ATLANTA -- Finally, a couple of Jacksons to be proud of.
Gwen Jackson and Brittany Jackson did plastic surgery on favored Duke in Sunday's Final Four matchup to carry Tennessee to its first final since 2000, 66-56. The Jackson 2 scored 23 of Tennessee's final 32 points, overwhelming the Blue Devils inside and overshadowing Alana Beard's thrilling 29-point virtuoso performance.
"I thought the Jackson girls were pretty awesome," raved coach Pat Summitt in the moments after her tenth national semifinal win.
Awesome is right. Gwen scored nine of her team's first 13 points and then threw in 13 points in the game's final 6 minutes, 8 seconds. She nearly had a double-double in the first half, with six boards in the game's first 8 minutes. She wound up with 25 points and 15 rebounds to make up for underwhelming games from Shyra Ely and Tasha Butts. She even downed the Lady Vols' only 3-pointer of the game -- extending Tennessee's ridiculous 158-game streak with at least one trey.
Brittany Jackson scored all six of her points in the second half, including a crucial momentum-swinging pair of baskets to extend the Lady Vols' lead to six.
"I felt like we had a real advantage inside," said Kara Lawson, who had eight points and a surprising 11 boards.
Gwen Jackson has been hit and miss for most of her career, especially in big games. In this season's only meeting with UConn, she mustered only 2 points in an overtime loss on 1-for-6 shooting. She went 3 of 8 in the SEC final -- another loss to LSU. But the recent passing of her grandmother gave her a self-described "rebirth of life" that has spilled over to the suddenly red-hot Lady Vols.
"It's made her so driven," said Tennessee assistant Holly Warlick. "She's turned it into a positive. The scouting reports -- she knows them so well now. There's just a look in her eye."
Gwen Jackson's concentration shined at the free-throw line, where she made 10 of 12 and pointed up to the heavens after every conversion.
"This is just a chance to do something special for her," she said in the locker room after the game, pausing for a quick moment to hold back tears.
Tennessee came out blistering in the second half after an intermission lecture from Summitt. The coach, who has won 200 of her last 219 games dating back to 1997, told Lawson not to press and told Gwen Jackson to notice that she went the entire first half without one foul. The Lady Vols outscored Duke 39-27 in the second half, with most of their points coming on layups and second chances.
"After the first half, I knew we were in trouble," Summitt said. "Gwen Jackson was the one player committed to working hard on both ends."
Both Jacksons have gone from being afterthoughts to being crucial. Gwen has found her stride in Tennessee's new motion offense, scoring in double-digits in 15 of her last 17 heading into the NCAA Tournament. And Brittany has shown an at-times lethal combination of outside shooting and inside passing. "Brittany's a gamer," said Warlick.
The Jacksons have given Tennessee an ability to both run and rebound -- a double-edged sword that meant championships two years ago for Notre Dame and last year for Connecticut. Now it falls to either UConn or Texas to, well, beat it.
Eric Adelson is a staff writer for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.