Final Four teams on tear as games shift to Cleveland


By Graham Hays
DAYTON, Ohio -- A band isn't eligible for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 25 years after the release of its first album. Until Purdue hung around and made North Carolina work for at least most of the second half in Dallas on Tuesday, it seemed like a team wasn't eligible to advance to the Final Four in Cleveland until it beat someone by close to 25 points in a regional final.

Unfortunately, after a stirring opening three rounds, drama was in short supply and unsold tickets were abundant in the Elite Eight matchups Monday and Tuesday.

The upshot is that all four teams advancing -- even the Tar Heels, considering the quality of their opponent -- come off performances in which they looked like championship material. Very little went wrong for Tennessee, North Carolina, LSU and Rutgers.

This just in: Things will go wrong in Cleveland.

Perhaps one team will continue riding a wave of excellence to two more flawless wins and a national title. More likely, the team that cuts down the nets on Tuesday will be the group that best adjusts to whatever adversity befalls it.

Maybe Kia Vaughn will get into foul trouble for Rutgers.

Maybe Quianna Chaney's outside touch will abandon her.

Maybe Shannon Bobbitt will look inexperienced.

Maybe Erlana Larkins won't get touches in the post.

Or maybe any of several dozen other potential pitfalls will materialize. Final Four games might become classics based on what happens down the stretch, but given the inherent pressures of the stage, they are rarely works of art from start to finish.

So as the four teams prepare to head to Ohio, you might want to imagine the voice from VH1's "Behind the Music" series setting up the show's famous tease.

"Team X was riding high as March came to a close. They were on top of the world with fans who thought they could do no wrong and prospects bright for the future. But then came a fateful trip to Cleveland when things started to fall apart for the group."

For three of four teams that could do no wrong in the first four rounds, the good times are going to come to a crashing halt.


By Graham Hays

DAYTON, Ohio -- Pat Summitt owns as impressive a past as any person in the history of women's college basketball. Candace Parker has as bright a future as it's possible to imagine a player possessing. All of which makes the intersection of those two timelines a pretty good place to call the present for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

With Parker putting on a display for the ages with 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, and Summitt pushing all the right buttons from the sideline, Tennessee rolled to its 17th Final Four with a breathtakingly dominant 98-62 win against a Mississippi team that had knocked off Maryland and Oklahoma to reach the Elite Eight.

Parker's first trip to the Final Four as an active player (she was on the team that went to Indianapolis in 2005 but redshirted with a knee injury) will provide Summitt with an opportunity to win her seventh national championship, and the intersection of past and future proved to be the soundtrack of the night in Dayton.

As the minutes ticked down toward the start of Tuesday's game, the pep bands from both schools broke out separate renditions of Parliament's classic "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)." The song, which first appeared on the group's 1976 "Mothership Connection" album following the addition of the legendary Maceo Parker to George Clinton's staggering array of talent, easily predated everyone with an instrument in Dayton (not to mention the starting lineups of both teams) by nearly a decade.

But one year before the song began its evolution from cutting-edge funk hit to pep band staple, a 22-year-old Summitt beat Middle Tennessee for her first win as head coach of the Lady Vols. Little did she imagine at that time a world where her 6-foot-4 All-American would dribble through a full-court press, swat shots into the first row of the stands, spin on a dime before soaring under the basket for a reverse layup and generally own the boards.

"Did I think I'd see that? No," Summitt said with a chuckle. "When I started coaching, we had a point guard, we had a 2-guard, and we tried to find a good 3-player who could play on the wing. Then we had two post players that were not that mobile. They could catch and pivot and shoot, and that was about it. You didn't want them to dribble."

Evolution used to be a touchy subject in the state that conducted the Scopes trial, but the basketball version is impossible to argue with when comparing that picture with everything Parker can do on the court. More …


By Mechelle Voepel

DALLAS -- The fans in the stands right behind press row -- some small, some not-so-small -- all seemed to have big lungs.


And when North Carolina's dynamic duo finished with its net-cutting after an 84-72 regional final victory over Purdue on Tuesday, Erlana Larkins and Ivory Latta started over toward the yellers …


I thought I was at a Hannah Montana concert. (Or, you know, whoever's cool now.) Kids were tossing T-shirts, shoes, mini basketballs and Sharpies, pleading for autographs. Youngsters and adults were taking pictures with their cell phone cameras.


A thousand miles from Chapel Hill, N.C., the Tar Heels definitely felt some love from a small (3,311) but vocal crowd at Reunion Arena.

"I'm honored," Latta said later. "I had to show them some love back."

Larkins said, "It feels good, but also kind of weird. Because I would never think in a million years that little kids would be screaming my name."

Well, why not? Even the youngest among them probably could have added up 29 points plus 10 rebounds plus 3 assists plus 4 steals and know that equals the regional's most outstanding player, which Larkins was named.

"You know Erlana's OK," Latta said, teasing her teammate. "No, she's a great post player. And I'm confident every time I give her the ball. I get in trouble because I'm there watching, because I don't know what she's going to do next. She did a fantastic job tonight, and she'll continue to do well for us."

Latta didn't too badly herself, with 21 points, four assists and two steals. Rashanda McCants had 15 points, Camille Little 10 and LaToya Pringle seven points and 10 rebounds.

Purdue's big three of Katie Gearlds (28 points), Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton (14) and Erin Lawless (10) did just about everything it could. Rookie guard FahKara Malone had nine points and played 40 minutes. Sophomore Jodi Howell, after getting crunched to the floor against Georgia and injuring her shoulder, gritted through 17 minutes of a game she wasn't expected to play in and scored seven points. More …