University of South Carolina football coach Lou Holtz wasn't necessarily eager to participate in the school's annual women's football clinic, fearing it would interfere with his preparation for the season. But cards, phone calls, letters and, yesterday, more than 1,200 cheering women eager to hear his firsthand knowledge and folksy stories warmed Holtz to the event.

About an hour before Holtz's arrival, a three-deep line stretched from the Carolina Coliseum floor outside. The attendees wore Gamecocks shirts, carried copies of Holtz's book, "Winning Every Day," and piled into the arena stands from the floor to the ceiling.

There were a few snickers when Holtz started with such basics as kickoffs and diagramming the field. He explained the four ways you can score (touchdown, field goal, extra point, safety) and the importance of holding onto the football.

"Whoever has this," he said, "is the same as the person who writes the check."

He kept the group entertained with his stories, sometimes told during motivational speeches at much higher prices.

TennisSampras Back to No. 1 Pete Sampras made a case for being the best male tennis player ever once again, overwhelming qualifier James Sekulov of Australia, 6-0, 6-2, in the semifinals of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles. Sampras entered this tournament ranked second in the world behind Patrick Rafter, but moved up to No. 1 by reaching the final. Sampras will face Andre Agassi, a 6-4, 6-2 winner of Australia's Andrew Ilie. . . .

For the second straight year, Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams will meet in the final of the $500,000 Bank of the West Classic.

Defending champion Davenport won the first eight games and needed less than an hour to defeat Amy Frazier, 6-0, 6-4, in yesterday's semifinals. Williams won seven straight games in the middle of her, 6-1, 6-4, victory over Amanda Coetzer.

The top-seeded Davenport, who defeated Williams in three sets in the tournament's final last year and used that title as a springboard toward a U.S. Open crown and the No. 1 ranking, has won seven of eight matches against the second-seeded Williams.

For Davenport, the only letdown against Frazier came in the last few games of the match, when her serve became inconsistent.

"I was playing so well there for a set and 95 percent of the second set, and she was making a lot of errors. And it seemed I was always where the ball was," Davenport said. "And then all of a sudden it was a point to go for 5-5. It got really close there at the end."

. . . Defending champion Albert Costa downed top-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, in the semifinals of the $535,000 Generali Open, setting up an all-Spanish final in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Costa, the tournament's fifth seed, will meet fellow clay-court specialist and countryman Fernando Vicente, who defeated Austrian Stefan Koubek, 6-4, 6-4. . . .

Eighth-seeded Magnus Norman and Jeff Tarango battled their way into the final of the Croatia Open.

Norman advanced by beating an exhausted Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, 6-0, 6-2, while Tarango stopped Albert Portas of Spain, 7-6 (10-8), 6-0.

Today's title match will be Tarango's first ATP Tour final since 1994 in Bordeaux, France.

SoccerReyna Scores in ScotlandU.S. national team coach Bruce Arena left midfielder Claudio Reyna off the Confederations Cup roster so that he would have a better chance to secure a permanent starting spot with Scottish champion Glasgow Rangers. Reyna did his part yesterday in Rangers' season opener, scoring the game-winner in his club's 2-1 home victory over Kilmarnock. His 68th-minute strike came three minutes after Kilmarnock had tied the game.

CollegesArtman Has Cancer Southern Mississippi baseball player Michael Artman, who set a school record with 106 hits last season, has had testicular cancer diagnosed.

Artman, a first baseman and center fielder, will begin chemotherapy this week.

His doctor is optimistic about his treatment and playing future.

"He said there's a strong possibility Michael will be able to play ball this spring," said Dan Artman, Michael's father. "Michael is pretty strong. I haven't heard a negative thing from him. He's had a lot of people calling, a lot of coaches and players."

The 21-year-old junior helped lead Southern Miss to a 40-23 record and its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991.