Saturday, March 26, 2005

Summitt Glad Victory Record Is Behind Her

PHILADELPHIA - Now that Pat Summitt has the record for career coaching victories, Tennessee has one less distraction as it chases a seventh national championship.

Though Summitt appreciated the recognition she earned for passing Dean Smith with her 880th career win, the Hall of Fame coach felt it overshadowed how well her Lady Vols were playing.

"It was talked about probably more than I ever had imagined," Summitt said Saturday. "To have that in the past is a good thing. I don't even want to take a chance of any distractions at this point."

The top-seeded Lady Vols (28-4) get their next chance to add to Summitt's record when they play fourth-seeded Texas Tech (24-7) Sunday in the Philadelphia Regional. Second-seeded Ohio State (30-4) plays No. 3 seed Rutgers (27-6) in the other regional semifinal game.

The Philadelphia Regional is the only one with the top four seeds still playing and boasts three Hall of Fame coaches. Besides Summitt, there's Texas Tech's Marsha Sharp and Rutgers' C. Vivian Stringer. Ohio State coach Jim Foster is a likely future inductee with 577 career wins and a trip to the 1993 Final Four.

Stringer is the only women's coach to lead three teams (Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers) to a Final Four, after Louisville's Rick Pitino accomplished the feat with a 93-85 overtime win over West Virginia on Saturday.

Tennessee comes to Philly as the team to beat, with easy wins in their first two tournament games. The Lady Vols hardly seemed bothered by all the attention rightfully lavished on Summitt's record (880-171). They fought through an injury-plagued season to turn themselves into contenders for a national championship — something Tennessee hasn't won since the last of its three straight titles in 1998.

"I think we are the level we need to be at the right time," guard Loree Moore said.

That could be bad news for the Lady Raiders. Known for a methodical offense, they might have to pick up the pace against a Tennessee team that can overpower teams inside or take charge with 3-pointers.

"If we come out and we're a little tentative or we're a little soft, we won't hang around very long because they'll really bring it at you," Sharp said. "We've talked all week about being aggressive from the very first possession and at both ends of the floor."

The difference could come in the point guard matchup between Moore and Texas Tech's Erin Grant. Grant's known for getting all her teammates involved while keeping her own mistakes to a minimum, with 213 assists to only 60 turnovers.

"I hope I am the key to this game as far as handling the pressure and being able to push the ball up the court and get some easy baskets," she said.

Moore knows stopping Grant won't be easy.

"I just want to make her uncomfortable," she said. "I want to make her play faster than she normally does. That is what is really in my mind."

The Lady Raiders are in their sixth regional semifinal in the last seven years — they won the 1993 national championship — but they've never beaten the Lady Vols.

"You get some opportunities sometimes to try to take your program to a different level," Sharp said. "It's a great opportunity for us and I hope we look at it that way."

With Tennessee waiting for Texas Tech, it was probably a good idea the Lady Raiders did their sightseeing early. The players toured the city Friday and chowed down on cheesesteaks.

If they need any more tourist tips, perhaps they could ask Foster, who graduated from Temple and started his coaching career at Saint Joseph's, where he led the Hawks to six NCAA tournaments.

Or they could ask Stringer, who coached at Cheyney State when Temple's John Chaney also was at the school in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Stringer is still close with Chaney and visited with the embattled Temple coach Friday night. After reminiscing about the old days, she said it felt odd to practice on the same court where Chaney is honored.

"I should have taken a picture because I was standing on his name," she said.

Certainly, the two teams are as familiar with each other as if they were conference foes. Ohio State and Rutgers are playing each other for the third time in the last two seasons, including the Buckeyes' 52-50 win in January. Rutgers was a 56-53 winner over Ohio State last year.

"I don't think about the last time we played them," Foster said. "I look at the film to see what they did, but I don't have too many feelings about it. I don't think our kids do either."

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