Tennessee-LaTech series to end next season

When Louisiana Tech comes to Knoxville next year it will mark the final regular season game in a four-decade series between the Lady Techsters and the Lady Vols. The splitting of the SEC into division play and the current two-for-one structure have resulted in the imminent ending of one of the longest-running rivalries in women's college basketball.

"They used to dominate us," said Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick, who has participated in 33 of the 40 games in the series with LaTech as either a player or a coach at Tennessee. "They were so good. They were well coached, they were physical, they had shooters. They were outstanding. They were before their time as a group."

The SEC women will split into East and West divisional play beginning with the 2009-10 season. That means home-and-away games each season with every team in the division, so Tennessee will have to drop two out-of-conference opponents to accommodate the two additional league games.

"We lose two games," Warlick said. "That was one of the games we felt like we had to drop unfortunately."

Two years ago, LaTech agreed to a two-for-one series – Tennessee got two at home for every one game in Ruston, La. – because Coach Pat Summitt was under an administrative edict to add more home games. Tennessee went to Ruston in 2006 and the Lady Techsters came here this season – the Lady Vols won on Monday, 81-60 – and will return to Knoxville next season in 2008. After that game, the series will come to a close. If the two teams were to face each other again after 2008, it would be because of postseason pairings.

The two-for-one structure was not conducive for LaTech, which is in the Western Athletic Conference and already travels extensively throughout the regular season because of league games with Nevada, Utah State, Boise State, San Jose State and Hawaii, among others.

"They're in the West," Warlick said of the Lady Techsters' geographical conference. "It used to be the battle was with Western Kentucky and that group. You don't hear about them playing anybody around here."

The two teams played their 40th game on Monday. Warlick, who played at Tennessee from 1976 to 1980, and has coached at her alma mater since 1985, was a part of all but seven of them.

A who's who of players in women's basketball has been a part of the series from Bridgette Gordon and Chamique Holdsclaw for Tennessee to Pam Gant and Venus Lacy for LaTech.

The series began Dec. 16, 1978 – Pat Summitt's fifth year at Tennessee; she is now in her 34th – with legendary Coach Sonja Hogg on the sidelines for LaTech. Coach Leon Barmore joined Hogg in 1982 and took over in 1985.

"It's been a great rivalry," Warlick said. "It's one of our oldest series."

Tennessee's first national title came in 1987 when the Lady Vols defeated the Lady Techsters, 67-44, in Austin, Texas. Prior to that game Tennessee's record against LaTech was 1-11. Tennessee now leads the series, 23-17.

"We battled it out," Warlick said. "They won a couple of championships (1981, 1982) before we ever did. I think that was why it was so special when we won our first championship against LaTech because we had so much respect for them."

Tennessee, 5-0, is getting ready in practice this week to face North Carolina, 8-0, a team it beat last April on its way to the program's seventh national title. No. 1 Tennessee will take on No. 4 North Carolina this Sunday in Knoxville at 7 p.m. (TV: ESPN2).

The male practice players returned Tuesday from Thanksgiving break and their presence was beneficial to say the least. With Kelley Cain and Cait McMahan rehabbing their knees on the sideline, the Lady Vols are down to nine players at practice.

"It's huge, plus we added a guy inside," Warlick said of the male practice squad. "They pressed us and that's how North Carolina is going to play. Anytime they can simulate the other team's style of play and their defense it's huge for us."

Despite the loss of Ivory Latta and Camille Little, the Lady Vols expect to see pretty much the same North Carolina team that they saw in Cleveland in terms of athleticism .

"They're a transition team and they're an offensive rebounding team," Warlick said. "If you think of what North Carolina stands for, that's where I see them. They're going to run the ball every chance they get and they're great offensive rebounders. That's the first two things you have to be concerned about before you can get to their half-court offense. They're playing the same style."

North Carolina lost its senior point guard, Alex Miller, to a left knee injury, last week. Miller, who tore the patella tendon, has had surgery and is expected to be out for the season. The Tar Heels have two freshmen point guards in Cetera DeGraffenreid, who now starts, and Italee Lucas.

"The two freshmen are doing a great job," Warlick said. "They'll just get better and better."

Tennessee used Monday's game to sit the starters for the most part – post players Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike played about eight minutes in each half – and get the Lady Vol freshmen some significant minutes.

"It was big," Warlick said. "Playing time is great experience for our young kids. It's a game. In practice we can kind of simulate it, but that's a game atmosphere. That's what they needed. They needed to be in that environment."

Forward Vicki Baugh pulled down 16 rebounds, the fourth-most ever by a Tennessee freshman. Ten of those were on the defensive end.

Once the freshmen got in, the coaches were content to let them stay on the floor, but in upcoming games they expect to look more at different combinations and not make wholesale substitutions.

"Vicki played a lot with Alex (Fuller), but I think she needs to get some reps with Candace," Warlick said. "Fuller is playing well right now. She gives us a spark."

Senior forward/guard Alberta Auguste also played significant minutes after emerging quickly from Summitt's doghouse after a poor practice performance last week. Auguste has battled a number of injuries to her calf, finger and wrist, and she also got struck in the face at practice last week.

"She just had a rough week last week," Warlick said. "She came back and played hard. She had a great practice today."

Tuesday's practice was also used to get repetitions at the free throw line. Tennessee only went to the line 14 times against LaTech. But that was partly because the Lady Vols were draining long-range shots, including 10 three-pointers in the first half.

"When you shoot as many threes as we did and make them you're not going to get a lot of penetration," Warlick said. "We didn't put ourselves in position to go to the free throw line. Nicky has got to get a little bit more consistent from the free throw line. She's working on that, and I think she's going to take care of that.

"If we weren't hitting threes from the outside, those threes would not have kept going up. We would have said, ‘Get you some paint points and go to the line.' It's a matter of how the guards are playing and how things are going and whether we're scoring or not from the outside. The Oklahoma game we were telling them to get paint points. Would we like to go the line more? Yes."

The Lady Vols will return to the practice court Wednesday and then will take off Thursday.

Sunday's game will be the second of five straight contests at home. Anosike said the primary benefit to the team is having the support of the fans.

"Anytime you can play at home – I don't know how many fans were there (Monday), but it was definitely enough – and have the crowd like we have that's always a benefit and always an advantage," Anosike said. "It's definitely going to help us on Sunday. I think the biggest thing is having that crowd."

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