KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Top-ranked Tennessee and fourth-ranked North Carolina gave women's basketball fans quite a show.
With the help of two free throws and a final basket from Alexis Hornbuckle, the defending national champion Lady Vols (6-0) prevailed 83-79 Sunday night in a rematch of last season's Final Four matchup between the teams.
"I thought it was a great game for women's basketball. This game tonight was a national championship game," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "We're looking forward to playing Tennessee again in the tournament or Final Four."
The Tar Heels (9-1) were looking to avenge their 2007 tournament loss. North Carolina held a 12-point lead with eight minutes left in that game, only to have the Lady Vols chip away at the margin and win 56-50.
On Sunday, it was Tennessee which held a 13-point lead with 6:28 left before North Carolina went on a 17-5 run capped by a steal and layup by Italee Lucas to bring the Tar Heels within 79-78.
It was the second time in the second half that the Lady Vols' had built a double-digit lead only to see the Tar Heels respond.
"It was a game of runs," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "North Carolina never went away. They did a great job of coming at us."
Rashanda McCants fouled Hornbuckle with 13.8 seconds left and she hit both free throws to restore a three-point edge. Hornbuckle finished with 25 points.
North Carolina had one last shot as Rebecca Gray was fouled by Hornbuckle while attempting a 3-pointer with 5 seconds left. Gray made her first free throw and missed her second. She then intentionally missed her third, but didn't hit the rim causing a violation and giving the ball to Tennessee.
The Lady Vols inbounded the ball to Hornbuckle, who added one more basket to put the game away.
"It's just that I'm such an intense player," Hornbuckle said of fouling Gray. "Every shot that goes up I have to contest it. I should have just let it go. I would have been heartbroken if I was the reason for (a loss)."
Tennessee shot 42.2 percent from the field and North Carolina made 43.8 percent.
The Lady Vols used an 11-2 run in the first half that ended on Alex Fuller's 3-pointer with about 8 minutes left to take a 29-21 lead. But Tennessee's shooting went cold, and the Tar Heels responded with a 9-0 run to pull within a point at 35-34 with about 4 minutes before the half.
Erlana Larkins tied it at 40 on a layup with about a minute before the half, but Fuller sank a layup off a pass inside from Candace Parker with seconds remaining that gave Tennessee the 42-40 lead at halftime.
North Carolina dominated in the paint, scoring 62 points under the basket and 28 second-chance points. The Tar Heels also controlled the boards, outrebounding the Lady Vols 57-39.
"It's always an intentional effort for us to get inside, just because that's what coach Hatchell teaches us," Larkins said.
Larkins led North Carolina with 22 points and 15 rebounds. McCants finished with 19 points, Jessica Breland had 14 and LaToya Pringle added 10.
Candace Parker had a double-double 21 points and 16 rebounds for Tennessee and Shannon Bobbitt added 10 points.