Seeking its seventh national championship, Tennessee (33-3) will play Rutgers (27-8) for the title tomorrow night at Quicken Loans Arena.
"Really, really excited that we have a chance to be in this national championship game," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who notched her record 946th victory in 33 seasons in Knoxville. "You ask me today, it's probably one of the best wins of my career, since you asked me today.
"It's all part of getting to the national championship game. Obviously this was huge today."
With 8:18 left in the game, UNC got a layup from Erlana Larkins to take a 48-36 lead. Flustered by the Tar Heels (34-4), Tennessee seemed ready to absorb a knockout punch.
Then everything changed.
UT's Alexis Hornbuckle made two quick layups to take the Volunteers off the respirator.
Then North Carolina starters Camille Little and LaToya Pringle fouled out within 40 seconds of each other.
Tennessee got free throws from Nicky Anosike and player of the year Candace Parker, and then Parker scored a layup to pull the Vols to 48-46 with 4 minutes remaining.
The Tar Heels got two free throws for Ivory Latta and might have been able to hold off the hard-charging Lady Vols, but then forward Rashanda McCants hurt her left leg attempting a shot and went to the bench with 2:55 on the clock.
Tennessee tied the game at 50-50 with 2:01 left and then earned its 12th appearance in the championship game by outscoring Carolina down the stretch, 6-0.
In the final 8:17, Carolina was outscored, 20-2, and did not make field goal.
"At the 8-minute mark I basically said, 'We don't want to go home,' " Summitt said. "They didn't want to go home, and I said, 'We're not leaving here without a national championship.' I just saw a whole different attitude with this team." *