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Friday, February 15, 2002
Missing the Meek link

By Maria M. Cornelius
Knoxville News-Sentinel

Anyone wondering how rare such a player as Chamique Holdsclaw or Tamika Catchings is, need only look at this season's Tennessee Lady Vols team.

Shyra Ely
Shyra Ely might be the future of Lady Vols hoops. "I like the way she's playing," Pat Summitt said.
Precocious, uber-talented and possessing an innate sense of the basketball court, the two Meeks transformed the game. Holdsclaw became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the University of Tennessee -- men or women. She received so many accolades that it consumes a large portion of the team's media guide. Holdsclaw was a four-time All-American and only the fourth Lady Vol to have her jersey retired, joining Holly Warlick, Bridgette Gordon and Daedra Charles.

Catchings exploded as a freshman, scoring 27 points in the NCAA title game to cap a 39-0 record in 1998. She outscored Holdsclaw as a freshman. She has been called perhaps the most versatile player in Tennessee history. Catchings had 3-point range, could take anyone off the dribble, believed every rebound belonged to her and played tenacious defense.

Catchings came out of the flatlands of Texas; Holdsclaw emerged from the courts of Queens, N.Y. Both players had one thing in common: They wanted to be the best player ever.

Does Tennessee have that type of player on this team? A convincing argument could be made for junior Kara Lawson, who scored 29 points, including a shot at the buzzer Thursday night to beat Mississippi State, 80-78. And freshman Shyra Ely has potential. "I like the way she's playing," Summitt said of Ely.

But when Tennessee needs a basket, and the defense concentrates on Lawson and center Michelle Snow, nobody takes charge. "They guard some people, and don't guard others," Summitt said. The players stand on offense, waiting on Lawson or Snow to get open. "It's a reminder of how young we are," the coach said.

"We just haven't learned to play for a full 40 minutes," Lawson said. "We're still a team that plays in spurts."

Unless this team finds the throttle, the Lady Vols will be home alone in late March instead of in the Lone Star State for the Final Four in San Antonio.

A visit from Vandy
Vanderbilt heads to Knoxville on Saturday evening for a rematch, a game a few Lady Vols fans have referred to as a grudge match because of the loss in Nashville and the foul of Michelle Snow by Chantelle Anderson, which some viewed as intentional and one that could have seriously injured Snow.

Summitt said the matter has not even been discussed. "This is Tennessee-Vanderbilt, not Chantelle and Michelle. We have to play as a team, no agendas here."

Everything must change
About the only way to know who will start a Tennessee basketball game is to show up. Coach Pat Summitt has tinkered with her lineup all season - she says she is looking for five people who will play defense and be efficient offensively -- to the tune of 12 different combinations in 23 games. The last nine games resulted in eight different lineups. The one consistent starter has been junior Kara Lawson. She has been tapped for tipoff in every game.

Higher ground
Although Tennessee slipped to No. 3 in the polls after the loss to Vanderbilt and will surely fall again after the Texas defeat, the Lady Vols can find solace in another ranking. The WBCA/Summerville Strength of Schedule poll has the Lady Vols No. 1 with a score of .712. Filling out the top five are Texas Tech .660; Texas .627; Vanderbilt .625; and Rutgers .623.

Undefeated Connecticut, which is ranked No. 1 in the country by AP, comes in at No. 26, primarily because the Huskies play in the weak Big East Conference. Of course the only ranking that matters is where a team ends up March 31, and nobody has knocked off UConn so far this season.

Conradt vs. Summitt
Texas coach Jody Conradt maintained her slim lead over Summitt with Tuesday's 69-66 win. Conradt has now tallied 782 wins. Summitt has 780 after the win at Mississippi State on Thursday night. Texas returns to the court Saturday at Baylor. The coaches were gracious in victory and defeat, underscoring the respect they have for each other and their respective programs.

Without prompting from the media in the postgame news conference, Conradt acknowledged the UT fans. When Conradt headed courtside after the game to do her radio show, the orange fans hanging around for Summitt's radio show applauded Conradt.

"I was very humbled by the response that the Tennessee fans gave me when I went back out on the court, (and) I appreciate that very much," Conradt said. "I think that's one of the neat things about women's basketball. We all want to win, we're all competitive, and the games are hard fought, but there is an appreciation that goes across the board."

Media watch
The mid-January issue of "American Way," the in-flight publication of American Airlines lists 50 "must-make events" if you consider yourself a sports fan. The top three are attending opening day at Wrigley Field, soaring at Michael Jordan's "flight school" and playing a round at Pebble Beach. Coming in at No. 38 - the first women's event on the list besides a Final Four and the U.S. Open tennis tournament - is a Tennessee basketball game. "Watch Pat Head Summitt's legend grow as the Lady Vols devour another opponent," the magazine says.

Speak of the week
  • "It was kind of like playing a team that coach wants us to be." -- Snow on the physical and fast-pace play of Texas

  • "Losses hurt all the way around, wherever they are, whenever they come. The only time it hurts more is when it ends your season." -- Lawson after being asked if the Texas loss hurt more because it was so close to postseason

    Maria M. Cornelius writes this column for The Knoxville News-Sentinel's web site, www.knoxnews.com. E-mail her at cornelius@knews.com.