This Goat Has Horns

By Jeff Lippman - April 07, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. - Alexis Hornbuckle played one of the worst games in her four year career yet nobody deserves more credit for sending the Lady Vols to Tuesday's national title game against Stanford.

With 7.1 seconds to play in the game the senior guard's stat line read 0-for-7 from the field, 0-for-2 from deep, 0-1 from the free throw line for zero points. Not only that, in the game's waning moments, with the score 45-44 in favor of Tennessee, Hornbuckle missed a shot that would have iced it and then fouled Erica White while she was driving down court. White promptly hit two free throws to give LSU the lead and what looked like the victory.

What happened next nobody could have expected, especially not Hornbuckle.

Candace Parker was designated to take Tennessee's final shot although she finished the night with 13 points and 15 rebounds but shot a poor 6-of-27 from the field. Parker missed, the ball was tipped into the air and who should find themselves underneath the rim with the ball falling into her hands but Hornbuckle?

"I almost started crying because that's how good it felt," Hornbuckle reminisced of the shot that sent Tennessee into the finals over LSU, 47-46, in what was the lowest scoring Final Four game of all time. "I really struggled. Airballs and missing wide open shots. Especially because I felt like I was being pretty efficient offensively in the tournament up until tonight.

"I never really let myself go though. I felt like I needed to step up, but every time I tried I was forcing the issue. When you do that, you have to let the game come to you. Things fell into place. Everything happens for a reason and I just happened to be in the right spot tonight."

This was not a pretty game, to put it gently. LSU outshot Tennessee percentage-wise 31 percent to just under 29 for the Lady Vols. The two teams combined to go 4-of-21 from three-point range and 9-for-26 from the line.

Sylvia Fowles led all scorers with 24 points and pulled down 20 rebounds, but shot just 10-of-24 from the field and missed some big free throws down the stretch. In fact, LSU shot 7-of-19 from the charity stripe, easily the difference in the game.

"It's very tough not being able to knock down those free throws," sophomore guard Allison Hightower said. "That really hurt us down the stretch and I think if we just knocked down a couple of them, we would have had a better shot."

The Tigers are turning into the Buffalo Bills of women's college basketball having now missed out on the national title game five straight years after making the Final Four. But the Tigers shouldn't hold their heads too low, they did all you could ask against the defending national champs.

"I really feel for our seniors. They have done everything I've asked them to do since I was appointed LSU coach," said Van Chancellor at the postgame press conference. "They've done so much and overcome so much and I'm really proud of them. They do such a great job. And I am sorry I couldn't help them win."

Because Hornbuckle and fellow senior Nicky Anosike - both major contributers in last year's national title run - played poorly for most of the evening, Alberta Auguste, also a senior, did an incredible job stepping up.

Auguste scored 10 points - huge in a game where the final score didn't hit 50 - and shot 5-of-9 from the field. Anosike finished with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, a far cry from the 14 points she scored in last year's national semifinal win over North Carolina.

Between Hornbuckle, Anosike and Parker - all three playing in what could have been their last games with Tennessee - they shot 9-of-42 from the field. Not exactly numbers Pat Summitt would like to see in a game of this magnitude.

But Tennessee always seems to find that extra push when they need it most and on this night it was Hornbuckle who made up for her poor play by hitting the only shot of the night that really mattered.

The defending national champions, winners of seven national titles, are one step closer to repeating and winning their eighth. And guess what? Geno Auriemma and Connecticut are nowhere to be found.

Instead, Stanford's trees and another young lady named Candice - spelled differently - are the only team left standing in their way.

Posted by Jeff Lippman at 12:11 AM on April 07, 2008

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