Originally created 03/16/04

Nothing easy for Lady Vols



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee has made one escape after another this season.

The Lady Vols often looked ripe for an upset before pulling out overtime wins, briefly dropped in the polls and stumbled through the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Now Tennessee enters the NCAA Tournament as the overall No. 1 seed, but threats loom everywhere in the brackets.

There are the other No. 1 seeds - Duke, Texas and Penn State - and reigning national champion Connecticut, a No. 2 seed. And what about Big Ten champion Purdue? Or how about a team that's never won the title, like Kansas State or Vanderbilt?

"A lot of what postseason is about is playing your best basketball at the right time of the year," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "We are in store for some of the most exciting games in the history of our tournament."

Tennessee (26-3), which advanced from fifth to second in this week's poll, begins its quest for a seventh national title and first since 1998 on Saturday against 16th-seeded Colgate in Tallahassee, Fla.

The NCAA Tournament committee dubbed Tennessee the top team in the bracket despite losses to Connecticut and Texas at home and in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.

Summitt said her team's schedule, ranked the toughest in the nation, has prepared the Lady Vols for the NCAAs.

"When you get into postseason it is survive and advance and I think there's a different feel and a different sense of urgency," she said. "Fortunately for us, this team has had that sense of urgency about them throughout the season."

The lack of a true point guard, among other weaknesses, caught up with the Lady Vols in the SEC semifinals, where Georgia prevailed 68-66 in overtime. Tennessee had 23 turnovers and got little help from the bench.

"We have to have a different level of commitment to defense and rebounding because we've been in situations (the SEC tournament) in Nashville where we're turning the ball over or we're going five possessions and not scoring and we're giving up points and not boxing out," Summitt said. "I think defense and boards - you have to have it if you want to be a championship level team."

Georgia coach Andy Landers considers Tennessee a favorite, but he says the Lady Vols are in good company.

"Purdue has played very well from the beginning of the season," he said.

"Duke is probably the healthiest, deepest, most talented team in the entire tournament."

The Lady Vols have a harder road than usual just to get to the Midwest Regional games in Norman, Okla.

For the first time, Tennessee is not hosting first- and second-round games.A possible scenario that disturbs Summitt is Tennessee vs. No. 2 seed Vanderbilt in the Midwest final. Behind 37 points by Butts, the Lady Vols beat Vanderbilt 94-88 in the regular season.

A similar situation happened in 2002 when second-seeded Tennessee beat top-seeded Vanderbilt in the Midwest regional final to advance to the Final Four.

There is also a potential regional final pitting Tennessee against Oklahoma in Norman, where the Lady Vols won 71-55 in December.

"We've done that already," Tennessee forward Shyra Ely said. "And I don't think we played our best."