Final Four rocks Cleveland

Doug Gulasy

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt answers questions Sunday after her team beat North Carolina, 56-50, in the Final Four. Summitt won her seventh championship with the Lady Vols Tuesday evening. DANIEL OWEN | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

If Cleveland ever gets the chance to host the NCAA Women’s Final Four again, that event would be hard-pressed to top the Final Four hosted last weekend.

I was lucky enough to win a media credential to Sunday’s semifinal games at Quicken Loans Arena as part of a U.S. Basketball Writers Association seminar. While the night was a long one, I couldn’t be happier to have witnessed the spectacle.

The first thing I noticed when I took my seat in media row was the atmosphere in the arena. The only time I had been to “The Q” prior to Sunday night was Saturday afternoon for the team practice sessions. The arena wasn’t filled to capacity Saturday, but it certainly was Sunday. More than 20,000 screaming fans were out to support their teams; it was nothing short of amazing.

The first game pitted Rutgers against LSU, and the game really wasn’t even close, as Rutgers won 59-35. I learned a lot from sitting next to Robyn Crawford, who works for ESPN The Magazine and knew a lot about the teams and the game.

Rutgers was dominant on both offense and defense, drilling eight of 10 3-pointers in the first half and holding LSU to the lowest point total and shooting percentage ever in a Final Four game. LSU never had a chance.

Game two, North Carolina against Tennessee, was a lot closer than the previous game. The first half was sloppy, but I did get to witness the brilliance of sophomore Tennessee star Candace Parker early on, when she dribbled behind her back and split Carolina defenders for a basket.

The second half was much better. North Carolina used a 17-2 run to take a double-digit lead, and the Tar Heels led 48-36 with 8:18 remaining, leaving the huge Tennessee fan contingent stunned.

However, Tennessee stormed back with a 20-2 run, holding North Carolina without a made field goal in the final 8:18, to win 56-50. The Tennessee crowd got steadily louder and louder, and when Tennessee finally took the lead, it erupted into bedlam.

After the game, I got to attend the news conferences for both Tennessee and Carolina. The highlight of Tennessee’s news conference was when a reporter dared to ask Tennessee coaching legend Pat Summitt if she was concerned about the “ugly” style of play in what was a showcase for women’s sports.

“I am not the least bit concerned about that style of play,” Summitt said with her trademark steely stare aimed at the reporter. “I think people that understand basketball would have a great deal of respect for the intensity and the defense that these two teams brought to the court.”

Yikes.I’m glad I didn’t ask that question.

North Carolina’s press conference was, understandably, more subdued. Both players who came were near tears after the late-game collapse, so only two questions were asked of them.

After they left, questions were posed to UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell. Even I posed a question. Nervously, I stammered, asking about what had happened at the end of the game to the fast breaks that had allowed the Tar Heels to take the lead.

She gave an honest answer about how the team had gotten too passive at the end of the game, but blood was pounding too hard in my ears from asking my first-ever press conference question to get the full quote.

I didn’t get the chance to cover the championship game on Tuesday (which Tennessee won, by the way) because the writing sample I submitted with my application to the seminar was judged to be the second-best of all the applicants. Therefore, I got the “consolation prize” of covering the games Sunday while a student from Case Western covered the final.

Still, all in all it was a great experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Plus, I got to cover two games, and the Case Western kid only got to cover one.

Contact gymnastics reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].