Everyone is gazing up at good ol' Rocky Top again.
After a nine-year title drought, Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt are NCAA champions.
The Lady Vols captured an elusive seventh national title Tuesday night, beating Rutgers to the ball for second and third shots in a 59-46 win to reclaim their customary place above all other programs.
Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer had hoped to win her first title, 25 years after her first national title appearance. Instead, Summitt won her seventh, 20 years after her first.
"I can't even describe it," said Tennessee's All-American Candace Parker. "This is what everyone came to Tennessee to do, and we did it."
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, trophy-less in their past five tournament visits, 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. "
After building a 16-point lead and then holding off a late push by Rutgers, the Lady Vols could finally celebrate, dribbling out the final 30 seconds 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 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. I'm real, real proud of this team."
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.
"I think when we lost to LSU in the SEC tournament it was the best thing that happened to us," Summitt said. "You never like to lose, but we really came together as a team. I'd say they held each other accountable. They called each other out."
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 she's not going anywhere.
"Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I?" said Parker, when asked if she would wear orange next season. "I just wanted to win a national championship, and this team did that. Our banner is going to be in the rafters forever, and 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.
Kia Vaughn had 20 points and 10 rebounds to pace Rutgers. But the Scarlet Knights made far too many mistakes 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 Cleveland fulfilled.
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.
"I still love my team, and I think they did a wonderful job," Stringer said. "This was no doubt the most rewarding year I've had in so long."
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.
The win tonight:
-Gives UT a 34-3 record this season
-Gives Pat Summitt a career record of 947-180 at the end of her 33rd season at UT
-Gives UT a 6-0 record against Rutgers in the NCAA Tournament and a 13-3 overall lead in the series.
-Gives UT a 7-5 record in NCAA Title games
-Tennessee has beaten Rutgers in the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seasons and twice in a row at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
-This was the fourth time UT has faced a Big East team in the title game and marked the first win in that situation for the Lady Vols, who lost three times to Connecticut (2000, 2003, 2004)
-In Tennessee’s six national titles, they have averaged a 9.7-point halftime lead. Tonight’s 11-point edge was the third largest in school history in a title game.
-In the four NCAA finals wins since the three-point line, Tennessee had never made more than four treys in a game. Tonight the Lady Vols made five.
-The fewest points scored in the combined Final Four and NCAA Title games by a national champion was 124 (Louisiana Tech, 1988). Tennessee managed just 115 points in two games this NCAA Tournament.
-Finished her career at Rocky Top with 73 starts in 133 games played. She amassed 1,088 points, 501 rebounds, 133 three-point field goals (fourth in UT record books), a 39.6 percent accuracy from beyond the arc (fifth in the UT record books) and 85.3 percent from the free throw line (second in the UT record books).
-Scored in double figures for the 23rd time this season and the 50th time in her career.
-Finished her career at UT with three starts in 130 games played. She amassed 428 points, 168 rebounds, 51 three-point field goals and 25 steals.
-Had eight points, five points a steal and an assist in just 11 first-half minutes
-Scored in double figures for the 34th time this season and the 67th time of her career. She has reached double digits in every NCAA Tournament game in which she has played.
-Tied Chamique Holdsclaw’s UT single-season for free throws made record (166)
-Named the NCAA Final Four Most Valuable Player
-In just 19 minutes of action she reached double-digit rebounds. She finished the game with 16 boards, the most ever by a Lady Vol in an NCAA title game and her career-high.
-The 16 boards were the third-most in an NCAA Title game.
-Named to the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team
-Moved into fourth place in the UT single-season record books for three pointers made (69)
-Scored in double figures for fifth time in the NCAA Tournament and the 16th time this season.
-Her four three-pointers tonight were the most in an NCAA Title game by a UT winner.
Story Courtesy: UT Sports Information & AP Wire Reports
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