Friday, March 04, 2005

No. 5 Tennessee 64, Auburn 54

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Pat Summitt grew up a fan of Kentucky basketball, wishing only for a chance to see the ``Baron of Bluegrass'' coaching great Adolph Rupp.

She got her wish, and now they share a legacy as two of the best coaches in the game.

Fifth-ranked Tennessee gave Summitt her 876th career win, matching Rupp's mark in a 64-54 victory Auburn at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday.

``I feel it very hard to even imagine being in his company,'' said Summitt, who is 876-171 in 31 seasons. ``It's all because the University of Tennessee has given me the chance to coach for 31 years. They're the one's responsible.''

Summitt stands three wins shy of Dean Smith's all-time victories record of 879.

Since arriving on campus in 1974, Summitt turned the fledging program into the benchmark of women's basketball success with six NCAA championships and a remarkable 19 trips to the Final Four.

The Lady Vols (24-4) showed why a 20th might be in line this season.

Despite one of their worst shooting performances of the year, Summitt said the defensive effort and rebounding intensity got the Lady Vols past Auburn (16-13) to win their 12th straight tournament opener.

Freshman Nicky Anosike scored 15 points and Shyra Ely finished with 11 points, going 4-of-17 from the floor. Three-point threat Shanna Zolman was just 2-of-10 for 10 points.

The Lady Vols will play Vanderbilt or Arkansas in Saturday's semifinals, aiming for their first tournament title since 2000.

Zolman said Tennessee watched top-ranked LSU nearly get upset by Alabama in an earlier game and vowed not to have that happen.

``We knew Auburn would have a lot of emotion and motivation going into this game and we did not want to have it turn out a close one,'' she said.

But Tennessee made only 19-of-67 field goals for 28.4 percent, nearly matching its season-worst 27.8-percent performance in a loss to Rutgers in December.

The difference was Anosike, the 6-foot-4 newcomer from Staten Island, N.Y.

After Nicole Louden's jumper cut the lead to 48-45, Anosike followed with a three-point play to extend the lead. When Auburn's Natasha Brackett had consecutive drives to make it 51-49, Anosike again converted a three-point play with 4:05 left.

The Lady Tigers, who were outrebounded 50-38, could not recover.

``Our defense and our board play won this basketball game on a night when it seemed that we couldn't buy a shot,'' Summitt said. ``I'm pleased we had the maturity not to let that drag down the other aspects of our game.''

Bracket led the Lady Tigers with 18 points and Louden had 15.

Brittany Jackson also had 11 points for Tennessee, which hasn't lost its first SEC tournament game since 1993.

The Lady Vols' shooting problems started early. Only a 13-2 run midway through the opening period put them ahead by the break, 25-21.

Tennessee's five starters made a shot apiece the first 20 minutes, going a combined 5-of-21. Ely was just 1-of-9 in the half.

Auburn had its troubles, too. The team's top outside shooter, Louise Emeagi, was just 1-of-11 overall and missed all five of her 3-point tries.

``We're not a physical post team and Tennessee is,'' said first-year Auburn coach Nell Fortner. ``Our post players have a more finesse style. It's something we struggled with all season.''

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