Lady Vols seeking quick wake-up call for Final Four trip
Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012 7:00 pm
By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Lady Vols have been doing a little daydreaming during practice and Pat Summitt says they better snap out of it.
With how quiet and distracted her Tennessee team have been while practicing for Saturday’s regional semifinals meeting with Kansas, coach Pat Summitt is concerned they may not get that opportunity.
“I think we’ve got to get them refocused,” Summitt said. “It’s obviously very important to all of us, and we recognize it and our players recognize it, but obviously our coaches have to hold people accountable, and that’s what we’re going to do.
“At this time of the year, you worry about everything as coaches,” she said.
Forward Glory Johnson and her fellow seniors are trying to do their part to hold the rest of their teammates accountable as well. Fifth-year senior Vicki Baugh is the only remaining member of Tennessee’s 2008 national championship team, and the other four seniors are looking to avoid becoming the first four-year class to leave the program without a trip to the Final Four.
Johnson said it’s easy to dream of vacation when she and her Tennessee teammates are spending their spring break inside the practice gym. Then she thinks about a trip to the Final Four.
“It’s spring break and we’re still here,” Johnson said. “But we’re here, we’re on a mission. We’re playing hard and trying to get a championship. You’ve just got to put that in your mind; whenever you’re like, ‘Aw, I wish I was on the beach,’ (think about) how many people get to play for a championship?”
The Lady Vols vowed at the beginning of the season to play for the championship this year, both in an effort to change their legacy from one that marks them as underachievers and to honor Summitt, who announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
So far, they’re on the right track.
Tennessee (26-8) cruised through the Southeastern Conference tournament and then pulled away in the second half of a 72-49 win over Tennessee-Martin — Summitt’s alma mater — in Chicago in the opening round of the tournament. Senior forward Shekinna Stricklen, Baugh and Johnson all had big contributions in the Lady Vols’ 63-48 win over DePaul on Monday night.
They also know they could be primed for an upset in drawing No. 11 seed Kansas as their Sweet Sixteen opponent. Tennessee had expected to face third-seeded Delaware and the nation’s leading scorer, Elena Della Donne, for the chance to reach the Des Moines Regional finals and a likely rematch with top seed Baylor.
“We kind of thought Delaware would win, just from watching both teams,” assistant coach Mickie DeMoss said. “But this is March Madness. Anything can happen, even on the women’s side now. Used to be, I think, the women were more predictable. But now there’s more parity on the women’s side.”
The Jayhawks (21-12) have been without leading scorer Carolyn Davis since she suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 12, but point guard Angel Goodrich has led the team in the NCAA tournament with an average 11.8 points in the win against Delaware and first-round victory over No. 6 seed Nebraska.
“We’re not taking KU for granted,” Stricklen said. “They’re a great team. If you don’t win, you can’t get to Baylor, so this game is more important.”
Against Kansas, Summitt and her assistants are expecting a better all-around effort defending, rebounding and taking control of the ball than they’ve seen so far. The effort has been there, but not for a full 40 minutes in any game.
“When you get this deep in the NCAA tournament, it’s all about physicality and who’s tough not only physically, but who’s the most mentally tough team as well,” DeMoss said. “We’re playing well in spurts. To say we’re playing well for 40 minutes would probably be a little optimistic right now. But we’re doing good things in spurts.
“As the tournament progresses and the teams get tougher, those spurts are going to have to be a little bit longer.”
Published in The Messenger 3.23.12