April 05, 2004

Tennessee is not feeling the love

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Tennessee can do without being America's sweethearts.

The Volunteers would much rather be America's champions.

``We know a lot of people hate Tennessee,'' Shanna Zolman said. ``We know people don't think we should be in this game. We just use that as motivation.''

As Tennessee prepares for its 11th NCAA championship game and looks to win a record seventh title, the players don't think they're being paranoid. They believe they're just stating facts.

``Maybe a lot of people are getting tired of Tennessee, tired of our high profile coach, tired of the orange,'' Tasha Butts said. ``We hear the boos. That motivates us.''

Long before they beat LSU in the semifinals to earn a fourth championship berth against Connecticut, the Vols were hearing their detractors.

It might have been Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma who called Tennessee the evil empire, but they don't think many others are giving them love.

``When you succeed a lot of people get tired of you,'' Shyra Ely said. ``They hate you or they love you.''

Tennessee has worn its welcome thin with outstanding success.

Under coach Pat Summitt the Vols have an 851-166 record. They are 85-16 in the NCAA tournament and have double-digit wins over 28 teams.

The path to the Final Four was tougher than usual for Tennessee this year. Not just because the Vols had to win four on the road, but because of all the things they had to over come to get to the tournament -- the absence of a dominating player, injuries and players moving to new positions.

The lack of respect for what they have accomplished is what really galls the team.

``We know everybody is against us,'' Butts said. ``People don't give us any credit for what we've done this year. We didn't have any big blowouts in the tournament, so they say we were just lucky.''

Tennessee arrived at Tuesday's title game thanks to three straight last-second wins.

The Vols got to the Final Four on a pair of free throws and a basket in the last seconds by Butts. They also got a break after officials called a disputed foul as time expired and put two-tenths of a second back on the clock to set up one of those wins.

Tennessee's 52-50 victory over LSU also was on a final play.

``I've heard from a lot of coaches that a little bit of luck is always needed to win the championship,'' Zolman said. ``Obviously we've had some luck on our side. Now we have one more game to prove how good or how lucky we can be.''

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