- with Tennessee setting up
ladders to cut down the nets.

"This is something we all wanted from Day One," Parker said.
"I can't describe this feeling. It's amazing."