Summitt hopes new season will be about hoops
Pat Summitt wants her 38th season at Tennessee to be all about
the Lady Vols and not her public battle with dementia.
Considering what the Hall of Fame coach means to so many, it may
be difficult for her to fully get her wish.
”That’s what I want to talk about, basketball, not dementia,”
Summitt said. ”I don’t want a pity party, because it is what it
Summitt is sure to get rousing ovations of support when the Lady
Vols are on the road, not to mention when they play at home
beginning with Sunday’s opener against Pepperdine.
The women’s basketball season starts Friday for 14 of the
preseason Top 25, including No. 1 Baylor and Brittney Griner. It
ends in Denver – the first time the Final Four will be held in the
Mountain time zone.
Tennessee is clearly the sentimental choice to make it there and
her Lady Vols players seem focused to win a ninth national
championship for their coach.
”She’s taking care of me as far as making me become a better
person, a better athlete,” Tennessee sophomore Meighan Simmons
said. ”I feel like now it’s our turn to return a favor to
To reach Denver, the Lady Vols will have to end a three-year
Final Four drought – long by Rocky Top standards. This talented
group of seniors, led by preseason All-America Shekinna Stricklen,
is trying to avoid being the first Tennessee class to not make the
Final Four in their careers.
The class of 1995 came the closest, as they didn’t reach it
until their senior season when they fell to Connecticut – the first
of Geno Auriemma’s seven titles.
UConn’s group this year is still a major contender despite the
graduation of four-time All-America Maya Moore. Auriemma is happy
to head into a season and not have to talk about streaks any more
after the Huskies’ NCAA record 90-game run came to an end last
”Could you imagine if they had kept that thing going?”
Auriemma said. ”It would have been so unfair to this new group to
have to worry about that. Now we can just focus on
Auriemma has a talented freshmen class to complement the four
returning starters, and a fifth straight trip to the Final Four
isn’t out of the question. He feels, for the first time in a few
years, there’s no obvious favorite to win it all.
”Clearly Baylor, Tennessee, and Notre Dame all have a lot of
talent back,” Auriemma said. ”But everyone has some question
marks. It will make the regular season more interesting and
It’s already the first time in five years that neither UConn or
Tennessee sits atop the preseason Top 25 poll. That honor falls on
Baylor. The Lady Bears are led by junior phenom Griner. The
6-foot-8 star worked hard in the offseason to improve her game,
spending 12 days with the U.S. women’s national team, which is
coached by Auriemma.
”She is definitely a unique talent,” he said. ”She’s so hard
to guard in so many ways, and she’s just beginning to tap her
Baylor has a tough schedule early with a potential matchup
against No. 2 Notre Dame in the Preseason WNIT final in
mid-November. The Lady Bears also play the Lady Vols and Huskies
before the New Year. With Griner, coach Kim Mulkey feels her squad
”If you have a team capable of playing them, go play them,”
Mulkey said. ”This schedule’s extremely tough – the toughest since
I’ve been at Baylor.”
One team that Mulkey won’t play after this season is Texas
A&M. The defending national champions are the biggest name in
women’s basketball to change conferences, with the Aggies heading
to the SEC next season.
Mulkey said at the Big 12 media day that she won’t play them
anymore. That’s unfortunate given the two rivals had four riveting
games last season, including a NCAA regional final game that drew
more than 11,500 fans.
The Pac-10 has undergone a major change this season, growing to
the Pac-12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah. The new
conference name probably won’t effect the standings much as
Stanford is the favorite to win its 12th straight league title.
Stanford will be looking to tie Connecticut and LSU with a fifth
straight trip to the Final Four. The Cardinal have made it to the
title game twice and lost in the semis twice.
While Stanford has been a Final Four mainstain the last few
years, the Big Ten has been absent. No team from the conference has
made the national semifinals since Michigan State lost to Baylor in
the 2005 title game. It’s the longest drought of any of the six
Notre Dame fell just short of winning its second national
championship last season, losing to Texas A&M in the title
game. The Irish became the first team to beat both Tennessee and
UConn in the same NCAA tournament.
Sensational junior guard Skylar Diggins became a fresh face for
the sport during the Irish’s tournament run, gaining nearly 100,000
followers on Twitter.
With Diggins return along with stars Devereaux Peters and
Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame was picked to win the Big East for the
first time in a decade.
The Fighting Irish have bigger goals in mind.
”It definitely still hurts,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw
said. ”I think that when we look at the last game, we decided then
that we had to get ready for next year. We’ve got some unfinished
business is the way we’re looking at it. It’s a different type of
chip on our shoulder.”
Follow Doug Feinberg at http://twitter.com/dougfeinberg.