Lady Vols earn No. 1 seed

Pat Summitt was happy to see some new faces in Tennessee's bracket. The players got a bigger kick out of the spot in which they imitated their coach. The Lady Vols expressed no surprise at not being picked to win the title and said the only opinion that matters is the one held among them.

Tennessee, 30-2, received a number one seed and was assigned to the Oklahoma City region. The Lady Vols first game will be Sunday night (9:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2) against No. 16 seed Oral Roberts, 19-13, in West Lafayette, Ind. The Golden Eagles earned their NCAA entry by winning the Summit League tourney title. Oral Roberts and Tennessee have never played each other.

"I like not having a lot of familiar faces," Pat Summitt said. "I think having new opponents I think that probably is a breath of fresh air for everyone."

Tennessee has faced three teams this season that were assigned to the Oklahoma City region in Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Duke with the possibility of facing only two because of how the brackets line up.

There is a benefit to drawing familiar teams in terms of scouting, but Summitt said it's more of a downside to have those teams know Tennessee so well.

I'll take my chances (with new opponents)," Summitt said.

The other two teams in Tennessee's pod in West Lafayette are No. 9 seed Purdue, which is hosting the games at Mackey Arena, and No. 8 seed Utah.

The Lady Vols have never played Utah. They last played Purdue in 2005 when Summitt set the record – beating North Carolina legend Dean Smith – for NCAA Division I wins with 880. Summitt now has 977 victories and counting with no plans to retire anytime soon.

That 2005 game against the Boilermakers was played in Knoxville in the NCAA tourney sub-regional final. Last year Tennessee played Pittsburgh on its home floor in the second round. The Lady Vols would have faced Old Dominion on its home floor in 2006 in the second round, but ODU lost in the first round. Summitt has no issue with those matchups because she knows some teams have to host the tourney and will get home court.

If Purdue and Tennessee both win Sunday – and Utah is a formidable challenger in the first round – they will play Tuesday night at Mackey Arena.

"Purdue had to play us on our home floor," Summitt said. "How can I complain about that as many times as I've hosted?"

For now, Summitt was more concerned with getting game tape on Oral Roberts, a Summit League team in Tulsa, Okla. The Golden Eagles are led by 6'2 forward Jenny Hardin, the conference's preseason player of the year, and 5'8 guard Rachel Watman, the MVP of the conference tourney.

Video Coordinator Betsy McAllister left Summitt's house as soon as the brackets were announced to retrieve game tape, because both Summitt and Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who will scout the first-round game, wanted to watch Oral Roberts before going to bed Monday night.

"We have one tape on them for sure and Betsy is back at the office," Summitt said. "I told her I wanted it tonight."

McAllister is the team MVP on selection night and has spent the season amassing game tapes of all teams that could be in the field of 64.

"Got to have it," Summitt said. "We've got a library of information."

"Every game that's on we copy just for this reason right here," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said.

Warlick will scout Purdue, and Assistant Coach Nikki Caldwell will scout Utah. Since there is one day between games, the scouting process for the second round has to start in advance.

Having a bracket shifts practice – the Lady Vols return Tuesday afternoon – to game preparation and away from concepts and principles.

Summitt had given the team three days off after the SEC tourney championship and then practiced for three days at an intense pace. She gave the team two days off on Sunday and Monday, and the players seemed refreshed and downright giddy Monday evening. It is also spring break so they don't have classes to attend.

"It's back to training camp almost," Lockwood said of pre-bracket practices. "It's nice to have that time but there's a point where you've got players' attention, and I think Pat planned very, very wisely to back off. We have had very good practices. They had time to rest their bodies, rest their minds. There's been no pressure on them the last two days. They've been able to be normal people."

Senior wing player Alberta Auguste said the break from practice and class rejuvenated the team.

"It helps a whole lot and relieves a lot of stress," Auguste said. "We just have to regroup and refocus and get ready to play some basketball. We deserve to have respect. We don't have it, but we're going to go back and get our respect."

That remark referenced commentators Kara Lawson and Stacey Dales both picking against Tennessee in the Final Four.

"It's Kara's job to do that," Auguste said of the former Lady Vol player. "I don't blame her. Go against us. It gave us good luck last year. I want her to go against us again, and I want Stacey Dales to do the same thing. We're going to shock the world again. All we have to do is prove a point."

Summitt said the predictions didn't surprise her.

"Not really," Summitt said. "I've heard it all year. I've heard it from Kara and ESPN. I've read it in the newspaper. From Stacey. The list is pretty long."

Tennessee is the defending national champion, the No. 3 team in the country, a top seed in the tourney and has the best player in the country in Candace Parker. But that wasn't enough for Lawson or Dales to choose Tennessee as the title winner.

"It's motivation," Parker said. "It is. I'm excited they didn't pick us. We're the defending champions. Obviously we still have more respect to earn. We're in to doing extra credit so we'll go into this tournament and just take it one game at a time and focus on that.

"It doesn't matter what other people think. It matters what we think in this room, and we know what we're capable of."

The team reacted with applause and shouts when the No. 1 seed popped up on the TV screen at Summitt's house, where the players had gathered to eat dinner – Summitt peddled her homemade ice cream and had plenty of takers – and laughed at the spot in which they mocked their coach's trademark stare. The ESPN clips of her players and her son, Tyler Summitt, had Summitt laughing, too.

"That was real funny," Shannon Bobbitt said. "Pat is a great coach and a great person. She's a competitor, and we have fun mocking her. Alex or Nick, they do it best."

Alex Fuller and Nicky Anosike apparently can do dead-on impressions of Summitt's stare, mannerisms and catchphrases.

Fuller, a redshirt junior who is a senior academically has opted to return next season but must say good-bye to the class she entered with in Anosike, Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle. Auguste and Bobbitt also joined the class to replenish the roster after three players transferred. This will be the class's last run through the NCAA tourney.

"It's a bittersweet kind of thing because all six of us are seniors, and we're kind of like the big sisters of the team," Fuller said.

Hornbuckle eagerly awaited Monday's announcement, and the room got restless since the Oklahoma City bracket was the third one to be outlined.

"Anxious, very excited waiting for Selection Monday," Hornbuckle said. "Looking forward to getting back on the court for one, and for two, just to see how it's going to play out my senior year."

Once the show was over the team seemed anxious to get back to work.

"I think we could have played after we watched the show," Fuller said. "We're ready to finally get in the tournament."

"I'm excited," Parker said. "Postseason is just fun in general. I was a little surprised. I didn't know who was going to be our two seed. We have our work cut out for us."

The players declined to look ahead to any potential second-round matchup.

"We're just going to take it one game at a time," Parker said. "We're focused on Oral Roberts. I don't know a lot about them so this week is preparation for that and just focusing on one game at a time. That's what we've done in the years previous and that's what's helped us be successful in the NCAA Tournament."

It's not a sports cliché with this group and the veterans have a track record of both practicing well and playing in the moment.

"Since we got beat by LSU (in the regular season) this team has been very, very focused," Warlick said. "They've been fun to coach and fun to be around. I'd be shocked if we weren't ready to play because they've been bringing it every day in practice and they've enjoyed practice. When a team enjoys going to practice then you've got something special."

For the freshmen the selection show was the chance to participate in something they had previously only watched on television.

"I've seen it on TV when I was little – everyone getting together and Pat cooking and hanging out with the team," said Angie Bjorklund, a native of Washington state who had hoped for the Spokane Regional. "It was fun. It was exciting actually being a part of the team and watching it and finally figuring out where we're going to be placed.

"The time between (the SEC and NCAA tourneys) just builds up, but it's exciting."

Freshman Sydney Smallbone, who is from South Bend, will get to go to her home state for the sub-regional.

"For sure my family will go," Smallbone said. "It's only two and half hours from my house. It's not really a home game but close enough."

She also enjoyed being a part of the event at Summitt's house, where the food was plentiful and eaten in abundance by players, staff and media.

"It's just a family," Smallbone said. "That was cool to be part of that."

Freshman Vicki Baugh said the experience was all new for the newcomers.

"It was real neat because we didn't know what was going on," Baugh said. "It was real mysterious. It was fun."

All the players were happy to have an opponent and to return to competition.

"I'm very excited because it's do or die," Baugh said. "We have to win from here on, and that's just going to make us play better."

"It's always better to go to practice realizing who we've got to face," Hornbuckle said. "Not to say we practice for no reason but after awhile it's kind of like, ‘Where is our opponent? What are we preparing for?' And now it's the excitement of realizing one game at a time. Survive and advance."

"We're going to approach every game like we need to win, because we do," Anosike said. "You either win or you go home and I don't think any of us, especially the seniors, are ready to end the season."

The players were much like the fans – waiting and wondering how the brackets would unfold.

"Everyone was nervous about what site we go to and who we're playing," Bobbitt said, Now everything is out in the open and so all we have to do is prepare."

Bobbitt wasn't phased by not being picked to repeat and said it was motivation for the players.

"Of course," Bobbitt said. "We love being the underdog. That way everyone sleeps on us. We're just going to come out here and compete and prove everyone wrong."

Fuller said the team needs to both use it as motivation and then put it aside.

"It's motivation, but we can't pay attention to that," Fuller said. "We just have to play our game."

Hornbuckle explained how the Lady Vols are both the hunted and the overlooked.

"You kind of expect to be the underdog." Hornbuckle said. "In essence we have a target on our back but at the same time people always try to pick out our weaknesses and that's good. That keeps us grounded, and it keeps the goal in perspective. We understand we're not favored to win, and we don't want to be favored to win. We want to come out here and prove something."

This is the 19th time the Lady Vols drew a number one seed and it will be their 27th NCAA tourney. Tennessee has always made the tourney field and has played 117 games with an overall record of 98-19. Its record in the first and second rounds is 40-0 – top seeded teams got byes in earlier formats – and Tennessee has always made the Sweet 16.

The other number one seeds are UConn, North Carolina and Maryland. UConn drew Big East sister Rutgers as a two seed; North Carolina got LSU as a two seed with a potential matchup in New Orleans; and Maryland has Stanford, a team some experts tapped as a one seed.

"I'm surprised they put Rutgers and Connecticut in the same region," Summitt said. "I wouldn't want to be in the same region with LSU. Maryland, Stanford, that's a jump ball right there (in terms of which team is a one seed)."

The Selection Committee chairwoman, Judy Southard, the senior associate director of athletics at LSU, said the committee ended up with Rutgers and UConn together because of wanting to preserve bracket balance as the two seeds were placed.

"We were at an impasse if we wanted to protect the balance of the brackets," Southard said on the selection show.

Southard cited Maryland's strength of schedule and overall body of work. Stanford won the Pac 10 but also had two conferences losses to Southern Cal and UCLA, two teams that did not make the field. In 2006 Tennessee fell to a two seed because of conference losses to Kentucky and Florida, two teams that did make the NCAA tourney that year.

Hornbuckle said each region had its set of challenges.

"You can never say it's a better draw," said Hornbuckle, who rattled off the teams in the Oklahoma City Regional. "There's no such thing as coming off with a break."

If Tennessee has any advantage it's the schedule Summitt puts before her players every season.

"Our schedule it works wonders for us in postseason," Hornbuckle said. "It builds confidence whether we lost a game or we won it. It's a matter of playing against a different style."

Lockwood will spend this week getting familiar with the teams in Tennessee's region. He rated the two seed as one of the best teams in the overall field.

"Texas A&M they had a phenomenal run," Lockwood said. "I've seen them play. They guard, they guard, they guard and they're athletic. They're certainly a team that is formidable."

"We've got our work cut out for us just like any other team," Smallbone said. "We've got to take care of the little things in practice and have good preparation going into our games."

Warlick expects Tennessee's fans to help in the state of Indiana.

"We've got a lot of fans up in Indiana and that area," Warlick said. "I think we'll be OK."

Auguste said the break given to the team by Summitt was exactly what it needed. Now the players want to practice.

"We've been ready," Auguste said. "We got a lot of sleep. It's not going to be a cakewalk. We know every team is going to be out to get us. We're just ready to play. We're ready to practice, regroup, clear our minds and get ready for the tournament."

Auguste stepped up last season in March and April and her performance in Nashville – she started in the title game against LSU – indicated that she was ready for postseason again.

"I step up for big games," Auguste said. "Everything is on the line. Win or go home. And that's one thing we don't want to do it. We don't want to come back to Knoxville without winning the championship."

Summitt wasn't concerned what the experts thought about Tennessee's chances. After the selection show she spent a few minutes talking to the team privately and then addressed the media.

"It doesn't matter what anyone else says, thinks," Summitt said. "It matters what we think, who we respect and what we do."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories