TAMPA, Fla. – Dick Vitale was here. Who says the Women's Final Four isn't awesome with a capital "A"?
Glad I could share my experience with you from row M2, seat 47, of the St. Pete Times Forum as Tennessee defeated Stanford 64-48.
8:24 p.m. EDT – For starters, thanks to Rick Yarbrough for correcting the halftime score in my Sunday feature. And here are some more comments, with my responses in italics.
You call the Tenn-LSU game the best 89-point game ever...Are you serious? That was the worst played game in Final Four history! Anyone tuning in to that game for the first time (not that it would ever happen) would have such a bad taste in their mouth about women's basketball. They wouldn't think that Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles were anything to write home about. You went to Stanford, so I am pretty sure you have seen better 89-point combined games before last night's travesty.
Thanks, Angela. And you got the disclaimer out of the way for me – yes, I went to Stanford.
OK, maybe calling it the best ending for an 89-point game would have been better. The first half admittedly was dreadful. That said, if it's an 89-point game, how great can it be? I didn't mean the game was an instant classic. I definitely agree that I hope it wasn't people's first taste of women's basketball, and with that in mind, I'm glad ESPN showed the Stanford-UConn game first.
8:35 p.m. EDT – More comments. Hard to say how many I'll get to during the game, so now is a good time. Allan Radman of Aptos, Calif., calls Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer "one the top 10 all-time college basketball brains."
And Jeff from New Orleans just wants to share his pain over LSU's loss – and this was sent the day after the game.
As a fan of all-things LSU, it was numbing to go from the butterflies of Erica White's 2 unreal clutch free throws to the "That didn't just happen" shock of a .7 second shot made to lose moment.
But I must ask for answers to these three things: 1. Everyone, including my 2-year-old son, knew Candace Parker would get the inbound pass with 7.1 seconds. Chancellor knew --- he called timeout to set up his inbound defense (allegedly). So how does Parker get the inbound so easily? 2. Okay, one lapse -- forgiven. But then LSU doesn't trap her and make someone else bring it up? The trap itself would run the clock out. 3. Offense number 2 ... again, I'll excuse youthful effort. But then how in the world does Parker dribble the length of the court unimpeded? Three strikes, and all LSU fans are out ... out of luck for the unbelievable 5th straight Final Four. Ouch, don't pinch me. I'm still numb.
Can't answer those. Neither could Van Chancellor. No way that was the plan. He and the LSU players kept saying "if we'd only made her turn once …" But they didn't. I feel for you and the Lady Tigers.
8:41 p.m. EDT – Lineups. Both teams look pretty loose, under the circumstances. Candace Parker did a shoulder bump (don't worry – right shoulder) with a teammate, and she and Candice Wiggins even shared a little embrace at center court. Here comes the tip.
8:50 p.m. EDT – Frenetic start. Sure beats 3-2 at the 13-minute mark of the first half. It's 12-7 Tennessee after a Lady Vol spurt at the first media timeout. Shannon Bobbitt has a pair of threes for UT, which doesn't seem bothered in the least by the tempo.
8:59 p.m. EDT – Jayne Appel's up-and-under move ended a long 10-0 Tennessee spurt, but the Lady Vols look quicker than the Cardinal. Stanford hasn't faced much adversity in its 23-game winning streak, and Tara VanDerveer will need to keep this from getting away early. It's 17-9, Tennessee, at the 12-minute timeout.
9:05 p.m. EDT – Candace Parker still is bothered by the shoulder, but she's playing through it. Stanford just got a hugely needed open three from JJ Hones and some good hustle plays from Jillian Harmon to cut it to 19-13 at about the halfway mark, but Tennessee looks both quicker and stronger to this point.
9:16 p.m. EDT – Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle just picked up her second personal foul with still almost 8 minutes to go in the half. This could be Stanford's best chance to make a move, as the Lady Vols will need to find someone else to control Candice Wiggins, who opened the scoring with a three but hasn't been heard from since. Tennessee leads 25-17 at the 5-minute mark.
9:21 p.m. EDT – Tennessee 30, Stanford 21 with about 3 minutes left. Shannon Bobbitt is keeping Candice Wiggins mostly in check with Hornbuckle sidelined by foul trouble. The UT defense, which Pat Summitt said was "letting us down" on Sunday even though the Lady Vols limited LSU to 46 points, has bothered Stanford into 12 turnovers. Stanford is trying the high-low game now with some success, but Kayla Pedersen missed an easy opportunity before she scored on the next possession.
9:45 p.m. EDT – Halftime, and Tennessee leads 37-29. For Stanford, it could have been worse. Nicky Anosike missed the front end of a one-and-one on the Lady Vols' last possession, and Jillian Harmon seemed to have no place to go before draining a 17-footer from straightaway at the horn.
Tennessee's Shannon Bobbitt leads all scorers with 13 points. Candice Wiggins leads Stanford with 10. Each team has three treys, so Stanford has tied the record (44) for three-pointers in a tournament. Shooting percentages and rebounding are very close, but Tennessee is 8 for 11 at the line and Stanford just 2 of 4. The Cardinal have committed 14 turnovers, and the Lady Vols have seven more points off turnovers.
Second half should start at about 9:47 p.m. EDT.
Great question from Jordan Rossler: Are the coaches losing their heads or staying cool?
I had a better vantage point of the coaches on Sunday, when I could hear everything Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt were saying. But from across the benches, I would say that both Summitt and Tara VanDerveer are staying relatively calm. VanDerveer, in particular, is trying to keep her team calm under the onslaught of Tennessee pressure. Summitt, of course, is the personification of intensity – and I'm not sure she ever loses her head. But she appears unfazed by any developments so far.
9:56 p.m. EDT – Tennessee 46, Stanford 35, with 15:47 left. Stanford came out with momentum and cut it to 37-33 with the first four points of the half, but Tennessee responded with some full-court pressure and a 11-2 run. Jayne Appel will go to the line for the Cardinal when the teams return to the court.
And now some questions:
Whom will Stanford turn to in the second half to defeat the Lady Vols?
Little Rock, Ark.
Thanks for asking, Curtis. The easy answer is Candice Wiggins – but I'm sure you knew that. Because I don't think Tennessee is going to leave JJ Hones open for easy shots, Stanford may have to rely on Kayla Pedersen to create some scoring opportunities, both inside and out.
What's the attendance at Tampa? They said "sold out," but how many people are watching this incredible game in person?
Hi Dennise, the capacity of the St. Pete Times Forum is 21,655. There may be some Connecticut and LSU fans who decided not to attend, but I think it's fair to call it a full house.
10:03 p.m. EDT – The Lady Vol fans are getting more angry with the officiating down low, and indeed Stanford will be shooting free throws the rest of the way. But it's still 50-40 Tennessee with 12 minutes, 30 seconds to go as Jayne Appel is forced to the bench her third foul, and it was offensive.
10:18 p.m. EDT – It's hard to imagine Tennessee letting this slip away now. It's 55-44 with 7 minutes, 14 seconds left, but the festive atmosphere just was hushed by what looks like a knee injury to Tennessee's Vicki Baugh, who limped with some support off the court. I'll try to have an update on her before the game ends, or at worst shortly after.
Student Greg Cobb of San Diego writes:
Jeremy, I am in class. What is the tempo of the game like, are the Lady Vols using Parker, and is any other Lady Vol stepping up their game?
Greg, glad to help you pass the time. Tempo is pretty measured, I would say. Teams are not trying to run down the shot clock, but there's not much transition game, either. The Lady Vols' pressure defense has forced Stanford to take a lot of time just advancing the ball.
Parker hasn't dominated the game. She leads the Lady Vols with eight boards but has taken just nine shots. Instead, it's Bobbitt from the perimeter and Nicky Anosike from all over that have paced a balanced attack.
10:29 p.m. EDT – Tennessee 58, Stanford 44, 3:29 left. I'm right behind Stanford radio announcer Jake Kelman, who shared this tidbit at the timeout (which I probably am paraphrasing badly).
"In the first game against Tennessee, Wiggins hit a foul-line jumper that was the dagger. The same shot Candace Parker just hit."
He said it better than I could.
And some questions:
Joao from Manaus, Brazil, writes in, and you always answer at least one question from an international reader if you can.
It seems to me that women's athletics are going downhill instead of up. I know that all sports media needs to have viewers, and it seems women's sports have less viewers than when I lived in the States. I was able to watch the Men's Final Four on TV here in Brazil, yet we see nothing about the Women's Final Four. Women's sports are not considered important. Do you think this will ever change?
Joao, sad to hear there's no coverage in Brazil of the Women's Final Four. I do think there's interest in the Women's Final Four here in the States – ESPN gives the tournament a lot of television exposure, and there is pretty substantial media coverage from major Internet sites and newspapers. Having first come to the event in 1995 – before ESPN first took over coverage from beginning to end – I can say that there's substantially more interest now than there was then.
Do think that perhaps Stanford is just a little worn down after a very physical contest with UConn?
Los Banos, Calif.
It looks that way, Mark, but I would credit Tennessee's voracious defense more than say Stanford is worn down. The Cardinal hasn't handled the pressure well, and although Maryland and Connecticut are outstanding teams – perhaps better than Tennessee offensively – they don't play defense like Tennessee. Nor does anyone in the Pac-10.
10:38 p.m. EDT – Tennessee is going to win its second straight NCAA title and eighth overall, while handing Stanford its first loss in three NCAA title games. The sea of Lady Vol orange in the building is going crazy as it's 63-48 with 1:13 left.
Tara VanDerveer just removed Wiggins so the Stanford faithful can give her one final ovation.
10:41 p.m. EDT – Tennessee wins the national title as the confetti falls into the laptop. The final is 64-48. A few more updates to follow.
10:51 p.m. EDT – Some quick notes as Tennessee starts to receive the trophy. Pat Summitt tells the crowd and TV audience that she "liked the fact that most people picked Stanford because I think that really motivated our basketball team."
Stanford's 48 points match a 26-year-old school record for fewest in an NCAA tournament game and are the fewest the Cardinal have scored in any game since a 55-46 loss at Texas Tech in December 2003.
10:53 p.m. EDT – Here's the all-tournament team: Most Outstanding Player Candace Parker, Shannon Bobbitt and Nicky Anosike, Tennessee; Candice Wiggins, Stanford; Sylvia Fowles, LSU.
11:01 p.m. EDT – Candice Parker has found her brother, Anthony Parker of the Raptors, in the stands. She brought his two young kids on the court with her. A Lady Vol fan flashed her seat cushion at Parker, which reads "ACE BEATS ICE!," a reference to Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins' nicknames. It's a Lady Vol party as they prepare to cut the nets.
11:18 p.m. EDT – Some final Q and A before I get ready to wrap it up and work on a game story.
What can you say about the officiating?
Fortunately, I am free to say whatever. In this case, it wouldn't matter. Because the officiating wasn't a factor. More than that, I thought it was officiated fine. The Final Four tends to be physical; the officials let them play.
Would you agree that Stanford's turnovers and inability to break Tennessee's press is a coaching gaffe? They don't seem to know what to do, who to pass the ball to, or how to make safe passes. Just awful.
Los Altos, Calif.
Well, the second half in particular won't be fondly remembered by Stanford fans. I'm sure Geno Auriemma might be questioning his reluctance to pressure the Cardinal more than Connecticut did on Sunday.
That said, I don't blame bad coaching for Stanford's struggles. You can practice all you want against pressure, and say you're ready for pressure, and think you're ready for pressure. But if you haven't faced it much in a game situation, you don't truly know how you'll handle it.
Maybe the Stanford coaches wish they had prepared more for it, in retrospect. But I don't know how much they did prepare for it, and given who they have played, I don't know if it would have mattered much.
And finally …
Pat Summitt is one of the best, if not the best, coach in college, men or women.
No doubt, Mark. If someone else coaches Tennessee – even if the Lady Vols magically had the same players – Tennessee doesn't have eight national titles. The Lady Vols win championships with great talent, but Summitt also wins games with tremendous coaching skill and basketball IQ.
Wednesday, 12:17 a.m. EDT – Some quick postgame quotes as I exit stage right. Thanks again so much for the questions and comments; I apologize to those of you whom I ran out of time to answer.
Pat Summitt: "I'm telling you … it was a personal thing for them. The fact that all the ESPN talent, we got Kara Lawson who played at Tennessee not giving us a chance, really. I mean, that just really – that fired them up."
Candace Parker: "It's a remarkable feeling to walk off the court for the last time and hug your coach. I'm completely different than I was when I came in."
Vicki Baugh: "I don't even care about my knee right now. We're going to evaluate it in Knoxville."
Tara VanDerveer: "We can't simulate that in practice. … People could not get open, whether it was against their press or whether it was against their halfcourt defense."
Candice Wiggins: "I'm sad it's over because of how much I love this program, this institution, this team and my coaches and teammates. It's that amazing. This season I could not ever have dreamed of this. So it's more than I could ever ask for."