March 25, 2000
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – Texas Tech finished what Notre Dame started Saturday.
Aleah Johnson scored 18 points and Texas Tech rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat Notre Dame 69-65 on Saturday in the NCAA Mideast Regional semifinals. The Lady Raiders answered that opening spurt with their own 17-0 run.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in one that had that big a point swing, particularly not at this level,” Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. “You don’t expect to have that many swings with that large a deficit.”
It helped that the Lady Raiders (28-4) fell behind 11-2 in their second-round game against Tulane before pulling out a victory last weekend. Melinda Schmucker-Pharies said they never panicked.
“We knew that no matter what, 17 down, we still had the whole game ahead of us. We just had to come out and battle no matter what,” she said.
Third-seeded Texas Tech will play top-seeded Tennessee, a 77-56 winner over Virginia, on Monday for a spot in the Final Four. The Lady Raiders advanced to their first regional championship since 1995.
Second-seeded Notre Dame (27-5) had won 23 of its last 25 games, which helped the Fighting Irish to a No. 5 ranking. They also had a decided height advantage inside thanks to All-American center Ruth Riley.
Notre Dame even scored the first 17 points of the game and led by as much as eight in the second half.
It wasn’t enough.
The Lady Raiders pecked away at that lead with outside jumpers and finally took the momentum when Riley got into foul trouble.
“They never quit. They kept coming at us,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of the Lady Raiders’ pressing defense.
“They got us out of our offense, and I think mentally we got out of the game. Mentally, we saw the pressure, and we just backed down from it. That was a problem. We weren’t able to execute.”
Texas Tech tied the game at 46 on a 3-pointer by Melinda Schmucker-Pharies midway through the half. Johnson then took over, scoring eight of the next nine points. Her inside basket with 8:12 left gave the Lady Raiders their first lead of the game at 50-48.
Riley tied it at 50 but picked up her fourth foul seconds later. Katrisa O’Neal hit a free throw, and Johnson scored twice for a 55-50 lead that Texas Tech never lost.
Pierson finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for Texas Tech. Keitha Dickerson added 12, and Schmucker-Pharies had 11 and seven assists.
Riley, who wound up fouling out of four Irish losses, wasn’t happy with some of the calls.
“I don’t think I really fouled anybody. I think being 6-5 makes it obvious when I do have contact, and maybe it makes it easier to make calls like that,” she said.
Notre Dame didn’t get much help from Alicia Ratay, the Big East’s freshman of the year. She only had two points. Riley had 19 points before fouling out, and Danielle Green added 15. Julie Henderson and Ericka Haney each had 10.
Riley jumpstarted Notre Dame with nine points in the Fighting Irish’s opening run, which was helped by seven turnovers by the Lady Raiders in the first six minutes.
Texas Tech didn’t score until 13:06 on a breakaway layup by Pierson, and that woke up the Lady Raiders. They got back into the game by scoring the next 15 and tying the game at 17 before Notre Dame went back up and led 28-23 at halftime.