ATLANTA Tennessee is back in the women's national championship game for the 10th time, and Gwen Jackson had everything to do with it.
Jackson scored 13 of her 25 points in the final 6:08 and Brittany Jackson added a key basket in that stretch as Tennessee beat Duke 66-56 in a defensive matchup Sunday night.
The Lady Vols (33-4), who avenged an earlier loss to Duke, will try for their seventh championship on Tuesday, meeting Connecticut.
Jackson drew strength from her grandmother, Laura Jackson, who died last month.
My inspiration came from the last two games I played (that) she watched,'' she said. I got to talk to her the day she died. Her memory and the love I have for her is what keeps me going.''
Duke (35-2), which had won 15 straight, was denied a second trip to the finals despite 29 points from All-American Alana Beard, who went past 2,000 points for her career.
Connecticut guard Diana Taurasi, left, gets tangled up with Texas guard Kala Bowers, right, in the second half of their semifinal round game at the NCAA Women's Final Four on Sunday, April 6, 2003 in Atlanta. ()
AP Photo/Bob Child
After Tennessee seemed to have all the momentum, Beard single-handedly kept the Blue Devils threatening at the end.
Her three-point play off a spin move in the lane cut the lead to 57-54 with 1:13 left. Then she ripped the ball from Tennessee's Ashley Robinson, who had intercepted a pass, and made a layup to draw her team to 60-56 with 55.7 seconds to play.
But Tennessee beat the press to get a layup by Shyra Ely and when Beard missed at the other end, Kara Lawson rebounded for Tennessee and was fouled. Her two free throws with 33.8 seconds to play secured the victory and the Lady Vols were on the way to the NCAA finals again.
I think we all expected more of ourselves,'' said Duke's Mistie Bass, wiping tears from her eyes as she sat alone in a corner of the locker room. Just key points in the game where certain individuals didn't do the job. That hurts the team.''
It wasn't the prettiest game for the longest time, a conglomeration of missed shots, errant passes, scoring droughts and mad scrambles on the floor for the ball.
Then, down the stretch, both teams started answering each other with big shots.
Tennessee seemed on the verge of breaking it open when Brittany Jackson hit a leaner in the lane and a jumper 29 seconds apart for a 41-35 lead.
It was 43-38 after Lawson banked in a jumper, but back came Duke. First it was Sheana Mosch scoring, then it was Iciss Tillis making a jump shot from the free throw line. When Beard grabbed Tillis' airball and banked a layup softly off the glass, Duke led 44-43 with 6:35 to play.
Then it was Gwen Jackson's time to shine.
After getting only three points since 13:49 of the first half, she took over.
Jackson scored the next nine Tennessee points to erase Duke's lead, capping her run with a 3-pointer to make it 52-49. Brittany Jackson, who's right-handed, the drove the lane for a left-handed scoop shot and Gwen Jackson sank two free throws, putting the Lady Vols ahead 56-49 with 2:34 remaining.
That was enough to hold on, even with Beard's desperate try at the end.
Obviously, we missed a lot of easy shots and we got to the boards in the second half,'' said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who earned victory No. 821. Our defensive changes gave us momentum.''
Beard had a tough moment when, with her team trailing 58-54 with 1:03 left, she missed the front end of a 1-and-1. There was no mistaking the angry look on her face as she headed back down the floor.
Tennessee was able to take advantage of the opener and Duke was denied a second trip to the title game. The Blue Devils lost in the 1999 finals to Purdue. Their only other loss this season was to Connecticut.
Jackson also grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Tennessee's 41-30 edge on the boards. Loree Moore added 11 points for the Lady Vols, while Lawson had eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Brittany Jackson finished with seven points.
ATLANTA With her offense down the stretch and her defense on the final play, Diana Taurasi put Connecticut back in the women's national championship game.
Taurasi, bothered by a sore ankle and back, still managed to score 26 points and keep the Huskies on course for their third title in four years with a 71-69 victory over Texas on Sunday night.
UConn (36-1) will meet Tennessee in the championship game, the third time the teams have met for the title. Earlier, the Lady Vols beat Duke 66-56 in the other semifinal to advance to Tuesday night's final.
The seemingly inevitable meeting didn't come easily.
The Huskies closed the game with an 11-3 run to dispatch the Longhorns (29-6), who were in the Final Four for the first time since 1987.
Taurasi's 3-pointer from well behind the arc gave the Huskies the lead for good, 67-66 with 2:07 remaining.
Appropriately, Taurasi made the key defensive play, too, knocking the ball away from Alisha Sare as the Texas player attempted to go up for a jumper just before the buzzer.
Taurasi grabbed the loose ball and held up her right index finger as the horn sounded. Yes, the Huskies still have a chance to finish No. 1.
Taurasi, who had not practiced since the regional final in an attempt to heal, appeared a bit tentative and pulled off few of the flashy moves that made her the best player in the country.
But she came through when her team needed her most.
With Texas leading 66-60, Taurasi zipped a great no-look pass from outside the arc to Willnett Crockett standing alone under the basket, sparking the game-ending run.
On UConn's next possession, Taurasi worked into the lane, made the shot and drew a foul, leading to a three-point play that drew the Huskies closer.
Finally, she put them ahead to stay with the long 3-pointer.
The Longhorns went nearly three minutes without scoring, finally breaking the drought on Jamie Carey's 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. That was the last basket of the game.
Crockett gave Texas a chance by missing two free throws with 8.2 seconds left, but Taurasi made sure the Longhorns didn't get a chance to tie or win it.
The little-used Sare raced downcourt and tried to get off a shot. As the 5-foot-8 senior began to go up at the 3-point line, the 6-foot Taurasi got a hand on the ball and knocked it away.
She's not afraid,'' UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. That's the biggest thing you can say about her. She's not afraid. She wants the ball in crucial situations.''
UConn beat the Lady Vols 63-62 in overtime during the regular season. The Huskies hold a 10-6 lead in the series, which includes two victories in the title game.
Last year, UConn romped to a 79-56 victory over Tennessee in the semifinals, then finished off a perfect 39-0 season by beating Oklahoma in the title game.
Taurasi was the only holdover starter from that team; the other four went in the first six picks of the WNBA draft. But Auriemma brought in a talented group of freshmen and teamed them with the player of the year for another winning combination.
UConn has won five straight since its NCAA-record 70-game winning streak was snapped by Villanova in the final of the Big East tournament. The first four were by an average of 23 points; Texas made sure this one went right to the wire.
The Longhorns pushed the lead to 50-41 with 12 1/2 minutes remaining, prompting Auriemma to call a timeout. Texas wouldn't fade away, and Taurasi had to fight through an uncharacteristic night.
Taurasi rarely drove to the basket, preferring to stay on the outside and shoot jumpers. She was shadowed by Kala Bowers and Tai Dillard, who worked hard to deny the UConn star from getting the ball.
Grimacing at one point after a miss, she shot only 10-of-22 including 4-of-11 from behind the arc. An 82 percent free-throw shooter, she went only 2-of-5 at the line.
It was barely enough.
Stacy Stephens scored 16 points to lead the Longhorns, but she missed a crucial shot in the final minute.
UConn scored the first five points of the game, including a pull-up 3 by Taurasi, and led nearly the entire first half. Texas shot poorly but UConn had trouble hanging onto the ball, finishing the half with 11 turnovers.
The Longhorns finally went ahead for the first time, 30-29, on Stephens' follow with two minutes left. They went to the locker room with a 35-33 lead when Nina Norman hit a straightaway jumper as the buzzer sounded.
Officials initially ruled a 3-pointer, but changed the call after deciding that Norman's foot was on the line. The teams already were in the locker room when the call was made.
Texas came in with a 17-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. But the Longhorn women suffered the same fate as the men, who were beaten by Syracuse in the national semifinals at New Orleans a day earlier.
Texas, the only non-No. 1 seed to make it to Atlanta, was a perennial power in the formative years of NCAA women's basketball. The Longhorns were the first women's team to go through a perfect season, winning the national title in 1986 with a 34-0 record.
They went to the Final Four for the second year in a row in '87, but had not been back since as other schools notably Tennessee and UConn became the sport's most dominating teams.
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