DAYTON, Ohio — There are halftime chats and then there are coach's rants. Pat Summitt hasn't won 1,071 games by not knowing when to let her team have it.
Summitt lit into her Tennessee Vols at the break, and their region semifinal game Saturday tilted soon after. With Shekinna Stricklen scoring 14 of her 20 in the second half and touching off a critical 11-3 second-half run, Summitt and the Vols moved into their accustomed spot in the Elite Eight with an 85-75 win over Ohio State.
"It was about an 8½," she said, rating her halftime speech on a scale where 10 is when the paint peels off the walls. "I wasn't real happy. But that's what you have to do at times. You go into the locker room and get a feel. One thing about this team, they do respond. Sometimes I think they kind of like to hear the coaches going off."
The Vols (34-2) won their 25th consecutive game but only took control with their charge in the final minutes.
Meighan Simmons added 18 points and Kelley Cain — inserted into the starting lineup to offset Ohio State's height advantage — had 16 for Tennessee, which is pursuing a ninth NCAA title. The Vols meet Notre Dame in the region championship game on Monday night, with a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis on the line.
"Coach kind of lit a fire under our butts in the second half," Cain said. "We played better. We were getting up in their grilles, making them play at a different level than they were used to."
Simmons grinned as she said, "Coach went off on us in the locker room."
None of the Vols were surprised. They had not been aggressive on defense, leading to Ohio State (24-10) shooting 67 percent in the first half. The Buckeyes led by as many as six before settling for a 42-40 lead at the break.
"We played on our heels a little more in the first half," said Angie Bjorklund, who didn't score but had seven assists.
With the game hanging in the balance and UT on top 58-57, Stricklen twice made big plays to provide some breathing room. First, she hit a deep 3 as the shot clock was draining away. After an Ohio State miss, she took the ball from the right wing and bulled along the baseline to power in a layup for a 63-57 lead.
After Brittany Johnson hit one of her four 3s for Ohio State, the Vols ran off six points in a row for their largest lead of the game. Simmons stopped and hit a shot from 15 feet, Taber Spani made a follow then Spani sank a long jumper to make it 69-60.
Ohio State got as close as eight in the last minute, but Stricklen scored seven in a row for the Vols to hold the Buckeyes at bay.
NOTRE DAME 78, OKLA. 53: Hands with green fingernail polish — Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament tradition — seemed to swipe at every dribble and reach for every pass.
Brittany Mallory had a season-high 20 points, and the Irish's defensive pressure forced 24 turnovers and quickly took its toll on the Sooners in Dayton, sending Notre Dame (29-7) into the region final.
Those green-painted fingers were everywhere.
"Maybe they don't get enough credit for their defense because their offense is so salty," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Nicole Griffin scored 18 for Oklahoma (23-12), which reached the Final Four the past two years. Notre Dame's go-for-the-ball pressure crumpled the Sooners' guard-driven offense, which had eight field goals and 14 turnovers in the decisive first half.
"They were really prepared, really physical," Oklahoma guard Whitney Hand said. "I thought we got scatterbrained and tight."
It was the third time in the past four years that the Sooners and Fighting Irish met in the NCAA Tournament. The first two games dripped with drama and went to overtime. Notre Dame won the first, 79-75 in the second round in 2008. Oklahoma got the rematch, 77-72 last year in a region semifinal in Kansas City.
GONZAGA 76, LOUISVILLE 69: The Bulldogs' postseason journey, led by their spunky point guard, has at least one more chapter to go, and this one with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Courtney Vandersloot did a little of everything with 29 points, seven assists and seven steals, and 11th-seeded Gonzaga (31-4) advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
Playing less than two miles from their campus, the Bulldogs sent the blood pressure rising for the 10,000 or so hometown fans in attendance after nearly squandering all of a 20-point second half lead. But the Bulldogs made just enough plays in the final four minutes to hold off a furious late charge by the seventh-seeded Cardinals (22-13).
NCAA Women's Tournament Round of 16
|Region semifinals and finals||Semifinal||Championship||Semifinal||Region semifinals and finals|
|PHILADELPHIA Region||1. Connecticut||1. Stanford||SPOKANE, Wash., Region|
|noon today, ESPN||FINAL FOUR: CONSECO FIELDHOUSE, INDIANAPOLIS||late|
|5. Georgetown||5. North Carolina|
|7 Tues., ESPN||9 Mon., ESPN|
|3. DePaul||11. Gonzaga 76|
|2:30 today, ESPN2||Gonzaga|
|2. Duke||April 3||7. Louisville 69|
|April 5, ESPN||April 3|
|DAYTON, Ohio, Region||1. Tennessee 85||1. Baylor||DALLAS Region|
|Tennessee||7 today, ESPN2|
|4. Ohio State 75||5. Wis.-Green Bay|
|7 Mon., ESPN||9 Tue., ESPN|
|6. Oklahoma 53||6. Georgia|
|Notre Dame||4:30 today, ESPN2|
|2. Notre Dame 78||2. Texas A&M|