Tuesday, March 25, 2008

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.

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