CLEVELAND -- At Tennessee, women's basketball championships are not pie in the sky. They are on banners high in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena, hung there after triumphs in 1998, 1997, 1996, 1991, 1989 and 1987.
Every time Candace Parker looked up there, in practices or during games, she would wonder when a new banner would be added, one she helped hang.
"It has been way too long since Tennessee has won a national championship," Parker said a day before the Lady Lady Volstried for their seventh. "And I'm tired of looking up and not seeing a banner that has all our names written all over it."
Parker will see one soon.
Tennessee (34-3) earned it last night with a grinding 59-46 victory over a Rutgers team that tried vainly to become the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA title.
Rutgers' Cinderella run, which included eight straight victories and an unexpected Big East title, made its coach, C. Vivian Stringer, call the Scarlet Knights (27-9) a "team of destiny."
That suggested the help of a superior force from on high, but it could not offset the height and rebounding advantage that became the Lady Vols' key weapon.
So their coach, Pat Summitt, moved within three titles of UCLA's John Wooden (10) as the coach with the most Division I college basketball championships.
"It is as sweet as ever," Summitt said.
This one came from a Tennessee team that seemed bound to prove its star, National Player of the Year Parker, was right when she repeatedly claimed the Lady Vols were not a one-woman show.
"It bothers me. I'm not going to lie," Parker said. "When I feel like we've had a great team effort and all the highlights are of me on ESPN, I'm, like, dang!
"Our team, however, doesn't focus on that because they know that's not me and that's not what I'm about. I'm about winning a national championship because I feel like all the personal accolades can be disputed, but you can't take away a national championship."
Parker was named Most Outstanding Player for her team-high 17 points - six on free throws in the final two minutes - seven rebounds and three assists. Parker immediately quashed suggestions she might leave for the WNBA.
"This is what I have dreamed of since I was a little kid," Parker said. "Come on now, why wouldn't I come back for another year in orange? Why wouldn't I? Why wouldn't I?"
Tennessee got a huge game from center Nicky Anosike (16 rebounds), four big three-point shots from Shannon Bobbitt and a key first-half contribution from reserve guard Alberta Auguste. "I thought our defensive play and board play were the difference," Summitt said.
Tennessee had a 42-34 advantage on the boards, but it was 23-12 in the first half when the Lady Vols took control of a game in which Rutgers led just once, by two points early in the first half.
Tennessee made the final with a 56-50 victory over North Carolina in which the Lady Vols had the worst shooting performance (27 percent) of a winning team in the Final Four. They started last night's game with apparent determination to see how low they could go, making just five of their first 19 shots. They shot just 34.5 percent for the game.
But the Lady Vols' intense half-court trap left Rutgers perplexed, forcing it into turnovers and rushed shots. What had been a close game for 14 minutes suddenly turned into an orange crush, as Tennessee closed the half with a 13-4 run for a 29-18 lead at intermission.
Rutgers' celebrated freshman guard, Epiphanny Prince, did not have a field goal. Prince, who once scored 113 points in a high school game had four free throws, four turnovers and four fouls.
The 5-foot-2 Bobbitt, her old high school teammate, had 13 points and three steals.
The Scarlet Knights rebounded much better in the second half but failed to cut the lead to fewer than seven.
Philip Hersh writes for the Chicago Tribune.
Leading the pack
With last night's 59-46 victory over Rutgers, Tennessee won its seventh NCAA women's tournament title, but first since 1998. The Volunteers have the most women's basketball championships:
School ............. Titles
Tennessee ......... 7
Southern Cal .....2
Louisiana Tech .2
[ Source: NCAA]