Rocky Top Of The World

By Jeff Lippman - April 08, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. - God's favorite song is "Rocky Top" and He smiled on Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols one more time as they extended their strangle hold on women's basketball with an unprecedented eighth national title in back-to-back fashion.

For all the prognosticators who picked the trendy Cardinal, Tennessee made sure they knew just how wrong they were. The Lady Vols came out determined to show the country just how silly they were to ever doubt them. This one was over early as Tennessee cruised to a 64-48 victory.

Candace Parker was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player as she scored 17 points to lead all scorers and grab nine rebounds. But make no mistake, tonight's game belonged to Nicky "Sticky Fingers" Anosike.

"I think we really fed off of Nicky Anosike," said Candace Parker as the Tennessee team trainer iced down her ailing shoulder. "She really came out with a lot of energy and just led us."

Fellow senior Alexis Hornbuckle, who scored just six points but led with her gritty defense and held Candice Wiggins to just 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting, agreed with Parker's assessment, attributing a major part of tonight's win to her teammate.

"Her defense was tremendous, she was tenacious from start to finish," Hornbuckle said. "She never gave up. She was there to make a statement and prove that she deserves respect as a player, both offensively and defensively. And she did that tonight."

Anosike came out of the gates on fire and scored 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting while grabbing eight boards. But her biggest contribution came on the defensive end. Anosike stole the ball from Stanford six times and caused countless other Cardinal turnovers throughout the night.

It's fitting that the players who stepped up the biggest for Tennessee are the same bunch who mailed in their performance against LSU on Sunday. Shannon Bobbitt, who didn't play well against LSU, shined with 13 points and played stellar defense on Stanford's JJ Hones, who was held to five points.

The theme of the night for Tennessee, besides seniors stepping up, was defensive pressure. The Lady Vols forced Stanford into committing 25 turnovers, the fourth most in NCAA title game history.

"We knew they'd come out big but I thought they pressured more than I thought they would," said Stanford freshman Kayla Pedersen, who had a rough night and finished with seven points. "But we should have been able to handle their pressure."

Obviously, Stanford was not able to handle the pressure.

"The game was not indicative of the great season we've had," said Cardinal coach Tara Vanderveer. "We did not play well. We did not handle the pressure well. Obviously, the turnovers absolutely killed us."

The Lady Vols used the media to gain the motivation they needed to come out as spirited as they did, Hornbuckle said.

"Our motivation today was an article that basically said we can't hold Stanford under 50 points and we're going to be pressed for another national championship," she said. "All the small negativity talk. We just read articles. We read it before the game and we read it again at halftime."

It happened the same way last year against Rutgers. You'd think we'd have seen it coming this time.

There is a reason that Pat Summitt owns three more national titles than the next closest competitor and that reason is she gets her teams ready to play their best in the biggest games.

"They came out with a great mentality to play hard, especially on the defensive end," Summitt said, clearly proud of her bunch. "On offense we got more people involved, but it was our defense that got it done. I'm so proud of our seniors, I'm going to miss them."

The sobering thought for the Tennessee faithful on a night where there should be nothing but celebration is the fact that next year the Lady Vols' roster will look decidedly different. Gone are Parker, who is just a junior in terms of eligibility but is a senior in class, Anosike, Hornbuckle, Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste.

The team's leading returning scorer is freshman Angie Bjorklund at just 8.4 points per game this season.

Stanford loses its most decorated player ever in Wiggins as well. And the senior sees no reason to hang her head now.

"Our journey was beautiful," Wiggins said. "I couldn't ask for a better season. I refuse to let the last game change the way I think about us. It's not about winning, it's about how you win and how you lose."

Wiggins, like Parker, will be a top pick in Wednesday's WNBA Draft, but unlike Parker the Stanford star will enter the WNBA looking for her first national championship.

Apparently, with "Rocky Top" playing in the background, God wouldn't have it any other way.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 11:42 PM on April 08, 2008

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