SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) Alexis Peterson ran to midcourt at the final buzzer, dropped to her knees and buried her face in her hands. She cried tears of joy as her Syracuse teammates swarmed her.
The Orange are going to the women’s Final Four for the first time, and Peterson is the one leading the way to Indianapolis after an 89-67 victory over Tennessee on Sunday in the Sioux Falls Regional final.
“We have all worked relentlessly to get to this point,” she said. “I was overcome with emotion.”
Peterson scored a season-high 29 points in a performance that earned her Most Outstanding Player of the regional and followed a 26-point night in an upset of top-seeded South Carolina on Friday.
“She’s a special kid. She’s competing. It’s her time to shine,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “She stepped up and made things happen. She ran her basketball team. She kind of put them on her back and said, `We’re not going to be defeated.’ “
The fourth-seeded Orange (29-7) will play No. 7 seed Washington in a national semifinal next Sunday in Indianapolis.
“We did what we had to do,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “We knew we had to control the paint, and we did a good job of that. We knew we had to make 3s, and to be 14 for 30 behind the arc is really knocking down shots. That was the key to the game.”
Brianna Butler hit three straight 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to break open the game and finished with 18 points. She made a total of 10 3s in the regional.
“Every time she faces the basket, I think it’s going to go in,” Hillsman said. “She’s the best shooter in college basketball right now, and she proved it in this tournament.”
The Orange also got a huge lift from reserve Cornelia Fondren. She made all six of her shots and had 13 points as Syracuse rolled to its 15th victory in 16 games.
Diamond DeShields scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Lady Vols (22-14) in the loss that finished their surprise NCAA run. They came into the tournament after a 13-loss regular season that was the worst in program history, and their No. 7 seed was their lowest ever.
“As much as we want to be proud of how far we’ve come, based on the season we had, we could have gone farther,” DeShields said. “We know that. I think that’s what hurts the most. So our season got cut short, we all feel like. So we’re not happy about that. Never happy about losing. We never will be. This is a program full of winners. Winning is what we do. That’s always going to be the goal.”
Peterson has scored 20 or more in each of the Orange’s four tournament games. She played with a sore hip and was 11 for 20 from the field, 3 for 4 from 3-point range. She also had six assists and three steals. After she got up from the pile of celebrating teammates, she flashed a No. 1 with her right finger as she embraced Brittney Sykes.
Butler’s back-to-back 3-pointers gave the Orange a double-digit lead after the Lady Vols pulled to 63-59 early in the fourth quarter. Syracuse was up 12 after Peterson’s jumper that followed DeShields’ offensive foul, and the bulge eventually grew to 23.
Jaime Nared added 14 points for Tennessee, which committed 21 turnovers against the Orange’s pressure 2-3 zone defense. The Orange converted those turnovers into 25 points.
“Our toughness determines our destiny,” Butler said, “and so far our toughness has gotten us here.”