Lady Vols arrive in Philly for regional play

PHILADELPHIA - The Lady Vols arrived in Philadelphia on Friday afternoon and will practice Saturday at the Liacouras Center on the campus of Temple University. <p> The team used Friday as a travel and rest day after practicing for more than two hours Thursday back home in Knoxville. <p> Tennessee's 50-minute practice time is scheduled for 1 p.m. and is open to the public. <p>

The Lady Vols landed in Philly after advancing to their 24th consecutive Sweet 16 and coming off one of the biggest – if not the biggest – wins in the program's history after Tennessee beat Purdue on Tuesday to give coach Pat Summitt her 880th career win in her 31st season.

Of course none of that mattered Thursday. Summitt was in fine form – praising and raising her voice when necessary as she tried to prepare her team for Sunday's match-up against Texas Tech (noon, ESPN) for the right to move on to the Elite Eight. Ohio State and Rutgers meet in the second semifinal at 2:30 p.m. The winners meet Tuesday at 7 p.m.

"I think coming off of the game the other night I just wanted to get back in the gym and give them a look at Texas Tech," said Summitt about a practice that was specific about the Lady Raiders and ran through the scouting report.

Was she pleased?

"For the most part," Summitt said. "I thought we had some bad possessions. Faded in and out. They need to be the ones raising the voice."

The Lady Vols boarded a charter plane in Knoxville about noon Friday and hopefully packed – for their sakes – their confidence along with the uniforms.

That attitude has carried them to a 10-game winning streak – the last loss was a regular season one to LSU on Feb. 10 – that includes an SEC Tournament title to avenge the loss to the Lady Tigers.

Summitt points to that tourney win as the harbinger of the NCAA tourney. By sweeping the SECs, the Lady Vols also set up Summitt to win the record-breaking game in the second round at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"The fact they won the SEC Tournament allowed us the opportunity to have this record here at home," Summitt said the night she passed Dean Smith in the record books. "It's almost like it was meant to be. This team has a lot of confidence right now. They should have a lot of confidence. When they play, they're as good as we've had play. I'd compare them to the '98 team."

That was some team. It went undefeated and won Summitt her sixth national title. This team hasn't reached that level – and can't at 28-4 – but is still in contention to win a national championship.

A central figure in the win streak has been the sharp-shooting of Shanna Zolman, who has scored 14, 13, 17, 12, 17, 10, 18, 8, 28 and 15 points in those 10 wins. She has scored in a variety of ways – long-range 3-pointers, pull-up jumpers, drives to the basket and from the free throw line.

"That's how I feel," Zolman said when asked if she was in the proverbial shooting zone. "It all goes back to practice. It's something that I need to bring to this team each and every game. It's my role – score some points, get the ball where it needs to be and be a solid leader on the floor. Right now definitely an all-time high in confidence."

Point guard Loree Moore concurs – with both Zolman and Summitt.

"That gave us so much confidence," Moore said of the SEC title. "The way we are as a team, we're so supportive of each other, and we're so behind each other. We're so tight right now, and I think that part is helping us a lot, the closeness with each other and the trust we have with each other. It's really carrying us a long way – through practices, on the court, off the court. I think the bond that we have is really the key to our success."

Freshman Alexis Hornbuckle, who played AAU ball in Philly and welcomes a return trip, agreed with Moore, the senior making her first trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

"I think that's a big part of it," Hornbuckle said of the team both peaking at the right time and getting along so well. "We're all starting to follow the same page and trust in each other."

POINT PERFORMANCE: Texas Tech is led by point guard Erin Grant, who has 213 assists to 60 turnovers. That's not a typo. She has passed out 10 assists or more six times this season. Needless to say, Grant has the Lady Vols' attention.

"She's very fundamentally sound. She's very efficient," Zolman said. "I remember playing against her in the All-American game. She's a very heady player. She's a very crucial player to their team. She takes basically what the defense gives her. Erin is very efficient and very quick. She can nail the three if you leave her wide open. She likes the pull-up jumper a lot better."

Tennessee's goal is not to disrupt her – it's too likely to not happen – but to at least restrict her effectiveness if possible.

"I think it's important the team as a whole certainly be able to contain her as much as we can," Summitt said. "I don't think we can stop her. But if we can have some level of influence then I think that will be a positive I think for us. She's the quarterback. She starts everything for them. She's very efficient. I think you have to be realistic. I never go in and think we're going to disrupt this point guard because when that doesn't happen I don't want us to fall apart by any means, but we are going to be focused on seeing what we can do. Loree realizes it."

Summitt does have some plans of the restrictive variety. She might put a post player on Grant, perhaps Shyra Ely or Nicky Anosike.

"I'm not opposed to going with three bigs and putting Ely on the perimeter," Summitt said. "I'm not at all opposed to that or put Anosike on the perimeter and put Ely at the post."

WIDE OPEN: The usual suspects are in the Sweet 16, but there are also some surprises, especially Liberty. At least a dozen teams left have a legitimate shot at winning the national title.

"There're obviously a lot of teams that people think can make a run at it," Summitt said. "Certainly in our bracket when you've got one, two, three and four lined up. I think as you look across the country with the teams that are in there, there're a number of teams that have a shot at winning it all. Got to play well, minimize your turnovers."

WAKE UP: Tennessee has gone from one extreme to the other. It's first two NCAA tourney games were tipped at 9:30 p.m. or a little later. Sunday's game will start at noon.

"I prefer earlier," Summitt said. "I would have preferred the later of the two, (2:30 p.m.) but it's OK. One thing you don't sit around all day and think about it. It makes for a long day."


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