Saturday, March 31, 2007

Final Four Press Conference Transcript

Lady Vols face North Carolina for the second time this season

THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with an opening statement by Coach Summitt.

COACH SUMMITT: First of all, I would just say that we're excited as a basketball team, staff, and the University of Tennessee to be back in Cleveland. Obviously we were here for the Regional play last year and certainly I thought we had great fan support.

I'm looking forward to another matchup with North Carolina, a team that's enjoyed success against us, and certainly I think they are a basketball team that we know we have to be ready to play and bring our A game. And I think it's going to be a great matchup and just look forward to the preparation and obviously to game time.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. Sidney, it's the it is your last chance, it is your last trip to the Final Four. Do you feel any sense of more sense of urgency than you would when you were underclassmen or is it about the same?

Sidney Spencer: I guess as you grow up in this program or just as a college athlete when time is running out I guess I do feel more of a like this is my last opportunity. But I love this basketball team and I wouldn't want to be here without this team. And I just think that we have a great chance at winning it.

Q. Coach Hatchell said she felt like one of the areas which you guys have improved the most is the guard play. How do you think your play has improved from a year ago and also how having Shannon has helped in the back court?

Alexis Hornbuckle: Well, my game personally has improved since last year and offensively on efficiency I worked hard this summer at getting my jump shot together and trying to get it more effective.

As far as having Shannon on the team, it's a great addition. Being moved to the wing and being able to just get a rebound and get out and run and not worry about coming back and getting the ball, and Shannon does a great job of just pushing tempo.

Q. Candace, North Carolina does a great job of rebounding, they obviously have a bunch of tall girls that can jump. Can you just talk about you matching up with that front lane and the challenge and what you saw in December and some of the things you guys will have to do differently this time.

Candace Parker: North Carolina is very athletic and they pride themselves on rebounding the basketball on the offensive end. As well as on the defensive end.

In December I don't think we did a great job. We allowed them to have second and third chances. So obviously we need to limit that. And just box out. Because you're not going to jump with especially this. They're very athletic. So we're going to do a better job of that this time I think.

Q. Alexis, how long did it take you to get comfortable again with your hand after last season? And you had a lot of assists in the tournament, has there been some reason why? Five or six a game. Something opening up for you that wasn't?

Alexis Hornbuckle: Well, as far as the question about my wrist, I wasn't really released until about June. And so I just took all of June, July and August just working on my jump shot and rehabbing and getting my hand, my ball handling back together. And as far as passing, our team has done a great job of moving. And we're just hitting the open player. We're moving, better screening, so a lot more people are open and I just take it upon myself to hit the open man.

Q. Candace, the first player I think I've ever seen who is listed as a guard forward and a center in the media guide. Which position do you play best? And what do you consider yourself?

Candace Parker: I consider myself a forward. I think that that's my natural position is at the four. And for this team that's where I spend the majority amount of my time. But luckily in the Tennessee offense and especially in transition, all five of us can bring the ball up the court and we fill the lanes equally.

Sometimes Lex can run to the paint, sometimes even Shannon can run to the paint. So I feel like in transition it's we're all very, very strong.

Q. Alexis, Ivory was able to make so many plays down the stretch against you guys last year, how do you slow her down? What's the best way to stop her?

Alexis Hornbuckle: Well, a player as versatile as that you have to play her straight up. You have to respect her game whether it's the three ball or driving. You just basically have to have great one on one defense and if you do get beat you have to rely on your teammates to give you that help. So you just have to leave it all on the court and realize that you do have help and just go all out and don't hold anything back.

Q. Candace, what does the Player of the Year award mean to you?

Candace Parker: It's a tremendous honor and I wouldn't be here without my coaches and my teammates.

But that's all put aside now because we have a goal that we came here to the Final Four to accomplish. So that's all behind me and hopefully we can go out and on Sunday and take care of business.

Q. Sidney, how tough was that loss last year to Carolina and are you glad it's them again here?

Sidney Spencer: That loss last year was really hard. I think. Coming in this summer and just talking about what we want to accomplish for the year, our team really made it a point of emphasis to become that Tennessee defensive team that we used to be. So we wanted to step our defensive pressure up this year and I think we have done a great job of just really focusing on defense and our defense leading to offensive points and scoring. And in transition.

So I'm definitely glad that we get to play them again. I think it's great for women's basketball to have a matchup like this.

THE MODERATOR: Okay. We'll take questions for Coach Summitt now.

Q. How has Candace improved? What's been her biggest area of improvement this year?

COACH SUMMITT: I think she's improved both offensively and defensively. I think the offensive aspect has been her development and getting in the gym and working really hard and also just devoting time to her skills, her offensive skills. She's worked on her post moves, she's worked on her face up game. Worked on playing off the dribble and her pull up game is a lot better.

I think just the versatility from an offensive standpoint. And then, secondly, I think just playing with the World Championship Team, I think just the maturity there of playing with the pro players and being around Tina Thompson and Temeka Catchings and understanding you have to play both ends of the floor, and I think the probably the biggest upside to her game of late has been her commitment on the defensive end.

I thought she was in our Ole Miss game she was terrific, I mean that was by far the hardest that she's worked at both ends of the floor. But I think that's because she really wanted to be here in Cleveland. And I just think that she's just much more committed to her team and to the Tennessee defensive system.

Q. What are you planning on changing from your December game plan against Erlana Larkins?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think Erlana is going to get her points and obviously she's shooting the basketball exceptionally well. Yet I think that we have to do a better job. You always want to try to limit touches. There's no guarantee that you can. But we would like to do a better job just one on one defense. In the paint.

I thought she totally dominated the paint in that game. And I think that just being able to somehow influence how many times she touches it and where she gets it. But she's a player, you're not going to stop her. You hope you can have some luck in containing her game, but she is just a great player. I think she's been the real key for them.

Q. The whole topic of is Candace going to leave or is she going to stay came up this season and I'm just wondering, as a coach, how do you advise players in this situation? I don't know if you had many or not, maybe just Candace, but how to weigh this decision. Obviously it's a very different thing than what the men's players have to go and decide?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, actually, I haven't even talked to Candace about it and asked her if she was going or staying. I think there's only one choice. If you want to make the sound choice and you're a college student athlete, I think these are four of the best years of your life. I think Candace right now is on the biggest stage in women's basketball. And she understands that. But I read in the I actually read that she was staying. And I just we were practicing and she came down on a lay up drill and shot a lay up and I said I enjoyed what I read in the paper today, Candace. And she just smiled. So we have had no discussion.

I think she's very intelligent. In the classroom, in her decisions off the court, a lot of maturity. And I think she understands that it's not that she's turning down millions of dollars. I wish we could get to that point in our pro game, but eventually we might. But certainly I think she understands that the college game right now is the place that she's really excelling and getting a lot of recognition and having a lot of fun.

Q. Two questions, Coach, one, game wise, are you looking to get another post presence other than Candace? Seems to be a lot of post presence in this particular Final Four. Something that maybe would offset her or at least open her up a little bit. That's game wise. And then, two, somewhat on what you just talked about, a lot of coaches lately in the women's game the last even within the last couple days have really gotten some hefty pay raises. And there are a lot of big job openings that seem to be headed that way as well. Could you just kind of comment on that and what you see in that regard too.

COACH SUMMITT: To answer your first question, Nicky Anosike has really picked up her inside play. And in post season. And then I think that's helped her and she's also benefited from the double teams and triple teams that Candace has seen throughout this tournament.

She's a player that we do rely on inside. Certainly Alex Fuller has been off the bench and done some good work for us and helped our basketball team.

So I do think that because of the type of player that Candace is, that we can get other people involved. The defense usually allows us that opportunity if they want to play us straight up, then Candace will go to work on that. But I think that we're a little bit better in our post play and have been in our tournament games.

I'm excited about what's happening in women's basketball in terms of the commitment on the part of universities throughout this country to really support the game. And because of a lot of job openings, I think it's had quite an impact on universities making decisions at the top to provide the resources for their teams and also the contracts are in place and the financial opportunities for these coaches are where they should be.

I mean, let's face it, we're seeing in a lot of programs and I have a lot of respect for what Tennessee did because they didn't have to step up and do what they did, but I think they recognized the popularity of women's basketball on our campus and the attendance and just the competitiveness across this country now. It's created a different atmosphere because of I think the whole landscape has changed because of the commitment on the part of administrators to pay coaches at a different level, different pay scale now.

And it's going to become more competitive. And you're going to see coaches move. And it's going to be interesting to see what happens between probably now and in the next three weeks, with some of the coaches that are considering making changes.

Q. I know it's been a long time since you had signed a junior college player and I wanted to ask you about Shannon, and first just what made her such a match for what you needed in your back court this year, and then second, just what she does to change games in terms of imposing a tempo on a game.

COACH SUMMITT: Well the thing about Shannon when I saw her play is that I just loved her style of play. She pushed the basketball really hard and that's something that is very appealing to myself and a lot of coaches in this game that like up tempo basketball. I liked her handles, I thought she was very efficient. Shoots the three ball well. And really and watching her at the junior college level I thought she was a great creator, but a lot of those opportunities, because she was one of the best players on her team, she created for herself.

But I saw the potential for her to create for other people and that's where she's really improved her game and the thing that has impressed me is just how much she has been willing to learn. And her ability to do so and learn our system and run our basketball team. She's like a freshman in our program, but she plays like a veteran.

I think the fact that she has been so appreciative to be at Tennessee and she's had a great attitude. I've had a lot of great point guards, but I don't know that I've had a better relationship with any point guard that I've coached because of her willingness to listen and learn and try to do what you ask her to do.

Second part, her tempo and her speed, that's had a great influence. And it can be a difference maker in the course of a game because she can be very explosive and again be able to create shots for herself as well as for her teammates and she will tell you every time she goes into a game, oh, Coach, I'm really, really nervous. I've decided that's a good thing. Because every time she's told me she's nervous she's played well. So I hope she's nervous when we play on Sunday.

Q. Understanding she's not your most immediate concern, but could you compare Sylvia Fowles to other low post players you've seen in the game's history? Is she almost a evolutionary talent?

COACH SUMMITT: It's hard to say, I think there's only one Sylvia Fowles. But she is just a very imposing player. It's like Lucia Harris, Delta State, was the most imposing offensive player that I had seen in the paint.

Sylvia has been one of the most imposing defensive players and now her offensive efficiency is has really allowed her to be a player that's very difficult to stop and also to go against. She makes players alter shots, she is a great shot blocker. And obviously in the paint she can have her way with most of the people that she goes against. And they get her great looks.

If you look at most of her shots they come right in front of the rim. So she can pick and choose I want to go left, right, I want to shoot over the top of the rim.

But I think a lot of that is their offensive system. And she's just a great athlete and a hard worker. You got a lot of skill post people that are good, but her greatness comes from how hard she's willing to work and her competitive drive.

Q. Could she be near the best ever you've seen or close in that category?

COACH SUMMITT: I think she certainly has the potential to be one of the best everyone the inside. When you talk about low post presence at both ends.

Q. Could you talk about the LSU, what they have been able to overcome in the past few weeks, just their focus in this situation?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think through adversity you learn a lot about your basketball team. And there's no question that they have faced adversity. But the way they have come through this and the focus that they have had I think it's made them even stronger. And certainly I know they're even more determined. I think that Bob Starkey's done a great job. But you have to understand, Bob Starkey's been teaching the offensive system for years and he's as good as anyone in the game. Men or women. Men or women's game. On teaching motion offense.

Watching them in the Regional finals, I just thought they were so in synch and so together and so inspired, and it's clearly a team that has come together and they're playing with a purpose.

Q. I know you and Vivian have been close friends for many years. What do you think of the job she did this year?

COACH SUMMITT: It's a incredible story, I think, when you look at the beginning and with Vivian, I'm sure what she was feeling was that, as she said last night at the Salute dinner, she sent her assistant coaches out and told them to go get some players. She needed players. She didn't think she could win with these players. Obviously they must have heard her because they took it to heart.

And she was dealing with a lot of youth. But Vivian is so persistent on bringing out the absolute best in her players. And I have a lot of respect for her. She's one of the most patient and persistent coaches in the game. She will try to be patient, but then when she runs out of patience, then I think that's when she just says, We have to do it this way.

It's amazing what she has done and the fact that she's done it in three different programs and obviously enjoyed success at this level in all three. It just speaks to her ability to adjust, adapt to whatever environment she's in and bring out the absolute best in her student athletes.

Q. To piggyback on that, what would a national championship mean to Vivian and would that sort of complete her career, do you think?

COACH SUMMITT: Well let me just say that Vivian Stringer is a great coach. And I think that sometimes people document coaches and their success by whether or not they win a national championship. You can look in the women's game, in the men's game, some of the greatest coaches of all times have never been fortunate enough to win a national championship. Would that obviously be a exclamation point on her career? Yes. But she's a great coach regardless of whether or not that happens. And I guess I'm oftentimes amazed that that's the one standard that people look at as to whether or not that coach is legit. Vivian is a legit leader and great coach in this game. Regardless of whether or not she ever cuts down the nets.

But that lady's probably going to cut down some nets.

Q. What was it that made you take a chance on Shannon Bobbitt?

COACH SUMMITT: We needed a point guard. When Gatewood transferred from our program, I just felt like that Alexis could run the point, but also I felt like Alexis could make a greater impact if she didn't have to run the point all the time because she's a great rebounding guard, she's a great penetrator. We could post her up and play her at multiple positions.

And Shannon, I never worried about her size after I saw her play. And I just, seeing her on tape is one thing, but actually seeing her play, I thought she has the speed, the quickness, and the handles on it to really do what we want to do in this program. And that's put pressure. Pressure by pushing tempo and putting pressure on the other side of the ball.

And, again, I just loved her personality. I've had so much enjoyment and I just am watching her have a opportunity to do what she's done at Tennessee and she is so appreciative of everything. I mean, you know, coming from the junior college environment and coming into Tennessee and then obviously it's a whole different environment as far as fan support and we're on charter planes, and she's

One quick story, and some of you obviously I'm sure are aware of this, but the managers came to me and said that some of our players were taking socks. Out of the locker room. And that they were running out of socks. And so I called a little meeting and I said, What's the deal with the socks? You know you have to leave the socks for the managers to wash and leave them there. And Shannon goes, Coach, Coach, my bad. She said, I just never had socks that nice. So she was taking them home and wearing them to class. I said, You got to bring the socks back here and you got to leave them here. And I said, But you can wear them. You can wear them in practice. And she was like, Coach, I've never had anything like this. A pair of socks. How about that?

Q. You took a trip down memory lane with the question about Sylvia and I was thinking how much do you remember about 1982 and your first trip to the Final Four and does it seem like 25 years have gone by the board or not?

COACH SUMMITT: I think not really. It's gone fast. Going into that first championship and I don't really want to talk a whole lot about that weekend. That wasn't the most pleasant for us. But I know how excited we were. To be under the umbrella of the NCAA and know that women's basketball was going to have a opportunity for greater exposure and have the opportunity to really showcase our game, and certainly that was that was something that generated so much excitement and enthusiasm for players and coaches and it really changed our game.

Q. What do you think needs to happen to take the game to the next level?

COACH SUMMITT: I guess my biggest concern right now, and it's probably because of we have just gone through the tournament and we are here now at the Final Four, is I'm not sure we're ready for neutral sites. And I've been supporting that all along. But I think that we have to put our best foot forward in our game.

To really showcase, not only the teams, but also to create atmosphere at all of the sites. And I think we have to strategically figure out what the best way is to arrive at that. And that right now is probably my biggest focus. I think players are better, coaches are better, budgets are obviously in place, and we're seeing our game grow significantly in that aspect.

But now we have got to grow our fan base. We have fans that are fans of their teams. And I think that the difference in the men's game is that obviously you have men's basketball fans. And we need to increase our pool of support, if you will, for people that just love the women's game. And they're going to support it regardless of whether it's their team or it's a great women's basketball team.

Q. Two quick questions, a follow up on that. One, why do you think it is that women's basketball hasn't been able to get to the point where they are fans of the sport and not just fans of the team, where most sports are like that. And also, North Carolina, LaToya Pringle, can you tell me what she's added to their inside game?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, first of all, I think in the women's game we don't have the long history of the men's game in terms of exposure and just the overall opportunities that television has provided throughout the years for people to watch teams and get familiar with players and we're still playing catch up in that regard.

We talked about '82 being the first time that the NCAA took over our game and provided championships for women.

So we're growing our game, our exposure is better, but it's still lagging and if you compare it to the men's history.

Pringle has done a great job, I mean, you look at their inside game and players that could come in and impact, players that make Larkins better, I mean, it's like Candace Parker has made Nicky Anosike better. And I think the same is true with North Carolina in that regard.

THE MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Coach, for joining us.


Senior Forward Dominique Redding

On playing North Carolina here again: "Well, we're in the same exact locker room. But, we're a different team, more prepared this year. We know what it takes so we've just got to go out there and perform."

On Tennessee not winning a national championship since 1998: "I think every year each team is different but goal is the same - to cut down the nets. That's what you come to Tennessee for, that you're going to have a chance to do that."

On payback to North Carolina for loss this year and last year: "It's not a payback. There are four teams here with one common goal - to win a national championship. Whoever wants it more is going to cut down the nets."

Sophomore Forward/Center Alex Fuller

On coming back to Cleveland and playing North Carolina: "It's kind of ironic, the fact that we're back here at Final Four - it means a lot so that we can kind of redeem ourselves from the first time we played here because we played North Carolina on the same court last year and we lost, so it can be a redeemer. And our ultimate goal is to win the national championship."

On how they are at the Final Four with virtually the same team: "The thought hasn't even crossed our minds as we just take one game at a time. We played North Carolina toward the beginning of the season and it was a good measuring stick to see where we ranked with one of the elite teams in the country."

On how they are different from when they played UNC earlier this year: "As compared to that loss from a team standpoint, we are playing more together as a team and are more motivational toward our teammates. The loss last season in the (regional) championship game and the loss earlier this season to North Carolina are definitely in the back of our minds and we want to come out and play like we can."

Freshman Guard Cait McMahan

On fulfilling a dream by playing in Final Four with UT: "It's been a dream to come to the Final Four and just to make it here is a blessing. To play for [Coach] Pat [Summitt] has always been one of my dreams. Coming here as a freshman has been hard, but it's been great."

Junior guard Shannon Bobbitt

On playing against her high school teammate, Rutgers guard Epiphanny Prince: "You have to limit her touches and make her play defense because she is a great player. She is very quick and can beat you off the dribble. The two of us played high school basketball at Murry Bergtraum High and won the national and New York state titles both in 2004 and 2005."

Junior Forward Nicky Anosike

On familiar surroundings playing North Carolina in Cleveland: "It makes me feel like I need to learn from that and carry it over. Not forget what I felt last year. Try to remember that throughout the game and not let that happen again. It's definitely ironic, but its part of the game and it's going to be fun on Sunday night."

On playing UNC again this year: "When we played really early in the season we were still trying to find ourselves and find our identity as a team. I think we know that now and we should be a better team."

On guarding Ivory Latta and whether she will guard her tomorrow: "Obviously I had to guard Ivory last year and I know what it's like to guard her and I have a lot of respect for her. I'll do whatever coach tells me to do and whoever she tells me to guard, I'm going to go out there and try to do the best to my abilities."

On a moment she remembers most from last year: "I just remember the end, trying to catch up, fouling, making the game longer, just knowing we lost the game and we're not going to the Final Four. It definitely stuck in my head and it's so weird we're back in the same place, playing the same team. I mean we have a chance to redeem ourselves."

On getting to the championship game: "We have to play Tennessee basketball. Tennessee is known for winning championships and we have to get it done and have to do it by playing together. We need each and every single person on the team. Last year we weren't really a team. We were a bunch of people with the same jerseys on. This year I can honestly say we're really a team and we play together."

Senior Forward Sidney Spencer

On familiarity with UNC: "I think it helps in preparation, because we've already seen them and know what they bring at you. I think there is going to be a lot of strategy involved between both teams on how to stop certain players, so I think it's going to be interesting to see how the coaches do that."

On the bearing of previous meeting with UNC: "We definitely want to win. We don't want to be beaten three times in a row. Playing them before is going to help us."

Parker Named USWBA Player of the Year

Parker is third Lady Vol to take home national honor

ST. LOUIS - The U.S. Basketball Writers Association announced today its 2006-07 women's postseason honors. Tennessee's Candace Parker is the association's National Player of the Year, while Duke's Gail Goestenkors was chosen the USBWA Coach of the Year. Connecticut's Tina Charles is the USBWA's Freshman of the Year.

Parker, one of six repeat All-Americans, is the third Lady Vol to win the USBWA player of the year honor. Chamique Holdsclaw won the award twice, in 1998 and '99, and Tamika Catchings was the player of the year in 2000.

Ohio State's Jessica Davenport, Maryland's Crystal Langhorne, North Carolina's Ivory Latta, Oklahoma's Courtney Paris and Stanford's Candice Wiggins each also repeated as an All-America selection. Davenport was selected to the team for the third straight season. Five of the ten players chosen are centers, as well as Charles, the freshman of the year. Wiggins and Paris are each past winners of the association's freshman of the year.

Following is the complete list of 2006-07 USBWA women's honors:

Alison Bales, Duke (C, 6-7, Sr., Dayton, Ohio)
Jessica Davenport, Ohio State (C, 6-5, Sr., Columbus, Ohio)
Sylvia Fowles, LSU (C, 6-6, Jr., Miami, Fla.)
Chrissy Givens, Middle Tennessee (G, 5-11, Sr., Monroe, La.)
Lindsey Harding, Duke (G, 5-8, Sr., Houston, Texas)
Crystal Langhorne, Maryland (C/F, 6-2, Jr., Willingboro, N.J.)
Ivory Latta, North Carolina (G, 5-6, Sr., McConnells, S.C.)
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma (C, 6-4, So., Piedmont, Calif.)
Candace Parker, Tennessee (F, 6-4, So., Naperville, Ill.)
Candice Wiggins, Stanford (G, 5-11, Jr., San Diego, Calif.)

Player of the Year: Candace Parker, Tennessee
Coach of the Year: Gail Goestenkors, Duke
Freshman of the Year: Tina Charles, Connecticut (C, 6- 4, Fr., Jamaica, N.Y.)

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association, formed in 1956, has named a women's All-America team since the 1996-97 season. The association has also named a national player of the year since 1987- 88 and a national coach of the year since 1989-90. In 2002-03, the USBWA initiated an award for the nation's top freshman. For more information about the USBWA and its annual awards, contact Executive Director Joe Mitch in the Missouri Valley Conference office at 314-421-0339.

Tennessee's Parker wins Wade Award

CLEVELAND -- She's the only woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game, and on the eve of the Final Four, Candace Parker again rose above the crowd.

A redshirt sophomore standout from Tennessee, Parker on Saturday won the Wade Trophy, which is symbolic of the best Division I women's player in the country.

Parker became only the second player in the Lady Vols' storied history - joining Daedra Charles in 1991 - to win the award, somewhat startling since Tennessee has advanced to the Final Four 17 times and is the only school to compete in each NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1982.

"It's a huge honor," Parker said. "I wasn't expecting it at all."

Her numbers say otherwise. The 6-4 Parker averaged 19.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in leading the Lady Vols to a 32-3 record and the championship of the Dayton Regional.

"She's a difference-maker," legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said.

Parker showcased her brilliant skills in the Dayton Regional title game, scoring 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go with 14 rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals in just 25 minutes in leading the Lady Vols to a 98-62 victory over Mississippi.

"That was by far the hardest she's worked at both ends of the floor," Summitt said. "But I think that's because she really wanted to be here in Cleveland."

Tennessee will play North Carolina in the second national semifinal Sunday night.

Parker, who was also named to the Kodak All-America team on Saturday for the second straight season, said all her focus is on the upcoming game.

"That's all put aside now because we have a goal that we came here to the Final Four to accomplish," Parker said. "So that's all behind me and hopefully we can go out and on Sunday and take care of business."

Parker wins Wade Trophy, Kodak All-America honors

CLEVELAND -- The games haven't even begun, but three players who will compete in this weekend's Final Four already have emerged as winners.

Tennessee sophomore Candace Parker, North Carolina senior Ivory Latta and LSU junior Sylvia Fowles were each named Kodak All- Americans for the second consecutive season on Saturday as the women's Final Four festivities opened in Cleveland.

Parker also was awarded the Wade Trophy, which is given annually to the best women's college basketball player in the nation. Parker is the first sophomore to win Wade honors and just the second Lady Volunteer to win the award, joining Daedra Charles Furlow (1991).

Parker's Lady Vols play Latta's Tar Heels in one semifinal Sunday night (ESPN, 9 ET). Fowles' LSU Lady Tigers take on Rutgers in the other semifinal (ESPN, 7 ET).

Parker, who has led top-seeded Tennessee to its 17th Final Four, is the fastest player in school history to top 1,000 career points and was the unanimous SEC player of the year. The 6-foot-4 guard/forward/center, who last season became the first player to dunk in the women's NCAA Tournament, is averaging 19.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks

"I am incredibly honored," Parker said. "I want to thank my coaches, teammates and family, because if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be standing here today. I am so blessed."

Parker, who also won the U.S. Basketball Writers Association national player of the year award Saturday, was one of three sophomores on the 2007 Kodak All-America team, joining Okahoma's Courtney Paris and Louisville's Angel McCoughtry.

Ohio State senior Jessica Davenport and Stanford junior Candice Wiggins were named three-time Kodak All-Americans. Paris also earned the honor for the second year in a row, while first-time honorees included McCoughtry, Duke senior Lindsey Harding, Maryland junior Crystal Langhorne and Mississippi senior Armintie Price.

The Kodak All-America team began in 1975. Beginning in 2007-08, State Farm will replace Kodak as the title sponsor.

Lady Vols eager for another crack at Tar Heels

CLEVELAND -- Candace Parker's mind drifted back to last March, to the agonizing moments following Tennessee's exit from her first NCAA tournament.

Sitting in almost the exact spot Saturday as she did a year ago, the multitalented All-American recalled her pain.

"North Carolina was out there cutting down the nets," Parker said glumly, her eyes rolling back in the direction of the floor inside Quicken Loans Arena. "We sat in here crying.

"We'd like to change things up."

The Lady Vols will get the chance Sunday.

Tennessee, the program by which all others are measured in women's basketball, will meet North Carolina for the second time this season and third time in the past year at the Final Four.

In last year's Cleveland Regional final, North Carolina defeated Tennessee 75-63 to earn its second trip to the national semifinals. As luck would have it, the Lady Vols (32-3) and Tar Heels (34-3) have been on a collision course since the NCAA pairings were announced.

Now they'll lock up again -- with more riding on the outcome.

"I think it was meant to be," said coach Pat Summitt, who has Tennessee in its 17th Final Four. "Same city. Same building. Same locker room, playing against Carolina."

Before practice, Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle looked around and found the familiar surroundings somewhat surreal.

"It's a little freaky," she said. "I think they (the NCAA tournament committee) did it on purpose."

Maybe. Maybe not.

However it happened, and whoever's responsible, the matchup of No. 1 seeds and perennial powerhouses will showcase two of the nation's biggest stars: Parker and North Carolina's Ivory Latta, the Tar Heels' tiny and terrifying point guard.

Parker is unlike any player in the women's game.

The 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore, listed as a forward-center-guard, can do it all and usually does. In a single possession, Parker can bring the ball up as a point guard, post up like a power forward for an easy basket or step outside and drain a jumper.

She's averaging 19.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.8 blocks and immeasurable attitude. And Parker, who sat on Tennessee's bench as a freshman following knee surgery, has elevated her game in this tournament. In last weekend's win over Mississippi in the Dayton Regional final, she had 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks while dominating the entire 94 feet.

Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell scratched her head when asked to pick Parker's best attribute.

"Wow," Hatchell said. "I don't think there's one thing. She's so versatile. She can play anywhere on the court you need her to and whatever assignments you give her, she can do those well."

In Tennessee's visit to North Carolina on Dec. 3, Parker, the only woman to dunk in a NCAA tournament game, stuffed the box score by scoring 27 points with 10 rebounds. Trouble was, she didn't get any help from her teammates as the Tar Heels handled the Lady Vols 70-57.

The loss served as a wake-up call on Rocky Top.

"We didn't play well at all," Parker said. "We had beaten UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford and some other teams and were feeling pretty good about ourselves. But that turned it around real quick."

Summitt's practices got tougher in the weeks following Tennessee's second straight loss to Carolina. The Hall of Famer stressed rebounding, defense and warned her other players about the dangers of standing around and watching Parker with the ball.

As always, the Lady Vols responded. They lost only two more games -- to then-No. 1 Duke and No. 11 LSU -- on the way to another perfect SEC regular season, another top seed and another march through March.

Through it all, Parker and her teammates drew inspiration from being denied a Final Four trip by the Tar Heels.

"That was the one that stuck with me through the summer," said forward Nicky Anosike. "It's been in my head for a long time. Now we have a chance to redeem ourselves."

For the Tar Heels, redemption would be getting to the championship after coming so close in 2006.

Their visit to Boston last April ended with a semifinal loss to Maryland, the eventual champion. Latta limped through most of that game on a twisted knee that forced her off the floor and later required surgery.

"It was so frustrating," the senior said. "I was playing in terrible pain. But I'll tell you what, if anything like that ever happens again, I'm not coming off. I'm going to do whatever I have to to win."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Parker a Wooden All-American team member

LOS ANGELES -- Paris and Latta were joined by LSU junior forward Sylvia Fowles, Duke senior guard Lindsey Harding and Tennessee sophomore forward-center Candace Parker. Latta, Fowles and Parker led their teams to the Final Four.

Paris was fourth in the country in scoring at 23.5 points per game and second in rebounding at 15.9. Latta averaged 16.3 points, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals.

Fowles averaged 17.2 points and was third in the country with 12.7 rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field. Harding averaged 13.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Parker was 18th in the nation at 19.9 points and also averaged 9.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks.

Bjorklund named AP Wash state player of the year

SEATTLE -- Angie Bjorklund will head to Pat Summitt's program at Tennessee as one of the most decorated girls' basketball players ever from the state of Washington.

Having already picked up nearly every award, Bjorklund added her second-straight Associated Press Washington girls player of the year honor on Friday. The senior at Spokane's University High School was also named the Class 4A player of the year, edging out Kentwood's Courtney Vandersloot for both honors.

Bjorklund, who was named to the Parade Magazine first-team this week, averaged 24.9 points this season and completed her career as the league's leading all-time scorer, for boys and girls.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pat expects Lady Vols to reach 'Summitt'

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Nine years have passed since Tennessee last won a national championship. Coach Pat Summitt believes she has found what's been missing since 1998.

After winning three straight national championships, Summitt kept recruiting talented players and returned to the Final Four five times — coming home empty-handed after each one.

The Lady Vols, holders of six national titles, are back in the semifinals this year for the 17th time overall and face North Carolina on Sunday. Rutgers and LSU will play in the other game in Cleveland with the winners advancing to the championship game Tuesday night.

What's different about Tennessee this season starts with All-American Candace Parker, who some believe is even more versatile than Chamique Holdsclaw, the star when Tennessee won its last three national crowns.

"I think that in the previous years, I would say we've had some very fine teams, but we also played against some of our competition that had better go-to players, players that could make plays," Summitt said. "You have to have that, and we didn't have a Candace Parker."

Teams with a go-to player, including arch-nemesis Connecticut, have gotten the better of Tennessee since 1998.

The Huskies won three straight national titles from 2002-2004, twice beating the Lady Vols in the finals, with star Diana Taurasi.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma also has learned what it's like without the go-to player. The Huskies haven't been in the Final Four since Taurasi left.

"I know Geno said many times, 'We have Diana and nobody else does,' and it does make a difference," Summitt said.

"Look at what Sylvia Fowles means to the LSU program, and it's just — it is what is it in this game. And it's true for the men's game and it's true at the pro level. If you have Kobe Bryant playing the way he is right now, they are going to win more times than not."

Parker, a redshirt sophomore, has spent most of her time in the post but is listed as a guard, center and forward on the roster. She is averaging 19.9 points and 9.8 rebounds.

She put on a show in the regional final, a 98-62 win over Mississippi, finishing with 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. She also had three assists and three steals. The only thing Parker hasn't done in the postseason this year is dunk like she did a year ago.

She has taken over the team since the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Lady Vols lost to LSU in the semifinals when Parker was held to four points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field.

Parker doesn't believe she's good enough to be ranked with players like Holdsclaw until she wins a national championship.

"I know this is my first Final Four because my freshman year I wasn't able to play. So, I just wanted to come out and do what I could for my team and whether it was energy on the defensive end or the offensive end, that was my goal," she said after being named the Dayton Regional most outstanding player.

After last season, Summitt realized her team needed more speed on the perimeter and she went to the junior college ranks to sign two players — point guard Shannon Bobbitt and shooting guard Alberta Auguste.

Bobbitt, 5-foot-2 and quick, has been playing well in the tournament and is a threat from 3-point range. Bobbitt and her backup, freshman Cait McMahan, have allowed junior Alexis Hornbuckle to return to the two spot and be more productive.

"I think the play of Shannon has been more than I had anticipated and that has put us in a position to be a better basketball team with Hornbuckle at the off guard and freeing her up to be more creative offensively off the dribble and getting to the paint," Summitt said.

Nicky Anosike has been starting at center but has taken several defensive assignments on the opponents' perimeter players, taking advantage of her long arms and quickness.

Senior forward Sidney Spencer has been the Lady Vols' second-leading scorer this season at 11.8 points a game and has improved her shooting touch from a year ago.

The Lady Vols also are getting solid contributions from their reserves.

"Our starting five has been strong," Summitt said. "We've had some good play off of our bench, but we had not had that."

Candace Parker Named Associated Press First Team All-America

Sophomore is first Lady Vol recipient of first team honors since Tamika Catchings in 2000

Knoxville, Tenn. - University of Tennessee basketball player Candace Parker has been named an Associated Press first team All-American. This is her second AP award as she was a second-team recipient as a freshman.

"It's a huge honor," Parker said. "I wouldn't be where I am right now without my tremendous teammates."

Parker was a first-team pick on 49 of the 50 ballots from the national media panel that votes in the weekly Top 25, receiving 248 points. The voting was done before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

Through the first 30 games of her sophomore campaign, Parker averaged 19.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per contest. Since the NCAA Tournament started and the votes were in, Naperville, Ill., native has shot 74 percent from the field and averaged 20.8 points and 10.3 boards per outing and carried the Lady Vols into their 17th NCAA Final Four.

Joining Parker on the first team were Courtney Paris of Oklahoma (46 first-team votes; 242 points), Duke's Lindsey Harding (44; 234), North Carolina's Ivory Latta (38; 218) and Ohio State's Jessica Davenport (20; 188).

Second team members were Crystal Langhorne (Maryland), Candice Wiggins (Stanford), Sylvia Fowles (LSU), Chrissy Givens (Middle Tennessee) and Angel McCoughtry (Louisville), while the third team included Purdue's Katie Gearlds, UNC's Erlana Larkins, Duke's Alison Bales, Ole Miss' Armintie Price and Georgia's Tasha Humphrey.

The Southeastern Conference, which has two of the remaining Final Four teams, placed four student-athletes on the three teams, while the Atlantic Coast Conference had five players.

The 2006-07 AP women's All-America basketball team with school, height, class and key regular-season statistics, followed in parentheses by first-team votes and points awarded on a 5-3-1 basis by a 50-member national media panel:

Candace Parker, Tennessee, 6-4, sophomore 19.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.8 blocks, 1.9 steals, .520 fg pct (49 first-place votes, 248 points).
Courtney Paris, Oklahoma, 6-4, sophomore 23.6 ppg, 16.2 rpg, 3.5 blocks, .567 fg pct (46, 242).
Lindsey Harding, Duke, 5-8, senior, 14.0 ppg 3.9 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 steals (44, 234).
Ivory Latta, North Carolina, 5-6, senior, 16.4 ppg 4.5 apg, 98 3-pointers, 1.6 steals, .841 ft pct (38, 218).
Jessica Davenport, Ohio State, 6-5, senior 20.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.8 blocks, .599 fg pct (20, 188).

Sylvia Fowles, LSU, 6-6, junior 17.2 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 1.9 blocks, .578 fg pct (20, 182).
Candice Wiggins, Stanford, 5-11, junior 16.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 steals, 75 3-pointers (9, 141).
Crystal Langhorne, Maryland, 6-2, junior 15.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.6 apg, .721 fg pct (6, 135).
Angel McCoughtry, Louisville, 6-1, sophomore 21.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.2 steals, .506 fg pct (6, 78).
Chrissy Givens, Middle Tennessee, 5-11 senior 22.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 3.0 steals, .515 fg pct (5, 72).

Katie Gearlds, Purdue, 6-1, senior 18.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.4 apg, 74 3-pointers, .893 ft pct (2, 67).
Erlana Larkins, North Carolina, 6-1, junior 13.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.2 steals, .552 fg pct (65).
Alison Bales, Duke, 6-7, senior 11.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.5 blocks, 1.9 apg (1, 58).
Armintie Price, Mississippi, 5-9 senior 18.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 4.7 apg, 3.8 steals (2, 49).
Tasha Humphrey, Georgia, 6-3, junior 16.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, .506 fg pct (1, 44).

(In alphabetical order)
Matee Ajavon, Rutgers; Meredith Alexis, James Madison; Kimberly Beck, George Washington; Essence Carson, Rutgers; Tina Charles, Connecticut; Marissa Coleman, Maryland; Dee Davis, Vanderbilt; Jessica Dickson, South Florida; Natalie Doma, Idaho State; Shay Doron, Maryland; Krystal Ellis, Marquette; A'Quonesia Franklin, Texas A&M; Kamesha Hairston, Temple; Devanei Hampton, California; Stephanie Hawk, Gonzaga; Alexis Hornbuckle, Tennessee; Charde Houston, Connecticut; Tiffany Jackson, Texas; Crystal Kelly, Western Kentucky; Jackie McFarland, Colorado; Lyndsey Medders, Iowa State; Renee Montgomery, Connecticut; Carrie Moore, Western Michigan; Mandy Morales, Montana; Bernice Mosby, Baylor; Noelle Quinn, UCLA; Allie Quigley, DePaul; Jillian Robbins, Tulsa; Adrianne Ross, TCU; Brooke Smith, Stanford; Carla Thomas, Vanderbilt; Ashley Walker, California; Marcedes Walker, Pittsburgh; Abby Waner, Duke; Emily Westerberg, Arizona State; Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, Purdue; Dani Wright, BYU.

Note: Moore received one first-team vote.

NCAA Final Four Coaches Teleconference Transcript

Lady Vols play North Carolina in Sunday's national semifinal

RICK NIXON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Rick Nixon with the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championships. We welcome you today to today's telephonic news conference with North Carolina head Coach Sylvia Hatchell leading her team to the 2007 Women's Final Four in Cleveland.

To get things started, I'll ask Judy Southard, chair of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee to make some welcoming remarks.

JUDY SOUTHARD: Thank you, Rick, and thanks everyone for joining us for today's teleconference. We had a couple of great calls this morning with Coach Starkey from LSU and Coach C. Vivian Stringer from Rutgers, and certainly I can tell you that all of us are very excited about the coming championship.

You know, when you crunch the numbers and look at this, when the season began, there were 324 teams who were starting their season dreaming of an opportunity to play in the 2007 women's Final Four in Cleveland, and of course that number was cut dramatically to 64 when the bracket was announced. And now we are down to the Final Four.

So I certainly want to take this opportunity to express my congratulations on behalf of the committee, particularly to you, Sylvia and your team; what a great job North Carolina has done. We are looking forward to seeing LSU, Rutgers, Tennessee and North Carolina vie for this year's National Championship.

Once again, we are looking forward to a great championship in Cleveland, we hope all of you who are on the call are planning to join us there.

And with that I'll turn the call back over to Rick.

RICK NIXON: Before we do that, I'll ask Coach Hatchell, thanks again for joining us this afternoon, for some opening comments and we'll go from there with the questions and answers.

COACH HATCHELL: Well, you know we're just real excited to be going back to Cleveland. We already there last year for the regional and when we left there, we said that that was our goal to get back there this year, because we knew the Final Four was going to be there in the same arena and everything. So we've been talking about it all year.

In fact, when we were at the regionals last year I had some shirts made up in Carolina Blue, and on the front I put: "Rockin', Rollin' and Reboundin' in Cleveland, Ohio." And you know, we wore those while we were there, and it's because of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and everything and, you know, so that was of course we knew we had to rebound to win and go to the Final Four.

So you know, that's a shirt that I've been wearing all year. And our players had those from last year, so that was something that sort of motivated us to get back to Cleveland. You know, last year we had a great experience there.

In fact, right now I'm sitting in my office and I'm looking at a yellow, green and sort of burgundy stickers of the Q and Quicken Loans Arena, and these are the stickers that we had to wear last year. So when we came back, I put them on the file cabinet right here by my desk, so I see them every day when I walk into my office.

But again, it's a great honor to be going back there. I've been coaching a long time and I'm sure that Pat and Vivian would tell you the same thing. It's so hard to get to the Final Four now. The regionals are a lot like the Final Four used to be because there's so many great teams, and I think we see that because there's so many of the great teams that have been eliminated before you get to the Final Four. So it's just so much more difficult to get there.

So it's really an honor, and we're just really excited. We're tired. We got in about 5:00 this morning from Dallas, but we're excited, but we're a little bit tired. But we'll be ready come this weekend.

Q. Last year's Final Four had three ACC teams, and this year you are the last ACC team standing. How does it feel to be the best in the ACC?

COACH HATCHELL: First of all, we have a great conference and we are known for basketball, men and women's. And again, it's sort of unusual, I guess you would say that we're the only team left in men and women's because I really thought our guys were going to be there, too.

Of course, with the other teams in our conference, men and women you know, you would have thought maybe some other ones would have been there. But again it goes back to what I was saying about there's so many great teams out there now; the parity on any given night, any team can win and any team can lose.

But it's an honor to be representing the ACC. I think I'm a little surprised, along with a lot of people, that we are the only ones still left. But I'm counting my blessings, trust me. It's so difficult now to get to a Final Four.

Q. You handled Tennessee pretty easily at the Elite 8 last year and you beat them by a good margin again this year, what difference do you expect and does that give you any advantage, the two victories that are impressive?

COACH HATCHELL: I mean, I don't get that we handled them easily. I don't know about I don't agree with that. I don't think anyone handles Tennessee easily.

Last year when we played them, they weren't as strong at guard as they are this year. I mean, they just didn't have the ball handlers last year.

Of course this year, Bobbitt is out there now, and she's doing a tremendous job for them. And then we played them in December, I think it was December 4th or somewhere along there, we played them here in Chapel Hill. It was a great game and it could have been either way, but we won that game.

But every time we play them, it's a great time. I think, you know Pat and I are real good friends, and you know, I was there as a JV coach when I was in graduate school, and Pat and I are the same age; I'm about two months older than she is.

So we have great games with Tennessee. We both have great athletes, play good defense, and go up and down the floor. I mean, I tell you, when we play them, it's just a great game, and I'm hoping we can have that kind of game on Sunday.

Q. Watching on television, Erlana had a fantastic game, has she really taken over to become kind of the go to player on your team?

COACH HATCHELL: Well, I don't think we have a go to player on our team. I think it just depends on how the other team is playing us, what they try to take away or those type of things, because we've had some games where Erlana has played like she did last night. Some of it is because of the way the other team is playing us. We've had some games where LaToya Pringle has been our best player or our star player, and that's because the other team is trying to double Erlana. So if they are trying to double Erlana, then LaToya will have a big night.

We've had games where Camille Little, where she has been our leading scorer, or Rashanda McCants or Ivory Latta; it just depends on what the other team is trying to take away from us, and then we try to concentrate on the other players. Because if you try to take something away, there's got to be a weakness somewhere, and I think that's the strength of our team is our balance. But I really don't think we have a go to player.

Q. Wondering what your thoughts were on these predetermined sites, neutral sites that we've gone to the last couple of years. I know a lot of coaches were eager to go to them, but it seems that it might have hurt attendance. I know if watching TV it didn't seem like you had a lot of fans at your game. Can you comment upon that, please?

COACH HATCHELL: Yes, I'll say a couple things. You know, first of all, I was not one of those coaches that wanted to go to those, okay, because I felt like it was too early. Because most of the time, we got to host because we were one of the Top 16 teams when we got an NCAA bid, and we had great crowds. You say, well, that gives the higher seeded teams a home court advantage.

But you know what, you play the whole season for that. I mean, that's something they earn through their play throughout the season is to play on their home court. I think it's great to have the fans in the stands.

I know we went to the predetermined sites for several different reasons, and again I think it's what you're trying to accomplish here or what your goals are. I think some of it was for the convenience of television, in which television has helped us tremendously, but yet it's hurt the attendance.

And you're right, as much as I love being in Dallas and I love Texas, the people were great to us. We have a tremendous experience out there. And you know we had some people there; it was a long way for the Carolina people to come. We did have some good fans there, but the big arena, 4,000 people is not many.

So you're right, I agree with a lot of the things you're saying, but again, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. I was not one of those coaches that was pushing for those predetermined sites. I thought we made that move too early.

Q. I believe you had some 9:00 p.m. or later games, do you think that affects the attendance at all having such a late game?

COACH HATCHELL: Yes, we had the late game all the way through. I mean, let me tell you, every game we had was the last one. We had started staying up late and skipping breakfast and start about 10:30, 11:00 in the morning with the tee because that's what we had to do.

But you know what, do you what you have to do especially for the TV exposure. It's late but we've sort of gotten used to it. I see our game Sunday night is going to be about 9:30. Well, okay, the last two, three games we played, that's what time they have been so, that's probably pretty good for us.

But I do think it's awful late, and especially on a school night because to me our fans are senior adults and families with young children. And when your game starts at 9:00 or 10:00, they are not going to be there. They are just not going to be there. And so I do think that it hurt the attendance, for especially the crowd that the sport of women's basketball draws.

But again, it's whatever you're trying to accomplish, and I do think it's for the convenience of probably television.

Q. You don't have a go to player on your team and clearly Tennessee does and she seems to be taking games over by herself. The first half last night was an amazing exhibition. Can you sum up the difference in the Candace from last year and beginning this year to the Candace you're seeing at the beginning of the tournament?

COACH HATCHELL: When she said no more questions, I was saying to myself, "I can't believe no one is asking me about Candace Parker, I just can't believe that."

I agree with you. Candace got my vote for Player of the Year. She's having a tremendous year. She is a great player. She is so versatile. She can play outside; she can play inside; she can just do so much for that team.

But you know, I was talking about our team, we don't have a go to player; I think that's a strength of our team is balance. And as good as Candace is, and I've been in this situation myself and seen this with other schools as well, I think maybe when Duke had Alana Beard, this happened some. And sometimes when you have a player that good, and you call them your go to player and you go to them so much, sometimes if they are not having a great game or they are having an off night or something like that, the rest of the team can get caught watching them, you know, standing and watching them. When I had Nikki Teasley, we used to do that. My other players would watch Nikki play. And I've seen that happen to other teams.

But I think right now, Tennessee, their whole team is playing well together. They just walked right through the Dayton region. They have not even had a close game. But Candace, I agree with you, she's playing phenomenal.

Q. How do you think your team has evolved since that early December game against Tennessee?

COACH HATCHELL: Well, I think my younger players have really established their identity with our team, like LaToya Pringle and Rashanda McCants. They joke among themselves. They call themselves the X Factor, LaToya Pringle and Rashanda McCants.

When I walked in the locker room last night, I looked at Rashanda I said, "Way to go girls, you had a great game especially the first half."

LaToya she was across the room, she said, "Coach, it's that X Factor." She said Rashanda, and I think probably Alex is in that group and Jessica Breland because she's coming off the bench and playing really well for us. The ACC Tournament, think I think she made the all tournament team at the ACC Tournament.

Those kids are, like I say, joking, calling themselves the X Factor, but I think that's one thing that our team has gotten better with our younger players establishing their identity of the team.

But you know, again, we continually talk about that our objective is the beauty of the game is five players out there playing as one. And we talk about the five players on court playing as one. Because you know, we were wild and crazy at times with our defense and with our offense, and if one person breaks down then we probably have a turnover or the other team gets a layup or something like that.

So we are constantly talking about how we depend on each other and how everyone out there is so important with the role that they have to play. And again, like I say, I think that's the beauty of the team and that's sort of been our theme.

Q. You mentioned how it's really difficult to get to the Final Four now and I was wondering why you think Tennessee has been able to get there so often.

COACH HATCHELL: Well, I would say Pat Summitt. I mean, Pat knows how to get it done, I'm telling you. You know, I don't know anyone that's done more for the game than Pat Summitt.

And just the tradition of Tennessee, they have been there more than anyone else, and I think back, come tournament time, there's lots of teams that win throughout the season and some of them at certain times of the year play really well. But Pat gets her team ready for tournament time.

And that's one thing that we really gear for every year. I learned a long time ago to do that. Don't worry about early losses too much and get them ready for tournament time. That's why we are really proud that 12 of the last 14 ACC championships we've played for because we gear everything to start peeking at the ACC tournament time and continue on through the NCAA.

You know, Tennessee is Tennessee, and it all starts with Pat Summitt.

Q. In last year's tournament game against Tennessee, Candace Parker had eight turnovers; is ball security the one thing that you can hope you can disrupt in her game? Is that the forefront of what you want to do with her?

COACH HATCHELL: Well, if you have any suggestions, I'll take them. I tell you what, Candace is playing so well right now, I think you've got to try to throw a lot of different things at her as far as maybe looks, combinations, people, sets. I think you've just got to throw a lot of different things at Candace because you know, she's such an intelligent player and she's so skilled.

But like I said, if you've got any suggestions, I'll give you my cell phone.

Q. Just to follow up and I think you sort of touched on it earlier about Tennessee's point guards and obviously that directly relates to how much Parker can score and everyone else when you're doubling on Parker, did you know that Shannon Bobbitt was going to emerge this year? How has that impacted Candace's game?

COACH HATCHELL: Well, yes, I think Bobbitt, she does a lot for them what Ivory does for us, as far as just running the team, the little general out there, I call Ivory my little general, so she does a lot of that for Tennessee and directing, you know, where they go, what they do and everything. I think she's really come a long way and Pat's really done a great job with coaching that kid.

And I'm going to tell you, Tennessee's not known for junior college players, just like I'm trying to think if we've ever had one. I think we may have had one in my 21 years here at North Carolina. But if they were in a situation where they had to get guards, and they went and got a good one and Pat's done a really good job bringing her along.

But she knows what Pat wants her to do, and a lot of time, that's get the ball to Candace Parker. Pat is telling her and running the show, and a lot of it is to get the ball to Candace Parker. And that's what she does, and as they have come through the season, she has learned how to do that. And, you know, just doing an excellent job.

Tennessee, like I said, that region, when you looked at it at the beginning, you thought, wow, that's really tough. But they have just walked right through it. A lot of people, I think they thought they were going to meet, have lost earlier like Oklahoma and Maryland, maybe Ohio State. They didn't have to play any of those people. I mean, I don't think anyone ever would have expected it to come out like it did. But they sure looked good.

Q. As a person who has been coaching for several decades, I wanted to get your insight, in light of the situation at LSU, how fine of a line does a coach walk in terms of being a mentor versus a friend?

COACH HATCHELL: Well, I've been coaching a long time, I think that maybe the younger you are as a head coach, you're more the kid the players, I think their age. I think you maybe have a little more in common I don't know, music and different things like that.

I know when I first got out of graduate school at Tennessee with Francis Merion, I actually had a player older than I was. I had just turned 23 and I had a player older than I was; that's a little difficult.

I think again, you have to draw that line there. My objective has never been to have the players as my friend. First of all, I'm the coach and they must respect me, and they must realize we're not friends. I mean, it's not that I don't want to have a great relationship with them, and we work very hard at that, on having a great relationship with the players. But you know, my objective is never to be friends with my players. It's for my players to respect me, and like you said, as a mentor.

You know, so I think you've just got to and I know in the past, there have been several times I've had to have conversations with my assistant coaches, at no time in my last few years in my coaching, as I've had younger assistant coaches, I've had to talk to them about, look, if you're joke around, when you're friends off the court, when you get on the court, it's hard to separate that. It's hard to separate those things when you get on the court if you're like that off the court with them. You know, so again, I think you have to identify those roles and then you have to make sure that you don't cross that line.

But I tell you, I've been doing this a long time, but being a positive example nowadays is priority on my list. To be a positive example and to be the right kind of role model, because there's so many role models out there for the young people, that's not the right kind of role model. I mean, so many aspects.

So I think more and more it's just so important that you are a positive role model in these young people's lives, and that you do you've got to establish who you are in your identity.

And again, like I said, you want them to have a good feeling about you and all, but you've got to be careful about crossing over that line.

Q. You said that when you were younger as an assistant coach that that was something that was a little more difficult just in some of the players maybe looked at you more as their peer than maybe their coach?

COACH HATCHELL: I was never I was talking about more when I had younger assistant coaches. I think like I said, some of it has to do with there's not that much differences in their ages. Just like a lot of the kids that graduate from college, you know, they become graduate assistants or a year or two later an assistant coach in a program, and there's only a year or two separating their ages there.

Again, I think at that age, it's a little more difficult probably, because now my players see me as more of a mother figure than anything else, and that's more of the way I talk to them, like they are my daughters and they see me more of a mother figure I think. And a lot of my relationship now with my players is like that, but I think the younger age, you can maybe have some crossovers there, and you have to be real careful about that.

Like I said, if you're buddies with them and friendly with them and socialize and do those things off the court, then it's hard for them to separate those things on court whenever you're having to discipline them and you're having to correct them and you're having to you know, it's a completely different thing, and it's hard for them to separate that.

RICK NIXON: We're just about of time for this first part of our conference call this afternoon. Coach Hatchell, thanks for taking the time this afternoon to be with us.

COACH HATCHELL: Do me a favor, tell Pat it's an honor to play here, and congratulations.

RICK NIXON: Thank you, we appreciate your time this afternoon.

We welcome you to our news Conference with Pat Summit who will be leading her team to the 2007 Women's Final Four here in Cleveland.

To get things started this afternoon, I'll ask Judy Southard, chair of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee to make some welcoming remarks.

JUDY SOUTHARD: Thanks, Rick, I appreciate that, and at the risk of repeating myself for those of who you may have been on the first half hour of the call, how happy we are to have everyone join us today for the teleconferences. We had a great teleconference this morning with Coach Bob Starkey and C. Vivian Stringer, and of course we have just finished with Sylvia Hatchell.

When you crunch the numbers on this, there were 324 teams who started out their year dreaming of the opportunity to play in a National Championship, and of course that number was dramatically reduced to 64 when the bracket was announced. We have seen many great games, some great competition, we've seen upsets, we've seen characteristic games by some teams, we've seen people really come out of nowhere and just really catch the attention and capture the imagination of our basketball fans.

And so certainly, finally, getting this number down to four is a very exciting thing for all of us, and the opportunity to go to Cleveland for the Final Four is just around the corner.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Coach Pat Summitt. Pat, your kids played absolutely tremendous. I had an opportunity to be in Dayton, of course, for the regional semifinals and certainly we wish and you all of the teams a great deal of luck, and we are looking forward to a tremendous Final Four with LSU, Rutgers, Tennessee and North Carolina, and we hope that we are going to see everyone who is on the call in Cleveland this weekend.

So have a great tournament, and Pat, again, congratulations.

COACH SUMMITT: Thank you, Judy, appreciate it.

Q. Can you talk about how different, if at all, your team is from the team that played North Carolina in early December?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, obviously I think we learned a tremendous amount from our game at North Carolina. It was it taught us a lot about what we needed to improve upon in, particular, I thought that on the offensive end, we didn't execute very well. They had an awful lot to do with it.

Certainly we learned a lot about the importance of transition defense. I remember after the game, I just basically took responsibilities for what had happened because of our lack of commitment to defending the ball in the full court.

Offensively, we weren't ready. They were just so much better than us. It remains to be seen how much we have improved. But I do think the schedule we've played and having played North Carolina earlier in the season, I'm glad that we've at least had a game so we understand just how good they are.

Q. Obviously this is your 17th Final Four and you've won six National Championships, but 11 times you didn't get it. What is the greater emotion, winning a National Championship or not winning it; getting to the Final four and coming up short?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, no question, the greatest feeling emotionally and the greatest high for a team and for coaches is to be able to win a National Championship. On the contrast of that, obviously getting there and not winning it can be a great disappointment.

I think it all depends on, you know, what happens. There have been times we've been there and made it to a National Championship game, and really in the end not winning, you know, because we lost to better teams. There's been very few times that we've lost in those games, and I felt like we absolutely gave this one away or had to have it. I think we just played against some of the best teams in the game. We started out with Southern Cal with Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper. I remember that loss vividly, but I also thought our team did a great job of staying in there.

Certainly our games against Connecticut when they had Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi on the backcourt and the great front line, you just had to accept it for what it is. And then we won some games; we won some championships we probably shouldn't have won. But it's always emotional, win or lose, you have to deal with it.

Q. If I could, two questions. First could you sort of comment on how good the defense is of all four of these teams when they are playing the best, I would say North Carolina and your squad are higher caliber offensive teams, but just how good defensively all four are. And also just about Coach Stringer getting back to another Final Four, somebody who has been there now four times and just the longevity and success of her career.

COACH SUMMITT: First of all, all of these teams that are going to the Final Four have demonstrated a great commitment on the defensive end. I could speak first of all to the SEC folks and clearly when we played against LSU and in the tournament, they were just absolutely terrific on the defensive end, and we struggled because of that.

I thought when we played them at their place, our defense was at a different level, and you know, certainly in postseason, I think it's imperative that you have to have it. If you don't have your defense, you're going to struggle because there's no guarantee that you're going to shoot the basketball well every night, and in particular, when you go against teams that really bring the pressure defensively, and certainly North Carolina and Rutgers do that very, very well.

And having played against North Carolina this year, they really took us out of what we wanted to do in a lot of situations, and we just rushed shots. And that was to me, the big difference in the game was our inability to have the composure against their defense at that time of the year to really execute and get the type of looks and knock down the shots. Our defense wasn't as near as good as North Carolina's defense early in the year, and I do think that that is a place where we've got to do significantly better.

With Rutgers, Vivian's teams, they always, always bring the pressure on the defensive end, on the defensive end of the floor. I'm really proud for Vivian. You know, she has a running and still has a young basketball team, but she's got them believing in each other and just their toughness and never quit attitude I thought was apparent throughout the tournament.

Q. With a player like Candace, there's a tendency for everyone to stand around and watch what she's doing. Throughout the season, she really only had one game where she was dramatically held down and that was the LSU game in the SEC tournament. Are you even more amazed than ever that despite all of the defensive attention on her and despite the fact that some of her teammates stood around earlier in the season, that she has had the consistently astonishing season particularly the first 25 minutes last night was unbelievable?

COACH SUMMITT: Last night was clearly her most impressive performance of the year at both ends. She's had some really great offensive games and adequate defensively, but she took it to another level off the defensive end.

The thing about Candace is she's very composed out of trap situations and we've seen a lot of traps and just her ability to handle that and find open teammates; incredibly unselfish player, and I think that's what has allowed us to stay together as a team offensively and not feel like we're all watching Candace Parker play and do all of the work offensively. She certainly takes great pride in involving her teammates and as I said, she's really good out of the trap situation and just a very unselfish player overall.

Q. And just to follow up on a different question, it looked like this bracket that you were in was going to be an unbelievably hard one, and then Maryland went down and Ohio State went down. Are you surprised at how easily you were able to get to this point?

COACH SUMMITT: Absolutely. It's been a different road than we had anticipated. But you look at Old Miss's play, and particularly their play against Maryland and Oklahoma, I just felt like that was going to be a real challenge for us.

Sometimes for me it's more favorable not to play an SEC school. Certainly we are both familiar with each other, but watching them, I just felt like they were a very hot team at the time. And offensively they were doing a good job. Defensively they were creating a lot of scoring opportunities off their defense and turning people over.

Yet last night, I just felt like that our basketball team from a defensive standpoint went out and did exactly what they needed to do and our offensive execution was really sharp in handling their different defensive schemes, their zone and their man and their trap.

It was a different road and a different path than I ever anticipated. Hopefully that won't hurt us and maybe even help us as we go to this Final Four and get ready to face a great North Carolina team.

Q. As a person coaching for several decades, I wanted to get your insight in light of the situation at LSU, how fine of a line does a coach walk in terms of being a mentor versus a friend?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, having been in it 33 years, I think the one thing that was important to me when I started my career was to understand that I had to be the coach, the teacher, the person that really understood that I'm not their friend; I'm their coach. At times you wear a lot of different hats, I'm their parent if need be. And at the same time, you pretty much just have to draw that professional line and understand that they are they are young and they are kids and very impressionable and they are role models and you're a role model.

I always tell our student athletes, you have to decide what kind of role model you're going to be. Certainly from my standpoint as a role model, I have to set the professional example and be their teacher.

Q. Some of your peers have talked about how that line seemed especially difficult to draw when they were younger, I was just wondering if you could give me maybe an example and if you found that was the case when you were a less veteran coach.

COACH SUMMITT: The interesting thing with me is that was never never an issue as far as being a friend because I knew at age 22 with four players 21, that I had to maintain a professional distance and make sure that I never, you know that they never look to me as a peer, but as their coach and as a professional.

And I think probably that's why a lot of people sometimes criticize my style because they thought I was too tough, too hard, and I think that was just a matter of making sure that they understood that I was the coach and the teacher, and not the friend.

Q. I know it's been mentioned this is your 17th Final Four, but I wonder what do you think has allowed you to be this consistent where you've been able to go to the Final Four over so many years?

COACH SUMMITT: I don't think there's any big secret to it. I think it's about surrounding yourself with great people and obviously having a great staff. I told my staff today, I feel like I have the best staff in the game. I have three people working with me in Dean Lockwood and Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell that could all be head coaches themselves.

I've been fortunate over the years to have a lot of very strong, talented assistants and very knowledgeable in the game.

With that said, it's all about having the players, and the assistants are a big part of the recruiting process. Once we bring student athletes into our program, just the development of each and every student athlete in trying to develop and bring out the absolute best in the players that we recruit to Tennessee.

And then lastly is the support that we've had here at the University and I've said many times, I think we got a jump start on a lot of programs because the University made such an early commitment and gave us the financial resources to be able to recruit nationally, to play a nationally competitive schedule and to market and promote and generate the kind of fan support that we've been fortunate to have here at Tennessee for many years.

Q. You've been to the Final Four several times since '98, and you mentioned you felt like this year you had some ingredients for a championship team. In the past years, do you think there's been something missing from that?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think that in the previous years, I would say we've had some very fine teams, but we also played against some of our competition that had better, way call go to players, players that could make plays. You have to have that. You have to have that, and we didn't have a Candace Parker. When we lost to Michigan State, we didn't have that anchor on the inside.

Candace has made a tremendous difference in how we play, and I think she's certainly made everyone else on the floor a lot better, and we have a obviously bringing in Shannon Bobbitt, the play of Sidney Spencer, our starting five as been strong. We've had some good play off of our bench, but we had not had that. When Connecticut was winning their championships, Diana Taurasi was a huge part of the puzzle.

I know Geno (Auriemma) said many times, "We have Diana and nobody else does," and it does make a difference. Look at what Sylvia Fowles made to the LSU program, and it's just it is what is it in this game. And it's true for the men's game and it's true at the pro level. If you have Kobe Bryant playing the way he is right now, they are going to win more times than not; they have got a go to.

Q. We talked earlier this month about Nicky Anosike, and you said that you didn't think that you could win a championship unless you got very good front court play in a tournament. I just wanted to know what is your assessment of the way Nicky and the front court have been playing and what do you see her role and the front lines role in against Carolina?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, Nicky has played her best basketball postseason. That's good for us because she has been more efficient offensively. She's been on board for us and at 6 4, she's defending on the perimeter. That is to me, that has been a key to our success is to be able to have the size and the quickness on the perimeter that Nicky has, and she can defend like a guard. It allows us then to play Spencer more inside defensively, than outside, and I think that, also, has been a good defensive lineup for us.

Q. What about offensively, Coach?

COACH SUMMITT: I think Nicky is I think she's much more composed offensively. I thought at the beginning of the year, she was not playing as well offensively as she's playing right now, and certainly she has really developed her low post game, but also added some face up options and I feel like she and Candace play well together.

Candace recognizes when people are looking to double team her which she needs to do, and I think that's really big for us. In the postseason right now, she's shooting I think about 52, 53 percent and that's where we need her. That makes all the difference in the world when we are more efficient in our front line game and our three front line players have been terrific. Obviously Parker is shooting over 73 percent, and yet I think with Alex Fuller and Nicky Anosike both being over 50 percent, we know our inside game is has given us a great presence.

Q. I understand the concept that you can't always win because as you said earlier, sometimes you just run up against a better opponent, but as a coach who has been as successful as you have, can you ever grasp the concept of not having the will to win, and does that separate the champions and how does that help you in life and not just sports?

COACH SUMMITT: I think it gives you an edge, there's no doubt about it. I tell our teams all the time that we have to have the will to prepare to win, and then on the court, you have to be able to do whatever it takes. You have to have that desire and that will and that toughness to be able to win in postseason. You have to be able to handle the pressure and see it more as opportunity. I think that's a big part of it. Your mind is incredibly powerful, and what you're willing to do in the heat of the battle. And then to me, that's all about, you know, your will to prepare to win and your will to go out and do what it takes to win.

Q. I believe there's a difference between teams getting better and teams having more experience. Obviously your team is a lot better this year than last year. How has the experience you gained from last year's tournament been evident this year?

COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think the fact that we were there last year and played in the regional championship game, was a big benefit for us in our preparation. I do think that you could see that. For me that's familiar territory for us. We understand what we have to do, what it takes, and we have players a year older.

And our players, one thing that has allowed us to be better this year is our off season workout. I just think that made a commitment in the off season to get better individually, and then the schedule we play, I know people all the time say, you know, why do you play, have the toughest schedule in the country every year. We do it by design.

First of all, we started doing this more to promote the game and generate the fan interest here at Tennessee, which our fans have come to expect us to bring in some of the best teams and travel and play some of the best teams.

But the other reason and just as important, is we wanted to play the best teams so we would see all the best teams or as many as possible in a variety of styles of offenses and defenses that are out there in different leagues so that we would not be caught off guard in postseason.

I mean, we have pretty much seen it all by the time you get through playing the people that we have played in the Southeastern Conference. And it's been a tremendous benefit for our team. They made mention of it last night. We had not talked about it but they made mention of the fact that we've seen it all, we've played the best and we're better because of it.

Q. There's so many very high profile job openings now for a variety of different situations that's all happened. I wonder if you're thinking now is a big year in terms of the landscape of women's college basketball with maybe people stepping into positions and becoming much more prominent head coaches and how that may all shake out by the time we are into next fall and these slots have all been filled.

COACH SUMMITT: Well, this is going to in my opinion be the most interesting year ever in terms of the jobs that are open and will be filled. I think it could greatly influence our game as we move forward in a number of ways, not only obviously we may see head coaches moving to different schools but also top assistants having a chance to become head coaches.

I think you're going to see the salaries, the pay scale increase more than ever, and it's obviously going to become in my opinion very competitive in regard to the people that are pursuing these jobs and the administrators will have to really step up to the plate and decide how important it is to get the best person they think it is for the job.

I can't wait to see what happens. It's never been like this as far as I can remember in my time as a coach, as many high profile schools that have openings and the potential for a lot of moving of head coaches as well as top assistants.

Q. I was reading some of your previous comments that you made in many tournament and one that stuck out was you said you had really liked some of Drake's flex offense and you might try to incorporate it into some of what you guys do; did you run some of that in Dayton?

COACH SUMMITT: No, we have not. That would be something that I would look at next year.

We ran some baseline screen action which I could see where you might think it does resemble some of the flex action that we saw, but no, we haven't specifically put in any of the motion or the flex that they ran.

The picks that we ran we have used since the first of the year, just went back to it.

RICK NIXON: That will wrap up this afternoon's call. Coach Summitt, thanks so much for being with us.

COACH SUMMITT: Thanks, my pleasure and thanks to all of and you the interest in the women's game.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lady Vols roll into 17th Final Four

DAYTON, Ohio - Candace Parker yearns to win a national championship. Now she and Tennessee are just two games away from ending the Lady Vols' nine-year drought. With Parker dominating at both ends and the talented Lady Vols getting contributions from almost everybody else on the roster, they rolled over Mississippi, 98-62, and into their 17th Final Four on Tuesday night.

"I really wanted to make it to the Final Four," said Parker, selected as the Dayton Regional's most outstanding player. "Tonight I wanted to do whatever I could for my team, whether it was playing defense or giving energy at either end. That was my goal tonight."

Ole Miss coach Carol Ross has been a head coach for 16 years in the Southeastern Conference, so she has intimate knowledge of almost all of Tennessee and coach Pat Summitt's six national titles. She said the current Lady Vols have what it takes to win the program's first title since 1998.

"Pat's the best at getting her team to postseason play," Ross said. "She had them ready to go. They looked every bit as good as any Tennessee championship team I've ever seen."

By winning the Dayton Regional, top-seeded Tennessee (32-3) moves on to play North Carolina in the national semifinals in Cleveland on Sunday. LSU (30-7) and Rutgers (26-8) meet in the other game.

"I felt like this was our best game of the tournament, without a doubt," Summitt said. "One thing we had talked about was against Marist (in the second round) we had played well the first 20 minutes but then had lots of lapses in the second half.

"If we're a team who wants to win a national championship, we can't take possessions off."

Parker scored 24 points and had 14 rebounds, but she dictated the game in many ways. She hit 10 of 14 shots from the field and also had three assists, three steals and five blocked shots in a virtual highlight film of a game.

She might have posted even gaudier numbers if Summitt hadn't rested her at the end of the first half and for the final 12:10 of the game.

"Candace is a player who is extremely hungry to win a championship," Ross said. "It's been well documented that she doesn't want to be compared with other great Tennessee players until she wins a championship. Her talent has always been there, and always will be, but her ability to inspire her teammates for a national championship is a credit to her desire to be a champion."

Sidney Spencer had 16 of her 22 points in the second half. Shannon Bobbitt had 14 points, including 10 of Tennessee's first 24 in a fast start. Alberta Auguste added 12 points.

Armintie Price dazzled for 30 points for seventh-seeded Ole Miss (24-11), which has been within a game of the Final Four five times and has lost every time. Ashley Awkward chipped in with 14 points.

"They came out with a championship mind-set, a will to win," Price said. "They just dominated."

The Lady Vols shot 52 percent from the field and hit 8-of-11 3-pointers while limiting Ole Miss to just 32 percent shooting from the field. The Rebels were just 3 of 20 behind the arc.

"This team is very special," Summitt said after she was presented with the regional championship trophy. "Congratulations, ladies. Let's move on!"

Parker, one of the most acclaimed players in the country, was at her very best. After point guard Bobbitt, who averages 8.5 points, had 10 points in the opening 7 minutes, the 6-foot-4 Parker took over.

She had 14 points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists in the first half as the Lady Vols coasted to a 51-22 lead.

She wasn't alone, either. The Lady Vols shot 59 percent from the field, making 5-of-7 3-pointers, to build the big lead. They were crisp on offense, tough on defense and seemed to come up with every loose ball.

"Everything we tried, they did it better," Ross said.

No one can argue with Tennessee's incredible
NCAA legacy, which is backed by a series of staggering numbers. The Lady Vols are the only team to be included in all 26 tournaments, in which they have a 96-19 record. In regional championship games only, they are 17-5.

Ole Miss, which lost 81-69 when the Southeastern Conference rivals met in the regular season, had hoped to set a frantic pace with its fullcourt pressure and fastbreak offense. But it was the Lady Vols who scored early and often to take control while completely disrupting the Rebels' plans.

Bobbitt hit 3s from opposite corners on the first two possessions. And Tennessee was off and running.

"They come out with that swagger, and then those two 3s put gas on the fire," Awkward said.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Helter-skelter style gives Ole Miss hope

DAYTON, Ohio - Tennessee will rely on Candace Parker, depth and talent. Mississippi is hoping for chaos. Heading into the Dayton Regional championship game against the Lady Vols on Tuesday night, the Rebels would like nothing more than to create bedlam on the court, disrupting coach Pat Summitt's plans and plays and then grabbing the game in all the confusion.

"They want to create a helter-skelter game," Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle said.

The two Southeastern Conference rivals have met before this season, with the Lady Vols winning 81-69 at home on Feb. 15. In that game, Ole Miss star Armintie Price picked up two fouls early and was limited to 13 points — she's averaging more than double that in NCAA play — in 25 minutes.

"I got my fouls in the first 3 minutes of the game, I sat down and Candace Parker kind of took over like she usually does," Price recalled. "I came back in the second half and they went zone and we kind of froze up. And we lost."

Parker, a smooth and steady 6-foot-4 sophomore, picked up 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Lady Vols (31-3).

The Rebels (24-10) choose to write off the first meeting as an aberration for a team that is playing its best basketball of the season. At the same time, they know they can't just forget about Parker.

"We realize her greatness and we realize the impact she has on the Tennessee team," Ole Miss coach Carol Ross said. "If we play the way we're supposed to play, then our defense should naturally take away some opportunities. We're supposed to be crowding people all the time when they have the ball so when she's got it, there should be a Rebel or two gathered."

After finishing fifth in the SEC five games back of the Lady Vols, Ole Miss has found its footing. Or, more accurately, it has adapted its wild, pressing, fast-breaking style to thoroughly confuse, exhaust and frustrate its NCAA opponents.

"The fact that they've put up an average of 89 points in the last three (NCAA) games, I don't care what you say, that's impressive," Summitt said. "They've done it with intensity on the defensive end."

In Sunday's 90-82 regional semifinal victory over Oklahoma, the Rebels forced 26 turnovers and had 16 steals.

Now they want to unleash their sprinter-fast speed on the Volunteers.

"We're a new team and we've been doing new things and better things and, hopefully, we can keep running and flying around and keep making plays," said guard Ashley Awkward, who scored a career-high 25 points and led the Rebels' suffocating fullcourt pressure.

Price banged in shots in transition, raced past everyone for layups and created havoc on defense while scoring 31 points. With all do respect to the great UNLV men's teams of the 1990s, these truly are the Runnin' Rebels.

Tennessee muscled its way past upset-minded Marist 65-46 in Sunday's other semifinal. The Lady Vols did it the old-fashioned way, playing solid defense, making good decisions and running their offense through Parker, who had 16 points and nine rebounds.

"The difference is going to be taking care of the ball and rebounding — that's going to be key," Parker said of the clash with Ole Miss. "On the defensive end, just taking them out of the things that they like to do."

A fast pace favors the Rebels. Tennessee wants to run plays and remain organized, staying above the fray and letting its deep and versatile roster come into play.

"They like that hectic pace," Summitt said. "It's going to be a battle of wills — which team controls the tempo, controls the boards, takes care of the basketball."

Many teams wilt before the tradition-rich Lady Vols, who are a remarkable 16-5 in regional championship games and have won six NCAA titles.

The Rebels swear they aren't intimidated, even though they haven't beaten Tennessee in over a decade — losing the last 14 meetings.

"We have heard about that and are aware of it," Price said. "We're excited that we do have another chance at Tennessee. We'll try to be prepared tomorrow night and give them the best that we've got."