March 26, 2008
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) -Charel Allen ruined Oklahoma's planned homecoming. Pat Summitt just keeps winning.
On the night Summitt became the first coach in Division I basketball to win 100 NCAA tournament games, Allen stole the show with a fearless late-night performance and a career-high 35 points. Allen sent Notre Dame past Oklahoma 79-75 in overtime and into their first regional semifinal appearance since 2004 on Tuesday night.
"Our whole team, especially our seniors, just refused to lose," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "They absolutely refused to go home without a victory. I'm just so proud of where we are right now."
Where they're headed is Oklahoma City, where Sooners fans were hoping to see their team one more time. Instead Notre Dame (25-8) earned the ticket and will face top-seeded Tennessee (32-2) on Sunday.
The Lady Vols have never missed the regional round in 27 tournament appearances, and made sure the streak continued with a 78-52 blowout of ninth-seeded Purdue. They're also perfect against Notre Dame, 19-0 including an 87-63 win in South Bend on Jan. 5.
Oklahoma (22-9) was expecting the nearby site to be the grand stage for a matchup between last year's national player of the year, Courtney Paris, and Candace Parker, one of this year's top candidates for the award.
But the Sooners lost an eight-point lead in the final 8 minutes of regulation, then blew a five-point lead in overtime, thanks primarily to Allen.
"It's sad we won't be going to Oklahoma City, but, hopefully, Notre Dame can give Tennessee a run," forward Amanda Thompson said after scoring 19 points.
Allen was brilliant. She hit 10 of 21 shots, all three of her 3-pointers and all 12 of her free throws. When she wasn't making midrange jumpers or 3s, the 5-foot-11 guard drove to the basket and challenged the Paris twins - 6-4 Courtney and 6-3 Ashley.
Allen also finished with six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. Oh yeah, she single-handedly sparked both of Notre Dame's comebacks, too.
During the 16-4 run that helped Notre Dame go from a 56-49 deficit to a 65-60 lead with 2:02 to go in regulation, Allen scored 10 points. Oklahoma tied it when Jenna Plumley hit a 3-pointer and Courtney Paris scored in the post with 13.7 seconds left. Paris finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds, extending her double-double streak to 92 straight games, and Plumley added 18, all on 3s.
About the only thing Allen did wrong was miss the potential winner at the buzzer, but not by much. The 15-foot fadeaway bounced on the rim three times before rolling off and sending the game into overtime.
"I didn't just chuck it up there, but it wasn't the shot I was looking for," Allen said. "I thought it was good."
Oklahoma responded by scoring the first five points of overtime to make it 70-65, but Allen did it again.
This time, she hit a 3, then stole the ball and made the outlet pass that led to Ashley Barlow's layup that tied the score at 70 with 3:09 left.
After that, it was all Irish, who used a 7-0 run to build a 77-72 lead in the closing seconds.
"I just had the mentality that I was not going home without a win because I've never been to the Sweet 16," said Allen, a senior.
She is headed there now, although the matchup with the defending national champs may have just gotten a lot tougher.
The Lady Vols have been criticized this season for not playing 40 minutes, and after a poor defensive performance in Sunday's rout of Oral Roberts, Summitt, the career victories leader with 979 wins, challenged her club to play better defense.
Did they ever.
Tennessee forced 24 turnovers and kept all but one Purdue player from scoring in the first 11 minutes.
The game on Purdue's home court was never even close.
Tennessee scored the first six points, built a 15-6 lead and then extended the lead to 35-8 less than 15 minutes into the game.
Purdue (19-15), the Big Ten tournament champ and a regional finalist last year, was led by Keshia Mosley with 14 points and Kalika France with 10.
"I feel like a lot of things we did to ourselves," France said. "I feel like there wasn't really anything they did that stopped us. If we had come out in the beginning playing hard, like we did toward the end of the first half and all of the second half, then the game would have been a lot more competitive."
Parker and her teammates made sure it wasn't. The junior who plans to leave school for the pros after this season had 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Alexis Hornbuckle had 14 points, five assists and eight of the Vols' 15 steals.
And Summitt got her latest milestone in typcial fashion, with another early-round blowout in the NCAA tournament.
"I don't think about numbers personally, but for the team, we've never not been to the Sweet 16," Summitt said. "I didn't want this team to be the first that didn't advance."