Texas Tech swoops into final against Ohio State Buckeyes need overtime to edge Iowa, 73-72


ATLANTA -- For four years, Iowa women's basketball coach Vivian Stringer has worried about Ohio State guard Averrill Roberts coming to "The Show" -- and then putting one on.

Roberts, a 5-foot-9 senior, has played dismally for four years against the Hawkeyes, and Stringer knew it was only a matter of time before the All-Big Ten player had a breakout game against Iowa.

For Stringer's purposes, Roberts picked the worst possible time -- the national semifinals -- to score a team-high 16 points and make eight steals in leading the third-ranked Buckeyes past No. 4 Iowa, 73-72, in overtime yesterday at the Omni.

"My biggest concern in playing Ohio State has always been Averrill because I know what she could do," said Stringer. "In my mind, the person we did not expect or who we were hoping to keep out of the action, was Averrill Roberts. And she had not for four years, but she sure saved it for the right time."

Roberts not only hit a three-pointer at the beginning of the overtime to give the Buckeyes (28-3) a one-point lead, but she also grabbed the loose ball when Iowa senior guard Laurie Aaron lost the handle dribbling in for the winning shot with six seconds left in overtime.

"It was a situation where it's do-or-die," said Roberts. "You kind of have to put emotions and the butterflies aside and play your heart out."

Ohio State earned a place in today's championship game against Texas Tech, which beat Vanderbilt, 60-46, in the first semifinal.

Iowa (27-4) and Ohio State split their regular-season meetings, each winning at home, and shared the conference title.

And so the game took on the nature of a grudge match, with Aaron refusing to let Roberts pick her up after Roberts, in an attempt to box Aaron out, knocked the Iowa guard to the floor after a a free-throw try.

Stringer said: "It was typical of the Ohio State vs. Iowa matchup. It was a defensive battle and yet, it looks like, at least from the turnover point of view, that they caused more problems to us than we did to them."

Aaron's turnover came after freshman All-American Katie Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Aaron, who had 21 points, was heading for the basket off the rebound and did not see Stringer signaling for a timeout.

Unfortunately for Iowa, the referees did not see Stringer either, for if they had, they would have given her the timeout under women's basketball rules that specify that both the coach and the players on the court may call timeout.

Instead, Aaron, who hit a key three-pointer late in Iowa's 53-50 victory over Maryland in December, dribbled in and stumbled over teammate Cathy Marx's foot, for the last and most crucial of Iowa's 25 turnovers -- 11 of which were committed by Aaron and senior All-America forward Toni Foster.

"When you have your seniors turning the ball over 11 times, that means the rest of the team has no confidence," said Aaron.

Stringer said, "Any time you turn the ball over that many times, you're supposed to lose."

Iowa junior Tia Jackson, a standout at Mardela Springs High in Wicomico County, had a game-high 22 points, but only had six after halftime, when the Buckeyes switched in and out of defenses.

"They went from a man to a 2-3 and I just wasn't open to take shots," said Jackson.

The loss ends an emotionally draining season for both the Hawkeyes and their coach, who endured the loss of her husband, Bill, an exercise physiologist at the school.

"My life is so hectic as it is now, but I will get back and try to do a lot of thinking and try to put things in place and get my life in order," Stringer said. "But right now, I have not had a chance."

Today's game matches the best player in the women's game, Texas Tech forward Sheryl Swoopes, against Smith, a future great, who is only the fourth freshman to be named All-American.

Although she scored the basket to force the overtime with 11 seconds left, Smith missed a free throw in the last 30 seconds of a game for the fourth time in the last two weeks,

and was uncontrollably upset after the game.

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