Lady Vol Courtside Seats At Premium

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Tennessee All-America basketball player Nikki McCray of Collierville, Tenn., who did the color analysis of the Arkansas-UT women's game for Comcast Sports Southeast television, recalled once playing AAU basketball with a player from Earle, Ark.

"Since African-American women use oil on their hair, I asked this girl if she had any grease I could use," McCray said. "Her mother heard me and answered, 'Oh, yes, we have some Crisco."

McCray politely declined the offer.

This season, for the first time, Tennessee has moved the media to tables behind the baseline during women's games, in order to sell 36 premium courtside seats at $40,000 a pair. There's an additional cost of $10,000 for annual renewal, plus the price of season tickets.

With the addition of six top-notch freshmen this season, Tennessee figured the time was right to offer the courtside chairs.

Debby Jennings, women's associate athletic director for media relations at Tennessee, said, "We've already generated $750,000 by selling these seats."

Quan Hornbuckle, mother of Lady Vols freshman guard Alexis Hornbuckle, delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem before Thursday night's game, taking 1 minute, 43 seconds to sing it. She received a long ovation.

Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, whose record is 863-171 in 31 years, is the winningest women's coach ever and is now within 16 wins of tying former North Carolina head coach Dean Smith, who coached 879 wins for No. 1 in the men's game.

Summitt's teams have currently won 35 consecutive regular-season Southeastern Conference games, and 55 consecutive SEC home games.

This season the Lady Vols have played the toughest schedule in the country, according to the Summerville/WBCA ratings.

Tamika Catchings, a former Tennessee All-American, is back in school at UT, working on her master's degree in sports studies. Arkansas coach Susie Gardner said the Lady'Backs made a 2.9 team grade-point average in the fall semester, with eight Lady'Backs earning a 3.0 or higher. Sarah Pfeifer and Kristin Peoples posted perfect 4.0 averages.

The first 2,000 fans who entered Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night were given orange-studded earrings.

One lucky fan won a $3,000 diamond tennis bracelet.

The crowd was announced at 18,633, with a turnstile count of 10,974.

The Mississippi State-Tennessee men's game on Wednesday night drew an announced crowd of 12,000 in 24,000-seat Thompson Boling Arena, but the turnstile count was reportedly around 9,000.

Those who did attend that game enjoyed it, as Tennessee defeated the Bulldogs by one point.

Rather than watch videotape on Wednesday per usual, UT head coach Buzz Peterson went to lunch with TV announcer Larry Conley, took a nap and then gave a rousing pregame talk to the team.

Nicky Anosike, a 6-foot-4 UT freshman center, showed her versatility during a first-half sequence when she blocked a shot by Arkansas' Danielle Allen and then led the fast break, passing deftly to Shanna Zolman for a layup.

So well-schooled was Tennessee about Arkansas' offense that the Lady Vols once intercepted a handoff attempt by Arkansas.

Shyra Ely and freshman Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood missed two practices this week with illness but returned Wednesday. But Wiley-Gatewood broke a team rule and did not play Thursday night.

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