CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- There probably isn't the same kind of playground basketball on the streets of Georgia guard Saudia Roundtree's hometown of Anderson, S.C., as there is in, say, New York or Baltimore.
But Roundtree's swagger and her game carry much of the free-flowing element of the playground, which she'll take into tomorrow's national women's championship game, as the fifth-ranked Lady Bulldogs beat No. 3 Stanford, 86-76, in the second semifinal in the NCAA women's Final Four last night.
Roundtree had a game-high 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and dazzled the Charlotte Coliseum crowd of 23,291 with her fancy dribbling, pinpoint passes and high-stepping, not to mention her snaring of two key rebounds in the final 1: 30 to help hold off a furious Stanford comeback.
"I don't think I played all that well. I played all right. I'm just thankful my teammates showed up," said Roundtree, the consensus national Player of the Year.
The Lady Bulldogs (28-4), the Southeastern Conference regular-season champions, will meet fourth-ranked Tennessee, the SEC tournament winner, in the title game, marking the second time the conference has placed both teams in the final.
Stanford (29-3) shaved an 18-point second-half deficit to five with less than two minutes to go. Forward Naomi Mulitauaopele made a put-back with 2: 30 to go, then Kate Starbird, who had 20 points to lead Stanford, picked off a loose ball on the ensuing inbounds pass and scored to pull the Cardinal to an 81-76 deficit.
However, after reserve center Signe Antvorskov missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1: 30 to go -- one of nine missed Georgia free throws in the final five minutes -- Stanford's Olympia Scott missed a short baseline turnaround. Georgia's La'Keshia Frett made one of two shots, but Scott fouled out on an illegal screen and the comeback was effectively ended.
"Two things may have happened," said Georgia coach Andy Landers. "We may have been surprised to be up by such a margin, because we have a lot of respect for Stanford. Also, when you lead by that many in a game that leads you to the last step, you want to get it over with."
Thankfully for the Lady Bulldogs, they had built up enough of a cushion that their end-of-game play and free-throw shooting didn't cost them a chance at their first national title.
"We have an excellent free-throw shooting team," said Landers. "We've never seen it before and I doubt that we'll see it again."
Meanwhile, the Cardinal, which like Georgia had been blown out in last year's national semifinals, played valiantly, but could not match the Lady Bulldogs' speed and strength, particularly on the front line, where Frett and center Tracy Henderson combined to score 22 and 17 points, respectively, with a combined 14 rebounds.
"We got beat by a superior opponent," said Stanford co-coach Amy Tucker. "We knew Saudia would cause us problems, but we didn't count on Henderson and Frett stepping up like that. Their athleticism and quickness really hurt us."
Said Starbird: "Georgia is an incredible team. But I also think that had we not gotten so far behind, it might have been different."
The loss ends a tumultuous year for Stanford, which had to maintain its focus without its leader, coach Tara VanDerveer, who took a year's sabbatical to coach the United States' Olympic team.
VanDerveer watched 10 Stanford games this year from a distance, including all three losses, and will take over the team next fall, none too soon for Tucker, her longtime assistant, who shared coaching duties with Marianne Stanley, former coach at Southern California.
"I didn't think about it during the game, but I'll be glad when Tara returns," said Tucker.
Pub Date: 3/31/96