"I thought that we would meet them somewhere down the road, a little earlier than I expected, but again this could very easily be a game that could be a national championship game," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "A lot of talent on the floor. It's going to be great for women's basketball."
The talent met with the media Monday afternoon on the eve of the game at Quickens Loan Arena. Tennessee, 31-4, and North Carolina, 32-1, will tip off at 7 p.m. Tuesday at "The Q," the site of the 2007 Women's Final Four. The winner goes to Boston and will play Maryland for a spot in the title game. LSU is in on the other side of the bracket and will await the result of Tuesday's Duke-UConn matchup to find out its next foe.
For North Carolina the media spotlight was on Ivory Latta and Erlana Larkins; for Tennessee, Candace Parker and Shanna Zolman. The players were surrounded by reporters who fired one question after another about the matchups on the floor, the coaches, the hype, the pressure, the defense and the offense. It's no wonder the players said they were ready to just play.
How will North Carolina handle Parker? How will Tennessee contain Latta? Summitt was even asked which one was the most difficult to guard.
"Who do I think is more difficult to defend? They're both extremely difficult," Summitt said. "Their games are quite different. I think quickness in the open floor is a big, big challenge for us. But I also think Candace Parker she's a very special and talented offensive player, and if we can get the ball in the half court and execute with her on the floor, obviously that's a tough assignment for them. I think the ideal world is to have two players like that on their team. Wouldn't that be fun?"
Tennessee has it in Parker and Zolman. North Carolina has it in Latta and Larkins. In the Lady Vols' 76-69 win over Rutgers on Sunday, Parker and Zolman scored 29 points apiece. In the Tar Heels' 70-68 win over Purdue in the second semifinal, Larkins had 23, and Latta had 19, including the game winner with 2.8 seconds left.
Tuesday's game will be won in the trenches by the team that controls the boards and limits turnovers under pressure. Both teams were out-rebounded Sunday – it's considered a point of pride for both programs – so both have a lot to prove against each other.
"I think that we just have to play the best defense that we can, and certainly we understand that we have to take care of the basketball and control the boards so we're not on our heels all the time," Summitt said. "If we can do that then I like the opportunity for us to set our defense in the half court instead of being in a chase scene all game long."
One way to control tempo is to control the boards. If Tennessee misses, North Carolina will race down court to try to get an easy shot. Latta leads the charge.
"She's a tough player to defend because of her explosiveness. She's constantly on the move, does a great job of pushing tempo," Summitt said. "It's critical to our success to, number one, take care of the basketball. I'm more concerned about basketball control and taking care of it and taking care of the boards. I think that is the way that you can have a better influence on the actual pace of the game. I'm not opposed to us running the basketball. We've been pushing tempo; we're not going to change that. I obviously know you can run at people or you can run with them. I'd much prefer to run at them."
Tennessee has to slow down Latta. North Carolina has to try to limit Parker's versatility.
"She is a great player," Hatchell said. "Candace is a great kid. We're going to give her different looks. We may put two or three people on her at one time, whatever we need to do. … We'll have different players on her at different times and those type of things to give her different looks."
Tennessee is expected to start: Shanna Zolman, No. 5, 5'10 senior guard, 15.5 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game, 3.1 assists per game; Sidney Spencer, No. 1, 6'3 junior forward, 9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg; Candace Parker, No. 3, 6'4 redshirt freshman forward, 17.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.4 blocks per game; Nicky Anosike, No. 55, 6'4 forward/center, 7.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg; and Tye'sha Fluker, 6'5 senior center, 9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg.
North Carolina is expected to start: Ivory Latta, No. 12, 5'6 junior guard, 18.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg; Jessica Sell, No. 44, 5'10 senior guard, 2.4 ppg, 0.8 rpg; Camille Little, No. 20, 6'2 junior forward/guard, 11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg; La'Tangela Atkinson, No. 22, 6'2 senior forward/guard, 9.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg; and Erlana Larkins, No. 2, 6'1, sophomore forward, 13.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg.
Latta, who's generously listed at 5'6, will likely find Anosike on her when the game starts. Anosike, a post who can guard on the perimeter, took on Rutgers' guard Cappie Pondexter – she combined with UT sophomore guard Alexis Hornbuckle – but got in foul trouble in the first half. She came back in the second half and was a difference-maker on both ends of the floor, according to Summitt.
"She has a quickness advantage over me, obviously, she's one of the fastest players in the nation," Anosike said. "But I have the height advantage over her. What it's going to come down to is whose advantage is greater? I don't think she'll be guarding me, I think she might have a bit of a problem guarding me. It's definitely a personal challenge guarding her like it was against Cappie. I was a little disappointed with getting in foul trouble against Cappie. I have to rely on my help-side defense. If she gets past me, I have to rely on the others to help out and avoid fouls."
The other guards will have to help on the perimeter, and the post players will have to be the second line of defense in the paint. Latta got loose for the game-winner against Purdue when the Boilermakers failed to execute a trap on the top of the floor.
"We're going to definitely try to contain her in any way possible," Zolman said. "Nicky Anosike is our best defender, and Alexis is also a great defender of ours. I know they're going to take the brunt of the work in doing that, but it's definitely going to be a team effort trying to contain her off the dribble and keep her from doing the things she wants to do."
Summitt is fully aware that she gives up interior defense by having Anosike roaming the perimeter. But it's a tradeoff that she can accept.
"I think if you're going to do that you have to realize you're going to give up something," Summitt said. "The pluses are that players that she is defending on the perimeter have a little bit more difficult time catching and beating her off the dribble. Certainly I think it was key for us in our win over Rutgers. She really limited some touches and at times disrupted what they wanted to.
"On the downside of it it's hurt our rebounding, and that's why I think Fluker has to step up and be a much bigger factor, and Parker as well on the boards. You have to control defensive boards if you want to win at this stage, and certainly we understand that. I'm not suggesting that I'm going to change what we do on the ball because I think with Ivory we have to be able to obviously rotate some players and change our defenses. With that said I still like Nicky out on the top of the floor, and I'm willing to give up some rebounding and try to inspire others to fill in the gap."
Latta dismissed the notion that a bigger guard could disrupt her. The fireball for the Tar Heels doesn't believe anything can stop her, but she did give a nod to Anosike for the ability to guard guards and said she would be the tallest defender she's seen this season.
"Absolutely," Latta said. "She does well on guards out there. I'm just not too much worried about the height or anything. I'm just going to go out there and play ball. I've had a lot of tall girls on me this season, and I think I've done well."
Larkins acknowledged it wasn't as simple as that.
"It says a lot," Larkins said of Anosike's ability to defend well away from the basket. "Personally I've tried to keep up with Ivory a few times, and I can't do it. It's hard. I commend her on that. She's doing a great job out there trying to guard the guards. She has really good footwork and she did a fairly decent job on Cappie. She could disrupt Ivory a little bit. I'm pretty sure Ivory's used to taller players, but she's not used to people 6'3, 6'4 guarding her so it may give her a little bit of trouble. Hopefully she handles it well."
Larkins is the other player that has Tennessee's full attention. She has 109 offensive boards this season – Anosike has 93; Parker and Fluker both have 78 – and essentially tipped the game against Purdue with her ability to get to the glass.
"I would say it's heart," Larkins said. "Go in there and not stand behind people (and make some moves to the basket). I kind of have a feel for the ball. Sometimes I can tell when it's coming off when they shoot it so I just try to see where the ball's going to come off and just go get it."
Tennessee has a similar player in Hornbuckle, who is among the team leaders in rebounding, despite her size.
"Second chance points are big," Hornbuckle said. "You've got to take that away from them. They're a good scoring team, but they're so committed to the offensive boards. It's going to be a battle of the boards. I think whoever wins that more or less is going to have the advantage throughout the whole game."
North Carolina comes at Tennessee with Larkins and Latta. Summitt said handling those players is the key to success.
"She's the heartbeat of this North Carolina team," Summitt said of Latta. "If we can have any type of influence on how she plays then that certainly helps our chances. She's not a player that we go in and stop. We've got be realistic. We've got to go in and defend this whole team.
"I think they've got a one-two punch. I think they play well together; I think they look for each other. I saw (Larkins) in high school. She's physical, she's aggressive, she just anchors them down in the paint, and I think she loves that role. Fortunately we do have people with size and hopefully we can find a way to be effective and use our size."
Larkins and Parker played together in the summer of 2004 in Puerto Rico on the U.S Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team. They played against each other in high school at the Deep South Classic in AAU competition. Larkins smiled when she was asked if Parker was really 6'3.
"No, I don't buy that at all," Larkins said. "She stood up next to (6'6) Sylvia Fowles, and Sylvia was taller than her, but it wasn't by much so if I had to take a guess I would say she's between 6'4 and 6'5.
"I would have to say first impressions were that she could do a lot for somebody her size. I really don't consider her a guard or a forward. I would say she's in between. She just really surprises me by the things she can do with the ball and the way she can shoot it for somebody's who's 6'4, 6'5. We have to give her different looks. Sometimes it might be Tangy or sometimes it might be Camille just to give her a shorter-taller look or speed or length. I think we're going to mix it up a little bit."
Parker presents the biggest matchup problem for North Carolina. She can handle on the perimeter, break the press, run the point if needed and post up in the low block, where North Carolina doesn't have a one-on-one answer for her. Even Latta, one of the best point guards in the nation, was impressed.
"That's the biggest point guard I've seen," Latta said. "Actually to be honest she's doing a great job. She handles the ball well; she's pretty much the main head of her team. If we can stop her and stop all their shooters, I think we have a good chance to win."
Stopping Parker and Zolman – and Spencer didn't score Sunday but she can fill up a box score with points – is a tall order. It's unlikely Latta would find herself paired with Parker, but she said she was ready for it.
"I'll be matched up with anybody," Latta said. "The height doesn't matter, the skills. If you just put me out there and tell me to guard that person, I'm going to go out and guard that person. She's a great player. Don't get me wrong. I'm up for the challenge."
That was basically the attitude of the Tar Heels – bring it on – and it's an attitude that has served them well so far this season.
"I think it's one of the main things we work on every day," Little said. "Like coach Hatchell said it's our bread and butter. We should be proud of our defense. It's taken us a long way. We have to keep that up and make sure whoever we play that they remember that. When they play North Carolina they had pressure the whole game and as soon as they walk off the floor they remember one of us being in their faces, that kind of thing. I think our pressure really helps out our team a lot."
Little will likely open up the game on Parker. She wasn't drawn into pre-game jocularity about facing the otherworldly freshman.
"I think tomorrow will be a great game for both teams so I'm just looking forward to playing period, to guard anybody," Little said. "I just like playing defense. I don't care who it is. I'm just looking forward to it."
Atkinson was more confident.
"I'm going to make her go to her weaknesses and stop her from doing the things she's done throughout her career," Atkinson said.
That is likely unlikely. Hatchell offered a more realistic approach.
"Candace Parker is a great player, but she's not the entire Tennessee team," Hatchell said. "They have a lot of great players on their team. A lot of what they do goes through her, but they have a lot of talent on their team. I think you just have to have a good game plan and give them some different looks. La'Tangela and Camille, we have several players that take pride in their defense. I feel that the overall game plan will be for the Tennessee team not just Candace Parker. Anosike is big and a very good defensive player. I think Ivory will accept the challenge. We've played teams that have put big players on her. Anytime you put somebody big on her there's going to be a positive. Sometimes you just have to work to find it.
"Candace Parker taking the ball inside is tough, especially if you let her go to the right. Ivory in the open court is tough to guard, especially if she knocks down a couple of threes then you have to come out on her even more, and it opens up the drive. They're two different kinds of players and it just depends on the situation."
Parker has generated a lot of attention for her two dunks in the first round game against Army, and the feats were applauded by players from both Rutgers and North Carolina.
Hatchell said "this late in the season I might try to set up something for one of our kids."
If that seems like an odd focus before a regional final, it is. But it's that style of play that Hatchell's players have responded to and have gotten them this far.
"I try to think of ways we can speed it up and do more things," said Hatchell, who has said a couple of her players can dunk. "I think you can tell that we didn't play well (Sunday). I don't want to take anything away from Purdue; they made us play sloppy.
"Our chemistry in our program couldn't be any better. I think a lot of it is the style that we play. You say freedom but it's more responsibility and accountability that I give the players just like I do with the coaches. I give them their jobs to do, and they do an outstanding job. When they do a good job, I just try to bring those things out and give them words of affirmation. That motivates them to do that much more. We're having a great time. I'm looking at ways to speed up the game even more and making it more exciting. I love that Candace Parker has dunked. …
"First of all, I want to win games for North Carolina, but I want to bring attention to the women's game. I want people to embrace women's basketball and talk about how much fun it is. Young kids have to learn the fundamentals to dribble, pass and shoot. I think that is how you develop talent. You do those things in our system or you don't play. I've had a lot of people ask me when the season is over to sit down and talk to them about our philosophy. I'm more than happy to do that. Most of it is just about enjoying the game. Our style is not for everybody, but it's for us and we enjoy it."
Her players have embraced it.
"It lets off some of the pressure," Little said. "You just get to play. We don't have to worry about everything that is happening; you just get to play. A lot of coaches put so much emphasis on certain things, and you're concentrating on those things, and you don't want to concentrate on those; you want to be able to play basketball. I think that's a good thing that coach Hatchell let's us play basketball. It just makes it that much easier for us."
If that sounds like a stark departure from the disciplined style of Tennessee, it is. Yet Hatchell, a former graduate assistant under Summitt from 1974 to 1975, are very good friends.
"Well it goes back 32 years when I started coaching at Tennessee, and we were in grad school together," Summitt said. "She coached a junior varsity team for me. We started a great friendship and working relationship, and I have tremendous respect for Sylvia and value her as a dear friend in this profession, which you don't have a long list of them. Usually when you've been in it this long you make a lot of people mad, but we've managed to stay friends."
Summitt said there's a clear reason for North Carolina's success.
"It's pretty simply – recruiting," Summitt said. "It's all about having players. Sylvia and her staff have done a great job of getting players and getting great competitors and the type of personalities that will inspire the rest of your team to greatness. I think anytime you see a team come obviously on the big stage – whether it's North Carolina or Maryland – it all comes back to getting the best players out there that can impact your program. That's what they've been able to do."
Summitt's players have bought into her system – defense and board play – but their personalities have also set her at ease. Once the calendar flipped to postseason, they ratcheted up the intensity in practice and began absorbing scouting reports. In two weeks she went from a coach who didn't know which team would take the floor to reaching a Zen-like calmness. But don't be fooled by her off-the-court persona, Hornbuckle said.
"Somebody else asked me that," Hornbuckle said when asked if Summitt was calmer than usual. "Maybe she seems calmer. I think when she's not on the court she might seem calmer. But on the floor I don't think she's lost a bit of intensity at all. Pat's going to be Pat. You know it's coming, as soon as the whistle blows, as soon as you step across that line to start practice, for the game, you know what's coming out. I think maybe it's how we handle it also. I think we're matching her personality a lot, and we all have one goal. I'm not saying last year we didn't have that goal, but I think more so we would get caught up in self and people would go into their little boxes and computers. I think with this team we're more on her level with where we want to go."
The destination is Boston. Hornbuckle made it to the Final Four as a freshman and she remembers sitting in a locker room in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis after the shocking loss to Michigan State.
"I don't think the feeling is still there, but the motivation is definitely there," Hornbuckle said. "It never leaves because that is a feeling that you don't want to feel. All the hard work and dedication that our team has put into in summer, preseason, throughout the season, people stepping up, assuming roles that you never expected, I think that if we use that, the no-let-up mentality, and you can't get casual and a killer attitude, then I think we will be alright. Because I don't want to feel like that again, especially at this stage. At least get me back to the stage I was at."
Tennessee was thankful was the 7 p.m. tip-off instead of the later game after 9 p.m.
"It's outstanding," Summitt said. "We saw it and cheered."
Hornbuckle saw benefits on the front end – play sooner – and the back end – get back to Knoxville earlier.
"At least we get home earlier because we do have school. Believe it or not we are students," Hornbuckle said laughing. "You don't have to sit; you don't have to wait all day. Nine o'clock comes around you're usually lying around, that's your lazy stage. Seven o'clock. Perfect time. Eat your lunch. Get ready for the game. Let's play."
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate head coach Holly Warlick handled the scouting report on North Carolina. Here is her assessment.
"I think bottom line we have to take care of the basketball and not let them make us play fast and execute our game plan that we have offensively," Warlick said.
Tennessee does have a size advantage over the Tar Heels. Will that be something Tennessee will look to exploit?
"Absolutely," Warlick said. "As they're going to take advantage of their quickness, we're going to take advantage of our size. We're playing Candace and Tye and Nicky at the same time so it's a difficult guard for them, as their quickness is difficult for us. So we're going to make them have to think, and I'm sure they're going to have make us think as well."
North Carolina wants to run. Does Tennessee want to play a full-court or half-court game?
"We want to get in the half-court game," Warlick said. "They're going to try to make us rush with their face guard, full-court press, and then they'll going try to speed up the game with a one-three-one trapping zone so we're going to have to take care of the ball and keep it in a half-court game."
When North Carolina has the ball, Tennessee must use its scouting report defense.
"We have to know what their personnel does and guard it accordingly," Warlick said. "They're going to be physical. Latta and Larkins are going to get most of their shots. The key for us is giving them one shot and that's it because they're offensive rebounding is just tremendous."
Erlana Larkins, Camille Little and La'Tangela Atkinson will get the most attention in the paint.
"They're just beasts on the offensive boards," Warlick said. "We just can't give them second-chance points."
Tennessee's Nicky Anosike picked up Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter on the perimeter to try to disrupt offensive flow. Ivory Latta presents the same challenge.
"I think we do what we did to Cappie – we just try to contain her and not give her open looks," Warlick said. "She's going to make shots, but we hopefully want her to work for every shot she gets. Anosike is a big presence. She's not had a big person on her guarding her so we hope it will affect her."
LATTA TALKING: At a regional final the media swells in numbers, and the players are asked all sorts of questions. Here's a few with Latta.
She went down as time ran out against Purdue with a calf cramp and had to be carried off the floor.
Her status: "I'm definitely going to be 100 percent. I don't run out of energy. I try not to. That was the first time I got a cramp. I just fell. I grabbed my knee because I couldn't grab my calf. If I had grabbed my calf I'd be crying even worse."
Pressing: "We've been pressing every game we've played so far. There's no need to stop now."
Purdue game: "You could just see the frustration on their face. My job was to create a lot of havoc on the ball. I think it was more flat (on North Carolina's part) coming out at the beginning of the game. I know we can't do that on Tuesday because Tennessee's a great team. We've got to come out with a lot of energy and be focused. I think we're going to get that back at practice. I know we will. I don't think we took Purdue too light. I think we were focused too much on what they were doing. We can't do that. We've got to focus on how we're going to get the job done."
Her recruitment: "They (Tennessee) were definitely in my top five. In high school that's all you heard – Pat Summitt and Tennessee. My cousin, Tiffani Johnson, went to Tennessee. She told me a lot of good things. I made the decision to go to Carolina because, my parents, that's where they always wanted me to go. I know I made the right choice."
(Summitt's pertinent remarks: "Actually I really didn't get in that battle. I pretty much knew Sylvia had her wrapped. I think she was Carolina through and through. I spent the majority of my time on Candace. I just felt like that Candace could be a difference maker, just like Ivory.")
Watching film: "I try to watch more of the point guard, what the point guard can do. Whether they go right a lot or whether they go left a lot. My main job is to counteract that."
Her role: "I make everyone around me better. I love to have fun. I'm just trying to have a lot of fun."
The shot against Purdue: "I know she (Hatchell) has a lot of confidence in me, and I know I have a lot of confidence in myself."
Hatchell's reaction to miscues: "She will call you out on the spot. She's a pretty calm person because she knows that we can play better. We know what to expect. So we try to give her as much as we can. If we're not doing right we will hear it. Too many turnovers. We can't have that on Tuesday."
IN THE LOCKER ROOM WITH LEX: Only the starters are brought to the media "breakout" rooms on the day before a regional final. So Hornbuckle was able to sit down for a quick and quiet interview in Tennessee's locker room.
Her thoughts on Latta: "Excellent player. A lot of emotion. A lot of energy. Quick. I think with her, as far as guarding her, you've got to match her intensity. That's the number one priority. If you don't match her intensity, you'll be on your heels the entire game. We have to be committed on the defensive end and on defensive boards especially. They are such a great offensive rebounding team. The shot goes up, you've got to turn and find a body and get it on there. If Ivory's not shooting, she doesn't necessarily crash the boards, but you're worried about her because you don't want the kick-out to come back to her. I think she causes a lot of commotion."
On the ‘title feel' of this game: "Everybody sees this as the championship. We have to see this as this is one more game in the step to getting to the road to Boston. We have to go out here and play like it's going to be our last game because if we lose it will be our last game. Everybody has to have the mindset that you have to be willing to do whatever it takes. If coach asks you to step outside of yourself or your comfort zone to do this because it's going to help the team we have to be committed to that. I don't think our team has a problem with that, just stepping up. We've been doing that lately and just being committed basically to Tennessee basketball."
On Tennessee's coaching staff, particularly the energy level of Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood.
"Holly is crazy, energetic. But that's what you love. When you look down on the bench and see your coaches involved it makes you want to play. You're already playing for yourself and your team but to see your coaches so dedicated and involved it ups your intensity level and your energy level on the court.
"Dean would be in the post, winning every hustle play. I think his kind of dedication as far as coaching – because he's sweating as much as we are in every practice or shoot-around, just being involved with us – that means a lot to see your coach out there and wanting to do what we're doing. In essence what he's saying is if I could be out there this is what I would be doing. That's what you want to do for him, to make him proud, to make these coaches proud."
On trying to sleep Monday night: "I'll sleep well. One, I need my sleep, but there's always going to be a sense of nerves. North Carolina, haven't faced them this year, so much hype. But the key is to be relaxed and don't buy into the hype, don't buy into the hearsay that's coming into your ear about how are you going to handle this player. It's not necessarily how I'm going to do but how is Tennessee going to do. Sleep on it and just believe in your team walking into the gym."
THE SERIES: Tennessee leads the series, 12-1. North Carolina's only win came in the 1985-86 season, the year before Sylvia Hatchell arrived in Chapel Hill. The last meeting was in 1998 in Nashville in a regional final. The Tar Heels led by 12 in the second half, but Tennessee out-scored North Carolina 27-9 down the stretch and won 76-70.
"I just remember physically they were imposing," Summitt said of that game. "I thought they were the most physical team that we played all year long. I thought that throughout the course of the game our team had to finally step up and match the intensity and the physical play. For at least 25, 30 minutes they had the upper hand on us physically. I remember their toughness, and I see the toughness that they have. It doesn't surprise me. I think Sylvia brings the best out of players and brings that toughness out in all these kids. I wouldn't expect anything any differently as we go into this regional championship game."
Hatchell was asked if the roles were reversed in 2006 with her team being the top seed and favored to win.
"We're not undefeated," she said. "Tennessee was undefeated and we were playing in Nashville, so it's a little bit different of a situation. … Our players don't think about records or anything; they just look at our opponents and think what we need to do to win the game. I know that Tennessee feels that they should have been a number one seed and I agree, but also we were the number one seed (overall). I don't know if things have been that fair for North Carolina. … We just want to play a great game and get to the Final Four. The motivation is that it's a game in the Elite Eight and everyone that is still playing is a great team. We just have to know what we have to do to win the game and get the job done."
The teams will play each other next year in a home-and-home series that begins in Chapel Hill.
"We played North Carolina (in the late 1970s and 1980s), and then Sylvia decided she wanted drop the series (in the 1990s) and then she called me back and wanted to play," Summitt said. "I said, ‘No, you don't pick and choose now Sylvia.' And then when we were visiting (at Summitt's house this summer) she said, ‘We want to play you.' "
The next morning Summitt called Danielle Donehew, her director of basketball operations.
"I asked, ‘Do we have an opening coming up anytime soon?' "Summitt said. "And she said, ‘We sure do.' And I said, ‘Well, let's put in North Carolina.' "
In a remark that nobody believed Summitt said, "We've been playing such a tough schedule. We've going to have to drop somebody."
The series has been set for one game in Chapel Hill in 2006-07 and then one in Knoxville in 2007-08.
"It starts a two-game series, and then we'll talk about it. If we can't score over 20 points against them I'm not going to play them anymore," she said to much laughter.
COMMON OPPONENTS: North Carolina and Tennessee have shared several opponents this season in Maryland, Duke, UConn, Vanderbilt and Old Dominion. It gives the coaches more game tape, but nobody saw it as a particular edge.
"I don't know that it has a big impact," Summitt said. "I was amazed at the number of teams that we've faced. I didn't want to look at that very long because Duke pretty much annihilated us on their court, and North Carolina's been able to find a way to beat Duke. I thought I'm not going to get caught up in this. They went into overtime at Old Dominion, which, when I saw that and saw the bracket I thought, it's going to be tough if we have to play Old Dominion on their home floor. I just quit looking. I just started getting indigestion and decided it wasn't worth it. I about lost my appetite on that one."
"I think more so than having the common opponents it's how often we've seen them on television," Shanna Zolman said. "I'd never seen them in person until last night. Being able to see them on ESPN quite a few times I think that's mainly the biggest reason as to why we're pretty familiar with them."
Zolman saw enough to realize Tennessee has to limit its turnovers to have a shot at winning and handle the vaunted Tar Heel pressure.
"It's going to be of utmost importance," Zolman said. "We were talking before practice a couple of the keys to this game for us in order to be successful and that's definitely the top of the list along with defense and rebounding. For us to be able to take care of the ball whether it's one on one or handling their press full court, half-court press, one-three-one, it's just going to be very crucial for us to break the press as a team and being able to use, hopefully, our height to our advantage."
Zolman can expect to see Latta bringing pressure on and off the ball.
"She does, not only on the ball with pressure that she brings but also with help side," Zolman said. "That's something we're going to have to be keep consciously aware – inside keep the ball high but even as a guard being able to use fakes, use our bodies. She does give up size, but she is very, very quick. She tries to just be a little gnat out there almost and just try to be all over you. We've just got to be able to maintain our composure and get the ball where it needs to go."
BIG BODIES: North Carolina can outrun any team in the nation. Tennessee will try to counter with its size.
"I think my role for my team is to go out there and be the bully, dominate on the defensive boards for my team and just focus on rebounding and keeping Larkins off the boards," Tye'sha Fluker said. "I think that's going to my job as far as the physical play and throwing my body at them, using my physical play to my benefit."
Erlana Larkins expects a battle inside. North Carolina got some exposure to the style Sunday against Purdue's Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Erin Lawless.
"Lawless, Wisdom-Hylton, they were pretty physical, but I think the physicality of (Monday's) game is just going to be a totally didn't aspect," Larkins said. "The girls from Tennessee are a little bit bigger and maybe a little bit stronger
"We know they're big inside, and they like to crash the boards hard. It doesn't take skill to rebound. It's all about heart and hustle. We have to go out there and make sure every loose ball is ours."
Tennessee knows it has to keep a body on Larkins.
"We watched some film this morning, particularly their personnel tape and watched her," Sidney Spencer said. "She's shooting a really high percentage because of her ability to get inside and get early position. She plays hard. She works hard. She does all of her work before the shot, and then she crashes the boards. She's all over the boards. We're going to very much have to concentrate on boxing her out and only getting one score."
Larkins has sometimes had a tendency to get into foul trouble, but she's corrected the problem of late.
"I'm not reaching as much," Larkins said. "But if I get pushed under the basket I'm not going to give up an easy layup. I have to play early defense. Ivory said something to me before the (Purdue) game, ‘You can't foul. We need you in the game.' That was before the game even started, before warmups or anything. I know she'll probably say something (Tuesday) so I've just got to keep that in mind how important I am to the team on the floor."
Parker is familiar with her game from their pre-college careers.
"We've been playing against each since early high school years," Parker said. "She's a great player; she's a great rebounder. From playing with her on the USA team I think we've got to put a body on her to stop her. She always goes after the ball – loose plays, loose balls – she always diving on the floor. We just have to match their hustle plays and rebounds."
MOM AND DAUGHTER: Spencer's parents, Stephen and Janice Spencer, are always in the stands for Tennessee games, but sometimes Janice Spencer can't watch and can be seen with her head down.
Her daughter, on the other hand, is rather unflappable on the court.
"I get like that when I'm not in the game," Spencer said. "Because when you're on the bench you can't control what goes on. I get like that when I'm on the bench. When I get in the game I'm so calm and relaxed and fine. I'm confident in my teammates' abilities and my abilities. If I'm off the court I'm like her."
Spencer was held scoreless against Rutgers, but she led the team in rebounds, assists and steals.
"I think in this program you learn it's not all about offense," Spencer said. "I realized early on I wasn't hitting my shots. I just try to focus on doing what I could control."
But Spencer, one of the team's best shooters, won't quit looking for baskets.
No. There's no question," said Spencer, who earlier this season had to be commanded to shoot more or sit on the bench. "It'll come back to me, maybe get some easy twos."
TEXT MESSAGES: Summitt found out the game was at 7 p.m. when she got a text message from Donehew.
"Danielle sent me an text and when I saw it I looked at it, and I go, ‘This is outstanding,' " Summitt said.
A text message? Summitt had avoided 21st century technology for a long time but she said she changed her mind while returning to Knoxville with her teenage son, Tyler, in October after her father's funeral in Middle Tennessee
"Actually the day we buried my dad we were driving back and I told Tyler, ‘I'm going to start texting.' " Summitt said.
Text messages are one way coaches can keep in contact with recruits, as it's a communication method of choice among youngsters.
"I didn't want to let my staff down," Summitt said. "They've been so good, and I said, ‘You know what? We're not going to lose a recruit because I'm not on top of things.' Tyler taught me. He helped me."
BY THE NUMBERS: If Tennessee wins tonight, Summitt will be going to her 17th Final Four. The win Sunday landed the Lady Vols in the program's 20th Elite Eight in the 25-year history of the NCAA Tournament.
Retired coaching legend Billie Moore is with the team – she's one of Summitt's closest friends and mentors – and she was asked to weigh in on the accomplishment.
"One of the things it tells you is that there's only one constant in the 25 years, and that's coaching," Moore said. "Players come and go; offensive systems come and go. The one constant has been the staff. They don't put any less priority on (being) willing to do anything it takes to give the players all the resources, to give them all the information they need to be successful. That's not any less 25 years later. Anytime you look at what quality does someone bring, you look at longevity. There's no one that compares."