Longhorns, Lady Vols to clash
AUSTIN, Texas -- When No. 1 Tennessee and No. 4 Texas agreed to move their game from mid-December to Thanksgiving night, coaches Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt took a deep breath. Both knew it would be an early-season meat-grinder that would test their lofty early-season rankings.
|Depth. Big-time shooters. A big-time starting five.
Yes, UT has it all. Trouble is, that applies to both the University of Texas and the University of Tennessee. They each return several quality players and have plenty of firepower on the perimeter.
Tennessee's height advantage is the one thing that might set these teams apart Thursday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). Texas loves to run, but you must control the boards to get your transition game going. The Lady Vols -- who start 6-2 Shyra Ely (a Kodak All-American last season) at the 3, 6-4 Sidney Spencer at the 4 and 6-5 Tye'sha Fluker at center -- are averaging 45 boards per game this season. Also, none of Tennessee's three opponents has shot better than 37 percent.
While the teams match up very evenly, Texas' Tiffany Jackson could be another X-factor. While Ely vs. Heather Schreiber might be the best matchup to watch -- watch Ely try to take Schreiber down on the block, while the Longhorns' senior aims to take Ely away from the basket -- Jackson creates a mismatch. She is quicker than most posts, can take the ball inside our outside and post you up.
-- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
"That was the whole point,'' Conradt said. "It made our schedule tough ... but I think both of us are committed to showcasing not only our teams but our sport.''
For Summitt's Lady Vols, it will be the third of four games in a week but an opportunity she couldn't pass up. After Texas, the Lady Vols meet Temple on Dec. 2 and then No. 10 Duke.
"I said there was no way we needed to do it because we would need rest and preparation time, but at the same time I thought what a great window of opportunity for this game and for these two programs,'' Summitt said. "We obviously have had a great rivalry that has extended over the years and been one of the best in the women's game."
Summitt and Conradt rank 1-2 as the winningest coaches in women's college basketball -- and rank third and fourth, respectively, in career wins behind only Dean Smith (879) and Adolph Rupp (876) -- although both downplay their numbers rivalry. Summitt has lost the last three matchups with Conradt.
"It's not about the number of wins,'' said Summitt, who stands at 855 career victories and counting, seven ahead of Conradt. "For me, it's just about the team I'm coaching right now.''
Her team is loaded with a mix of veterans sprinkled with freshman talent from the nation's top recruiting class. The Lady Vols (3-0) are the queens of the SEC trifecta that tops this week's national rankings, just ahead of No. 2 LSU and third-ranked Georgia.
Senior Shyra Ely is a preseason All-American who led the Lady Vols to the NCAA national title game last season where they lost to Connecticut. The highlight of the freshman class so far as been the play of guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who has averaged nine points coming off the bench in the first three games.
Texas (1-1) returned four starters and 84 percent of its offense from last year's team that spent two weeks at No. 1 and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament before losing to LSU.
Seniors Heather Schreiber and Jaime Carey and sophomore Tiffany Jackson all are candidates for national player of the year honors.
That kind of talent made it surprising that Texas would blow a 15-point lead on the road in a 78-64 loss Sunday at Georgia. Jackson scored 27 and Schreiber 22, but the Longhorns did little else right.
"We had All-American performances from Tiffany and Heather and not much balance on either end of the floor,'' Conradt said. "It was a surprise.''
Texas is still trying to adjust to a new motion offense after four years of its inside-out approach with Stacy Stephens at center. Stephens graduated and Conradt is trying to make better use of athletes such as Jackson and Schreiber.
Summitt said she expects a fast-paced game. The Longhorns' ability to produce points in transition was a key to beating the Lady Vols the last three years, Summitt said.
"Texas is one of the best with transition in the country," she said. "In our last three outings with them that's where they had the advantage, from baseline-to-baseline and just getting up and down the floor and getting quick looks.
"We're going to need our legs. Against Texas, we're going to have to go up and down.''
Tennessee is 15-10 all-time in the series, but Texas has won the last three meetings. The Lady Vols last beat the Longhorns on Dec. 22, 2000. Nine of the 25 meetings have been decided by 10 points or less.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press