Monday, April 02, 2007

Summitt, Stringer squaring off for title

CLEVELAND - A combined 1,723 wins and 69 seasons of coaching experience will meet on women's basketball's biggest stage.

Tuesday, a national title will be up for grabs for good friends and Hall of Famers Pat Summitt and C. Vivian Stringer.

"I know Vivian is going to have her team ready and prepared," Tennessee coach Summitt said. "I know how much she wants to win. And she wants her team to win a national championship. And I feel the same way."

Summitt's seeking her 947th win and seventh title in 33 seasons at Tennessee. Stringer's trying to win her first title after 777 wins and four trips to the Final Four with three different schools.

Tennessee (33-3) and Rutgers (27-8) arrived at Tuesday's showdown by playing scrappy defense in the semifinals.

Tennessee needed a 20-2 run over the last eight minutes to beat North Carolina 56-50 Sunday. Earlier, Rutgers beat up on LSU 59-35, never giving the Lady Tigers a chance.

"We really need to take them seriously," Tennessee's Candace Parker said of Rutgers. "They've gone through the toughest road to the Final Four. We just need to take care of business."

While Parker is the Lady Vols' do-it-all star, the Scarlet Knights lack a marquee player and instead play suffocating defense.

After starting the season 2-4, the Scarlet Knights won their first Big East tournament championship, then knocked off top overall seed Duke on the road to Cleveland.

In five tournament games, the Scarlet Knights have held their opponents to an average 44.6 points and a field-goal percentage under 30.

"Rutgers is playing some of the best basketball right now," Parker said. "They have peaked at the right time."

The Scarlet Knights will make their first national championship game appearance, whereas Tennessee's making its 12th trip, going 6-5.

It's been nine years since Tennessee has won a championship, something Parker said she feels like she owes the program, its fans and the entire state.

She almost didn't the chance.

Tennessee got a scare against North Carolina on Sunday after cruising through the Dayton Regional. They shot 27 percent but made up for it by coming up with 20 steals and forcing 29 turnovers.

The two teams will meet in Cleveland for the second straight tournament. Tennessee sent Rutgers home in the regional semifinal 76-69 last season.

"We're not supposed to be here, but that's all right," said Stringer of her team, which features five freshmen. "This team isn't looking for accolades. We got none. We just play together as a team."

Stringer has been to the Final Four with Cheyney (1982), Iowa (1993) and Rutgers twice. She hasn't been to the championship in 25 years.

Rutgers is the third No. 4 seed to reach the title game and will attempt to become the lowest seed to win a championship. Third seeds North Carolina (1994) and Tennessee (1997) are the lowest seeds to win titles.

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