Saturday, March 19, 2005

Summitt goes for tie of Dean Smith's all-time wins record

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Pat Summitt likes her teams to have a singular focus when the NCAA tournament rolls around.

The Lady Vols can't help but have a dual focus this year.

Summitt needs one more win to tie Dean Smith's NCAA record of 879 all-time victories, and the Tennessee players want to get it Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

``Right now the timing of this is not something that I'd say is real favorable,'' Summitt said. ``Hopefully this team will understand it's survive and advance.''

The top seed in the Philadelphia regional, the Lady Vols (26-4) play 16th-seeded Western Carolina, coached by former Lady Vol Kellie Harper, on Sunday night.

``(The record) is definitely in the back of our minds. We definitely want to win for coach,'' Tennessee's Brittany Jackson said Saturday. ``We want to help her out as much as possible.''

The Lady Vols share the spotlight in Knoxville with Southeastern Conference rival LSU (29-2), the tournament's overall No. 1 seed that was placed in the Chattanooga regional.

The other teams in LSU's bracket include Sunday's opponent Stetson, Oklahoma and Arizona. New Mexico and Purdue are in Tennessee's bracket.

Summitt got her 878th win by beating LSU in the SEC tournament title game two weeks ago.

Western Carolina, winner of the Southern Conference tournament and in the tournament for the first time, faces a monumental challenge. Summitt has never lost a first or second round game, and the Lady Vols have won 44 straight NCAA games at home.

Then there's the subplot of former player against her coach. Harper, who was Kellie Jolly before she married, was the point guard on the Lady Vols' three straight national championships from 1996-98.

``I've tried to explain to them the intensity level is going to be unlike any other they've seen all year,'' Harper said.

LSU and Tennessee ended up in the same opening-rounds site because of the new format for the women's tournament, which mirrors the men's pod system.

The Lady Tigers and Tennessee split their two games this season, the last in the SEC championship, and their third meeting would be in the national title game on April 5. But the teams are most concerned about just making it that far.

``It is playing whoever we have to reach that goal,'' LSU's Seimone Augustus said. ``If Tennessee happens to be there for that final game for us to reach that goal, then that is just that.''

LSU faced Tennessee in last year's national semifinals and came up short 52-50 in their school's first trip to the Final Four.

The Lady Tigers won the school's first regular-season SEC title and had the best regular-season record in school history.

``If the ultimate goal is not accomplished I don't think it diminishes anything because we have started something with the program,'' LSU point guard Temeka Johnson said.

The Hatters (17-13), LSU's opponent, won the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament and are glad to represent the small school of 2,300 students in DeLand, Fla.

``I am so excited to be playing LSU because they are the No. 1 team,'' Stetson senior Kristy Brown said. ``How else are you going to get better without playing the best?''

If LSU gets by Stetson, the Lady Tigers would face either No. 8 seed Oklahoma or No. 9 seed Arizona.

Oklahoma (17-12), making its fifth straight NCAA appearance, hasn't had the same success the last two tournaments since making a run to the 2002 national championship game where the Sooners lost to Connecticut.

Oklahoma bowed out last year after the second round and the year before in the first round.

Sooners point guard Dionnah Jackson, one of three seniors left from the 2002 team, leads a team that starts four guards and has an undersized post game. Forward Leah Rush is the tallest starter at 6-foot-1.

Arizona (19-11) has plenty of size inside with center Shawntinice Polk, who is averaging 12.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.

``The first thing that we did was to go to the Internet and get their roster. I thought, 'Great. A 6-foot-5 player,''' Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. ``Shawntinice Polk is very skilled.''

The Wildcats were worried about even making the tournament after losing in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament to Southern California. But they got in for their third straight appearance.

``The great thing is we are coming in here with a clean slate as is everyone else in the tournament,'' Arizona point guard Dee-Dee Walker said. ``We don't dwell on the past, and we are ready to move on.''

Meanwhile, in the Philadelphia bracket, the Lobos (26-4) felt snubbed by their seeding after winning the Mountain West Conference tournament for the third straight year.

``We were over it about two or three hours after we saw the selection. We can't mope around about it,'' New Mexico's Mandi Moore said.

Freshman Dionne Marsh leads the Lobos with 13.1 points a game, and Moore, their shortest player at 5-7, is New Mexico's best rebounder. Her 36 rebounds in the Mountain West tournament was a record.

The Lobos believe they have been a different team since losing 75-35 at Minnesota in January. Purdue lost to Minnesota three times this season, the last coming in the Big Ten tournament.

The Boilermakers (16-12) will lean on leading scorers Katie Gearlds and Erin Lawless and senior Emily Heikes. Purdue failed to reach 20 wins for the first time since 1996-97 and the first time under coach Kristy Curry.

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