Rutgers is very good but the Volunteers are great

After watching the Philadelphia Region's two semifinal games on Sunday, one thing became abundantly clear: There's a reason Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in this region.<p> Pat Summitt's team dominated the No. 4-seeded Texas Tech Lady Raiders from beginning to end. The game was never close and certainly was never in doubt.<p> And while Rutgers will pose an as yet unseen challenge to the Lady Volunteers ...

After watching the Philadelphia Region's two semifinal games on Sunday, one thing became abundantly clear: There's a reason Tennessee is the No. 1 seed in this region.

Pat Summitt's team dominated the No. 4-seeded Texas Tech Lady Raiders from beginning to end. The game was never close and certainly was never in doubt.

When you consider that the Volunteers don't have one star player like LSU's Seimone Augustus, it shows a couple of things. First, Summit hasn't won 881 games by accident. She demands excellence from her players and she's getting it in full.

Second, sometimes the best teams are the ones with balance. Players like Shyra Ely, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shanna Zolman are all capable of having a huge game. More importantly, this team plays together. When they miss shots, there are no fingers being pointed, no verbal sparring. This is a true team.

The Volunteers have won six national championships under Summitt, but none since '98. They have not enjoyed watching other teams like Connecticut cut down the nets for the past three years. But Summitt talked about the parity in today's game, saying many other programs continue to get stronger and stronger. She's aware that to maintain that swagger, the Volunteers have to keep winning.

And they should -- unless Rutgers plays a perfect game and Tennessee plays a mistake-riddled game, it will be the Volunteers advancing to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

To be fair, let's not automatically discount the Scarlet Knights. Coach C. Vivian Stringer has done a wonderful job with this group. The players believe in her and respect her.

For Rutgers to win, however, Cappie Pondexter, Matee Ajavon, Chelsea Newton and Co. will have to give an extraordinary performance. It could happen. But will it? Very, very doubtful.

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There was quite a bit of confusion on press row when the starting lineups were announced. Many people could not figure out which player was donning the No. 1 jersey. On Tennessee's roster, No. 1 is Sidney Spencer, who is out for the season with a knee injury. As a tribute to her best friend, Zolman was wearing No. 1.

With all the things wrong in college sports, this is a gesture that should not go unnoticed.

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When the pairings were announced, the Temple fans were excited about possibly playing in the semifinals on its homecourt at the Liacouras Center. Rutgers squashed that dream with a 61-54 win in the second round.

Temple coach Dawn Staley, who recently announced she will play again this season for the WNBA's Charlotte Sting, attended Sunday's games. Staley is such a competitor and wanted her team to experience the Sweet Sixteen. 'Soon, it's coming soon,' Staley said.

Temple won a school-record 25 games in a row. Solid recruits are now joining the Owls and the future definitely looks bright on North Broad Street.

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Give the Rutgers' fans credit for dominating the crowd at Sunday's games. Granted, Rutgers is the shortest commute of the four schools competing, but its fans were loud and supportive. The pep band was pretty inventive with its chants of 'Get the bus ready to go to Ohio!' and 'Not in our house!'

Expect the Scarlet Knights to have even more support on Tuesday -- and they'll need every bit of it.

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Ohio State sophomore center Jessica Davenport was terrific against Rutgers with 22 points and 14 rebounds.What was really impressive about Davenport, though, was her savvy around the basket. On more than one occasion, she caught the ball with her left hand, backed into the post, and then turned only to put the ball in the basket right-handed. That is not very common in today's game.

It doesn't take an advanced degree in hoopology to see that the 6-5 Davenport has a very bright future ahead of her. If the Buckeyes hope to advance to the Final Four next season, they should pass the ball to Davenport more often. A very wise scout once said that if you pass the ball into the low post, it can always come back out. Seems simple, huh?

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While the Lady Raiders did not play a very good game against Tennessee, they deserve some recognition for another stellar season. They finished 24-8, which is the 16th consecutive 20-win season and their 23rd overall. They also advanced to the regional semifinals for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Their nemesis simply continues to be Tennessee. Texas Tech is 0-5 lifetime against the Volunteers.

The good news is there's always next year, not only for the Red Raiders, but every other team that has been eliminated, or didn't even qualify for the tournament.

3/28/05


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