Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Lady Vols look to finish perfect SEC home slate, stay unbeaten against Lady Bulldogs

Mississippi St. (16-9) vs. (5) Tennessee (21-4)
Game Info: 7:00 pm EST Thu Feb 24, 2005

Southeastern Conference teams have been having trouble winning at Tennessee for nearly a decade.

Mississippi State has had problems with the Lady Vols regardless of where they've played.

Tennessee (21-4, 11-1), hoping for at least a share of the SEC title, tries to improve to 24-0 against the Lady Bulldogs in its final home game of the regular season on Thursday.

The Lady Vols are 6-0 in SEC home games this season and 144-9 overall. Only four conference teams -- Auburn (2), Kentucky (2), Mississippi (2) and Georgia (3) -- have won in Knoxville. Georgia was the last to do it, winning 94-93 in victory on Dec. 8, 1996.

Tennessee has won all 23 meetings against Mississippi State, including a 9-0 mark at home.

Despite the lopsided series, six of the last eight meetings have been decided by single digits. In the quarterfinals of the 2004 SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., last season, the teams were tied 25-25 at halftime before the Lady Vols pulled away for a 67-57 win.

``They do a good job of posting up their guards, and I know that they have every reason to feel like they can play us tough,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. ``In the last several years, they have really been in the games and have had some chances to even win some of those games. We have got to be ready for that.''

Tennessee won the last seven SEC titles, sharing the crown with Georgia in 2000.

This season, however, the Lady Vols might have to settle for second place if top-ranked LSU (12-0) wins at Arkansas on Thursday. Both Tennessee and LSU have two games remaining, but the Lady Tigers just need to win one of those games. LSU beat Tennessee 68-58 on Feb. 10, earning the tiebreaker if the teams finish with the same conference record.

Since that lone conference loss to LSU, the Lady Vols have won three in a row, including an 84-71 victory at Arkansas on Sunday. Tennessee committed a season-high 28 turnovers, but shot 55 percent (30-for-55) from the field.

Shyra Ely shot 13-for-19 and had 30 points, one shy of her career high set against Georgia on March 1, 2002. The senior also had 11 rebounds in her third straight game as a reserve.

``I am proud to see Shyra step up, to put up some big numbers and provide such a spark for us,'' Summitt said. ``Certainly, when she plays that way, it takes lot of pressure off our offense and that makes us a much better basketball team.''

Ely leads the team in scoring (13.6) and rebounding (6.6), but is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 56 percent (22-for-39) over her last three games.

Summitt plans to start Ely against the Lady Bulldogs in her final regular season home game.

Ely will be one of two top 30 midseason candidates for the Naismith Trophy playing in this game, joining Mississippi State's Tan White.

White, a senior guard, is second in the nation in scoring at 22.8 points a game. Only Miami's Tamara James averages more (23.2).

The Lady Bulldogs, in a three-way tie for sixth place in the league with Florida and Auburn, have won two straight, including 71-55 at Kentucky on Sunday.

White went 10-for-19 and finished with 23 points, her 36th straight contest in double figures.

Mississippi State, leading the SEC in 3-pointers made at 6.7 per game, was 5-of-10 from behind the arc Sunday.

Tennessee tops the league in 3-point field goal defense, allowing only 26.5 percent.

The Lady Bulldogs are 3-4 on the road and 1-4 against ranked opponents this season. Mississippi State hasn't defeated a Top 10 foe since Feb. 18, 2001, a 79-75 triumph over then-No. 9 Florida.

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