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Archive for Friday, March 30, 2007

Summitt: Vols have title talent

Coach says Tennessee has ingredients to end nine-year drought

March 30, 2007

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— Nine years have passed since Tennessee last won a national championship. Coach Pat Summitt believes she has found what's been missing since 1998.

After winning three straight national championships, Summitt kept recruiting talented players and returned to the Final Four five times - coming home empty-handed after each one.

The Lady Vols, holders of six national titles, are back in the semifinals this year for the 17th time overall and face North Carolina on Sunday. Rutgers and LSU will play in the other game in Cleveland with the winners advancing to the championship game Tuesday night.

What's different about Tennessee this season starts with All-American Candace Parker, who some believe is even more versatile than Chamique Holdsclaw, the star when Tennessee won its last three national crowns.

"I think that in the previous years, I would say we've had some very fine teams, but we also played against some of our competition that had better go-to players, players that could make plays," Summitt said. "You have to have that, and we didn't have a Candace Parker."

Teams with a go-to player, including arch-nemesis Connecticut, have gotten the better of Tennessee since 1998.

The Huskies won three straight national titles from 2002-2004, twice beating the Lady Vols in the finals, with star Diana Taurasi.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma also has learned what it's like without the go-to player. The Huskies haven't been in the Final Four since Taurasi left.

"I know Geno said many times, 'We have Diana and nobody else does,' and it does make a difference," Summitt said.

"Look at what Sylvia Fowles means to the LSU program, and it's just - it is what is it in this game. And it's true for the men's game and it's true at the pro level. If you have Kobe Bryant playing the way he is right now, they are going to win more times than not."

Parker, a red-shirt sophomore, has spent most of her time in the post but is listed as a guard, center and forward on the roster. She is averaging 19.9 points and 9.8 rebounds.

She put on a show in the regional final, a 98-62 win over Mississippi, finishing with 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. She also had three assists and three steals. The only thing Parker hasn't done in the postseason this year is dunk like she did a year ago.

She has taken over the team since the Southeastern Conference tournament. The Lady Vols lost to LSU in the semifinals when Parker was held to four points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field.

Parker doesn't believe she's good enough to be ranked with players like Holdsclaw until she wins a national championship.

"I know this is my first Final Four because my freshman year I wasn't able to play. So, I just wanted to come out and do what I could for my team and whether it was energy on the defensive end or the offensive end, that was my goal," she said.

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