Monday, March 21, 2005

Equality in coaching: Summitt's 879 wins match Dean Smith

KNOXVILLE — If there is such a thing as a relaxed focus, Tennessee has it.

With her 879th career win, UT Coach Pat Summitt is now tied with former North Carolina men's coach Dean Smith for the most career wins by an NCAA basketball coach. She can pass Smith at home tomorrow night when the Lady Vols meet Purdue in the second round.

Laughing, sticking out their tongues and giving out goofy awards after the game — the Lady Vols easily dismissed Western Carolina 94-43 yesterday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena.

''This team is more laid-back,'' UT senior Shyra Ely said. ''All the dominant people are pretty laid-back, including myself.''

Junior Shanna Zolman, who tied a career high with 28 points, came into the postgame interview room wearing oversized orange sunglasses with lenses the size of salad plates.

Even the ever-serious Summitt made an effort to lighten the mood.

''She had a great shooting night, and we give the glasses full credit,'' Summitt said without cracking a smile. ''If you wear those all the time except when you're on the court, it seems to really have a great influence on your focus.''

Tennessee has a theme during each NCAA Tournament, and the theme this year is ''Who Wants to be a Champion?'' based on the television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

In conjunction with that theme, they will give out three awards after each game — the focus award (Zolman's shades), the attitude award (a hat given to Nicky Anosike) and the together award (Alexis Hornbuckle's huge plastic diamond ring).

''It's not been the same,'' Zolman said. ''This team, our mentality, our personality is somewhat different. I think it's a little bit lighter because of how many freshmen we have.

''I'm sure when it gets to be a little bit of a closer game, we'll probably clamp down a little.''

Despite the easy win, Summitt still found places to improve.

In the middle of the Lady Vols' 34-6 run to end the first half, Hornbuckle nearly turned the ball over when she tried to make a behind-the-back pass. She caught Summitt's icy stare, but with a 54-22 lead, Hornbuckle could do nothing but laugh.

''Brittany (Jackson) was like, 'Don't look at the bench,' '' Hornbuckle said. ''So I just huddled us all tight, but I finally had to look at her. She said, 'Fundamentals.' ''

Zolman led the Lady Vols during that run and spoiled Western Carolina Coach Kellie Harper's return to Thompson-Boling Arena. Harper — then Kellie Jolly — was a point guard on the Lady Vols' three consecutive national title teams in the late 1990s.

Zolman scored 22 points in the first half on 8-of-10 shooting.

She scored seven consecutive points toward the end of the first half. Tennessee led 62-26 at halftime.

''She hasn't missed a shot all week in practice,'' Ely said.

At another point in the run, senior point guard Loree Moore took a 3-pointer that bounced high off the rim and then settled softly in the net. She stuck out her tongue and smiled as she picked up the full-court press.

''I think at the beginning of the season everybody was trying to do too much,'' Hornbuckle said. ''Now it's just do your part, play to your strengths and everything is going to come together.''

All aBuzz: Former UT men's basketball coach Buzz Peterson was in attendance for the Lady Vols' game against Western Carolina last night. Peterson was fired by men's Athletics Director Mike Hamilton a week ago.

Peterson was interviewed by ESPN2 during the game.

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