RICHMOND, Va. -- By her own admission, Katie Smith didn't do very much last night in the first half to help her Ohio State Buckeyes teammates beat Western Kentucky in the NCAA East Regional women's basketball semifinal.
But, as most great players do, Smith found a way to get herself back into the flow, scoring a game-high 20 points, including 10 free throws, to lead the third-ranked Buckeyes to a 82-70 win and a berth in tomorrow's regional championship game.
The Buckeyes (26-3), the region's top seed, will meet the winner of the Virginia-Georgetown semifinal for a spot in next week's Final Four in Atlanta.
Smith, the national freshman of the year, had a dismal first half, hitting just three of seven shots from the field with only eight points. She looked out of sync and confused, thanks to the Hilltoppers' strong pressure.
"They [Western Kentucky] weren't giving me a whole lot to work with. I just sort of stood around. I didn't do very much," said Smith.
But, in the second half Smith and guards Audrey Burcy and RTC Averrill Roberts went to work, attacking the basket on offense and clogging the passing lanes defensively, taking the steals and turnovers and converting them into points.
"I felt very comfortable that these three players would take advantage of the situation," said Ohio State coach Nancy Darsch.
The Buckeyes, who trailed by six at halftime, stormed out on a 6-0 run to tie the score and briefly took the lead a three-point lead with 11:09 left on a three-point play by Roberts.
But after Western Kentucky re-tied the score on a three-point shot by guard Kristie Jordan, the Buckeyes, who hit 22 of 23 second half free throws, used a 17-5 spurt to close out Western Kentucky.
"It was a case of us having to make some adjustments and converting on what we got," said Darsch. "When I saw the way we started the second half, I knew we'd be OK.
The fourth-seeded Hilltoppers (24-7), who advanced to last year's Final Four, have five seniors among their regulars, but looked rattled in the second half, forcing ill-advised shots and playing without poise.
"We lost a little of our composure at times. They played aggressively and we didn't have the same intensity in the second half. We got impatient and rushed passes. Things snow-balled. We just didn't get the job done," said assistant coach Cristy McKinney, who filled in for head coach Paul Sanderford, who remained in Bowling Green with a case of pneumonia.
The two teams looked tentative and unable to master the other's press in the early going.
As a result, the Hilltoppers shot just 31 percent from the floor in the first half, while Ohio State hit just 36 percent of their shots in the half.
But Western Kentucky, which knocked out Tennessee and Maryland in the Mideast Regionals last year, used a near perfect performance from the foul line (17 of 18) to lead, 37-31, at intermission.
* Tennessee 74, North Carolina 54: Top-seeded Tennessee got 13 points from Tiffany Woosley and used a dominating inside game to beat North Carolina in Iowa City, Iowa.
Tennessee (29-2) moved into the regional finals tomorrow for the 10th time in 12 years and spoiled the first Sweet 16 appearance by North Carolina (23-7) since 1986.
The second-ranked Volunteers out-rebounded North Carolina 46-31 and took control after coach Pat Summitt called a timeout with her team leading by only a point late in the first half. They'll play either Iowa or Auburn for the right to move on to the Final Four in Atlanta.
Lisa Harrison and Nikki McCray each added 12 points for Tennessee, which has won the NCAA title every other year since 1987, and Harrison grabbed 12 rebounds. Tonya Sampson led North Carolina with 15 points.
Tennessee led all the way but appeared to be losing its edge after Charlotte Smith's three-pointer and Sampson's steal and layup drew fourth-seeded and No. 17 North Carolina to 21-20 at the 6:27 mark in the first half.
Summitt called time to regroup and the Lady Vols responded, scoring 10 straight points to begin a 17-5 run that stretched their lead to 38-25 at halftime.
* Louisiana Tech 59, Southwest Missouri 43: Louisiana Tech's Danielle Whitehurst scored 22 points and the Lady Techsters used a wilting defense to win the regional semifinal in Nacagdoches, Texas.
Louisiana Tech increased its NCAA tournament record to 33-8 and advances to tomorrow night's finals.
Whitehurst scored eight of her 10 first half points in the final 7:41 of the first half as the Lady Techsters never trailed and led 32-34 at the half.
Louisiana Tech really turned up the defensive heat in the second half with a 10-2 run in which the Lady Bears went 3:28 without a point.
Southwest Missouri scored eight points over the first 14:38 of the second half and had 19 for the second half.
Melody Howard, Southwest Missouri's leading scorer with a 18.8 average, scored her only basket of the game with 5:22 left in the game. Secelia Winkfield and Tonya Baucom led the Lady Bears with 11 points.