The Drive is Going to Tampa! LSU Tops No. 1-Seed UNC, 56-50
LSU Sports Interactive
NEW ORLEANS -- LSU's "Drive for Five" will continue in Tampa, as the Lady Tigers women's basketball team became the second team in history to advance to five-straight NCAA Women's Final Fours, 56-50, over top-seeded and second-ranked North Carolina.
The New Orleans Region's Most Outstanding Player, senior Sylvia Fowles, scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to guide her seven fellow seniors and first-year LSU head coach Van Chancellor to his first career national semifinal in his 20th collegiate season.
After making four NCAA Elite 8 appearances at Ole Miss, the four-time WNBA World Champion and Olympic coach finally added the elusive title to his long resume.
LSU will face the winner of top-seeded Tennessee and second-seeded Texas A&M (Tuesday, 6 p.m. CDT, ESPN) on Sunday, April 6, in Tampa, Fla. Game times are 6 and 8:30 p.m. CDT on ESPN, with the order of matchups to be determined. Late on Monday, No. 2 seed Stanford advanced past No. 1 seed Maryland and will represent the Spokane Region.
The National Championship will be played Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. CDT at St. Pete Times Forum.
LSU season ticket holders may request Final Four tickets through the LSU Athletics Ticket Office until 5 p.m. CDT on Tuesday. Call 225.578.2184. Cost is $162 per three-game book.
Connecticut is the only other NCAA Women's Basketball team to advance to five-straight Final Fours (2000-2004). LSU is in search of its first national semifinal victory.
Two seniors on the Lady Tigers squad, Khalilah Mitchell and Marian Whitfield, will become the first women's collegiate student-athletes to earn a fifth Final Four ring. Each had a redshirt season in LSU's historic run.
The Lady Tigers, who entered the night with the fourth-worst free-throw percentage in tournament play, made 12-of-15 in the final 3:46 to keep the Tar Heels from getting any closer than four in the last six minutes.
Fowles, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, made 10-of-18 shots and added five blocks on the defensive end to will the Lady Tigers past North Carolina in front of a friendly crowd of 5,067 at the New Orleans Arena.
LSU's Quianna Chaney added 13 points and four assists, while point guard Erica White was 6-for-6 from the line to finish with eight points, eight rebounds and four assists. Guard RaShonta LeBlanc hit the most important shot of the game, a three pointer from the right wing with 4:30 to play that put LSU ahead by seven, 44-37, with 4:30 left.
North Carolina center LaToya Pringle gave the Lady Tigers' top-ranked defense all it could handle, scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting before fouling out in the closing seconds.
Much like LSU's regional semifinal win over Oklahoma State, one player wasn't enough to stop this team. The rest of the Tar Heels starting five combined for 7-of-34 shooting and only 17 points. Senior Erlana Larkins was held to five points with 11 rebounds, while Rashanda McCants added nine points and nine rebounds. Jessica Breland came off the bench to added eight points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
The 50-point output by North Carolina was the team's lowest since losing to Tennessee by the exact same score in the Final Four last season, 56-50.
LSU finished 20-of-53 shooting (37.7 percent), while North Carolina was 20-of-59 (33.9 percent). LSU missed its first five free throws, but hit 12 when it really counted.
The LSU offense that came out of the blocks slowly on Saturday against the Cowgirls was able to click instantly on the first three possessions of the game.
Chaney drove the right baseline and pulled up for an 8-foot jumper before Fowles and White made layups for a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes.
Larkins was fouled by Fowles and converted the three-point play to cut the Lady Tigers' lead in half and start a 7-0 Tar Heels run.
After Chaney answered with a three pointer from the left corner, McCants tied the game at 9-9 with a layup at the 14:49 mark.
With Fowles and Larkins taking a break, North Carolina regained the lead when Pringle worked past LSU senior center Mesha Williams for a short jumper in the paint.
Fowles returned shortly after and started a 9-2 LSU run. The 6-6 center jumped to the level of the rim to grab an in-bounds pass from the left sideline, and layed it in to tie the game at 13-13.
LSU senior forward Ashley Thomas' 16-foot jumper was answered by a short jumper by North Carolina's Cetera DeGraddenreid, the freshman point guard's only basket of the game. Then, Chaney made her second three pointer before Fowles hit a WNBA-like fade-away jumper from 10 feet that gave fans a glimpse of a new era of women's college basketball.
The indefensible jumper gave LSU its largest lead of the half, 20-15, with 8:03 left.
Both teams cooled for the remainder of the half, as LSU made only 2-of-17 shots and North Carolina was 3-of-9 with six turnovers.
LSU led 24-21 at the half.
Pringle's short jumper cut the lead to one, 24-23, on the Tar Heels' first possession of the second half.
However, the Lady Tigers reeled off six unanswered and picked up the defensive pressure to expand the lead to 30-23.
Thomas picked up her third personal foul, forcing Chancellor to use Williams to guard Pringle in the post. Pringle scored North Carolina's next nine points, converting one of two three-point plays and hitting two more baskets from point-blank range to keep her team within two of the Lady Tigers, 34-32, with 10:56 left.
When North Carolina began its half-court trapping defense, Chaney got involved LSU's motion offense. The Baton Rouge native hit a short jumper in the paint and a three pointer from the left wing to put the Lady Tigers in front, 39-35.
With more than five minutes to play, both of LSU's frontcourt starters along with Pringle picked up a fourth personal foul in a span of 90 seconds, forcing the coaches to make substitution decisions with their stars. Pringle remained in the game, while Thomas and Fowles traded turns on the bench for a short span.
A three pointer and a pair of free throws by LeBlanc gave LSU a 46-37 lead with 3:46 to play.
Clutch free throws down the stretch kept North Carolina from mounting a legitimate comeback.
The Lady Tigers celebrated by dancing at center court, a dance that will continue when LSU flies to Tampa on Thursday afternoon for its fifth time among the nation's elite since 2004.
* Regional Most Outstanding Player
LSU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
NCAA TOURNAMENT REGIONAL FINAL POSTGAME NOTES
LSU vs. North Carolina
March 31, 2008 – New Orleans, La.
- LSU advances to the fifth NCAA Final Four in the program’s history, becoming the second team to reach five straight (UConn).
- The Lady Tigers are now 5-3 in the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament.
- LSU improved to 6-2 as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
- LSU is now 36-17 in NCAA Tournament history.
- Sylvia Fowles moved into a first-place for career post-season games in LSU history. Tonight’s game was Fowles 19th.
- RaShonta LeBlanc moved into second-place for career post-season games in LSU history, playing in her 18th game tonight.
- Sylvia Fowles scored in double figures for the 33rd game of the season and the 123rd game of her career with 21 points in tonight’s game. Fowles has now scored in double figures in 14 of her 19 NCAA Tournament games.
- Sylvia Fowles recorded her 23rd double double of the season, 85th of her career and the ninth in a NCAA Tournament game with 21 points and 12 rebounds tonight.
- Quianna Chaney scored in double figures for the 30th game this season and the 69th game of her career with 13 points tonight. She has also now scored in double figures in eight NCAA Tournament games.