Color this NCAA tournament green. Not blue, not purple and definitely not orange.
Michigan State completed an unlikely coupling with Baylor -- the teams in green -- to crown a truly new champion for the 2004-05 season Sunday, rallying from a 16-point second-half deficit to stun Tennessee, 68-64, before 28,937 at the RCA Dome.
The Spartans (33-3), who trailed, 31-25, at halftime, and were down 49-33 with 14:30 left to play, tied a Final Four record with their comeback. Before Sunday, only Notre Dame (against Connecticut in 2001) had recovered from that large a deficit to win.
It was also the Spartans’ 17th consecutive victory.
“Tennessee is a great team, and I think the second 20 minutes really reflected the greatness, heart and soul of our team,” Michigan State Coach Joanne P. McCallie said of the Lady Vols, who had made the NCAA final the last three seasons.
“It will be a long time before I get this one out of my system,” said Coach Pat Summitt, whose orange-clad Tennessee team, ended up as blue as top-seeded Louisiana State, the team in purple and gold that lost to Baylor in the opener.
Alexis Hornbuckle, a freshman guard, led the Lady Vols (30-5) with 16 points.
The scoring star for the Spartans was junior guard Lindsay Bowen, who had 18.
But the difference was Kristin Haynie. The senior guard had only four points and made seven turnovers, but she also had seven assists and the game’s biggest play.
With the score tied, 62-62, Haynie intercepted a Tennessee pass near the top of the key with a minute left and went in for an uncontested layup to give Michigan State its first lead of the second half at 64-62.
“We kept our composure down the stretch when it really counted,” Haynie said.
Tennessee guard Loree Moore scampered down court and tied the score one last time with 52 seconds left. But Spartan center Kelli Roehrig made an open layup with 35 seconds left to make it 66-64. Tennessee had three shots under the basket to tie but missed them all. Roehrig then batted the ball out to Bowen, who threw it down court to racing Victoria Lucas-Perry (14 points), who made the final layup with 2.7 seconds left.
In other years giving the Lady Vols a 16-point second-half lead has been too much to overcome. But Tennessee, despite outrebounding Michigan State, 43-33, ultimately could not overcome its five-for-13 free-throw shooting and 18 turnovers. Not to mention the Spartans’ will.
Shanna Zolman, who had 13 points for Tennessee, said the Lady Vols did not let down when they had the big lead.
“The first thing that went through my mind was the LSU-Baylor game,” Zolman said in reference to Baylor’s 15-point comeback. “We knew they were going to make a run. And we realized we had to counterbalance that and be able to make a run back at them ourselves. But we were just never able to do that.”
When asked if the Baylor-Michigan State title matchup suggested a new era in women’s college basketball, Summitt smiled slightly.
“I think it does speak to parity,” Summitt said. “You have two teams here for the first time, and those teams will play for the national championship. We have talked about [parity] for years, but now we’re seeing it firsthand.
“I don’t think this was any kind of fluke, that it happens one year and that’s it.”