The Lady Tigers (27-7) will make about an hour drive from their campus to play in New Orleans. They'll meet the winner of Tuesday's Midwest Regional final between Stanford and Tennessee.
"It was a dream to have people fighting over tickets," said
Johnson, who grew up in New Orleans. "We'll see how it's going to go in
terms of turning people away."
It was a close contest, but fourth-seeded LSU pulled away with an 8-1 run in
the final three minutes. Johnson hit two jumpers in the decisive spurt, and
Augustus got the last point by hitting a free throw with 8.8 seconds to go.
"When it came down to clutch time, we were able to execute like we
didn't execute in the first half," LSU acting coach Pokey Chatman said.
Back in Baton Rouge, Sue Gunter must have been leaping off her couch.
Gunter's team will finally go to the Final Four in her 40th season of
coaching. She hasn't been with the team for the past two months, staying home
with acute bronchitis.
"I truly believe that it means more to everyone around coach Gunter than
it does to coach Gunter," Chatman said. "She says all the time that
her career wouldn't be any less fulfilling if she didn't get there. That only
makes you want to get there even more for her."
Gunter was expected to make the trip to New Orleans, but she'll probably sit
in the stands or remain at the team hotel.
Christi Thomas had 19 points and 10 rebounds for Georgia, but she missed four
of five free throws in the final five minutes. Coming into this one, she was
19-for-19 from the line in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
"We just couldn't get it done," Thomas said. "Over the course
of the game, one team makes a run and the other team fights back. That's what
happened. It went back and forth all day."
Janese Hardrick added 18 points, and the third-seeded Lady Bulldogs (25-10)
had a chance to win it in the closing seconds.
Hardrick brought the ball downcourt, but there was contact with Johnson. No
foul was called, and Hardrick skidded to her knees and lost control of the ball.
"I was just trying to come down and score," Hardrick said. "If
they collapsed, I'd dish. But I lost my footing."
The horn went off as players scrambled, and LSU had the win safely in hand.
The Lady Tigers rushed off the bench in a wild celebration, and Johnson raced to
the sideline to find Chatman for a long hug.
Augustus, named Most Outstanding Player in the regional, also had eight
rebounds and two blocked shots. In the regional semifinal win over Texas, she
scored 29 on 14-of-19 shooting.
"It just happened," Augustus said. "Our team really wasn't
executing well. Our offense didn't have the spacing we wanted. But the shots
showed for me. I just put them down."
Georgia had its biggest lead at 54-47 with 6:53 remaining after Sherill
Baker, who was 0-for-7 at that point, swished a 3-pointer.
The Lady Bulldogs couldn't extend the lead, though,
LSU charged back, getting a 3-pointer from Augustus, an inside basket from
Treynell Clavelle and a jumper by Augustus to trim the margin to 56-54 with 4:37
to play, but Hardrick hit another 3-pointer to extend Georgia's lead.
Doneeka Hodges completed a three-point play, putting the ball back and
getting fouled after she missed an open layup on the break. That pulled LSU to
59-57. The play started when Johnson made a steal.
Johnson tied it moments later, hitting a 16-footer from the left wing with
1:54 to play. She finished 8-for-15.
Georgia led 32-28 at halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs got a basket by Thomas and two free throws by Hardrick to
go up 32-26 - a sizable lead at that point. Augustus, though, answered for LSU
with a jumper in the lane with 3.5 seconds on the clock.
Though Gunter hasn't been with the team for games, she still attended
practices and film sessions, and she often called Chatman to talk strategy. She
went to Nashville for the SEC tourney, but watched on TV from the hotel.
Georgia, which beat LSU 80-74 on Jan. 25 at Athens, Ga., was seeking its
sixth Final Four but first in five years.
Tigers Edge Dawgs for Final 4
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