The Iowa women's basketball team, on an emotional run since tragedy struck last November, cruised into the Final Four on Saturday with a 72-56 victory over Tennessee for the Mideast Regional championship at Iowa City.
"It's a special moment in Iowa history and a moment I'll never forget," Iowa Coach Vivian Stringer said.
Stringer's husband, Bill, died of a heart attack last Thanksgiving Day and the Iowa coach took five weeks off to tend to family matters and her three children.
Bill Stringer was an exercise physiologist at the university and well-liked and respected by the Iowa players. Tears ran down Stringer's face while her players celebrated the victory and she spoke in little more than a whisper at the postgame news conference.
"This is different, I'm sure, than any feeling that any coach could ever feel for a team that will go to the Final Four," Stringer said.
Iowa (27-3) will play Big Ten Conference rival Ohio State in the semifinals Saturday at Atlanta. The two schools give the Big Ten its first representation in the women's Final Four.
Tia Jackson scored 17 of her 21 points during the second half to lead Iowa. Tennessee (29-3) was held 25 points below its season scoring average.
Mara Cunningham of top-ranked Vanderbilt scored 10 consecutive points during the closing minutes to lead the Commodores to a 58-53 victory over Louisiana Tech in the regional championship game at Nacogdoches, Tex.
Louisiana Tech (26-6) led, 46-43, with 7:13 to play. But after two free throws by Vanderbilt's Misty Lamb, Cunningham scored the next 10 points and finished with 22.
Cunningham's charge gave the Commodores (30-2) a 53-48 lead with 1:37 to play. Vanderbilt earned its first berth in the Final Four.
Audrey Burcy scored 20 points, including a layup with 3:18 to play that gave Ohio State a six-point lead, to help the Buckeyes (27-3) hold on to defeat Virginia, 75-73, in the regional final at Richmond, Va.
Virginia (26-6) got 30 points and 13 rebounds from Heather Burge, a senior from Palos Verdes High.