CINCINNATI - Tennessee won yet another national championship, and this one might have been the toughest - and most bruising - of all.
Shackling Old Dominion with aggressive, physical defense, Tennessee weathered a second-half comeback and beat the Lady Monarchs 68-59 Sunday night to win its second straight national championship in women's basketball and fifth overall.
Chamique Holdsclaw led the Lady Vols (29-10) with 24 points and made the key plays down the stretch after Tennessee temporarily lost the lead. In the final 6:48, she scored 10 points, assisted on two baskets and blocked a shot.
With 9.3 seconds left and the title secure, Holdsclaw slapped hands and bumped bodies with jubilant teammates. Indicative of the way the game went, Old Dominion All-American guard Ticha Penicheiro threw the ball away on the Lady Monarchs' last possession, then went to the bench in tears. It was her 11th turnover, a season high, and Old Dominion's 26th.
Just as important as the play of Holdsclaw, named the tournament's outstanding player, was the Tennessee defense, which was allowed to bump and knock people around without fouls being called while the Lady Vols were building a 16-point lead in the first half.
The result was two and three bodies sprawled on the floor at times and a lot of frustration for the Old Dominion players.
Old Dominion managed to overcome that frustration, though, and took the lead on three occasions in the second half, the last time at 49-47 on reserve Amber Eller's 3-pointer from the left corner with 7:05 left.
But Holdsclaw, the sophomore AllAmerican who always seems to be there when Tennessee needs her the most, came through again.
First, Holdsclaw got a basket inside to tie the score at 49 with 6:48 left. Then she fed Niya Butts for a short bank shot in the lane that put the Lady Vols up 51-49. That was followed by a pass to wide-open Pashen Thompson for a layup, stretching the lead to 53-49, and Tiffani Johnson's basket inside made it 55-49 with 4:46 left.
After Clarisse Machanguana made a running hook to make it a four-point game, Holdsclaw got the next two baskets to put it out of reach to stretch the lead to eight and the Lady Vols held on.
Holdsclaw took over down the stretch after Mery Andrade, Old Dominion's best defensive player and emotional leader, fouled out with 8:01 left battling for a rebound.
Penicheiro, Old Dominion's darting, slashing point guard from Portugal, bore the brunt of the Tennessee defense. She went scoreless in the first half and finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Machanguana's 16 points led Old Dominion (34-2), which was seeking a return to the glory years that produced AIAW national championships in 1979 and 1980 and the NCAA crown in 1985. But Tennessee was too relentless and the Lady Monarchs saw their 33-game winning streak come to an end.
The title capped a long bumpy ride for Tennessee, which suffered through injuries and the nation's toughest schedule in the first half of the season. Tennessee stood 10-6 after losing at Old Dominion 83-72 on Jan. 7 and looked nothing like a team that could win the national championship.
But point guard Kellie Jolly returned from a knee injury after that game and the Lady Vols regrouped to become only the second team in 16 years of NCAA women's play to win consecutive titles.
Southern Cal won in 1983 and 1984.
Tennessee has won all of its titles under coach Pat Summitt, who has more than all but one coach in all of Division I basketball - John Wooden of UCLA. The Lady Vols also won in 1987, 1989 and 1991.
Tennessee's 10 losses are the most ever for a national champion. The most previously were six by Tennessee's 1987 title team.
Summitt changed her starting lineup, inserting 6-4 Tiffani Johnson in place of Abby Conklin in hopes of setting the tone defensively against a team that led the nation in scoring and victory margin this season.
Old Dominion, averaging 85 points a game, turned the ball over on its first four possessions and Holdsclaw got the first two baskets as Tennessee jumped to a 6-0 lead. The Lady Vols led the rest of the way.
The defense concentrated on Penicheiro and four players took turns guarding her, with long-armed Kyra Elzy and the hustling Butts, both freshmen, taking most of the responsibility.
Penicheiro was 0-for-4 with six turnovers in the first half, and coach Wendy Larry had to take her out of the game for three minutes in an effort to settle her down.
Butts also contributed on the offensive end, racing down the floor for three straight breakaway layups during a 14-1 run that broke it open. Old Dominion went 7« minutes without a field goal during that burst, which stretched Tennessee's lead from 10-8 to 24-9 with 7:06 left in the half.
The lead grew to 27-11 when Jolly hit a 3-pointer from the left corner at the 5:57 mark. Old Dominion went into the dressing room on a high when Aubrey Eblin banked in a running 30-foot 3pointer at the buzzer, drawing the Lady Monarchs to 34-22.