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Women's Notebook

There's No 'I' in Tennessee

By Jim Reedy
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 6, 2004; Page D06

NEW ORLEANS, April 5 -- They're still the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. The roster is still stacked with high school all-Americans. The rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena still display six national championship banners.

And in this NCAA tournament, the Lady Vols are seeded first overall. Tuesday they will play Connecticut in their 11th title game.

_____From The Post_____
How Connecticut and Tennessee compare.

Yet the flavor of this Tennessee team is distinctly different from those of past juggernauts. There's no superstar: no Kara Lawson, no Nikki McCray, and certainly no Chamique Holdsclaw.

Even the lone all-American, junior forward Shyra Ely, is at this point a star of a lesser magnitude. Mostly the Lady Vols (31-3) rely on pedestrian but effective concepts like spreading the ball around on offense and working as a unit on defense.

"We're doing it together," said LaToya Davis, part of a senior class that had all-American high school careers but before this season relatively undecorated college careers.

"If people don't want to talk about Tennessee, that's fine," senior center Ashley Robinson said. "We don't care, but we are here. Whether you talk about us or not, we are still here fighting for the national title."

Last season, Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said, everyone knew the Lady Vols were going to give the ball to Lawson when they needed a basket. Not anymore, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

"You don't know where the ball's going to go," Auriemma said. "You don't know who is going to make a play. So it does make them a little bit more dangerous than they were before."

Game Within the Game

Summitt was about a third of the way through her news conference Monday morning when the assembled media brought up the topic they'd been waiting to broach: her frosty relationship with Auriemma. Given both coaches' status in the game and the friendly if casual relationship they used to have, the supposed animosity that developed between them in the past few years remains a topic of much interest.

Summitt got seven questions about the relationship, none stranger than this hypothetical: "What if you're driving down a dark highway in Tennessee, car broken down, it's Geno. Do you drive by, do you stop or do you drive by and call for help, and why?"

"Well," Summitt replied after the laughing ceased, "I stop and ask if I can help him. Why wouldn't I? Reverse the role."

More laughter.

When Auriemma came in later for the Connecticut news conference, he had already been warned that he and Summitt were the topic of the day. He was asked about it right off the bat. "That's irrelevant," he said tersely. "Only thing that exists is U-Conn. plays Tennessee."

He also offered his thoughts on the dark-highway scenario.

"I hope she said that that was the dumbest question she's ever heard," Auriemma said. "I hope she said that."

Defensive Priorities

Diana Taurasi was 6 of 17. Seimone Augustus was 7 of 21. Lindsay Whalen was 3 of 11. Ely was a hideous 1 of 11.

With the exception of Minnesota center Janel McCarville (8 of 13), none of the Final Four's five all-Americans shot well in the semifinals. Opposing defenses simply wouldn't allow it.

"In this tournament," Summitt said, "if you're a basketball coach going against a player like Seimone Augustus, like Whalen, whoever it might be, you have to make that a priority in your defensive scheme."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company