Monday, March 25, 2002

Tennessee women can say 'I told you so'


Vols face top-seed Vanderbilt tonight

The Associated Press

        AMES, Iowa — They are conference rivals separated by 180 miles of rolling Tennessee countryside, one in Nashville, the other in Knoxville. Vanderbilt and Tennes see have been playing each other since the late 1970s and the partisanship in the rivalry runs deep. Never, though, have they met in a setting like this — nor with so much at stake.

        The two longtime women's basketball powers from the Southeastern Conference will square off in the middle of Iowa in the Midwest Regional final tonight. The winner goes to the Final Four.

        “It has to be played somewhere, why not here?” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “This has been the one regional that has been supported by the fans.

        “Hopefully, they'll be here to watch a great basketball game — two teams really trying to do what everybody wants to do, and that's get to the big dance.”

        This is the only regional in the NCAA tournament where the Nos.1 and 2 seeds have survived, and it was the bracket that gener ated the most controversy with those seeds.

        Tennessee felt slighted in being seeded second after winning the SEC championship by three games over Vanderbilt, which won the conference tournament. The Lady Vols also were upset about being placed in Vanderbilt's region.

        If there's any anger lingering from that, they now have a place to channel it.

        “I really felt in my head and my heart that Vanderbilt and Tennessee should not have been in the same region,” Summitt said. “But my job is to coach and the committee's job is to place teams. We're here and I can tell you we're going to be a very inspired basketball team.”

        The two teams split during the season, each winning at home in front of vocal, supportive crowds. Neither can count on that kind of support tonight at Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum.

        “I think the gym at the end will not make any difference,” Vanderbilt's Zuzi Klimesova said. “The team that comes with the better plan and executes it better is the team that's going to win.”

        And for once, Vanderbilt won't be engulfed in sea of Tennessee orange.

        “I sort of look forward to this opportunity, because we have never played them in an environment like we're going to play them tomorrow night,” Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster said.

        “Whether it's in Memphis last year, where there were 12,000 at the game and I think 10,000 were wearing orange, and obviously when we play them up there and 21,000 people are wearing orange. I expect to see a lot of red tomorrow night. And that ain't orange.”

        Red is one of Iowa State's school colors. It's also a fitting color for the intensity of this rivalry. These two could be playing in Nome, Alaska, and it would be heated.

        “Both teams have the opportunity to end one another's season,” Tennessee junior Kara Lawson said. “With the Final Four spot on the line, I expect this to be probably the most intense Tennessee-Vanderbilt game since I've been here, just because the stakes are so high.”

        The game will present a contrast in styles. Tennessee will try to push the tempo and get Vanderbilt in a running game. Vanderbilt will try to control the pace, limit the number of possessions and get the ball inside to 6-foot-6 Chantelle Anderson.

        The Commodores got that done in a 70-61 semifinal victory over North Carolina, a quick, athletic team similar to Tennessee. Vanderbilt held North Carolina 19 points below its season scoring average and the Tar Heels managed only two fastbreak points.

        “I don't think they get enough credit for their defense,” Summitt said. “They have one of the best halfcourt defenses in the country. They mix it up and take you out of your rhythm.”

        Vanderbilt has limited its three NCAA tournament opponents to an average 44.7 points.

        Tennessee hopes to get into an up-and-down game by forcing turnovers. The Lady Vols weren't able to do that against Brigham Young in the semifinals, but still came away with a 68-57 victory behind freshman Shyra Ely's 21 points.

        “I think a lot of their fastbreak opportunities are off turnovers,” Vanderbilt point guard Ashley McElhiney said. “I think we've got to come with the mentality we're going to take care of the ball. That's going to be a key to the game.”

       



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