Lady Vols seniors seek to protect home win streak

Tennessee's three seniors all say they don't pay a lot of attention to the Lady Vols' winning streak at home against SEC opponents, but they are aware of it. <p> Coach Pat Summitt will bring it up. So will the media. So will the fans.

"We're reminded of it," Shyra Ely said. "Pat mentioned it. We know what's ahead of us and what we have to do to keep it going."

Tennessee has won 56 consecutive SEC games at home in Thompson-Boling Arena. The last conference team to beat UT on its home court was Georgia in overtime, 94-93, on Dec. 8, 1996. Georgia will get a shot at ending the streak on Monday night when the Lady Bulldogs play in Knoxville.

"It doesn't seem like nine years," Pat Summitt said. "The consistency in our league play, even for me I shake my head. It's hard to even imagine. Just a credit to our players year in and year out. … It does mean a lot to them. We talk about it. With the winning tradition, it has become increasingly more important. Every year people pass it on. It is a priority for this team."

The seniors try to downplay it – a Tennessee-Georgia game hardly needs more reason to be hyped – but they know they can't escape it, and they don't want the streak ended on their watch.

"We don't try to pay too much attention to it," Loree Moore said. "I don't think anybody knows it until somebody brings it up. I think we just worry about our game plan and what we're facing as a team. I don't think we try to worry too much about that and let that get in our heads. We try to focus on what's ahead of us and take it step by step and try to get better."

"We're going to play tough teams, tough atmospheres," Ely said. "It's just important we go in it with the same mindset, ‘We have a tradition.' We have something going winning the regular season SEC for seven years. We really want to keep that going. My mindset is the tradition and doing what we worked on in practice and trying to carry over to the games."

"We've got to take it one game at a time because everybody's going to come in – South Carolina played out of their minds – everybody's going to play out of their minds," Brittany Jackson said. "I feel confident. I think we're playing well right now."

The streak came perilously close to ending in the 2003-04 season against Auburn.

"They have the ability to come in and beat us, trust me," assistant coach Holly Warlick said of Georgia. "Auburn last year had us beat, they missed a free throw, and Tasha (Butts) rebounds and throws it up, and we go into overtime and win. It's not like we've dominated people here. Georgia has the ability to come in here and beat us."

Since beating Tennessee at home in 1996, the Lady Bulldogs have played in Knoxville four times and lost 102-43 (Jan. 28, 1998); 102-69 (Jan. 14, 1999); 85-69 (Jan. 18, 2001); and 87-60 (Feb. 20, 2003). But they also are the most-recent SEC team to beat Tennessee after a 68-66 overtime win on a neutral court in the conference tournament March 6, 2004.

Since 1990, Tennessee and Georgia have owned the SEC regular season titles. Tennessee has 10; Georgia has four. They were co-champions in 2000. Ole Miss slipped in in 1992 and won one, but otherwise the two rivals have dominated the SEC.

"It's the league and it's the nature of where the two teams have been," Summitt said. "If you look at the history of this league Tennessee and Georgia have been right there. Rivalries are usually only rivalries if it's ‘I'm going to throw a punch this year and you're going to get the one next.' They beat us last year."

The seniors don't want to enter the school record books as the team that surrendered the home court streak, and the freshmen don't want to be on the wrong end of starting one.

"I'm very aware of that," said freshman guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who will start against Georgia. "We're trying to keep things rolling and trying to get some championships under our belt. We want to come in and set the tone. That says a lot for this program because the SEC is not a walk in the park. Every game, bring it. You might lose some away, but we own the Tennessee court."

That's an attitude that assistant coach Dean Lockwood applauds.

"That's the competitive pride you hope that they would have," Lockwood said.

But Lockwood, who's in his first season at Tennessee, also acknowledges that it's a mind-boggling streak.

"I've used a lot of words. It's absurd. It's obscene," Lockwood said. "When you think about a basketball league like the SEC, in this day and age it's unheard of. I can't relate to it. Every league I've been in it's a dogfight."

Monday night should be a dogfight, too, but will the Lady Bulldogs or the Lady Vols prevail?

"Whenever you think about it, it's crazy," Jackson said. "It's really a special thing. You don't want to be put in the record books for that. Stuff like that, that's in the back of your mind. That's what you come here for. That's tradition."

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