Sunday, March 06, 2005

LSU looks to win third SEC tourney championship at Tennessee's expense

The road to the Southeastern Conference championship goes through Tennessee. Nobody knows that better than top-ranked LSU.

After dethroning the Lady Vols (25-4) for their first regular season SEC title, the Lady Tigers (29-1) look to win their third tournament championship game against Tennessee when the teams meet at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., on Friday.

Tennessee won seven SEC regular titles in a row before LSU halted the run this season, handing the Lady Vols their lone conference loss of the season. The Lady Tigers finished 14-0 in SEC play, while Tennessee settled for a 13-1 mark and the No. 2 seed.

LSU is in the SEC final for the fifth time in school history. The Lady Tigers won the tournament twice, beating Tennessee in 1991 and 2003.

LSU knocked off No. 21 Georgia 79-65 on Saturday night after sweating out the ending of its quarterfinal matchup with Alabama on Friday. Officials had to consult a TV replay before changing Alabama's tying 3-pointer to a 2-point goal, giving the Lady Tigers a 60-59 win.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman said that game served as a wake-up call for her team.

``We went back to the drawing board and were able to correct some things for tonight,'' she said.

Seimone Augustus, the SEC player of the year, had 22 points and Temeka Johnson added a career-high 17 assists as LSU won its 16th straight game.

The Lady Vols, playing in their 16th SEC final, are trying to win their first championship since 2000, and 11th overall. They knocked off defending SEC tournament champion Vanderbilt 76-73 in their semifinal game Saturday.

Shanna Zolman scored 18 points, Brittany Jackson added 15 and freshman Alexis Hornbuckle had 14 against the Commodores, the league's highest-scoring team.

``I'm really proud of this team for finding a way to win against a team that ran its offense very well against us,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said.

The win was Tennessee's ninth in a row overall, and gave Summitt 877 coaching victories, moving her past Kentucky's Adolph Rupp for second place on the NCAA all-time list. She needs two to tie leader Dean Smith (879).

Summitt knows the Lady Vols will have to maintain their intensity against LSU, which allows a league-low 52.5 points per game and 34 percent shooting from the field.

``It's going to take a solid team effort to beat LSU,'' she said. ``They have good balance.''

The Lady Vols shot just 31 percent in their 68-58 road loss to the Lady Tigers on Feb. 10. That defeat snapped Tennessee's 42-game SEC win streak. The Lady Vols had won 32 of the previous 42 meetings with LSU, including a 52-50 victory in the Final Four last season.

Tennessee is 4-3 against the Lady Tigers in the SEC tournament.

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