Sunday, March 25, 2001

Xavier beats Tennessee with secret weapon

Defense hold Vols 18 points under average

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jennifer Phillips, right, ties up Tennessee's Tasha Butts as Nicole Levandusky comes to her aid.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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        BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The national attention Xavier had earned before Saturday was for its sharpshooting offense and fast-break style of play. But, in their stunning 80-65 NCAA Tournament victory over Tennessee that moved them one win from the Final Four, the Musketeers showed they're more than 3-pointers.

        They can play defense. Xavier held the Lady Vols to 18 points below their scoring average on 38 percent shooting. Tennessee came in shooting 48 percent.

        In three tournament victories, Xavier has held opponents to a 59-point average. The Musketeers have continued to score at their season average of 79-plus points a game.

        “We knew we weren't going to have too much of a problem scoring. That's our strong point,” said XU senior Nicole Levandusky, whose three 3-pointers helped her score a game-high 19 points. “We just had to play excellent defense.”

        Xavier's step into the elite reaches of women's basketball stems largely from its improved defense.

Freshman Kate Kreager wrestles Gwen Jackson for the ball.
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        After Tennessee's Michelle Snow scored to tie the game for the 11th and final time at 58 with 10:05 remaining, Xavier allowed only seven points the rest of the way.

        “Last season, we didn't finish the way we wanted to,” Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb said of her team's one-point first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. “And we decided we had to make a change this year and be more committed to trying to stop the other team instead of trying to outscore them.”

        Xavier's perimeter pressure forced Tennessee into 0-for-5 3-point shooting down the stretch, and the Lady Vols' attempt to slow the game failed when Xavier made 14 of 20 free throws in the final 10 minutes.

        “You can't really pinpoint one thing why we lost this game,” said UT guard Kara Lawson, who had 10 points. “It stems from a variety of errors. Our defense was terrible. And we didn't make smart decisions. We turned the ball over too much.”

        Xavier scored 22 points off 19 Tennessee turnovers. The Lady Vols scored only six points off XU's nine turnovers. The Musketeers also had 11 steals to four for Tennessee.

        Tennessee couldn't match Xavier's intensity on defense, leaving coach Pat Summitt bewildered and beside herself.

        “I am more upset with this team and disappointed in this team than I am for this team,” Summitt said. “This team today did not deserve anything but the outcome it got. On the other hand, Xavier played a terrific game. They were inspired to play us. And they were inspired to play us for 40 minutes.”

        Tennessee wanted to stop Levandusky, and Summitt was angry that Levandusky had 16 shots.

        “The one thing we said was do not help off of 40 (Levandusky),” Summitt said. “I wrote that on my board four times. And I'm looking and she has 19 points and is 7-for-16, and that's one indication of how we broke down.

        “They have a balanced attack. And when you play a team like that and you have a breakdown, they're going to make you pay for it. We had a lot of breakdowns. We showed them a lot of looks defensively, and they never flinched.”

NCAA Tournament coverage at
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Phillips expects to play despite injury
- Xavier beats Tennessee with secret weapon
Waugh provides spark off bench
Future bright for balanced Muskies
Tennessee players in shock
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