TAMPA — Alexis Hornbuckle is the hero once again.
The Tennessee senior guard, who hit a huge 3-pointer to seal a region final victory over Texas A&M last week, hit another big shot down the stretch Sunday night.
With time running out on the Vols' season and their bid for consecutive national championships, Hornbuckle grabbed a rebound of a Nicky Anosike miss and laid it back in with 0.7 seconds remaining to give Tennessee a 47-46 victory over SEC nemesis LSU in the second semfinal at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Vols (35-2) play Stanford on Tuesday night for the national championship. Tennessee goes for its eighth national title.
Stanford is responsible for one of Tennessee's losses this season (73-69 at Stanford on Dec. 22).
"It's going to be a big challenge for us, but we're excited to be back in the national championship game," coach Pat Summitt said.
"I'm just proud of this team for fighting through some adversity when things didn't go our way for whatever reason. We're back where we wanted to be, and it's because they fought through adversity and never quit."
Leading 43-42, Tennessee senior forward Alberta Auguste scored with 51.5 seconds remaining to give Tennessee a 45-42 lead but missed a subsequent free throw after being fouled on the play.
LSU responded with four consecutive points by senior guard Erica White. She scored with 40.7 seconds remaining to pull LSU within 45-44. Then White, who was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes in a region final win over No. 1 seed North Carolina, stepped to the line and hit two to give LSU a 46-45 lead.
"I felt pretty good about (LSU's chances)," White said.
But Hornbuckle's heroics followed. After an LSU timeout, the Vols inbounded the ball and senior Candace Parker brought it down the court and passed to Anosike. She missed a layup, but Hornbuckle grabbed the rebound. Her winning shot was her only basket, and her only points, of the game.
"Of course I realized I didn't make a shot all night," said Hornbuckle, who entered the game averaging 10.3 points "It was frustrating, but at the same time, I knew I couldn't give up on myself and my team.
"It's bigger than yourself when you come to the Final Four. I just wanted to stay positive, and I crashed the boards, and I looked up, and I said, 'I don't want to pull this down; with my luck, I might as well try to tip it in.' And luckily it went in."
Parker, wearing a brace over the left shoulder she dislocated in last week's region final, struggled but persevered. She was 6-of-27 from the field, with 13 points and 15 rebounds.
"I want to say how proud I am of my team," said Parker, who admitted she played hesitantly because of her shoulder, particularly early in the game. "They really stepped up and gutted it out."
Free-throw shooting cost the Tigers; they were 7-of-19 from the line. LSU's Sylvia Fowles, the all-time leading rebounder in LSU and SEC history, finished with a team-high 20 rebounds and 24 points, the most she has scored against the Vols in nine games. LSU first-year coach Van Chancellor was nearly inconsolable about his team's loss.
"I felt bad that some way, somehow, I wasn't able to help them win," Chancellor said.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.