Sunday, March 30, 2008

Parker scores 34 to lead Tennessee back to regional finals

OKLAHOMA CITY — Candace Parker sensed her team was in distress and rushed in for a Rocky Top rescue.

Parker matched her career best with 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, leading top-seeded Tennessee to the regional finals for the eighth straight year with a 74-64 win against Notre Dame on Sunday night in the Oklahoma City Regional.

The 6-foot-3 All-American put back Nicky Anosike’s miss and then converted a three-point play off a transition jumper to send Tennessee into the lead with a 14-0 run early in the second half, and the Lady Vols never looked back on their way to the round of eight for the 23rd time.

“Honestly, in postseason, you’ve got to come through. That’s what great players do,” Parker said.

Shannon Bobbitt added a pair of 3-pointers as Tennessee built its lead to 60-44 before Notre Dame made a late rally. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who led the Irish to the 2001 national championship, fell to 0-16 against Tennessee.

The Lady Vols will face Texas A&M on Tuesday night in the regional final. Tennessee (33-2) is going for its 17th Final Four berth, while the Aggies are trying for their first.

Parker was on her game from the start, scoring Tennessee’s first eight points while her teammates combined to miss their first eight shots. But she needed to spark her teammates into action to secure the victory, and that’s what she did with the Lady Vols facing a surprising second-half deficit.

Parker rushed up in transition before pulling up for a jumper and getting fouled. Her free throw with 17:39 left put the Lady Vols up 38-37, and her teammates soon got in the game, too.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said Parker was just doing her job as the team’s best offensive player—and doing it well.

“She has the size, she has the skills, she has the mind-set to take over a game,” Summitt said. “As a coach, you don’t always have that on your basketball team and when you do have it, you just hope that they have Candace’s mentality.

“She wants it, and she’s willing to step up and make the plays for us.”

Bobbitt finished with 11 and Anosike had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Vols.

Notre Dame freshman Becca Bruszewski scored 16 to match the career-high she had in the first round against SMU and Charel Allen also had 16 for the Irish. Lindsay Schrader, Parker’s teammate on a grade school AAU team, added 13 points and Ashley Barlow scored 11.

For a while, Notre Dame (25-9) was able to stay in front of the Lady Vols even with Parker on a tear.

Despite her 19 first-half points, Tennessee was down at halftime for only the third time this season—although they’d come back to win previously against Mississippi State and Georgia.

It was no different this time.

Notre Dame led 37-33 after point guard Tulyah Gaines drove the lane for a layup in the opening minutes of the second half, but Parker got help from three of her teammates in the big run, and the Irish didn’t have an answer. It was the second time in three NCAA tournament games that Tennessee had to overcome a sluggish start.

“I don’t know what it is but we need to fix it,” Parker said.

This one at least ended up a little closer than most of McGraw’s encounters with the Lady Vols.

Tennessee won all 15 of the previous meetings by an average margin of 23 points, and only one of the games was decided by single digits. Behind seven 3-pointers from Angie Bjorklund, the Lady Vols shot 55 percent from 3-point range in scorching Notre Dame 87-63 on its home floor in January.

“We were trying to guard the 3-point line this time. We didn’t really think that (Parker) would get that many because we did want to guard inside,” McGraw said. “But we did a really good job the first half of guarding the 3-point line … and that was the key to our game.

“Considering the last game we had with them, we’ve come a long way,” McGraw added.

The Lady Vols were already up by double digits this time before Bjorklund connected on a 3 from the left wing to make it 55-42 with 11:12 remaining. Anosike then answered Schrader’s layup, and Bobbitt hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to give Tennessee its biggest lead.

Bruszewski, pushed into more playing time by starter Erica Williamson’s foul trouble, tried to lead her team back but the Irish failed in their bid to reach the regional finals for the first time since their national championship run seven years ago.

“We felt from tipoff that we could play with them,” Allen said. “We believed in each other, we believed in ourselves and we just fought to the end.”

Muffet McGraw Dressed Like a Cheap Trick

Parker insists she's OK; Summitt not so sure

Notre Dame has gone '0-for-Tennessee' under McGraw's leadership

OKLAHOMA CITY - Candace Parker said Saturday her right shoulder is fine, but Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has been taking no chances going into Sunday's NCAA tournament regional semifinal against Notre Dame at the Ford Center.

"You just hold your breath," Summitt said of watching her star player wince in pain after aggravating a chronic shoulder problem early in the Vols' Tuesday victory over Purdue.

"From the time we left Purdue, we did very little contact and virtually nothing up and down the floor. I'm a little paranoid at this time of the year about keeping them healthy."

Deja vu?

Naperville Central's Parker was on the West team and Tennessee teammates Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike on the East in the 2004 McDonald's High School All-America Game at the Ford Center. Hornbuckle and Anosike have marked their return to the arena by reminding Parker about the outcome.

"The West lost. By a lot," Hornbuckle said.

It was 91-66, to be exact. Hornbuckle was the game's MVP with a game-record 22 points.

Tough stretch

Notre Dame is winless in 19 previous games with Tennessee. Fifteen losses have come during Muffet McGraw's 21 years as Irish coach.

"I feel like it's printed on my forehead: 0-for-Tennessee," McGraw said. "But I think I'm getting Pat at a good time. Her shoulder's hurting, and she has bad knees. I think if we get her in a running game, I have her."

Said Summitt: "She's going to have to take those high heels off to catch me."

Notre Dame's 2001 NCAA champions did not play Tennessee. The teams have met twice in the tournament, with the Irish losing by 39 points in 2002 and 16 in 1997.

Most games in the Irish-Vols series have been similarly lopsided.

The Irish have lost only three by fewer than 10 points. They lost the two most recent meetings by 24 each.

That includes the Jan. 5 game at South Bend that Tennessee won 87-63, with Vols' freshman Angie Bjorklund hitting 7 of 9 three-pointers.

Calling all Catholics

Notre Dame played spoiler for the regional by knocking out Oklahoma, which means the upper deck at the Ford Center will be closed.

"We're combing the state for Catholics right now," McGraw said. "I plan on wearing red (Oklahoma's color) and hope the people will cheer for us."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

For Hornbuckle, it's words to play by

When Alexis Hornbuckle closes her eyes and bows her head to pray, she never asks about results.

"You can't pray for a win or a loss,'' the Tennessee women's basketball guard said.

She's more inclined to seek help.

"I pray every night and every day,'' Hornbuckle said. "I say, 'Lord bless me to play with the most energy that I can (have).' Luckily, I've been able to do that."

Her good fortune has been Tennessee's, which arrived in Oklahoma City on Friday in advance of the Midwest Regional semifinals.

The top-seeded Lady Vols (32-2) face No. 5 Notre Dame (25-8) at 9:30 p.m. Sunday (TV: ESPN2). The game follows No. 2 Texas A&M versus No. 3 Duke at 7.

The winners meet Tuesday for a trip to the Women's Final Four in Tampa, Fla.

Through two NCAA tournament games, Hornbuckle has been a full-service senior. She's averaging 13.5 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor (10 for 19). She's more accurate on 3-pointers at 55.6 percent (5 for 9).

Those impressive numbers haven't been achieved at the expense of her trademark defense. She arguably was better on that end of the floor Tuesday against Purdue. Seven of her career single-game-high eight steals came in the first half. She almost single-handedly robbed the Boilermakers of any chance of competing.

"We need that,'' fellow senior Nicky Anosike said. "I mean it means the world to us, just to have a guard out there playing like an All-American right now. We've been looking for that all year."

So far, Hornbuckle's offensive production is a far cry from last March, when she averaged a relatively quiet 7.5 points per tournament game and shot 34.5 percent (20 for 58) from the floor. UT coach Pat Summitt has called her out on this shortfall on numerous occasions.

"It's definitely in the forefront of my mind,'' Hornbuckle said. "I didn't want to be silent offensively in the tournament like I was last year."

Summitt took a different tack as the tournament approached. Hornbuckle needed encouragement more than anything after averaging 6.7 points for the final seven games of the regular season and shooting the same 34.5 percent from the floor. She was a shadow of the scorer who averaging 12.4 points per game for the first 12 games of the season and shot 50 percent from the floor.

Hornbuckle revived her production with 30 total points and 48 percent field goal shooting in the first two games of the SEC tournament, only to finish 1 for 8 with two points in the championship game against LSU.

Summitt convened a film session with her wayward guard and re-emphasized shot selection and shooting with proper balance. Judging by Hornbuckle's attempts and her accuracy in the first two rounds, it was time well spent.

"I've been really pleased with her shot selection, just her composure offensively,'' Summitt said. "I think she took maybe one shot that was off-balance."

A squared-away Hornbuckle is more confident and better able to answer the postseason call.

"I just know coach has been talking about guard play, just asking them to show up I guess,'' Anosike said. "So, like I said, I guess she's taken that to heart. Now she's trying to give us everything she has."

Hornbuckle has heard the same talk and taken it more as incentive than as a burden.

"Coach always kind of says the team goes as I go,'' she said. "I look at that not as they're on my back, but I want to be the defensive fire.

What Hornbuckle wants to do is perhaps best summed up by what she's written on her basketball shoes. On one there's "Give me strength." On the other it's simply: "Spirit."

As directives go, they are specific and powerful. Words to pray by and play by.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tennessee routs Purdue 78-52, giving Summitt 100th tourney win

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Pat Summitt celebrated her 100th NCAA tournament win in typical fashion: a second-round blowout.

Two days after Summitt publicly challenged her team to play harder, the Lady Vols responded with a dominant defensive effort, crisp offense and a 78-52 rout of host Purdue on Tuesday night. The win not only sent top-seeded Tennessee to its annual regional semifinal appearance, but also made Summitt the first coach in Division I basketball history—men’s or women’s—to record 100 wins in the tournament.

Tennessee (32-2) will face either Oklahoma or Notre Dame on Sunday in the Oklahoma City regional semifinals.

For a while, it looked as if the Lady Vols (32-2) might even have a special commendation for Summitt: most lopsided second-round victory. But ninth-seeded Purdue (19-15) closed the 33-point gap in the final 10 minutes and avoided the indignity of breaking Summitt’s personal record in a 41-point victory over Rutgers in 1992.

The lackluster finish sure didn’t delay the celebrations.

When Tennessee’s players stepped off the team bus, they were surrounded by the pep band playing “Rocky Top.” When Summitt finally yanked her starters for good in the final 4 minutes, Candace Parker had 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, and Alexis Hornbuckle had 14 points, five assists and eight of the Vols’ 15 steals.

It was never even close.

The ninth-seeded Boilermakers (19-15), this year’s Big Ten tournament champs and a regional finalist last year, were led by Keshia Mosley with 14 points and Kalika France with 10. But they shot only 37.3 percent from the field and committed 24 turnovers.

The Vols full-court pressure and inside play were simply too much for Purdue.

Tennessee scored the first six points, extended the lead to 15-6, then scored nine straight points to make it 24-6 with 9:35 left in the first half.

Things went more downhill from there for Purdue.

The Boilermakers couldn’t keep up with the Lady Vols’ rebounding, winding up on the low end of a 41-28 disparity, and struggled to find good shots. During one first-half stretch, Purdue went more than 8 minutes without a basket and nearly 11 minutes with only one player, Mosley, in the scoring column.

Predictably, Tennessee took advantage of that, too. An 11-0 spurt gave the Vols a 35-8 lead that Purdue never even challenged. Purdue had an 8-0 run to get within 37-20 just before halftime and used a 7-0 run midway through the second half to cut a 63-32 deficit to 63-39.

Homework assignment for Lady Vols

Purdue will be loud; so is Summitt

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Natasha Bogdanova remembers her visit to Knoxville two years ago as a sight to behold.

"Lots of orange,'' Purdue's junior forward said.

There was lots of history, too.

The Boilermakers suffered a 75-54 loss to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament and Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt was celebrated for career victory No. 880, which made her the winningest coach in Division I history.

"They had already given out (newspapers) 10 minutes before the game ended,'' Bogdanova said. "A little frustrating."

The teams meet again at 7 tonight at Mackey Arena in a second-round game of the Midwest Regional (TV: ESPN2). The winner advances to a regional semifinal game Sunday in Oklahoma City.

The evening's color scheme definitely will be different. Purdue black and gold and Tennessee orange isn't something you'd blend together for painting the garage. But it suits March Madness

"It's going to be like a house divided,'' Bogdanova said. "It's going to be fun to hear them yell and go at it."

The historical storyline also has shifted. If there's going to be anything to rival the milestone of two years ago, it's up to the Boilermakers to produce it."

"Tennessee is such a great team,'' Bogdanova said. "It would be making history if we could beat them."

The event would be positively seismic. Tennessee (31-2) is the regional's top seed and is 41-0 in NCAA first-/second-round play. No. 9 seed Purdue (19-14), which lost top players Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Jodi Howell to injuries before the season, likely wouldn't be here without first winning the Big 10 tournament, which provided an automatic NCAA berth.

And now, after a 66-59 first-round victory over Utah, comes this glorious chance.

"Every game, we've been able to take something and learn something from it," said Purdue guard FahKara Malone of a season that included a 100-50 home loss to Connecticut on Jan. 6. "It just prepared us more for this great opportunity we have ahead of us."

Oddly enough, the Boilermakers have been receiving a helping hand of sorts from Summitt. She's been trying to drum up a crowd from the moment she arrived here.

"Purdue had to play us at home a few years back, so the last thing that I would ever do is sit here and say 'I can't believe I might have to play Purdue on their home court,' '' she said Saturday. "I would rather have a packed gym and have them boo us for 40 minutes than have a sparse crowd and get complacent."

She reiterated her feeling on Monday.

"I wasn't in the gym for the first game last night but (associate head coach) Holly (Warlick) came around the corner and she goes 'It's loud out there,' '' Summitt said. "I said, 'well good' because I think when we struggle is when people are not in the gym."

Just in case, Summitt supplied some added incentive. She brought Shannon Bobbitt, Alex Fuller and Alberta Auguste to Monday's press conference and essentially introduced them as three players who needed to improve on their performances in Sunday's 94-55 first-round victory over Oral Roberts.

Bobbitt is squarely in the cross hairs after a relatively ineffectual six points and three assists against the Golden Eagles.

"I told Shannon Bobbitt that she better come to this gym as one of the best point guards in the country when we play Purdue because she was not on top of her game (Sunday),'' Summitt said. "I expect her to respond."

Bobbitt was hearing her coach loud and clear.

"I have to set the tone for this team,'' she said. "I'm the point guard."

In a quiet corner of the locker room, teammate Nicky Anosike took her own roll call.

"I think the starters let the team down (Sunday),'' she said. "I think we have to key on getting the team off to a good start. That's definitely a key.''

Given all the names being bandied about, it sounded like the Lady Vols were trying to drum up a crowd in their own locker room.

For them, it's a good place to start. Lots of orange in there.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Camargo's injury not caused by sign

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - After reviewing the videotape of Oral Roberts guard Mariana Camargo going down with a left knee injury Sunday night, Jenny Moshak has a different view on how it happened.

"The cheerleader sign did not cause this injury,'' said Moshak, the Tennessee Lady Vols assistant athletic director for sports medicine. "It's very evident from watching the film."

The sign, which was lying just a few feet beyond the baseline, was singled out as the cause for Camargo going down in the opening seconds of the Golden Eagles' NCAA women's tournament game against UT.

Moshak said Camargo overextended her left leg while chasing after the ball and the leg buckled.

"Her momentum carried her forward and she hit the sign with the right leg and she went flying,'' Moshak said.

Moshak said that she talked with the cheerleaders' coach. Moshak said that Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt talked to the coach, the cheerleaders and Camargo.

"First, I had to hold back tears,'' said Summitt, who met with Camargo after the game. "It was such a freak thing, the way it happened. I was thinking, 'Why?' "

Summitt also related her knee injury experiences with Camargo and said, "I've been there. It's all about the rehab."

Cooking For A Cause: Purdue junior guard Laura Mioton, who is a New Orleans native, put together a "Live to Eat" cookbook to help with the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

The book sold out its initial allotment of 500 copies in one month, raising more than $7,000 for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation to support their "Save the Coast" Foundation.

Mioton said people are sending her recipes and that she's planning a second edition.

Different Memories: Tennessee has a checkered past playing in Mackey Arena. In 1992, the Lady Vols lost a Sweet 16 game here to Western Kentucky, 75-70. In 1998, Purdue ended UT's 46-game winning streak with a 78-68 victory.

"In the past, this place has not been real kind to Tennessee and Coach Summitt, but we're going to change that,'' Summitt said.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, has great memories of the place, which were enhanced by Sunday's 69-61 first-round victory over Illinois State in the other portion of the Midwest Regional being played here.

In 2000, the Sooners burst onto the national scene with a second-round victory over Purdue. They advanced to the Sweet 16, where they lost to eventual national champion Connecticut.

"I have countless memories of this city and this floor and how we were able to catapult our program on this spot in 2000,'' Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.

No. 4 seed Oklahoma plays No. 5 Notre Dame in the late game tonight. If the Sooners again advance to the Sweet 16, they will play the Tennessee-Purdue winner in a home setting in Oklahoma City.

Notebook: The 21 points Oral Roberts scored in the second half Sunday was the second-lowest total by a Tennessee opponent this season. UT held Vanderbilt to 20 second-half points in the SEC tournament semifinals. … Alex Fuller tied her career high with eight rebounds Sunday. … Alberta Auguste matched her career high with 13 points against the Golden Eagles. … UT is going for the 100th NCAA tournament victory tonight. ... The Women’s Basketball Coaches Associations named Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma the Division I National Coach of the Year.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt Wants NCAA To Think About New Safety Rules

Pat Summitt thinks it's time to consider new safety rules in college basketball.

After seeing Oral Roberts guard Mariana Camargo crumple to the ground on top of a cheerleader's sign in the opening seconds of Sunday night's game, Summitt told The Associated Press on Monday that she would support looking into a rule backing cheerleaders, photographers and camera crews off the baseline to help prevent injuries.

"I would certainly be in favor of that," Summitt said.

The issue cropped up Monday, a day after Camargo apparently tore the anterior cruciate ligament while chasing the ball out of bounds off the opening tip.

After the game, Oral Roberts coach Jerry Finkbeiner said he believed Camargo slipped awkwardly when she stepped on the sign. But Summitt and Purdue coach Sharon Versyp, who both watched tape of the game in preparation for their second-round matchup Tuesday night, said the injury actually occurred earlier and that Camargo merely landed on top of the sign.

Semantics or not, players and coaches at the West Lafayette site had mixed reactions to whether anything could - or should - be done to give players more protection.

"I think someone will draft legislation, probably their (Oral Roberts') conference," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "It seems like a potential hazard that can be easily avoided. I don't know that we've ever had that happen. I think we've probably kicked a few cheerleaders in the head jumping over them, but they probably got the worst end of it."

Purdue guard FahKara Malone said she doesn't understand why the signs even need to be on the court. She thinks they should be farther away yet close enough that cheerleaders can get to them during timeouts.

And last year's national player of the year, Courtney Paris, said she's never feared a collision on the baseline although those near her might have.

"Most of the time, I think most of those guys are more worried about me falling on top of them," she said. "But I do think people will be more cautious of those things now."

Others don't see the need to jump so fast.

"It's only when you go out of bounds and this was kind of a random situation, unfortunately," Versyp said.

But it's not the first time Summitt has witnessed that kind of injury. Two years ago, Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle broke her right wrist while going after a ball, a play in which Summitt recalled she was trying to avoid a collision with a cheerleader.

Cheerleaders aren't even Summitt's biggest fear.

"Have you looked at those cameras down there? They're huge," Summitt said.

Top-seeded Tennessee hoping to give Summitt another milestone with 100th NCAA win

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - To Pat Summitt, winning 100 NCAA tournament games is merely a milestone, nothing to get excited about.

Her colleagues see it as yet another mind-boggling accomplishment in Summitt's unmatched 34-year career at Tennessee.

"If I continue at the rate I'm going, I'll be 126 when that happens," said 43-year-old Sherri Coale, Oklahoma's coach. "It's almost as incomprehensible as Courtney (Paris') double-double streak."

All that stands in the way of the career victories leader becoming the first coach in Division I history — men's or women's basketball — with 100 NCAA tourney wins is a victory Tuesday night against ninth-seeded Purdue. Paris and fourth-seeded Oklahoma faces fifth-seeded Notre Dame in the nightcap.

Clearly, though, Summitt's next seemingly inevitable achievement will take center stage.

Yes, numbers can help put all this in perspective.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer rank second and fifth among all active coaches in tourney wins, and they've combined to win as many NCAA games as Summitt with 99.

The other three teams in West Lafayette for Tuesday's second-round games are all traditional powers in women's basketball and those three coaches have a combined NCAA record of 43-23.

Among men's coaches, Mike Krzyzewski's 69 tournament wins rank No. 1. Dean Smith is second at 68, and John Wooden, winner of a record 10 national championships, is third at 47. Though it should be noted that when Wooden was guiding UCLA the tournament field was far smaller.

Even Bob Knight, who won three national titles and is the career victory leader for men's coaches, has fewer than half (45) of Summitt's NCAA wins.

Yet hitting triple digits means less to Summitt than it does to others.

"I didn't even know that, but I'm not about numbers or personal accomplishments," she said. "When you do this for 34 years, it's because you love the game, you love the student-athletes and I want to help them. I look at them like daughters, like they're family. I'm not always happy with them, but then my parents weren't always happy with me, either."

Sunday night's first-round rout was a perfect example of why Summitt has had so much success.

Despite a 94-55 victory against Oral Roberts, Summitt walked into the postgame news conference and criticized her team for its sluggish first-half play. The message continued Monday when she said the Lady Vols (31-2) must play harder for more minutes against host Purdue.

Summitt singled out guard Shannon Bobbitt, calling her one of the nation's best guards when she plays hard.

Bobbitt responded: "First, I'd like to say thank you for the compliment, coach. I want to meet her expectations. We want to play hard, play to win, play Tennessee basketball."

Summitt couldn't have said it better herself.

But Tuesday night, the Lady Vols face one significant disadvantage.

Purdue, which has already lost this season to North Carolina, Connecticut and Duke, hopes a large, raucous crowd will give them a boost. The Boilermakers are 18-5 all-time in NCAA tournament games at their home venue, Mackey Arena.

They also understand it will take more than intangibles to beat the defending national champions and national player of the year candidate Candace Parker.

"We've grown over the season and we continue to grow and it's going to take more than one person to beat us," Boilermakers guard FahKara Malone said. "We'll all have to do our best to slow her down."

Tuesday's second game pits Notre Dame, which won its first two games ever at Mackey this season, against an Oklahoma squad led by last year's national player of the year, Paris.

Admittedly, the Fighting Irish (24-8) have struggled to simulate Paris and her twin sister, Ashley, in practice.

"We try our best," Notre Dame forward Erica Williamson said. "Our posts on our team try their best to be big, be physical and make each other work. That's what's important."

Keeping them off the glass will be the key for Notre Dame.

Should the Sooners win, they will be headed back to Oklahoma City for a regional semifinal showdown, possibly against Summitt's Lady Vols — _ something Coale wouldn't discuss Monday.

Instead, the talk was all about Summitt's next historic chase.

"She's amazing. It's hard to find a way to describe her because she's done so much that you just can't imagine," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said, shaking her head. "They don't have down years."

Nor do the Lady Vols have down tournaments.

"I firmly believe that if you want to survive and advance, you have to bring your defense and board play every night because that's what it takes," Summitt said. "Even in the championship game last year, it was an ugly win. But an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. When you're in the tournament, the pressure is much greater, the defense is much better and rebounding becomes a premium. That's why it's so hard to win in the tournament."

Tennessee, Purdue to meet in second round of Oklahoma City regional

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Top-seeded Tennessee won’t intimidate Purdue when they meet Tuesday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The ninth-seeded Boilermakers, played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, a key reason the Boilermakers got such a high seed with an 18-14 record. Purdue also gets to play the Volunteers at Mackey Arena, where the Boilermakers are 12-3 this season after beating Utah 66-59 Sunday.

“I think it’s another great opportunity,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. “Our team has played UConn, North Carolina. We’ve played the best in the country, and to get them at home is a great opportunity.”

Tennessee (31-2) beat No. 16 Oral Roberts 94-55 Sunday.

“We are going to take this one and move forward and play here at Purdue against Purdue,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “It is going to be a big challenge for us. I hope everybody comes and we have a sellout crowd and a great environment for women’s basketball.”

The late game Tuesday will match No. 4 seed Oklahoma (22-8) and No. 5 seed Notre Dame (24-8). Oklahoma beat No. 12 seed Illinois State 69-61 on Sunday, and No. 5 Notre Dame beat No. 12 Southern Methodist 75-62.

Tennessee had no trouble advancing past Oral Roberts. Freshman Angie Bjorklund hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points to lead the Lady Volunteers to their customary first-round rout. Candace Parker had 14 points, four rebounds, four steals and two blocks in just 18 minutes and went to the bench for good with her fourth foul with 14:04 left in the game.

But this game wasn’t to Parker’s usual style anyway. The Lady Vols hit seven 3-pointers in the first half and wound up making 12 3s, their second-highest total of the season.

For the Golden Eagles (19-14), things went even worse than expected. Jenny Hardin had 16 points in their most lopsided loss of the season.

Not only did they have to contend with Tennessee’s talent, but scoring leader Mariana Camargo slid awkwardly out of bounds while chasing the ball near the Volunteers’ baseline seconds after the tip.

Camargo stayed on the ground until officials stopped play 14 seconds into the game. A few minutes later, she was carried from the court to the locker room and didn’t re-emerge until 11:58 remained in the first half—hobbling on crutches and with her left knee wrapped.

“It was such a freak, unfortunate injury,” Summitt said. “I know our team — it bothered them. We never want to see anybody go down.”

The Volunteers eventually settled down, and now they are looking ahead. Parker watched Purdue’s win over Illinois in the Big Ten championship game and was impressed.

“We have our work cut out for us,” she said. “They’re scrappy, they play hard. I think with us, it’s about defense and rebounding. We need to worry about us. That’s the most important thing.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Parker’s subpar game can’t derail Lady Vols in 94-55 rout of Oral Roberts

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Tennessee got a surprise preview of what life without Candace Parker will look like next season. All indications are the future still appears to be pretty darn good.

With the national player of the year candidate and soon-to-be WNBA player plagued by fouls and neutralized by Oral Roberts’ zone defense, the defending national champions turned to their other talented players to plug holes.

It was no big deal for this team.

Freshman Angie Bjorklund had 16 points and 7 rebounds, hit four 3-pointers and led the Lady Volunteers to their customary first-round rout, 94-55 over the 16th-seeded Golden Eagles on Sunday night.

Parker had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks in just 18 minutes and went to the bench for good with her fourth foul with 14:04 left in the game. Neither coach Pat Summitt nor Parker expected it to go this way.

“I don’t think it was 18 minutes by design,” Parker said, smiling as she turned to Summitt. “I kind of got in a little foul trouble.”

Truth was, top-seeded Tennessee (31-2) didn’t need Parker much Sunday, something that could change Tuesday night when it faces ninth-seeded Purdue in the Boilermakers’ home arena. Purdue reached the second round with a 66-59 win over eighth-seeded Utah.

But this game didn’t fit Parker’s style that well anyway. The Lady Vols hit seven 3-pointers in the first half and wound up making 12 3s, their second-highest total of the season, and struggled to get in sync early.

To Summitt, the career victories leader with 978 wins and now one away from her 100th career win in NCAA tournament play, the start was disappointing.

“I really felt when we came out we didn’t defend and when we don’t defend, we’re not a very good team,” she said. “I’m very disappointed with how we played defensively in the first half.”

Try telling that to the Golden Eagles (19-14), whose long-shot chances for upsetting the top seed in the Oklahoma City regional got far longer on the opening tip when their top scorer and only all-Summit League player, Mariana Camargo, slid awkwardly out of bounds while chasing the ball near the Volunteers’ baseline.

Officials finally stopped play 14 seconds into the game, with Camargo still on the ground. A few minutes later, she was carried from the court to the locker room and didn’t re-emerge until there was 11:58 left in the first half—when she hobbled on crutches behind the Golden Eagles bench with her left knee wrapped.

Summitt acknowledged it was enough to rattle even her tourney-tested team.

So for Oral Roberts, now 0-5 all-time in NCAA play, it was an even tougher blow. Coach Jerry Finkbeiner said it appeared Camargo slipped on a Tennessee cheerleader’s sign.

“Obviously, we lost to an outstanding basketball team,” Finkbeiner said. “We had a tremendous challenge, and we had the challenge of losing the only person who probably could have matched up at her position.”

Somehow, the Golden Eagles figured out a way to hang around for a while. They tied the score at 6, again at 9 and were still within 16-15 with 10:29 to go in the first half.

From there, it was all Tennessee. Alexis Hornbuckle and Bjorklund hit back-to-back 3s and Parker’s steal and coast-to-coast layup with 8:30 left made it 26-15. It appeared Oral Roberts might have a better chance when Parker sat down after her second foul 12 seconds later.

But the Lady Vols were only warming up.

By the end of the 16-2 run, Tennessee led 34-17, and Oral Roberts couldn’t capitalize on Parker’s absence or its shooting touch. Despite its 59.3 shooting percentage, they still trailed 55-43.

“I thought Alexis was really good, and Candace, unfortunately, just couldn’t seem to keep herself in the game for a long time,” Summitt said. “But it was good to see Alberta (Auguste) play well and get Vicki (Baugh) some playing time. I thought we played much better in the second half.”

Strangely enough, it was a half in which Parker logged barely 6 minutes.

And when the Golden Eagles started missing shots, players such as Hornbuckle, Auguste and Bjorklund carried Tennessee to another postseason win. Hornbuckle and Auguste each had 13 points for Tennessee, which improved to 41-0 in first- and second-round games. Baugh and Sydney Smallbone—both freshmen— scored eight and seven points, respectively.

Rachel Watman finished with 15 points and Janae Voelker had nine points and 11 rebounds for Oral Roberts.

“The first half, we were really pumped,” Watman said. “We came ready to play. We were hitting our shots and getting the offense we needed. They were let out of the gate and started running on us.”

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Summitt likes setup for spectator scouting

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The women's basketball being played here is all-Midwest Regional all the time.

All eight NCAA tournament teams competing in the opening two rounds at Mackey Arena are vying for the two spots in a regional semifinal game next Sunday in Oklahoma City.

Opposite Tennessee's four-team bracket is No. 4 seed Oklahoma versus No. 13 Illinois State and No. 5 Notre Dame playing No. 12 SMU. Those winners also meet Tuesday night

In the three seasons of this tournament format, the Lady Vols have never shared a venue with eight teams from their regional. Should they advance, they plan to fully utilize the in-person scouting opportunities.

"I like the fact we can watch in-person,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said. "You get a better feel than if you're watching on tape or on TV."

Summitt valued spectator scouting enough last season to have her players watch Ole Miss play Oklahoma in a Dayton Regional semifinal game played after UT's game. Seeing the Lady Rebels' 90-82 victory over Oklahoma gave the Lady Vols a greater appreciation for how much better Ole Miss was playing since their regular-season meeting. The Lady Vols responded with a 98-62 victory two days later in the regional final.

"I think it's significant when you're looking at (a team's) speed and their quickness defensively, how physical they are; it's hard to tell on TV,'' Summitt said. "How they use their physicality to their advantage."

Summitt also noted that possible opponents "get some benefit from watching us."

The Lady Vols also will peruse the postseason literature available about all the teams. It includes everything from statistics to newspaper articles.

"I think you become more familiar,'' Summitt said. "You can read about them and find out what other people are saying about them."

Study Time: UT hopes to play two games here. No matter who the Lady Vols play, the opponent will be unfamiliar. Therefore, the scouting report in hand will be most important.

"The fact that there's different faces just means we have to prepare more," senior center Nicky Anosike said.

Summitt said this UT team has been "exceptional" in terms of digesting scouting reports.

"I think they have a high basketball IQ,'' Summitt said. "... I think they're really into learning the game."

Region Honors: Summitt was named Russell/WBCA coach of the year for Region 3. The honor makes her one of eight finalists for the national award, which will announced April 7 at the Women's Final Four in Tampa. Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle are regional finalists for the State Farm coaches' All-America team.

Notebook: Tennessee is 40-0 in NCAA first- and second-round games. ... UT has never played a team from Oral Roberts' Summit Conference, formerly known as the Mid-Continent Conference. ... Oral Roberts has returned to the site of its first NCAA game. In 1999, the Golden Eagles also were a No. 16 seed and lost to host Purdue, 68-48. ... Tennessee has faced 15 NCAA teams and is 16-2 against this season's field. ... The Lady Vols are 1-3 in NCAA games played in the state of Indiana. ... Tennessee signee Briana Bass, who's from Indianapolis watched the Lady Vols open practice Saturday … In the personal information portion of Oral Roberts' media guide, guard Rachel Watman said her dream job is "Trophy wife."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tennessee lands another No. 1 in NCAA tournament, will face Oral Roberts

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After being a top seed in the NCAA tournament 19 times, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt likes to see something new when the field is set.

As in new opponents, not a new seed.

The Lady Vols (30-2) drew the No. 1 seed of the Oklahoma City Regional on Monday and will face No. 16 seed Oral Roberts in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sunday.

“I know nothing about Oral Roberts,” Summitt said. “I guess I’ll be up for a little while.”

The defending national champion Lady Vols continued their tradition of gathering at Summitt’s house for dinner and to watch the bracket announcement together.

The players clapped when Tennessee was announced, but seemed curious about their first opponent.

“Where is Oral Roberts, coach?” senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle asked after seeing the regional lineup.

It’s in Tulsa, by the way.

Many teams in the Oklahoma City Regional are new to Summitt, or at least the current roster of Lady Vols.

They’ve never played No. 8 seed Utah, one of their potential second-round matchups should they advance past their first game—which they’ve always done. They’ve faced No. 2 seed Texas A&M only once, in 1997.

The Lady Vols also have a chance to face ninth-seeded Purdue, a team they haven’t played in over a decade, on the Boilermakers’ home court.

“I was a little surprised that we’re going to be in West Lafayette, but they support women’s basketball in great fashion there,” Summitt said.

Summitt said she was also surprised Tennessee’s regional didn’t include Rutgers, the team the Lady Vols beat in the 2007 national championship and again this season in a game with a last-second clock controversy.

Tennessee would only face Rutgers in the tournament if both teams again reach the national championship game in Tampa.

Another team the Lady Vols would only face in the national championship game is Connecticut. Tennessee didn’t play UConn this season for the first time in 13 years.

Summitt ended the series with Tennessee’s biggest rival, even though the Huskies had a signed contract to keep playing through next season. She’s declined to say why she made that decision.

Summitt acknowledged that a potential national championship between Tennessee and Connecticut would receive a lot of hype, because every game between the two does.

But it’s not something she or the players are thinking about.

“We’re just focusing on one game at a time. That’s what we’ve done in years previous, and I think that’s helped us be successful in the NCAA tournament,” All-American Candace Parker said.

UConn, UNC, Tennessee, Maryland No. 1s

Tennessee. Connecticut. Maryland. North Carolina. Those No. 1 seeds — all familiar powerhouses to college basketball fans and all previous winners_ anchored the NCAA women's tournament bracket, with the Lady Vols opening defense of their championship in the Oklahoma City Regional.

Connecticut and Tennessee didn't meet this season for the first time in 13 years. That could change April 8 in Tampa with the national championship on the line.

"It's Tennessee and Connecticut. I think there's always a lot of hype," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose team led by All-American Candace Parker opens up Sunday against Oral Roberts. "My mind is not on anything else but getting our team better."

Before the two could meet, Connecticut must get through new rival Rutgers. The Huskies are the top seed in Greensboro, and the Scarlet Knights are No. 2. Rutgers handed Connecticut its only loss this season.

"With so many teams to choose from it's kind of ironic," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "I guess Rutgers is the No. 8 seed in the country? I find that hard to believe, but I guess they are. If I were them, I'd be questioning a little bit what's going on."

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer stared at the television in disbelief when the announcement was made that the Scarlet Knights would have to face Connecticut to advance to the Final Four.

"I didn't think there was any way on God's earth that this would happen," Stringer said. "I am just stunned and shocked. This is a mindblower. I just assumed that they would ask us to go through North Carolina, they have a very similar style to our play and we didn't see them this year. If I were a betting woman I would have lost all my money today."

The No. 1 seeded Huskies (32-1) will open against No. 16 Cornell on Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn.

UConn, ranked atop the AP poll for 12 of the final 13 weeks, is hoping to get to the Final Four for the first time since 2004. The Huskies lost to LSU in the regional final last season. Connecticut's four seniors have added motivation: If they don't make it to Tampa, they would become the first Huskies' class in 20 to have never made it to the Final Four. The Huskies are led by freshman star Maya Moore, who became the first Big East freshman to win Player of the Year.

North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, however, was clearly frustrated by her team's draw. She had lobbied for the Tar Heels to be sent to Greensboro — about an hour west of the Chapel Hill campus — after they won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament there last week.

Instead, her team might have to face second-seeded LSU in New Orleans for the right to go to the Final Four. If that happens, it would be the fourth time in six years North Carolina has had to face a lower-seeded team playing close to home.

"I don't really have any thoughts," Hatchell said when asked about the draw. "We're just ready to play.

"I'm going to wait until after the tournament's over to say anything."

The Tar Heels open play on Sunday against Bucknell.

LSU and senior Sylvia Fowles have made the last four Final Fours. First-year coach Van Chancellor hopes to continue the streak and finally win a national championship for the Lady Tigers.

The only real surprise among the top seeds was Maryland getting the No. 1 in Spokane over Stanford, which was No. 2. Maryland lost in the semifinals of the ACC tournament to Duke.

"I tell you, we're ecstatic," said Terps coach Brenda Frese of the No. 1 seed. "We obviously feel like you play the entire season for this moment. The fact that our non-conference schedule really prepared us for now, to play in one of the toughest conferences, to go 30-3. I think it's a tribute to our team and to our program, just how hard we worked throughout the course of the entire season."

Frese delivered twin boys in late February, but is back as the Terrapins seek their second national championship in three seasons.

Stanford, behind preseason All-American Candice Wiggins, has won 18 straight games and is trying to become the first Pac-10 team to make the Final Four in a decade.

"I think sometimes it's hard (because) people don't see us play," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "If the world was fair, it would turn the other way. We have a great team, great leaders. We have great players. We're really excited about playing in the tournament."

While the Big East and Big 12 both have eight teams in the tournament, there are nine first-timers — Cleveland State, Cornell, East Tennessee State, Fresno State, Miami (Ohio), Murray State, Texas-San Antonio, UTEP, and Wyoming.

"I want to congratulate our players," UTEP coach Keitha Adams said. "Young ladies, you've made history today."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Geography could decide bracket for Lady Vols

Summitt: Fans in stands important

The Tennessee women's basketball team was on the bus ride home from the SEC tournament last week and Pat Summitt already was thinking about the next tournament.

The Lady Vols coach ought to know better, especially when it comes to filling out an NCAA bracket and anticipating a tournament itinerary for her team.

"I've been in it long enough to know I don't know,'' Summitt said. "I'm guessing if I'm predicting something."

She and everyone will know when the 64-team field is unveiled on EPSN, beginning at 7 p.m. Monday. As usual, the team will gather at Summitt's home for the occasion.

Summitt's best guess might be anticipating geography as being the primary NCAA consideration.

"It's putting people in the stands,'' she said. "Last year it became very clear we had a lot of empty gyms, or sparse crowds.

"I think for our game it's going to be important to keep teams within their region so their fans can travel."

This isn't just Summitt talking. North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell and Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, among others, weighed in on attendance during last season's tournament.

Since then the Division I women's basketball committee has opted to scrap sending eight teams to one site for first- and second-round games and next season return to 16 pre-determined sites for the opening two rounds. That format was last used in 2004, the year in which a record 214,290 fans (6,696 average) attended first- and second-round games.

Tennessee is scheduled to be a host for the opening two rounds in 2010.

The thinking behind the present format, which borrowed from the men's tournament, was to take a team like Tennessee off its home court and create a more neutral environment. It also was intended to save on everything from administration costs to production expenditures for ESPN, which telecasts the entire tournament.

What's good for neutrality and economics hasn't been good for the turnstiles. Attendance has dropped since the format was adopted in 2005.

A foursome of George Washington, Boise State, Texas A&M and Texas-Arlington was shipped to Los Angeles last season. They attracted 878 fans for an opening session of games played in a 10,280-seat arena.

"You don't know unless you experiment and we did,'' Summitt said. "It's not been favorable for the attendance. And all these games are on TV. So I think it's important as we promote our game that we promote a game where we have people in the stands and we have the kind of support our teams deserve."

In the meantime, Tennessee's closest possible destinations for first- and second-round games this season are West Lafayette, Ind., and Norfolk, Va.

Predicting a regional site puts a real strain on the geography consideration. Connecticut, North Carolina and Tennessee are likely No. 1 seeds. But there's not enough destinations in their vicinity to accommodate all three.

A team is going to be routed through the Midwest Regional in Oklahoma City. As for which team, it's anyone's guess.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Students send Summitt raccoon hat

Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt appeared on the Jim Rome Show Friday after team practice and showed off a raccoon hat sent to her by Farragut Intermediate School.

The gift was inspired by Summitt’s encounter with a raccoon last week on the back deck of her home. She separated her right shoulder by knocking the animal off the deck’s railing.

Meanwhile, Lady Vols assistant coach Nikki Caldwell said that she was contacted Friday by a Memphis official and that they would speak next week. Memphis has a head coaching vacancy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ESPN tour by UConn recruit raises questions

HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut has responded to NCAA concerns that its women's basketball office helped arrange a private tour of Bristol-based ESPN for then-top recruit Maya Moore.

The tour, which might have violated NCAA rules because it may be considered a benefit not available to all UConn students, took place in October 2005 and included Moore and her mother, Kathryn.

UConn declined Wednesday to say whether the school self-reported the incident or whether the NCAA considered it a violation and offered a brief statement.

"The institution has worked with the NCAA on the matter and the association has taken no action,'' the school said.

Stacey Osburn, a spokeswoman for the NCAA said the organization does not comment on current, pending or potential investigations. Osburn said the NCAA has two categories for violations - major and secondary. A secondary violation is one that is inadvertent in nature or doesn't represent a "significant competitive advantage.''

Penalties for a secondary violation are those that usually match the value of the violation, Osburn said. She cited the example of someone buying a student-athlete a meal, which would be considered an extra benefit. The athlete would have to repay the value of the meal, she said.

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz confirmed that the network set up the tour for Moore and her mother after being contacted by a member of the UConn women's basketball office. The Storrs campus is about an hour drive from the Bristol studios.

Because of the questions raised over the tour, ESPN has changed its policy on how tours are arranged, Krulewitz said.

"To avoid any concern in the future, our tour policy will prohibit high school athletes from receiving tours at the request of a college or university athletic officials,'' Krulewitz said.

At the time of the tour Moore, the two-time national high school player of the year from Georgia, was courted by several high-profile programs, including UConn rival Tennessee.

She eventually signed with UConn and starred this season as a freshman, leading the top-ranked Huskies to their 14th Big East tournament title and was selected the conference player of the year - a first for a freshman. The 6-foot forward scored in double figures in all 30 of UConn's regular-season games.

Citing unidentified sources, ESPN reported Wednesday the NCAA began looking into the tour after fielding a complaint from the Southeastern Conference over concerns raised by Tennessee. SEC spokeswoman Tammy Wilson and Lady Vols spokeswoman Debby Jennings declined to comment Wednesday.

Tennessee last summer canceled the long-standing series with UConn that began in 1995. Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt has said other rivalries will have a chance to develop in the women's game.

"I haven't had the feeling that the whole nation's going to miss it,'' Summitt told The Associated Press a few weeks after canceling the series. "I think Tennessee fans and Connecticut fans and a lot of basketball fans look forward to that game because of the rivalry and the length of it and the type of competitive games we've had over the years.''

The games against the Huskies have always drawn national television exposure and featured some of the nation's best players, such as Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi for Connecticut and Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Nikki McCray for Tennessee.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Parker lifts No. 3 Tennessee over No. 7 LSU 61-55 in SEC title game

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Lady Vols do not like being embarrassed or being denied championships. Now they’re going home with yet another Southeastern Conference tournament title at the expense of the team that handed them their worst league loss since 1985.

Candace Parker hit a jumper with 1:57 left that put Tennessee ahead to stay, and the No. 3 Lady Vols won their record 13th SEC title and third in four years by beating No. 7 LSU 61-55 Sunday night.

The last three all have come against LSU, but this win is a little sweeter for Tennessee after the Lady Tigers won the SEC regular season by defeating the Lady Vols 78-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 14. The Lady Vols (30-2) reached 30 wins for a sixth straight season and for the 18th time in coach Pat Summitt’s 34 years.

LSU (27-5) hoped to add the school’s third tournament title and first since 2003 in the Lady Tigers’ fourth straight chance in the title game. But the Lady Tigers could not score again after Sylvia Fowles hit only one of two free throws with 1:37 to go.

Parker finished with 28 points and Shannon Bobbitt had 12 for Tennessee. Nicky Anosike had a team-high 11 rebounds for the Lady Vols.

Fowles finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds for LSU, and Quianna Chaney added 13.

Nobody has played the Lady Vols tougher or tighter over the years than LSU, especially with titles on the line. The past two tournament championships played by these teams had been decided by a combined four points.

They swapped the lead 16 times with five ties. LSU last led 54-51 on a drive by Chaney with 3:35 left.

Bobbitt answered with a 3 to tie it, and Parker hit an 18-foot jumper at the end of the shot clock to put Tennessee back up 56-54 with 1:57 remaining.

Parker added two more free throws as Tennessee was 5-of-7 at the line in the final 45.7 seconds to clinch the victory before a record crowd of 12,392—the largest ever to watch an SEC tournament game, with most of the fans wearing Lady Vols’ orange.

The Lady Vols were not happy after blowing a 21-2 lead to LSU in Knoxville. That loss tied a loss to Georgia in 1985 for the worst SEC defeat in Tennessee history at home. And it prompted a meeting between Summitt and her staff with the Lady Vols, plus a players’ only session.

They now have won six straight since the loss that Summitt called a wakeup call for a team still enjoying the national championship the Lady Vols won last spring.

This is the sixth time the Lady Vols have finished second in the SEC in the regular season only to bounce back and win the tournament title.

The loss sent LSU coach Van Chancellor home without a tournament title yet again. The Hall of Fame coach didn’t win this tournament in his 19 seasons at Mississippi, and having the regular season crown didn’t help either. LSU now has gone home empty-handed in six of the Lady Tigers’ eight appearances in the title game.

Tennessee led most of the first half and was up 25-22 at halftime.

The game picked up when LSU tied it for the third time, at 33, when Allison Hightower hit a 3-pointer that capped seven straight points. As Tennessee went without a field goal for more than five minutes, the Lady Tigers went ahead, but by no more than four, the last 39-35 on a bucket by Fowles.

Parker tied it with a layup off a fastbreak, and her free throw put Tennessee back up 40-39 to start a furious stretch as the teams went up and down the court swapping the lead back and forth.

It was such a physical game that official Joe Cunningham was hurt in the first half and had to be replaced by standby referee Mary Day with 4:32 to go.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Parker scores 25, No. 3 Tennessee beats No. 21 Vanderbilt 63-48

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Candace Parker scored 17 of her 25 points in the first half, and the No. 3 Tennessee Lady Vols will have a shot at their third Southeastern Conference tournament title in four years after beating instate rival No. 21 Vanderbilt 63-48 on Saturday night.

The victory also gives the Lady Vols (29-2) a rematch Sunday night against the last team to beat them in No. 7 LSU, a 66-49 winner over Kentucky in the other semifinal. LSU won the SEC regular season title by routing Tennessee 78-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 14.

Tennessee, which already has 12 SEC tourney championships, will be making its 18th appearance in the title game after knocking off the defending champion. Vanderbilt (23-8) lost for the first time in nine games at the Sommet Center, which is only a mile from its own gym.

It hasn’t mattered where the Commodores play Tennessee. Vanderbilt, whose five tournament titles are more than any other SEC school but Tennessee, had been trying to win this tourney again for the fourth time in seven years.

But the Commodores couldn’t sustain a hot start that had them leading by 10, and they wound up losing a 15th straight game in this series and the 46th in 62 games.

Alexis Hornbuckle added 14 points for Tennessee.

Jennifer Risper led Vanderbilt with 14 points and nine rebounds. Christina Wirth, the Commodores’ leading scorer with 13.1 points, was held to seven.

Even though Vanderbilt was playing so close to home, the biggest crowd ever to watch any SEC tourney session at 12,897 felt like Tennessee’s own court with orange filtering throughout and up to the upper deck.

This was much more a defensive struggle between the SEC’s top two scoring teams, especially in the second half. Tennessee hit only six of 27 against Vanderbilt, which is second only to LSU in scoring defense. But the Lady Vols held Vanderbilt to a season-low in total points and its worst 3-point shooting performance of the season (2-of-17).

The Commodores got within 39-33 on a 3-pointer by Wirth in the opening minutes of the second half. Nicky Anosike scored a three-point play, Risper picked up her third foul and went to the bench. Alberta Auguste put back a miss, and Alex Fuller hit a 3 with 13:33 left for a 47-35 lead that never dipped back into single digits again.

Parker hit four free throws, and Hornbuckle added a jumper midway through the second half for the Lady Vols’ biggest lead at 53-35.

Vanderbilt, which struggled to score points in its 49-44 quarterfinal win over Auburn on Friday night, opened with much more intensity against Tennessee. The Commodores hit five of their first eight shots, and Risper’s putback with 14:29 to go gave Vandy a 14-4 lead. They matched that at 18-8 on a layup by Jence Rhoads.

The Lady Vols, who hit only two of their first seven shots, settled down and got to work. Parker scored six points, and Hornbuckle and Bobbitt each hit a 3 in a 23-4 spurt that put Tennessee up 31-22 with 4:43 left. When Parker hit a 3 from the top of the key, that put the Lady Vols up by seven on the way to a 37-28 halftime margin.

Lady Vols' first title was special for Sexton

The Tennessee women's basketball program has been built by Pat Summitt. We've all heard the number over the past year, seven national titles. But, only 14 women can say they helped Summitt get the very first one.

"We have a reunion every year of former Lady Vols," Shelley Sexton-Collier said. "At the last one, one of the members of that 1986-87 team said that the girls on this year's team might get another national championship, but that they'll never be able to have the first one."

Sexton-Collier found herself in a fierce recruiting battle between Tennessee and Louisiana Tech in 1983. In the end, she chose to be a part of what Pat Summitt was putting together in Knoxville.

"I was so fortunate to get to play for some great coaches," Sexton-Collier said. "When I got to UT, I was already fundamentally sound on the defensive end. I think Pat saw some characteristics in me that were in her. We have the same personality traits.

"Things were just so different back then. I remember one time we were in Starkville playing Mississippi State. It was so quiet, with only about 100 fans in the stands, that I remember hearing Bob Kesling with the radio call on the sideline during the game. We had good crowds in Knoxville, but nothing like they get now at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"When I was playing at Tennessee, the women's game was a lot different than it is now. There were only two or three teams that were really good. Now, there are 10 or 11 that could win the national championship. It's just a different game now."

The first national title for the Lady Vols ended up being a story-book finish for Sexton-Collier.

"Wouldn't you know it that the championship game ended up being us against Louisiana Tech," she said. " We hadn't beaten them in my time at Tennessee, and this was the last chance. We were not the most talented team, but we were the best team. When we beat (coach) Leon Barmore and Louisiana Tech, it was an unbelievable ending to my career."

Now, 21 years later, Sexton-Collier has groomed a player at Webb School who she thinks has a great chance to be a superstar with the Lady Vols.

"Glory Johnson is one of those 'once-in-a-lifetime' type players," Sexton-Collier said. "Those types of athletes don't come along every day. She is one of the best players in the country that every school in America wanted. I think she has a chance to contribute immediately for Pat."

Those who have seen Sexton-Collier coach see a lot of Summitt in her. She has the same intensity that Summitt has, and she also has the respect of her players like Summitt.

"If I'm ever mentioned in the same breath as Pat, it's an unbelievable compliment," Sexton-Collier said. " She is simply the best. Pat has been at a lot of our games and she's always helped me out in any way that she could. She's been a mentor to me and that relationship has been very special."

As for whether Sexton-Collier had any influence on Johnson's commitment to Tennessee? She says absolutely not.

"I never pushed anything on Glory," Sexton-Collier said. "This was her decision and hers alone. If she was interested in UT, it was because that's what she wanted."

Sexton-Collier has plenty of women in her life now. She's a coach and has four daughters.

"It's a full-time job," Sexton-Collier said. "But, you know what? I'm loving every minute of it."

Summitt, like Boone, got rid of raccoon

NASHVILLE - The story will be much bigger in 20 years. The raccoon will become a bear, and Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt's dislocated right shoulder will become a severed arm or worse.

But the story is still pretty good right now. And Summitt didn't mind sharing it after her team's 92-61 victory over Florida in the second round of the SEC tournament Friday afternoon at the Sommet Center.

The story begins with a Wednesday night dinner at home for Summitt and her son, Tyler. The entree is germane to the story. It was salmon.

Raccoons love salmon.

After finishing dinner, Summitt watched the Tennessee-Florida men's basketball game on television, finished cleaning the kitchen and took the trash out to the back deck.

Moments later, Summitt heard one of her two yellow labs barking furiously on the deck. Six-year-old Sally was barking at a raccoon, which obviously had caught a whiff of leftover salmon.

"I didn't think the raccoon was that big until it raised up (on its hind legs)," Summitt said. "It was huge."

The raccoon was no longer focused on the salmon. Sally had its full attention.

"They say raccoons go for the eyes," Summitt said. "I was afraid he was getting ready to attack her."

It's probably worth noting at this point that Summitt knew more about the raccoon than the raccoon knew about Summitt. Otherwise, he would have realized a barking dog was the least of his problems.

While the raccoon fixated on Sally, Summitt sprung into action.

"I came on the other side of Sally and did this," Summitt explained, demonstrating a right forearm shiver to her listener. "I knocked him off the rail. That's a long drop (about 30 feet, Lady Vols publicist Debby Jennings estimated)."

And just like that, the raccoon was gone and the dog was OK. But Summitt wasn't. She forearmed the raccoon with such force that she dislocated her right shoulder.

"I was in dire pain," she said. "I looked down, and there was an indent. I knew (the shoulder) was out."

She then called Lady Vols team physician Dr. Rebecca Morgan, who made a late-night house call, and - with the help of Tyler - put the shoulder back in pre-raccoon position.

"It did not really hurt that much when they put it back in," Summitt said.

Tyler guessed that the raccoon didn't fare as well.

"It's still wondering what hit it," Tyler said. "She loves those dogs more than anything. She was going to take that raccoon out."

The team didn't pick up on the story until after the game.

"Daniel Boone!" UT player Candace Parker shouted as Summitt returned to the locker room from post-game interviews. "Where's your hat?"

Later, Summitt repeated the story for her team's benefit. In years to come, it surely will be told again and again - with considerable embellishment, no doubt.

In fact, I can imagine a couple of basketball fans discussing the legendary coach 20 years from now.

First fan: "Boy, that Pat Summitt was some coach, wasn't she?"

Second fan: "She wasn't just a great coach. She was a great leader. And she led by example."

First fan: "Yeah, remember the time that bear attacked Summitt's team. They all might have been killed if she hadn't wrestled it into submission. Almost lost her right arm in the process."

Second fan: "No, you got it all wrong. She didn't lay a hand on the bear. She just stared at it until it was hypnotized."

First fan: "That's right. I remember reading that she was an expert in hypnosis.

By the way, whatever happened to the bear?"

Second fan: Why, after Summitt hypnotized it, the bear became her friend. Still lives on her place.

"Folks say it gets along great with her dogs."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Parker scores 26 as No. 3 Tennessee beats Florida 92-61

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has been waiting for her third-ranked Lady Volunteers to recover from their national championship hangover.

Starting a new postseason, she was finally pleased with the effort they brought in a 92-61 win over Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament on Friday.

“We played a 40-minute game, didn’t we?” Candace Parker asked, with Summitt’s approval. “Somebody mark that down.”

Parker scored 26 points, and the No. 3 Lady Vols (28-2) advanced to the semifinals, where they will play either No. 21 Vanderbilt or Auburn.

Second-seeded Tennessee hasn’t lost a quarterfinal game since 1993.

“Coming off a national championship, it can be challenging in terms of getting the players to understand how they have to play every possession,” said Summitt, who earned her 975th win. “I think in some regard, if they could, they would have said let’s fast-forward this season and get to the postseason.”

Florida (18-13) made its third consecutive trip to the quarterfinals, but hasn’t gotten any farther since 1997. The Gators have lost 15 straight games to ranked opponents.

“We got beat by what I think is the best team in the country,” said Florida coach Amanda Butler. “They’re talented, they’re deep.”

Shannon Bobbitt scored 22 points for Tennessee, and Alexis Hornbuckle added 16.

The Lady Vols served as the home team for the game both on the scoreboard and in the stands. A majority of the SEC tournament session-record 9,938 fans donned Tennessee orange.

Florida kept close early, even grabbing a one-point lead on a layup by Sha Brooks five minutes into the game.

Brooks, who made a career-high seven 3-pointers in the Gators’ regular season loss at Tennessee, hit three on six attempts. She finished with 20 points, and Depree Bowden added 15.

Marshae Dotson, Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder, left the game with 13:51 left in the first half after spraining her left knee. The Gators were down by five at the time.

“(Losing Dotson) definitely affected our low post game,” Bowden said.

The Lady Vols broke away with a 12-1 run, and free throws by Bobbitt put Tennessee up 44-27 with 3:37 left before halftime.

Parker already had 20 points by the break, with Tennessee up 48-33. The Lady Vols shot 54.8 from the field in the first half and went 13-for-15 from the free throw line.

Parker said her teammates knew it was important to start the tournament off strong—something they felt they didn’t do last year, subsequently losing to LSU in the semifinals.

“Before the game, Nicky Anosike pulled us together and said we didn’t start the tournament off last year well at all. That really set our tone,” Parker said. “We all knew we had to come to play.”

Tennessee built its lead after halftime on the play of the Lady Vols bench. Tennessee scored easily in transition with 24 points off turnovers and 30 fast-break points.

Tennessee shot 55.4 percent from the field for the game, its best shooting percentage against an SEC opponent.

The Lady Vols also forced 17 turnovers, blocked 11 shots and stole the ball 12 times.

“We just gave up way too many in the full court,” Butler said. “That had a lot to do with our transition defense, or lack thereof.”

Pat Summitt's run-in with a raccoon

Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt has tangled with some tough teams over the years, but Wednesday the run-in was with a raccoon.

Summitt had taken her golden Lab, Sally, for a late-night walk, when they encountered the raccoon on the back deck of Summitt's home.

"I momentarily lost it," Summitt said. "The raccoon was about to attack. I just knocked it off the deck, and fortunately nothing happened but a dislocated shoulder, and it's back in place."

Summitt said the shoulder would not bother her as she coaches the Lady Vols in the SEC Tournament in Nashville this weekend.

But don't expect her to take on any raccoons any time soon.

"When I realized what could have happened, it almost brought me to tears. It wasn't very smart on my part," said Summitt.

Freshman Angie Bjorklund and Cait McMahan of the Lady Vols were involved in a minor auto accident while driving to church Wednesday night.

Neither player was injured and Bjorklund will start today for the Lady Vols against Florida in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.

McMahan is redshirting.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Summitt Named a Finalist for Naismith Coach of Year

ATLANTA, Ga. – Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt has been named a finalist for the 2008 Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year honor, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced today.

Stringer is joined by Geno Auriemma of Connecticut, C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers and LSU's Van Chancellor.

The Naismith Award is the most prestigious national award presented annually to the men's and women's college basketball coaches of the year. The winner will be announced during the 2008 NCAA Women's Final Four in Tampa, Fla.

Finalists were chosen through a vote by the Atlanta Tipoff Club's Board of Selectors, who narrowed the mid-season list of 25 candidates down to the final four. The Board, which is comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country, based its criteria on coaching performances this season.

Summitt lauds Amber Gray

When Lakota West standout and University of Tennessee signee Amber Gray won the Ohio Ms. Basketball award Wednesday night, it made a significant impression on her future college coach – the legendary Pat Summitt.

Summitt, who has the most wins (974) in NCAA basketball history (men or women), said she regards Ohio as one of the nation’s hotbeds of high school basketball the prep game – and that Gray’s award is a tribute to what she has accomplished.

“I think it’s a great honor to be player of the year,” Summitt said. “You know how competitive it is (in Ohio). She is going up against a lot of great players. Receiving that award is a real compliment to Amber and what she invested in her game.”

Summitt, who is 974-182 in her 34th season at UT, said Gray understands the competition she will encounter in daily practices and during games at UT. But, Summitt said Gray seems to be equipped with enough skills and knowledge of the game to adapt.

“…You never know how long it takes a player to adjust,” Summitt said. “It might take a player a year or more to really start to continue (to play) the way we would expect. I think Amber with her basketball knowledge and her ability to play number of positions – it will obviously work in her favor and hopefully work in our favor.”

Gray, a 6-foot-1 forward, leads Lakota West (25-1) into today’s Division I state semifinal game against Youngstown Boardman (19-7) at 6 p.m. at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.

Gray, who was considered among the nation’s top recruits from the 2008 class, has averaged 18.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 steals for the Firebirds.

“She is very skilled can play a number of positions,” Summitt said. “One thing that impressed me so much was her communication skills and leadership. She is obviously very bright, and she is so articulate.”

Gray has had several honors this season, including being named a McDonald’s All-American. She is scheduled to play in the seventh annual all-star game March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. The game will be televised live on ESPNU.

While the Volunteers are preparing for the Southeastern Conference tournament, Summitt said Gray will be part of a deep freshman class next season.

Gray is one of five incoming UT recruits to be named to the McDonald’s All-America team. The others are forward Alyssia Brewer (Sapulpa, Okla.), forward Glory Johnson (Knoxville, Tenn.), guard Shekinna Stricklen (Morrilton, Ark.) and forward Alicia Manning (Woodstock, Ga.).

“(Amber) certainly has great range,” Summitt said. “With her physique, she can go inside and post up and play off the dribble. She’s got a strong set of offensive skills that give her even more versatility.”

Candace Parker drawing crowds to women’s basketball everywhere Tennessee plays

Call it The Candace Parker Effect.

Everywhere the Tennessee All-American forward goes, arena attendance swells with screaming girls and people who wouldn’t usually make the effort to watch women’s basketball.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been to an Alabama women’s game,” said 16-year-old Britney Smith from Hueytown, Ala., who attended Tennessee’s 85-58 victory over Alabama last month. “Candace is my favorite player in college basketball.”

Like Michael Jordan once did in the NBA, Parker helps fill seats wherever she goes. Fans want to see the 6-foot-4 junior attempt a dunk or lead the fastbreak like a fleet point guard.

During a recent Lady Volunteers road trip to Mississippi, attendance for games at Ole Miss and Mississippi State was three times the average turnout at the schools.

“When you have a player like Candace—she always has been in contention for player of the year—a lot of folks come,” Mississippi State coach Sharon Fanning said. “You have your better crowds whenever a (team like) Tennessee comes into the gym.”

There was no question whom the new faces wanted to see: orange was the color of choice in the pro-Tennessee crowds.

Parker said it’s that kind of support that drew her to Tennessee in the first place.

“Our fans are here, they’re on the road with us, and they are the best in the country,” she said.

While the Lady Vols always draw large crowds at home and on the road, attendance this year at Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena was the highest in history at 15,796 per game.

At Vanderbilt, the Lady Vols drew 14,316—7,000 more than the next largest crowd and 9,000 more than the Commodores’ average.

Tennessee drew 7,841 at South Carolina—5,000 more than the Gamecocks’ next largest crowd and 6,000 more than their average attendance.

Parker has also helped draw more television coverage for the third-ranked Lady Vols. Only four of Tennessee’s regular-season games were not televised.

“She’s obviously brought a lot of attention to our program,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “It’s the best attendance in the history of our program and obviously the television exposure is great.”

Fans are running out of time to see her play at the college level, though. With the redshirt junior skipping her final year of eligibility to go pro, only the postseason remains to see her in person.

Summitt said the fan support could carry over to the WNBA, where Parker likely will go as the No. 1 pick to the Los Angeles Sparks and play alongside Lisa Leslie.

“I would think she would have influence in that regard,” she said. “She’s a household name in the game of women’s basketball so you have to believe that.”

Parker also draws fans who want to see one of the few women’s college basketball players who can dunk.

She’s made seven dunks in her college career and is one of only six women who have dunked in a college game. In high school, Parker beat five male competitors to win the slam dunk contest as part of the McDonald’s High School All-American Game.

She rewarded the crowd at the Alabama game with an attempt on a fastbreak. She missed, but that didn’t seem to diminish the enthusiasm.

“When she tried to dunk, she really brought me out of my seat,” said Justin Paschall, a 27-year-old from Demopolis, Ala.

Kendell Stewart, the assistant girls varsity basketball coach at Hueytown (Ala.) High School, said the coaches brought their players to the game hoping the girls might learn a thing or two by watching Parker.

“We came to expose our girls to basketball at a higher level so they can see how hard these girls work and how they communicate on the floor,” Stewart said.

But for 17-year-old Hueytown player Christina Watson, there was only one player who was important.

“I came because I wanted a chance to see Candace Parker play in person,” she said. “She is just awesome.”

Lady Vols await SEC opponent

UT has experience with Florida, South Carolina

Tennessee might not have to dig deep in its scouting reports for its first game of the SEC women's basketball tournament.

Then again, the second-seeded Lady Vols might have to refer back nearly two months.

They play the winner of a first-round game between seventh-seeded Florida and No. 10 South Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Friday in Nashville.

No. 3 Tennessee (27-2) played the Gators last Thursday in its regular-season home finale and played one of its better games, winning 88-61. The Lady Vols grabbed a season-high 57 rebounds in that game.

South Carolina, on the other hand, would not be as familiar. UT played the Gamecocks in its second SEC game and won 71-48 in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 13.

Tennessee's half of the tournament bracket also includes Arkansas, Auburn and Vanderbilt. UT has a 4-0 combined record against those teams and an average victory margin of 26.2 points. Still, Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt is wary.

"A lot can happen in these tournaments," she said.

The Lady Vols helped complete the bracket by beating Georgia 72-63 Sunday night in Athens, Ga. Their win deprived the Lady Bulldogs of a first-round bye, saddling them with a No. 5 seed. Kentucky, coached by former UT graduate assistant Matthew Mitchell, held on to the No. 4 seed despite losing to South Carolina on Sunday.

"Matthew better send me a fruit basket or something,'' Summitt said jokingly.

SEC Honor: Tennessee's Angie Bjorklund earned SEC freshman-of-the-week honors for the fifth time.

The 6-foot forward averaged eight points and 6.5 rebounds against Florida and Georgia. She had four 3-pointers against the Gators, moving into sixth place in school history for 3-pointers in a season with 62.

Notebook: With 30 points Sunday night, Candace Parker moved past Semeka Randall into fifth place on Tennessee's career scoring list with 1,930 points. . . . Alexis Hornbuckle has moved past former Georgia great Teresa Edwards into seventh place in the SEC record book for career steals with 344. Hornbuckle also has reached 100 assists for the fourth consecutive season. . . . Tennessee's 26 points at halftime Sunday were a season low for a first half. . . . The Lady Vols have made at least one 3-pointer in 331 consecutive games.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

LSU, Tennessee, Vanderbilt favorites heading into SEC tournament

NASHVILLE, Tenn. | A year ago, Van Chancellor interviewed Sylvia Fowles as he helped cover the Southeastern Conference women's tournament for television. Working television, as opposed to coaching, is so easy Chancellor says it's like stealing money, and there's none of the pressure to win.

Now Chancellor will be coaching Fowles, trying to lead No. 7 LSU to its first tournament title since 2003 and his first ever in his Hall of Fame career.

No pressure here.

"I'm looking forward to the competition, especially with the team that we have," Chancellor said.

The SEC tournament opens Thursday in Music City, and most coaches agree that LSU, No. 3 Tennessee and defending tournament champ Vanderbilt are the favorites to wind up with the title after Sunday night's championship. No. 4 seed Kentucky, which won its lone tourney title way back in 1982, is the other team not playing until Friday.

No. 21 Vanderbilt might have the biggest edge, having won this tournament in 2002 and 2004 on this very court at the Sommet Center, a fact that coach Melanie Balcomb and her staff have mentioned frequently this week to a very young team.

"That energy is always going to help that you have a lot of your hometown fans there, and I think we're more aware of not where we're playing, in what gym, but that we won last year and we're defending champs," Balcomb said. "And we want to defend our championship very strongly."

The biggest pressure might be on LSU (25-4, 14-0) after winning the regular season title with an undefeated run through league play that included a 78-62 win in Knoxville over then-No. 1 Tennessee. The Lady Tigers have been to the Final Four in each of the past four seasons and have won three of the last four regular season titles.

But LSU has not won this tournament since 2003.

"I'm really proud of our team for going undefeated in what I think, outside of winning the national championship, ... I think it's the second-hardest tournament to win in the country," Chancellor said. "I'm really pleased with our kids. I've just been a fortunate coach."

LSU knocked off Tennessee in the tournament last year, reaching the finals only to fall to Vanderbilt 51-45.

That was the last quiet game the Lady Tigers had last postseason. Pokey Chatman resigned under pressure and did not coach LSU to yet another Final Four. LSU quickly replaced her by luring Chancellor back to the SEC where he coached Mississippi for 19 years before heading to the WNBA.

Fowles said Chancellor brought them lots of energy and built their confidence by teaching, not yelling when they mess up.

"The good thing that I respect about Van is he came in and didn't try to change the whole system. He told us what he likes and what he doesn't like, but mostly he let's us play," Fowles said.

Chancellor, who last coached in the tournament title game in 1983, isn't interested in rehashing the past.

"Right now we're just playing ball and having a good time," Chancellor said.

No team has won more SEC tournament titles - or even played in the championship game more times - than the Tennessee Lady Vols. Tennessee comes in as the No. 2 seed, trying to hold on to the No. 1 seed the defending champs think they deserve.

Coach Pat Summitt isn't sure how much these Lady Vols, in what will be Candace Parker's last SEC tournament, want to add another tournament title to their resume. Tennessee won the tournament in 2005 and 2006, beating LSU in each of those games.

"I'll be interested to see just how important it is. Obviously the loss to LSU, I would think there would be some motivation to try and win two games to get to the championship game. But right now it's kind of wait and see," Summitt said.

"Hopefully, they're motivated. If they are, then hopefully we can be in that championship game. It's not going to be easy. This tournament is always a real challenge, and teams step up because they know this is their one opportunity for most teams to be able to get into the tournament, to the NCAA tournament."

That's exactly the goal set by Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell. Win three games and erase any uncertainty about whether his Wildcats have done enough to get to the NCAA tournament by winning the automatic berth.

"I really believe if we can go down there with the proper frame of mind and have the mentality we're going to survive and advance every day, we can do that," he said.

No. 1 seed worries Lady Vols

The Tennessee Lady Vols have gone from being the No. 1 team in the country to being in jeopardy of not receiving a No. 1 seed in the Women's NCAA Tournament, Coach Pat Summitt said.

Unlike some years when the Lady Vols (27-2) already felt confident about having a No. 1 seed in the national tournament before the SEC Tournament, this year there is still work to be done.

"I think we've put ourselves in position right now to secure a No. 1 seed, but if we lose out the first game then we put that in jeopardy,'' Summitt said. "If we're in that championship game, I think that we're still in good shape."

Getting to the final means beating the Florida-South Carolina winner and then likely facing No. 21 Vanderbilt.

"If we're fortunate enough to get by our first opponent, then you've got Vanderbilt as a potential opponent,'' Summitt said. "That would be the third time to play Vanderbilt this season. I guess the one thing looking at the bracket that I didn't want to do was have to play someone for a third time. That's a challenge."

Tennessee beat Vanderbilt on Jan. 20 in Knoxville 79-63, and Feb. 17 in Nashville 81-68.

Late season slide

Beating Vanderbilt the second time was a big win for Tennessee, but the Lady Vols didn't exactly end the season with a bang. That's why Summitt is unsure about her team's standing in terms of a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

After recapturing its No. 1 ranking Feb. 11, Tennessee had to rely on an apparent clock malfunction to beat Rutgers 59-58 that night. Three days later, UT allowed a 19-point first half lead to slip away and lost at home to LSU 78-62.

Tennessee also trailed at halftime in Sunday's final regular season game against Georgia before winning 72-63.

"I'll be interested just to see how important the (SEC) tournament is to our team,'' Summitt said. "Obviously, with the loss to LSU, I would think there would be some motivation to try and win two games to get to the championship game."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bjorklund Named SEC Freshman of the Year

University of Tennessee freshman forward Angie Bjorklund was named the 2008 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year in an announcement made by the SEC on Mar. 4, 2008. Junior Candace Parker, the leading candidate for all of the 2008 national player of the year awards, was beat out by LSU's Sylvia Fowles for SEC Player of the Year honors. Last season, Parker was the 2007 SEC Player of the Year and in 2006 was the SEC Rookie of the Year. She was a unanimous selection to the 2008 All-SEC First Team - the third time she has earned that distinction. Joining Parker on the 2008 All-SEC Coaches First Team was senior Alexis Hornbuckle who earned First Team honors last year, Second Team honors in 2006 and was named to the All-SEC Rookie Team in 2005. Senior Shannon Bobbitt was voted to the All-SEC Second Team by the league coaches.

The multi-dimensional Parker, a junior from Naperville, Ill., plays all five positions and averaged 20.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.3 bpg and 2.37 spg for the number three-ranked Lady Vols. Recently, she broke the 19-year old school record for career blocked shots - she now has 250 in three seasons.

Bjorklund, a freshman forward from Spokane Valley, Wash., is the sixth Lady Vol all-time to be named as the SEC Rookie of the Year. She joins UT standouts Bridgette Gordon (1986), Dena Head (1989), Chamique Holdsclaw (1996), Tamika Catchings (1998) and Candace Parker (2006) as Tennessee players to earn the distinction from the SEC. As a rookie this year, Bjorklund was named as the SEC Freshman of the Week five times tying her with teammate Candace Parker (2006) for the most all-time SEC Freshman of the Week awards. With four treys vs. the Florida Gators last week, she moved into sixth place in the Lady Vol record books for single-season three-pointers made (62).

Hornbuckle, a Charleston, W. Va., native, was also named as a member of the All-SEC Defensive team. Hornbuckle has a team leading 2.68 steals per game and recently broke the 19-year old school record for career steals - she now has 344 in four seasons.

Lady Vols have earned 69 spots on the All-SEC first and second teams since 1982, including 49 first-team accolades.

First Team All-SEC
Sylvia Fowles, LSU*, Candace Parker, Tennessee*, , Tasha Humphrey, Georgia, Christina Wirth, Vanderbilt, DeWanna Bonner, Auburn, Quianna Chaney, LSU, Alexis Hornbuckle, Tennessee, Marshae Dotson, Florida

Second Team All-SEC
Samantha Mahoney, Kentucky, Shannon Bobbitt, Tennessee, Sarah Elliott, Kentucky, Shawn Goff, Ole Miss, Ashley Houts, Georgia, Jennifer Risper, Vanderbilt, Erica White, LSU and Demetress Adams, South Carolina.

All-Freshman Team
Angie Bjorklund, Tennessee*, Vicki Dunlap, Kentucky, Angela Puleo, Georgia, Amber Smith, Kentucky, Alli Smalley, Auburn, Jence Rhoads, Vanderbilt, Mary Kathryn Govero, Mississippi State, Hannah Tuomi, Vanderbilt.

All-SEC Defensive Team
Sylvia Fowles, LSU*, Alexis Hornbuckle, Tennessee, Brittney Vaughn, Arkansas, Jennifer Risper, Vanderbilt, Demetress Adams, South Carolina

Coach of the Year
Van Chancellor, LSU

Player of the Year
Sylvia Fowles, LSU

Freshman of the Year
Angie Bjorklund, Tennessee

Defensive Player of the Year
Sylvia Fowles, LSU

6th Woman of the Year
Jessica Mooney, Vanderbilt and Allison Hightower, LSU

Scholar-Athlete of the Year
Chelsea Chowning, Kentucky

SEC Tournament Information

March 6-9, 2008
Sommet Center - Nashville, Tenn.

Game Teams Time (ET)/TV
First Round - Thursday, March 6
Game 1 #8 Ole Miss vs. #9 Miss. State 1:00/RSN
Game 2 #7 Florida vs. #10 S. Carolina 3:30/RSN
Game 3 #5 Georgia vs. #12 Alabama 7:30/RSN
Game 4 #6 Auburn vs. #11 Arkansas 10:00/RSN

Second Round - Friday, March 7
Game 5 #1 LSU vs. Game 1 winner 1:00/RSN
Game 6 #2 Tennessee vs. Game 2 winner 3:30/RSN
Game 7 #4 Kentucky vs. Game 3 winner 7:30/RSN
Game 8 #3 Vanderbilt vs. Game 4 winner 10:00/RSN

Semifinals - Saturday, March 8
Game 9 Game 5 winner vs. Game 7 winner 6:30/RSN
Game 10 Game 6 winner vs. Game 8 winner 9:00/RSN

Finals - Sunday, March 9
Game 11 Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner 7:30/ESPN2

RSN - FSN South, FSN Southwest and Sun Sports

Prices are: reserved tournament book, $75; general admission Dr Pepper Six-Pack tournament book, $45; reserved single-session (six sessions total), $15; general admission single-session, $10.

(800) 732-4849

Join Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt and UT women's athletics director Joan Cronan, Thursday night, March 6, in Nashville, at Renaissance Nashville Hotel (611 Commerce Street), in the West Ballroom for a Lady Vols reception to tip-off the start of the 2008 SEC Tournament.

The registration begins at 5:15 p.m. (CT) and the event will conclude in time for basketball fans to attend the second session of SEC Tournament games on Thursday. The event will be the first of many alumni events associated with the 2008 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament in Nashville. Cost is $25. Included will be a full pasta buffet and door prizes will be awarded throughout the event.

Pre-reservations are preferred and can be done on-line at There will be LIMITED walkups available.

The fun continues throughout the weekend as the Lady Vols advance at the SEC Tournament. Prior to each Lady Vols game, the Tennessee Alumni Association and the UT Women's Athletics Department will host the Big Orange Tailgate Tour-Lady Vols Edition at 3rd aVenue South (pronounced “a venue”) (3rd Avenue South). The location is only a block from the Sommet Center! Admission is free!

The Big Orange Tailgate Tour - Lady Vols Edition will include a full pep rally with the UT pep band, cheerleaders and Smokey in attendance. Complimentary refreshments will be served. Door prizes will be given away during the event.

Big Orange Tailgate Tour - Lady Vols Edition:
Friday, March 7, 10 a.m. – Noon (CT)
*Saturday, March 8, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (CT)
*Sunday, March 9, 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. (CT)

*Contingent on the Lady Vols advancing in the SEC Tournament.

For more information, please contact Kris Phillips at the Tennessee Alumni Association, 865-974-3011.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Parker’s 30 points power No. 3 Tennessee past Georgia, 72-63

ATHENS, Ga. — Candace Parker grabbed the spotlight in her final regular-season game. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt was more interested in what the game could mean to Parker’s last postseason run.

Parker scored 30 points, including 13 straight for Tennessee early in the second half, and the No. 3 Lady Vols beat No. 22 Georgia 72-63 on Sunday night.

Summitt said the win should help protect her team’s No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Tennessee is the defending national champion.

“I talked to our team about trying to close out this game so we could keep a No. 1 seed, and I thought that was important to get this road game,” Summitt said.

Georgia coach Andy Landers said his defensive plan was to try to shut down Tennessee’s other scorers while containing Parker. The result was more one-on-one defense than Parker expected.

“It was pretty much one-on-one all night,” said Parker. “Yeah, I was surprised.”

Parker had a scoring high for a Southeastern Conference game this season and finished four points below her career high. She made 13 of 24 shots and had nine rebounds.

“She’s the best player in the nation for a reason,” said Georgia’s Tasha Humphrey.

When Parker is facing man defense, Summitt wants the ball in her hands.

“Obviously our focus was on getting Candace the ball because when she establishes the low-block presence, we’re a different basketball team,” Summitt said.

“I thought she was very consistent and worked hard to get herself open, and the team got her the ball. We made that a point of emphasis.”

Landers said Parker scored more than he would have liked, but he called Lady Vols senior guard Shannon Bobbitt “the deal-breaker” for her two 3-pointers and her drives to the basket.

Bobbitt scored 15 points for Tennessee (27-2 overall, 13-1 SEC), which closed the regular season with five straight wins. The Lady Vols have seven straight wins over Georgia, including a two-game sweep this season.

“The idea was we play each player a certain way,” Landers said. “Where we broke down on that was Bobbitt going to the basket. Bobbitt hurt us in a lot of ways. She broke our plan.”

Bobbitt scored 13 points in the second half as the Lady Vols recovered from a 29-26 halftime deficit.

“I liked what she was doing as far as pushing tempo, but I told her you’ve got to hunt 3s, you’ve got to hunt your shots,” Summitt said of the 5-foot-2 Bobbitt. “… I definitely challenged her to step up and be much more aggressive.”

Georgia (21-8, 8-6) fell to fifth in the SEC, forcing the Lady Bulldogs to play a first-round game against Alabama on Thursday night in the SEC tournament in Nashville. Georgia would have earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament by beating Tennessee.

Landers said he didn’t talk to his players about the SEC tournament implications.

“We’re not sitting around and thinking about that when you’ve got a chance to beat the No. 3 ranked team in the country,” Landers said.

Christy Marshall led Georgia with 15 points. Humphrey had 13 and Megan Darrah added 10.

After Nicky Anosike opened the second half with an inside basket, Parker took over by scoring 13 straight Tennessee points.

Parker had 25 of Tennessee’s first 41 points before Bobbitt’s first 3-pointer ended Parker’s run of monopolizing the Lady Vols’ points.

Georgia led 29-26 at halftime and remained close through the first 10 minutes of the second half, when there were four ties. Bobbitt had two 3-pointers and a three-point play in a 15-5 run that gave Tennessee a 56-44 lead.

Tennessee’s biggest lead was 13 points at 60-47, but Georgia answered with a 12-4 run, capped by Humphrey’s 3-pointer with 3:29 left, to cut the lead to 64-59.