Tar Heel Mania is doing its usual yeoman's job of liveblogging the game, so I won't step on his toes. I will periodically toss up comments as the game progresses, though.
At the first timeout: It's an ugly game. Tennessee's defense is swarming, and UNC has failed to hit a shot, falling behind 4-0. Latoya Pringle's two fouls could be devastating. When throwing together the tempo-free stats yesterday, I noticed that three of the Final Four teams were first or second in their conference in blocks, with over 5.5 blocks a game. (Only Tennessee is the outlyer, unsurprising with their vicious defense on the ground.) That blocking ability is very important in a sport built off of the drive-and-dish style of play,. Pringle is UNC's block specialist, and the Vols will have an easier time gettng points in the paint with her on the bench.
At the second timeout: UNC is having a lot of difficulty driving or passing the ball into the lane. Transition offense is thus going to be extremely important. Unfortunately the steals are coming faster for the Vols - every rebound the Heels pull down gets swatted at by an orange jersey, and it's working. Still too many missed shots from Carolina, though. McCants's performance so far however, has been nothing short of excellent.
Latta and Parker have joined Pringle in the two-foul club, a very interesting situation. 7-6 Tennessee.
At the third timeout: Tennessee's full court press might be helping the Heels, as they can consistently beat it and get the transition offense that works for them. UT backed off on it once UNC got the lead. UNC's halfcourt defense, on the other hand, has stepped it up to another level, getting multiple Volunteer shot clock violations.
Latta was the only two-foul player in the game, and she foolishly picked up a third. Elana Larkins and Camille Little now have to take over the game, which they're more than capable of doing. 12-9, UNC.
At the fourth timeout: UNC's defense has regressed to merely excellent, but McCants is single-handedly keeping the Heels in the game, with steals and drives galore. Pringle is really having trouble, limited by her two early fouls.
This is the defensive clinic we were promised yesterday when a lackluster UCLA team finally paid the price for their lazy play. And of course, it's no surprise this is a better defensive game than Rutgers-LSU, since the tempo-free stats told us so.
At the half: For a game that so far has been devoid of Parker and Latta, this has been an incredible display of basketball. UNC ends the half by forcing another shot clock violation, only to not be able to capitalize on it due to a Volunteer trap at half-court. Meanwhile, Pringle and Larkins are obliterating any Tennessee offense in the paint, and McCants is sparking the offense every chance she gets.
It's interesting to see the various coach interviews going into the locker room. Sylvia Hatchell seems more angry at her point guard for picking up three fouls and her team for missing a lot of layups - many of which can be credited to UT's defense and not mental lapses on the Heels part - while pat Summit appears more irritated about the reffing than the play. I think both coaches will light into their players for the next fifteen minutes though.
UNC is really getting confused by Tennessee's deffense stopping their drives so far from the basket and close to the baseline. The passes after those stops are getting picked off right and left, which would lead to a lot of fast breaks if not for the UNC guards incredible transition defense. If the heels can get better routes to the basket, they should be able to open up a lead. Otherwise it looks to be a long second half. Tennessee 22, Carolina 21 at the half.
The halftime talking heads still favor Tennessee, but their remedy for the Vols is more transition offense, which is being denied to them by good tar heel defense, not any failings on the women in orange. I still think the Heels will pull it out. Speaking of Tennessee, Rocky Top Talk has an open thread on the game as well.
At the 18 minute mark: UNC is still having a lot of offensive trouble, while the Vols are rebounding more of their own misses, giving them a five point lead, 26-21.
At the 16 minute mark: I'm not going to get tired of watching Shannon Bobbit getting laid out by LaToya Pringle picks at midcourt. Little and LArkins are beginning to work the low post, while UT is missing point blank layups. 28-27, UNC.
At the 12 minute mark: A 17-2 UNC run, topped by two Carolina fast breaks. The Vols look absolutely shellshocked. Nothing is going uncontested by the Heels, including an open UT layup ruthlessly blocked by McCants. 38-29, UNC.
At the 8 minute mark: UNC has opened up their perimeter shooting, and consequently gotten more drives to the basket because of it. Unfortunately, fouls are going to be a problem down the stretch - Little's sitting with four, and Pringle and Latta are both playing with three.
UNC is not getting back on defense nearly as quickly as they have been. Both teams are beginning to return to offensive form. 48-40, Tar Heels.
At the 4 minute mark: UNC's offense has no sputtered, with three turnovers, a shot clock violation and and two offensive fouls. They're holding up on defense, but have put the Vols in the bonus. Little has fouled out on a very poor offensive foul - Sidney Spencer flopped horribly - and then Pringle followed her getting her fifth on the other end. Jessica Breland now takes up the crucial post position, and yes, the fact that you don't know who she is explains how worrisome this is. 48-46, Carolina.
3:09 to play: Latta hits two free throws, UT responds with two themselves, and the announcers spend the entire time describing a UNC motivational thing involving sticks. Uh, there's a game on guys.
Still 3:09 to play: UNC burns two straight timeouts, and now only has one. Latta's a great floor leader, but I'd still like a couple of more timeouts for Hatchell to coach in. 50-48 UNC.
2:49 McCants misses a three and then goes to the ground clutching her leg. Announcers think its a cramp, luckily, but this further depletes the UNC bench.
1:44 Great defensive stop for Larkins, but the Heels can't convert and the Vols tie it on a fast break. Larkins is gassed, and the Vols get another steal. 50-50.
1:01 UNC gets two good looks, but can't convert, in part because the first miss didn't hit rim. UT calls a timeout up 51-50, which plays into UNC's need for a rest and McCants coming back into the game.
34.8 Breland gets a critical block, but Tennessee gets a steal on a halfcourt trap. Aargh.
30.1 Parker goes 2-2 from the line. 53-50, UNC. And the Vols foul Latta, but don't send her to the line. UNC takes its last timeout.
I'm a lttle tired about hearing what Parker is yelling at her teammates at every timeout.
24.2 Latta takes a three really early in the shot clock, and it doesn't fall. Hornbuckle misses the first... but makes the second. Four point lead. Tennessee calls a TO, up 54-50.
15.9 latta misses a three. No one is under the basket in blue for a rebound.
14,5 Sidney Spencer is at the line. She makes these, and it will pretty much kill my crush on her. She does. 56-50.
And the Volunteers win. The Heels couldn't get a foul on the last possession, and there's nothing else you can do down six.
The comparison has already been made to the UNC-Georgetown game, but it's not applicable. The men's team lost their heads and forced up poor shots when they didn't have to. The Heels were just broken by an incredibly tough Tennessee defense, and hamstrung by foul trouble. Candace Parker was held to 14 points but got 13 rebounds, most after the Heels' height was sent to the pine. A great game that should have been for a national championship - it will hurt, but no one's got anything to be ashamed of.