SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Alexis Peterson scored a season-high 29 points, Brianna Butler hit three straight 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to break open the game, and Syracuse advanced to its first women’s Final Four with an 89-67 victory over Tennessee in the Sioux Falls Regional final Sunday.
The fourth-seeded Orange (29-7) will play No. 7 seed Washington in a national semifinal next Sunday in Indianapolis.
Reserve Cornelia Fondren made all six of her shots and finished with 13 points to help Syracuse follow its Friday upset of top-seeded South Carolina with 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 after a 13-loss regular season that was the worst in program history.
Peterson, who had a season-high 26 points against the Gamecocks, has scored 20 or more in each of the Orange’s four tournament games. She collapsed at midcourt in tears of joy after the final buzzer as teammates swarmed her, and she flashed a No. 1 with her right finger as she embraced Brittney Sykes.
Butler, the NCAA active leader in career field goals, made six 3-pointers for the third time this season and scored 18 points.
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.
Syracuse was able to attack Tennessee’s 2-3 zone however it pleased. With Butler’s 3-point touch always a threat, Peterson once and Fondren twice sliced through for layups on three straight possessions in the third quarter, and Peterson hit a jumper from the corner on the next for a 51-41 lead.
DeShields kept the Lady Vols in range, at least temporarily, scoring 11 points the first 6:42 of the third quarter and forcing Syracuse to call a timeout after hitting two straight 3s to pull her team to 54-51. Maggie Morrison’s 3-pointer and another snaking layup by Fondren pushed Syracuse’s lead back to 63-53.
Jaime Nared added 11 points for Tennessee, which committed 21 turnovers against the Orange’s pressure 2-3 zone defense. The Orange converted those turnovers in 17 points.
Mercedes Russell, who had a career-high 25 points against Ohio State on Friday and came into the game shooting 70 percent in her first three tournament games, was limited to just five shots and finished with seven points. The Lady Vols’ other post, Bashaara Graves, was 3 for 8 for 11 points.
Tennessee was trying to reach its 19th Final Four and first under fourth-year coach Holly Warlick. The Lady Vols haven’t made it to the national semifinals since 2008, the year they won their last of eight championships.
The Lady Vols were without starting guard Jordan Reynolds, who was out after getting hit in the face against South Carolina. Te’a Cooper made her first start since Feb. 25 and had eight points after coming off the bench to score 16 against Ohio State.
Tennessee: Lady Vols beat Syracuse 57-50 in Knoxville on Nov. 20 in the teams’ only other meeting. ... Lady Vols, who have played in all 35 women’s tournaments, were in the Elite Eight for the 28th time. ... Lady Vols have won 20 or more games for 40 straight years.
Syracuse: Orange’s game against Washington will be the first meeting of the teams. ... Butler increased her career total for 3-pointers to 368, most of any active player.
Syracuse advanced to the Final Four in Indianapolis to play Washington on Sunday.