Can Lady Vols Avoid a Repeat of History?

If you're a Tennessee fan that believes history repeats itself, tonight's game against Virginia (17-13) at Thompson-Boling Arena in Mideast Regional play is a game that could cause some serious concern.

Sure top seeded Tennessee (29-4) is a prohibitive favorite over a No. 8 seed Virginia team that is came into the NCAA Tournament with 13 losses. The Lady Vols are also playing at home where they've won 42 straight NCAA games and 18 consecutive overall, including going undefeated this season. Additionally, UT holds a commanding 10-1 series lead over the Lady Cavaliers and a 7-1 advantage in NCAA Tournament play.

However that one defeat may have been the most painful of Pat Summitt's spectacular coaching career. The overtime defeat occurred in the East Regional finals at Norfolk, Va., in 1990 by a score of 79-75. It cost the defending national champion Lady Vols a golden opportunity to advance to their home arena in Knoxville, Tenn., where the Final Four was being held and record crowds awaited.

Now these same teams meet 13 years later and the similarities are striking. To begin with, if Tennessee wins it has a chance to advance to the Mideast Regional semifinals which will be hosted by Knoxville. Furthermore, just like that prior encounter, Tennessee has won five straight over Virginia entering tonight's game which is being played on the same date March 24, that the Lady Vols lost to Virginia in 1990.

That 1990 defeat led to Summitt saying she never wanted the pressure of hosting a Final Four again during an NCAA Tournament in which her team was competing.

Later, when she was returning to Knoxville from a recruiting visit to Pennsylvania, she went into labor but refused to let her pilot land in Virginia, stating her baby "Tyler" would be born in Tennessee.

The baby was born in Tennessee and Knoxville has never hosted another NCAA Final Four again despite setting tournament records for attendance in 1990. However the city is hosting the Mideast Regional finals which adds pressure to Tennessee's attempt to reach the Final Four in Atlanta.

Virginia doesn't appear as strong this season as it did in 1990, but the Lady Cavaliers are coming in having won seven out of their last nine contests including an impressive 72-56 victory over Illinois on Saturday. Virginia lost by just one point to No. 2 Duke in their first meeting and knocked off North Carolina in the regular season finale.

Virginia has a balanced lineup led by 6-2 forward Brandi Teamer who is averaging 13.9 points per game. LaTonya Blue, 5-11, guard, is a scoring threat with a 9.2 ppg average while 5-6 point guard Safiya Grant-Fairley has the quickness to create problems for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols will counter with a starting five that includes a three-guard lineup that features 5-11 Tasha Butts, 5-9 Loree Moore and 5-8 Kara Lawson. Senior forward 6-2 Gwen Jackson is UT's leading scorer averaging 15.6 ppg while 6-2 Shyra Ely scored a game-high 17 in a rare start in Tennessee's first round win over Alabama State. Ely will be back in the lineup again tonight, but former starting center Ashley Robinson (6-5) could see considerable playing time because of her height advantage in the post.

Tennessee will also hope to get another standout contribution from the bench and shooting guard Brittany Jackson who broke a shooting slump by hitting four 3-pointers against Alabama State, scoring 16 points.

The biggest difference between this Tennessee-Virginia match is the venue. The Lady Vols are 161-8 in Knoxville since losing to Virginia in 1990. That span is highlighted by a 69-game home winning streak from Feb. 1, 1991 to Jan. 2, 1996. That's a powerful home court advantage to overcome, but the challenge should bring out the best in opponents who truly believe in their ability to overcome the odds.

Is Virginia that team? Will history repeat itself?

We'll find out at 9:15 cst tonight when the ESPN nationally televised contest tips off at Thompson-Boling Arena.


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