OKLAHOMA CITY — With her team holding a two-point halftime lead over Texas A&M and its best player, Candace Parker, in the locker room with a dislocated shoulder, Tennessee senior center Nicky Anosike gathered the Vols together just before the start of the second half for a stern warning.
"Nicky looked all four of us (starters) in the eyes and said, 'We're not going home, and the only way we can do this is with defense,' " senior Alexis Hornbuckle said. " 'We're going to do this together, and we have to stay positive.' "
Battling to defend its national title with Parker out of the game for 10 minutes, the Vols rallied in the final three minutes for a 53-45 victory over No. 2 seed Texas A&M on Tuesday night in the Oklahoma City Region final.
Tennessee faces LSU in the national semifinals Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
"I'm really proud of this basketball team for the grit and determination they showed," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who is trying to win her eighth national title. "When our offense wasn't really working, I'm pleased with how we fought through. We didn't give up. We found a way to win."
The Vols (34-2) earned a trip to the Final Four the hard way against the Aggies (29-8), who led by five with 6:19 left. But a Parker basket with 5:51 left and six subsequent free throws put the Vols ahead 45-42.
With 48.8 seconds left and less than three seconds on the shot clock, Hornbuckle hit a long-range 3-pointer to give the Vols a 48-43 lead. The Aggies would later say it was a "dagger" in their hearts.
"I haven't hit a shot that big in my career, yet," Hornbuckle said. "And when I let it go, I didn't think I was going to miss it, but I'm not going to sit here and say I knew it was going in."
The Vols led 29-27 at halftime, but the Aggies held them to five field goals in the second half. But the Vols held the Aggies to six second-half field goals, 31.5 percent from the field. The Aggies were 5-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half and 1-of-9 in the second half.
Tennessee's victory came on a day when its offense wasn't spectacular (19-of-41 from the field, 3-of-6 from 3-point range) and with an injured Parker.
She hurt her left shoulder as she completed a steal on Takia Starks with 3:50 left in the first half, returned with 2:36 left but injured the shoulder again and left with 15.9 seconds remaining. She didn't return until 10:39 remained and score tied at 36.
"I want to reiterate how proud I am of my team," said Parker, who had 26 points and was named the most outstanding player of the region. "They really held it down. Obviously our shots weren't falling, but defensively that's something we needed, and that's the reason why we won."