Sunday, March 25, 2001

Tennessee players in shock


Vols say Xavier played harder

By WENDY SMITH
The Tennessean

        BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Semeka Randall didn't expect her Tennessee career to end like this.

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Pat Summit wears a grim look as she walks off the floor.
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Michelle Snow (00) and teammates appear dazed.
(AP photos)
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        Not with an 80-65 loss to fourth-seeded Xavier Saturday in the Mideast Regional semifinal. And certainly not with a line in the box score that read 0 points on 0-of-9 shooting.

        “You definitely don't want to go out on a bad note this way,” said Randall, who finished with five rebounds, none in the second half. “Considering since I've been here, we've at least gotten to the final eight, it hurts.

        “Things happen for a reason and for some odd reason this had to happen to this team, to me and to everybody else.”

        The loss marked the first time in the senior All-American's career in which she didn't score.

        “Shots just didn't fall,” Randall said. “I had open shots. I just didn't knock some of them down. Then, I did have some of them contested. It went both ways. Nothing fell for me. I don't want to make any excuses because there is no excuse.”

        But it wasn't just Randall's lack of offensive firepower that sent top-seeded Tennessee (31-3) packing for Knoxville instead of a possible trip to the Final Four in St. Louis.

        “Losses happen,” said sophomore guard Kara Lawson, who scored 10 points. “But we didn't lose the way that you should, that's fighting every play. Playing hard, playing defense, rebounding.”

        The loss was the first for the Lady Vols in the Sweet 16 since falling to fourth-seeded Louisiana Tech, 71-68 in 1994. Tennessee had advanced to all 20 Sweet 16s and had lost only three times, by three points twice and five points the other time.

        “We are given all of the answers - we play hard defense, we can win a national championship,” Lawson said. “When you are given all of the answers to the test before you even take it, it's frustrating when you don't use it in the way that you should.

        “We knew it (defense) was a weak point coming in. We weren't able to put it together.”

        The lack of defensive intensity has been a sore subject for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt all season.

        “That's been my biggest disappointment this season in working with this team - their lack of inspiration to really defend,” Summitt said. “It caught up with us.”

        In particular, transition defense.

        “If we run the floor and stop their transition layups, we are up at halftime and we win the game,” junior center Michelle Snow said. “I might have given up three or four or eight points in just the first half alone.”

        Xavier (31-2) jumped out to an early 10-point lead and looked poised. They are a team with four senior starters and they came in riding a 20-game winning streak.

        “You can't look past any team, and Xavier came in here willing to jump down our throats and they really played well,” senior guard Kristen Clement said. “We have no one to blame but ourselves because defense has been a liability throughout the season and we didn't come out and play defense.”

        The Musketeers, playing in their first Sweet 16 game, led by eight before the Lady Vols answered with a 10-1 run to regain the lead at 29-28 with just under six minutes to go in the first half.

        Xavier closed out the first half with a 12-7 run to lead 40-36 at the half.

        “The key was we did a good job with our game plan,” Xavier coach Melanie Balcomb said. “We were in the lead at halftime, and I didn't have to make any adjustments because we were executing the four keys I had written on the board.

        “We stopped their transition. We checked out. We took care of the ball. ... The last key was to play to win. We did that.”

        Tennessee's Gwen Jackson scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 40. The teams swapped leads and were knotted at 58 when the Musketeers rolled off a 12-2 run to lead 70-60 and take control for good with just under three minutes to go.

        “We had so many chances to go up, but it wasn't in our favor,” said Jackson, who scored an NCAA Tournament career-high 16 points. “I give them a lot of credit. They played hard. And the team that plays hard deserves to win. We didn't deserve to win.”

NCAA Tournament coverage at Cincinnati.com



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