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Vitale makes short drive to Tampa to attend first Final Four

TAMPA — Dick Vitale was among the celebrities in the house. He walked courtside 40 minutes before tipoff and was greeted with a blast of cheers and applause.

The legendary commentator lives in nearby Lakewood Ranch and just returned from the men's Final Four in San Antonio, Texas.

Who would have guessed Tuesday's game was his first women's Final Four?

Vitale, who worked his first game for ESPN in 1979, said he's usually working and the overlap of tournaments has kept him away from the women's event.

"I'm always working," Vitale said.

The close proximity of his home made it possible for him to stop at the St. Pete Times Forum after flying in from Texas. And he showed a little of that Dickie V fire, anticipating the matchup between Tennessee forward Candace Parker and Stanford guard Candice Wiggins.

Vitale has been pretty busy since he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday. What has changed since he got the call?

"The phone calls," he said with a raspy voice. "It's been amazing all the people who have called. It's unbelievable."

All-Tournament Team: Parker was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Wiggins, teammates Shannon Bobbitt and Nikki Anosike and LSU's Sylvia Fowles.

Turnovers: Stanford committed a season-high 25 turnovers Tuesday, which Tennessee converted into 26 points. The Cardinal matched the previous high of 21 with 11:15 left in the second half on a shot clock violation.

Stanford had 11 turnovers in Sunday's semifinal win over Connecticut and reached that with 6:33 left in the first half. The previous high came in a 62-42 victory against UC-Davis on Dec. 12.

Baugh injury: Tennessee freshman Vicki Baugh left the game with 7:14 left. She made a layup and immediately grabbed her knee after landing. She was crying as she was helped off the court and taken to the locker room. By the end, she was on crutches fighting back tears with her left knee wrapped.

TV ratings: Sure, the stands were packed with fans and press row was filled. But what about the folks watching on the couch? ESPN officials said 2.4-million households tuned in for Sunday's semifinals, up 20 percent from the 2007 Final Four in Cleveland.

Homecourt advantage: Most of the 21,655 in attendance were wearing the bright orange of Tennessee. The predominantly pro-Vols crowd was vocal and overshadowed the smattering of Cardinal fans sprinkled among the stands.

By the numbers

27: NCAA Tournament berths for Tennessee, the only team to have appeared in every one.

23: Consecutive wins by Stanford entering Tuesday, the longest streak in the nation.

6: First-half steals by Anosike, tying a career high.

3: Title-game appearances by Stanford, which won in 1990 and 1992.

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Izzy Gould can be reached at izzygould@gmail.com or (727) 580-5315.

Vitale makes short drive to Tampa to attend first Final Four 04/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 7:10am]
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