April 08, 2004

Summitt: Vols have plenty to be proud of

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee -- Pat Summitt believes her players still have plenty to be proud of despite losing the national championship game to Connecticut.

``They're one of the gutsiest, most determined, most ambitious teams that I've coached in a long time,'' Summitt said.

This season's Lady Vols were considered less talented than previous editions, but they made it to the NCAA final in New Orleans, where they lost to UConn 70-61 Tuesday night.

Leadership from the three seniors, particularly Tasha Butts, helped Tennessee pull out several close victories. Some consider this season Summitt's best coaching job.

And she has helped ensure the Lady Vols make another run next season with a top recruiting class. Summitt, who has won six NCAA titles, also gets back point guard Loree Moore, who missed half of the season with a torn knee ligament.

The Lady Vols finished 31-4 with a difficult schedule that included a win at then-No. 1 Duke and in overtime at Stanford and DePaul. Tennessee won a seventh straight regular-season Southeastern Conference title with a 14-0 record but lost to Georgia in the semifinals of the league tournament.

The Lady Vols were still awarded the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament and started on the road for the first time. Once the Lady Vols got to Norman, Okla., for the Midwest Regional, things got interesting.

Tennessee beat Baylor in the regional semifinal after officials called a foul and put 0.2 seconds back on the clock after time expired. Butts made the free throws for the win.

The Lady Vols beat Stanford in the regional final after Butts scored with 1.7 seconds left, and Nicole Powell missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

In the national semifinals, Tennessee faced LSU and needed another miracle finish.

This time Butts missed a layup, but LSU point guard Temeka Johnson was triple-teamed on the inbounds play. The ball came loose, and Shyra Ely passed it to LaToya Davis for a wide-open layup with 1.6 second left that won the game.

Luck ran out for the Lady Vols against UConn, which became only the second school to win three straight NCAA titles. Summitt's Tennessee team led by Chamique Holdsclaw did it from 1996-98.

Butts and the rest of the current group of seniors will leave school without winning an SEC or national championship during their careers.

``I don't think it takes away from what you did. You have to hold your head up and just know that a lot of teams didn't get here,'' Butts said.

``But when you are a team the caliber of Tennessee you expect to win championships. Obviously we haven't, but I don't think you can take away from what we have accomplished.''

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