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

is ready.

”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

major conferences.

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.”

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