Saturday, March 30, 2002

Women's Final Four Notebook

Auriemma, Summitt exchange niceties

The Associated Press

        SAN ANTONIO — Theirs is a famed rivalry, but after Connecticut's 79-56 defeat of Tennessee on Friday night, coaches Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt gave it a rest and instead gushed about each other.

        After the Final Four semifinal, Auriemma and Summitt had a lengthy courtside embrace and intense conversation.

        Asked about it later, the Connecticut coach played it coy.

        “What was said after the game to me is going to stay between the two of us,” Auriemma said. “But it says a lot about the character of Pat Summitt.”

        Summitt was more forthcoming about the chat.

        “I told Geno that he has a great team and that he's done a great job — they're big-play players,” she said. “I was impressed with how hard they play and how inspired they are.”

        The Lady Vols' coach was so impressed, in fact, that she thinks about the Huskies graduating four of their five starters. That makes her smile.

        That quartet — Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Ashja Jones and Tamika Williams — combined 57 points

        “I may go to their graduation and cheer,” Summitt quipped.

        LOOKING AHEAD: The Final Four is now a Final Two, but all of the teams that made the trip to San Antonio are talking about the future.

        For Connecticut and Oklahoma, that future is a faceoff Sunday night in the Alamodome.

        Auriemma showed where his mind is at the postgame news conference. As he started to make some opening comments about the Tennessee game, he rubbed his face distractedly and his eyes kept going back to a sheet of paper.

        “(Sooner guard) Rosalind Ross played a great game today — I'm looking at her stat sheet,” he said.

        Ross scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Oklahoma's win over Duke.

        For her part, Ross wasn't looking that far ahead.

        “I'm going to go to sleep,” she said. “I'm kind of tired.”

        For Duke and Tennessee, the future is the road to getting back to next year's Final Four in New Orleans.

        “Our freshmen tonight showed a lot of promise,” said Summitt, whose team has only one key senior in Michelle Snow. “We'll be back, folks. This is a hard lesson, and sometimes those are the ones that last the longest.”

        Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors also is losing only one senior, and like Summitt, her eyes are focused ahead.

        “We'll learn from this, we'll grow and we'll be back,” she said.

        DECIDE IT ON THE COURT: Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale had some snappy comebacks for those who suggested that the Connecticut-Tennessee game would determine the probable winner of this year's women's Final Four.

        “They're wrong,” Coale said after her team beat Duke 86-71 in the first of Friday night's semifinal games. “The championship game is Sunday night, and we're playing in it.”

        The coach had made her point, but she was on a roll.

        “I don't think the championship trophy has been sent to Storrs,” she said, referring to the small Connecticut town where the Huskies are based. “If it's all right with the rest of you guys, we're going to play for it.”

        Oklahoma lost to Connecticut 86-72 back in December. The Sooners didn't play Tennessee this season.

        BIG HOUSE: The official attendance at the Alamodome was 29,619, a record for the women's Final Four and the second-largest crowd ever to see a women's basketball game in the United States.

        The biggest gathering for a women's game was the 1996 Olympic gold-medal contest in Atlanta, in which the United States defeated Australia.

        Some fans peered down on the action from the top row of a stadium intended for use as a football venue.

        A curtain was drawn on what would roughly be the 50-yard line.

        The same curtain is used for San Antonio Spurs games.

        The NBA franchise has packed the house even tighter several times this season, with the largest at a December matchup with the Washington Wizards. Michael Jordan drove the ticket sales for weeks in advance, but he ended up not playing because of injury. The crowd was 35,052.

        STRESS FACTOR: Oklahoma's Stacey Dales is a glutton for anxiety.

        In addition to leading the Sooners to their first national title game, the All-American point guard also is planning her wedding.

        The senior is to be married April 13, a week before she's expected to become one of the top picks in the WNBA draft.

        Dales says basketball comes first — for now.

        “There's a lot of stuff going on,” she said. “But I've really tried to prioritize everything, and those things are secondary to this team right now. I love my teammates, I love my coaches. We have a very special thing and I'm savoring it.”

        TOP PICKS: How good is Connecticut's starting five?

        So good that all five would be first-round picks in next's WNBA draft, Indiana Fever coach Nell Fortner said.

        That's saying something because Diana Taurasi is just a sophomore.

        The WNBA doesn't take underclassmen, but UConn's four other starters — Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams — are seniors, and Fortner expects all of them to go in the first round.

        “They are all that good,” said Fortner, an analyst for ESPN at the NCAA tournament. “They will go in the first round.”

        There are 16 WNBA teams, meaning Connecticut players could account for 25 percent of the first-round picks. The Seattle Storm have the first pick in the April 19 draft.


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