Tennessee Wins 7th National Title With 59-46 Win Over Rutgers

Tuesday, April 3rd 2007, 9:54 pm

By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ They all signed a pact in January, promising to give everything they had for the rest of the season. Now, their names will be permanently etched into Tennessee's record books.

These Lady Vols, like so many before them, made history.

Ending a nine-year drought between NCAA titles with a swarming defense and relentless rebounding, Tennessee beat Rutgers 59-46 on Tuesday night, giving the Lady Vols and coach Pat Summitt their seventh national championship.

The standard of excellence in women's college basketball, Tennessee hadn't won it all since 1998, losing twice in the semifinals and to Connecticut in the title game in 2000, 2003 and 2004.

The Lady Vols would not be denied this time.

``Our banner's going to be in the rafters forever,'' said a smiling All-American Candace Parker, who scored 17 points. ``We've left our mark.''

Tennessee came to the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame intent on leaving with more than a souvenir T-shirt. And they're heading back to Knoxville with another trophy for the display case, and a pledge from Parker that she'll be back for her junior season.

``C'mon,'' she said. ``Why wouldn't I? I'll be back wearing orange next year. I'm coming back to Tennessee.''

It might be premature to start thinking about title No. 8. But with the majority of her players back, Summitt, whose seven titles are second only to John Wooden's 10, is positioned to make another run.

When isn't she?

But after cutting down the nets and hoisting the championship trophy, Summitt insisted this crown wasn't any sweeter than the others.

``I'm just being honest with you, this is not about winning No. 7,'' she said. ``This is about this team winning its first. For me, it was all about helping this team. And that's why I said we're not leaving here without a national championship.''

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,'' said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, denied a first championship in her first visit since taking Cheney to the title game 25 years ago. ``We looked like a deer stuck in headlights.''

The Scarlet Knights were brutalized under the basket as the Lady Vols grabbed 24 offensive rebounds _ 10 by Nicky Anosike _ and couldn't get into an offensive flow.

``Nothing was clicking,'' forward Heather Zurich said. ``We weren't getting rebounds. We weren't playing the defense we've been playing the whole season. It just didn't look like we wanted it at the beginning. It's just frustrating to go out like this.''

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. 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.

``I can't even describe it,'' Parker said. ``It's something I've dreamed of since I was a little kid.''

A few months back, it was Anosike, a junior forward from Staten Island, N.Y., who wrote down a plan for success in a document she titled ``Lady Vols Pact.''

Against the Scarlet Knights, she followed one of Summitt's doctrines.

``Coach said before the game, 'Offense sells tickets, defense wins games and rebounding wins championships,''' said Anosike, who finished with 16 rebounds. ``That really stuck with me throughout the whole game.''

Beforehand, Parker felt she had to win a title to be mentioned along with Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Bridgette Gordon _ three of the best to play in Knoxville.

She's in their class now, and she got some help getting there.

Shannon Bobbitt scored 13 points _ nine coming on a flurry of three 3-pointers in the second half _ Sidney Spencer had 11 points and reserve Alberta Auguste 10.

``All year long it's been pick your poison,'' Parker said. ``I was just proud how everybody came together and fought. We just took it to them.''

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 firepower to challenge the Lady Vols down the stretch.

Several times, Stringer put her hands to her head in disbelief at what she was seeing. She had 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.

``This was no doubt the most rewarding year I've had,'' said Stringer, who thinks her team will learn from the experience. ``We would like to come back next year, but it's not that simple.''

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 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.

And later, after Summitt climbed a ladder to snip the final strand of net from the rim, the orange-clad faithful screamed as one, releasing nine years of pent up frustration at not seeing their Lady Vols reign supreme.

But now all is right on Rocky Top.

``This was a team that did not want to be denied,'' Summitt said. ``They did what they had to do to make it happen.''

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