This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little
March brings madness, and April brings championships. Postseason coaching madness erupted on March 27th when Tennessee severed ties with women’s basketball head coach Holly Warlick, who spent a combined 38 years with the Lady Vols as a player, assistant coach, and head coach. In “This Week in UT Sports History”, celebrate the storied history of the Lady Volunteers’ April championship wins in which Warlick played a part.
April 3, 2007
For the Lady Vols, the “four Cs” of perfection did not mean cut, clarity, color and, carat weight. Instead, Cleveland, Candace, coaching, and cutting down nets proved for a sparkling finish to the 2007 season as Tennessee won its seventh national championship title under head coach Pat Summitt.
The Associate Press lede read, “Everyone is gazing up at good ol’ Rocky Top again,” after the Lady Vols beat Rutgers 59-46 in the NCAA Women’s Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, to claim the crown yet again. Tennessee, then 34-3 on the season, took a 16-point lead over 27-9 Rutgers, a deficit the Scarlet Knights could not overcome – the Summitt remained impassible.
“This is something that we have wanted from day one,” Parker said. “We set our minds to it, and Nicky said on the way over here, it’s weird because we said take it one game at a time and we really just did that…we looked up, and we were in the national championship game.”
Parker returned to Tennessee the following season after speculation stirred around the WNBA Draft. Wanting to “hang the banner” from the rafter for 2006-07, Parker donned the orange and white again, leading to another banner season – and an eighth national title in 2008.
Anosike knew how to win number seven and proved it with her efforts at the boards.
“I just think that Coach said before the game, offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and rebounding wins championships,” Anosike said. “That really just stuck with me throughout the whole game.”
Summitt recognized her leaders postgame saying she thought Parker was the best player in the country and Anosike had great pride on her game.
“This team takes a lot of pride individually and being a part of the plan of attack and the success,” Summitt said. “I’m proud, very proud.”
The late great coach would be proud of both Parker and Anosike. Parker, the first draft pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft, earned Rookie of the Year in her first season with the Los Angeles Sparks and went on to earn a WNBA championship, two MVP titles, a Final MVP title, and two gold medals at the Beijing and London Olympic games in 2008 and 2012.
Anosike returned to Rocky Top this season as a graduate assistant on Holly Warlick’s staff. Anosike spent four years in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics, and the Sparks before retiring to teach history at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg, Florida.
April 6, 2008
One point. One point separated the victor from the loser. One point kept an SEC powerhouse out of the national championship game. One point kept another SEC powerhouse in the running for the title. One point for one win to earn one title. One of eight titles, that is.
The No. 3 Lady Vols narrowly defeated No. 6 LSU 47-46 on Sunday, April 6, 2008 in Tampa, Florida to secure their spot in a second consecutive NCAA Women’s Tournament championship appearance two days later against Stanford. The harrowing Final Four victory emboldened the Vols to power past the Cardinals 64-48 to win it all yet again in what would be Pat Summitt’s last championship victory.
LSU and Stanford had been the only teams to beat Tennessee (36-2) in the regular season. Stanford powered past the ladies in orange and white in a 73-69 overtime win on Dec. 22, 2007. LSU handed Tennessee its second loss, 78-62, in Knoxville on Valentine’s Day 2008.
With the Lady Vols getting revenge in the form of a 61-55 win to clinch the SEC Tournament title against the Tigers on March 9th, LSU looked to upset the reigning national champs, nearly accomplishing the feat. But Alexis Hornbuckle’s only points of the game came with 0.7 seconds left on the clock, and they proved enough to keep the Lady Vols alive.
“I couldn’t make a shot all night,” Hornbuckle said. “But honestly, that was the only one that mattered.”
Tennessee outscored LSU 22-18 in the first half, but a second half surge from the Lady Tigers led to 28 points that nearly finished Tennessee in the then lowest-scoring Final Four game. LSU’s Sylvia Fowles carried her team with 24 points and 20 rebounds through all 40 minutes of play. With cramps slowing down Fowles, Candace Parker outpaced defenders the length of the court to pass the ball to Nicky Anosike, who missed the layup that Hornbuckle put back for the win.
Parker had dislocated her shoulder twice in the regional final against Texas A&M, but injury did not stop her or her teammates from beating LSU and taking the title on April 8.
April 2, 1989
Pat Summitt clinched her second national championship title as head coach in Tacoma, Washington, against Auburn with a 76-60 win on April 2, 1989. Bridgette Gordon, who made a record 17 free throws in the East Regional final, earned MVP honors as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Gordon had already earned international attention as a member of the United States women’s national team, winning a gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. The Sacramento Monarchs selected Gordon in the inaugural WNBA Draft in 1997. She spent one year as a forward in the WNBA before professional stints in Italy and Turkey.
Gordon was elected to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame located in Knoxville in 2007. She still holds the record for most career steals at Tennessee (338) and is one of only five Lady Vols whose number (30) hangs from the rafters in Thompson-Boling Arena, joining Holly Warlick — the first to have her jersey retired (male or female) for basketball.
The 1989 championship marked the second for Holly Warlick as an assistant coach at Tennessee, having previously won in 1987. She served as an assistant coach in all eight national titles earned by the Lady Vols program.