Summitt feels for ailing LSU coach
By MECHELLE VOEPEL
The Kansas City Star
NEW ORLEANS — Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has been to the Women's Final Four 15 times. So she can scarcely imagine what it would be like to coach 40 seasons, have your program go to its first Final Four ... and not be on the sidelines.
But that's the situation Summitt's friend, LSU coach Sue Gunter, is in. Health problems forced Gunter to take a medical leave of absence for the rest of the season in February.
So when LSU meets Tennessee tonight at 6 in the first women's national semifinal game at New Orleans Arena, Gunter will just be watching. And here the Final Four is an hour down the road from the LSU campus where Gunter has coached since 1982. How about that luck?
And guess who was supposed to coach the 1980 Olympic team, which didn't compete because of the U.S. boycott? Gunter.
“It breaks my heart that she cannot be on the bench for this,” Summitt said Saturday. “Because of all she's meant to so many players and coaches and just people that love this game. Obviously, that doesn't seem fair.
“But the way she's handled this is the way she's handled everything. With a very positive, upbeat attitude. So I wish her the very best.”
And that will be the extent of Summitt's sympathy. Because she's out to win her program's seventh NCAA title, and LSU is in the way. Tennessee, the overall No. 1 seed in this tournament, has stomped on the dreams of more than a few fellow Southeastern Conference teams over the years.
Tennessee is 12-2 in NCAA Tournament games against the SEC; the Vols' last NCAA loss to a team from its league was in 1985. They are 4-0 in the Final Four vs. SEC teams.
“One thing it does, it gives us a chance to have a feel for what they like to do offensively and defensively,” Summitt said of facing SEC teams in the postseason. “And I think it helps cut down on the preparation time of trying to figure out personnel, and really study an opponent.
“Fortunately for us, we have had some success. But this is a new year and a new challenge.”
Tennessee beat LSU 85-62 in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 29, stretching the Vols' series lead over the Tigers to 31-7. Tennessee outrebounded LSU 44-28 in that game, and the emphasis tonight for both teams will be on the boards.
“Everybody for us is going to really have to concentrate on rebounds,” said LSU sophomore Seimone Augustus, who was selected as a Kodak All-American on Saturday. “But especially, we have to hit the offensive boards and get some second chances.”
Here's a scary thought for LSU fans: Augustus might have been wearing orange tonight. The recruiting battle for her went down to Tennessee and LSU, and the Baton Rouge, La., native decided to stay at home.
“I feel very proud about leading my hometown team to the Final Four,” Augustus said. “I wanted to go somewhere that it hadn't been done and make that happen.”
But she admits it's been a little crazy with ticket requests.
“There have been a lot of strange phone calls from people I swear I've never heard from before,” Augustus said. “But none of the coaches have let us be too overwhelmed by anything.”
Running the show now as interim coach for LSU is former All-American guard Dana “Pokey” Chatman, who was a senior for the Tigers the last time the Final Four was in New Orleans, in 1991.
“Pokey is a lot like (current LSU point guard) Temeka Johnson: very quick with the ball, a big playmaker,” Summitt said. “I thought the team took on her personality. And she was tough.
“I could see her coaching, most definitely. And now I see Sue Gunter Jr. on the bench. Just watching her demeanor and her interaction with the players, I see Pokey is handling things a lot like Sue would handle them.”
For her part, Chatman hopes the focus will be on her players and not on the bittersweet coaching situation. Yet she admits it feels very good to be here, especially considering that when she was a senior at LSU, the Tigers were upset in the NCAA second round.
“Not that it replaces the disappointment of '91,” Chatman said, “it just gives you a sense of enjoyment from a different perspective.”
LSU (4) vs. Tennessee (1)
• WHEN/WHERE: 6 tonight at New Orleans Arena
• TV/RADIO: ESPN; no radio
P No. Player Ht. Yr. PPG RPG
G 2 Temeka Johnson 5-3 Sr. 12.9 4.9
G 45 Doneeka Hodges 5-9 Sr. 14.1 3.8
G 33 Seimone Augustus 6-1 So. 19.5 5.9
F 42 Tillie Willis 6-3 Jr. 3.6 4.4
F 32 Wendlyn Jones 6-1 So. 6.5 5.3
G 32 Scholanda Hoston 5-10 So. 8.7 2.4
F 42 Hanna Bieracka 6-1 Fr. 4.5 3.4
C 50 Treynell Clavelle 6-5 So. 3.7 3.3
P No. Player Ht. Yr. PPG RPG
F 4 LaToya Davis 6-0 Sr. 5.0 3.2
F 43 Shyra Ely 6-2 Jr. 15.0 8.0
C 33 Ashley Robinson 6-5 Sr. 8.1 6.4
G 3 Tasha Butts 5-11 Sr. 10.4 5.2
G 5 Shanna Zolman 5-10 So. 12.1 2.6
F 1 Sidney Spencer 6-3 Fr. 5.6 3.5
C 50 Tye'sha Fluker 6-5 So. 5.5 3.2
G 25 Brittany Jackson 6-0 Jr. 7.6 2.0
• LAST 10: LSU 7-3, Tennessee 9-1.
• ABOUT LSU: The Tigers have gotten hot at just the right time, and the offensive execution has made a big difference during the tournament. ... In the NCAA games, Augustus has shown herself as a true elite player, and earned Kodak All-America honors on Saturday. ... Five of LSU's losses this season were to fellow Southeastern Conference teams.
• ABOUT TENNESSEE: The Vols lost point guard Loree Moore in January, and Butts has taken over that role since. ... Tennessee's rebounding prowess has been the key factor in its NCAA victories thus far. ... The Vols haven't won an NCAA title since their championship in Kemper Arena in 1998. ... Ely was selected as a Kodak All-American on Saturday.
• BOTTOM LINE: Tennessee has had a ton of success against fellow SEC schools in the NCAA Tournament. And Tennessee can counterbalance the Tigers' superior quickness on the perimeter with a stronger inside game. LSU has been on a roll but the Tigers will have to rebound far better than they did in their regular-season loss to Tennessee.