Vols back in Final Four

Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2005


  Tennessee's Shanna Zolman (1) celebrates in the closing minutes against Rutgers in their NCAA regional final game in Philadelphia Tuesday, March 29, 2005. Behind her is Shyra Ely. Zolman had 16 points, Ely had 9 as Tennessee won, 59-49. AP Photo/Miles Kennedy

Tennessee's Shanna Zolman (1) celebrates in the closing minutes against Rutgers in their NCAA regional final game in Philadelphia Tuesday, March 29, 2005. Behind her is Shyra Ely. Zolman had 16 points, Ely had 9 as Tennessee won, 59-49.

AP Photo/Miles Kennedy

PHILADELPHIA — Shanna Zolman and Shyra Ely smiled as the clock ticked down and the euphoria sunk in — the former Indiana high school stars were going home to play in the Final Four.

Zolman broke out of a slump with a couple of big baskets down the stretch, Nicky Anosike scored 14 points and the top-seeded Lady Vols beat No. 3 seed Rutgers 59-49 in the Philadelphia Regional final on Tuesday night.

Tennessee will play Michigan State (32-3) in the national semifinals in Indianapolis on Sunday night. The top-seeded Spartans beat Stanford 76-69 in the Kansas City Regional final on Tuesday night.

Zolman and Ely can't wait for their happy homecoming. The former Miss Indiana Basketball duo have made it a mission to return to their home state for the Final Four — Ely even scribbled ''Homeward Bound'' on the back of her sneakers.

''I told my mom, just don't give away tickets,'' said Ely, an Indianapolis native who scored nine points. ''If you've been to a Tennessee game, I'll give you a ticket.''

There could be a whole lot of people in line for a freebie.

The Lady Vols (30-4) are in the Final Four for the fourth straight year, fifth time this decade and 16th time overall, all under coach Pat Summitt. She extended her NCAA record with her 882nd career win.

''They were tough down the stretch,'' said Summitt, who shared a postgame hug with former Chattanooga star and Philadelphia Eagles receiver Terrell Owens. ''We had some big plays from a lot of different people.''

For the first time in the tournament, Tennessee's win didn't come easy.

Tennessee survived a long scoring drought, woeful shooting and a fine performance by Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter in avenging a December loss to the Scarlet Knights (28-7).

Pondexter scored 25 points and made nine of the Scarlet Knights' 18 baskets, but she had little help until it was too late.

''We will be a Final Four team,'' said Pondexter, named the regional's most outstanding player. ''We can use this as motivation going into next year. All we can do is get better.''

Only the Scarlet Knights' physical defense kept them in it until the end.

Rutgers seemed poised to pull within three on Matee Ajavon's shot from the left side, until it was reviewed by officials who determined it was a 2-point basket. That made it 49-45. Then Essence Carson had a steal for Rutgers and was fouled by Loree Moore.

Carson calmly sank the free throws — her first two points of the game — pulling Rutgers to 49-47 with 1:08 left.

Tennessee, though, sank its last 12 free throws and that was just the cushion the Lady Vols needed to win their 12th straight game. The Lady Vols made 29 of 35 free throws; Rutgers was just 8-for-13.

Tennessee's free throws compensated for only 31 percent shooting from the floor.

Rutgers was denied its first Final Four since 2000 and coach C. Vivian Stringer's fourth trip overall. She was the only coach to take three different teams to the Final Four until Louisville's Rick Pitino joined her this year.

''Normally, I'm kind of emotional. I don't have any feelings right now,'' Stringer said. ''I did not expect to give a farewell speech. I fully intended to win.

Ajavon scored 12 points. Chelsea Newton left midway through the first half with a knee injury. She returned early in the second half with a brace and plenty of tape on her leg and scored only two points.

Michigan St. 76, Stanford 69

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Make some room, Michigan State men. You've got company.

Liz Shimek and the Michigan State women also are going to the Final Four — a first for the program. Shimek made a series of huge plays down the stretch, Lindsay Bowen made her only basket of the game at a critical time and the top-seeded Spartans beat No. 2 seed Stanford in the Kansas City Regional final.

Michigan State (32-3) had never even made it past the second round in five previous NCAA tournament appearances, but the Spartans looked completely comfortable when they donned their championship caps, delighting a small but vocal band of supporters that included Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her two teenage daughters.

''Well, I tell you, Michigan State is the best,'' coach Joanne P. McCallie said. ''The people are amazing, the homegrown talent is very special. And we're so proud of our men's team — we're going too, baby! We're going too! I can't wait!''

The Spartans will play in the national semifinals in Indianapolis on Sunday night, meeting the winner of Tuesday's late game between Tennessee and Rutgers. The men will play North Carolina in St. Louis on Saturday.

Michigan State becomes the sixth school to send teams to both the men's and women's Final Four. Connecticut did it just last year and each team won the national title, the only time that has happened.

Now, Michigan State has a chance for the double. But booking that trip wasn't easy, even after the Spartans took a 13-point lead against the team that was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll.

Stanford (32-3) came back to tie the score three times, but never got the lead and its 23-game winning streak ended, denying the Cardinal a seventh Final Four trip.

''You dream about this moment and you dream about going to the NCAA Final Four and it hurts so much and you're so close,'' said Candice Wiggins, Stanford's brilliant freshman. ''It's really hard, especially when you have a team like this. This is a special team.''

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