Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Tennessee Celebrates 8th NCAA Title

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — She dished out plenty of glares this season and openly questioned her team's motivation to win. Standing behind her eighth national championship trophy on Wednesday, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had nothing but praise for the Lady Volunteers a day after they beat Stanford 64-48 for the title.

"I've never seen a team more motivated in the locker room," Summitt said. "I saw our team commit to play probably the best defense we've ever played in the Final Four."

Nearly 5,000 fans celebrated the Lady Vols' return to Knoxville in a ceremony at Thompson-Boling Arena, where seven banners hang from the rafters commemorating Tennessee's other titles.

"We're running out of rafter space, but we'll find a place," said Jan Simek, chancellor of the Knoxville campus. "It never gets old celebrating championships."

A local Mercedes-Benz dealership rewarded Summitt's assistant coaches, Holly Warlick, Nikki Caldwell and Dean Lockwood, with loaner SLK 280 roadsters.

When a fourth Mercedes roadster was driven out to the middle of the arena floor, and team trainer Jenny Moshak's name was called, the crowd erupted into cheers and all the players embraced her in a group hug. Moshak grasped her face in shock.

Moshak worked around the clock to rehab star forward Candace Parker after The Associated Press player of the year hurt her shoulder in the regional final.

The fans celebrated not only the championship, but also Wednesday's WNBA draft. All five Lady Vols starters were drafted, led by Parker with the No. 1 pick.

Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike missed the festivities in Knoxville while attending to WNBA draft responsibilities.

Shannon Bobbitt, who with fellow senior Alberta Auguste joined the Lady Vols two years ago after stints in junior college, said she wouldn't have traded her time at Tennessee for anything.

"My two years here were great. They were hard, but they were great," she said, later blowing kisses to the crowd.

Twelve-year-old Lora Stephens said Bobbitt, the shortest Lady Vols player at 5-foot-2, has shown her that not all basketball players have to be tall.

Lora, who has season tickets to Tennessee games with her family members, had a hard time picking one item when asked what her favorite thing about the Lady Vols.

"What's not my favorite thing?" she said.

The Lady Vols struggled many times during the season with an overtime loss to Stanford in December and a blown 19-point lead in a loss to LSU.

Summitt accused her players of being complacent and playing uninspired basketball. The Lady Vols responded by winning the Southeastern Conference championship with a win over LSU.

Tennessee relied on defense throughout the tournament and needed a last-second putback by Hornbuckle to make it past LSU another time in the Final Four for another shot at Stanford and back-to-back titles.

A third straight title may prove a bit more challenging than the previous two with all five starters departing. But Tennessee's got five McDonald's All-Americans to fill their shoes in 6-foot-1 forward Amber Gray of West Chester, Ohio; 6-1 guard Alicia Manning of Woodstock, Ga.; 6-2 guard Shekinna Stricklen of Morrilton, Ark.; 6-3 forward Alyssia Brewer of Sapulpa, Okla.; and 6-2 forward Glory Johnson of Knoxville.

"The cupboard is not bare. Help is on the way," Summitt said.

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