Tennessee's Johnson still making all the right moves

March 24, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

The moment took place in December, a lifetime ago in a long quest to a national championship, and it didn't even officially count. Nevertheless, it's still burned in the mind of Dana Johnson.

Johnson, the 1991 Baltimore-area girls High School Athlete of the Year, who now patrols the front line for No. 1 Tennessee, was driving to the basket in a home game against Maryland, when Terps center Monica Adams blocked her path.

So, the 6-foot-2 junior forward/center simply stopped her dribble, planted her right foot and did a 360-degree spin, tossing a one-handed flip off the glass and into the basket, sending 5,400 spectators into a fairly advanced state of frenzy.

Just one problem. The official under the basket whistled Johnson for traveling.

Johnson hasn't forgotten.

"It was just a reaction. I was trying to go one way and someone was in the way so I tried to go the other way. It wasn't a travel, though," said Johnson, with a full-throated laugh.

Although Johnson didn't get the basket, the move was just another indication of how her game has progressed since she left Western as the program's all-time leading scorer, and led the Doves to a 65-4 overall record and three city titles.

"I've become a smarter player. I know where to go for a rebound or for a good shot,"said Johnson. "It's a part of becoming a part of the team. It's being more focused."

Johnson has become a vital member of the Tennessee team, which at 31-1 entering today's Mideast Regional semifinal against Louisiana Tech is the heavy favorite to collect its fourth national title in eight years.

The Volunteers have been targets all year long, a role that Johnson, the first player from the state of Maryland to play for Tennessee, says she and her teammates relish, rather than shrink from.

"Right now, our team thrives off stuff like that [pressure]," said Johnson. "They [opponents] are playing the No. 1 team and they feel they have to play their best. They just put added pressure on themselves. We just go out and play our game."

In her first season as a regular starter, Johnson's game has been good enough for an average of 13.9 points, second-best among the Volunteers, and her 7.4 rebounds lead the team. Johnson has played power forward and center, depending on whether center Vonda Ward or forward Abby Conklin is in the lineup.

Johnson said she has developed a short jumper that could allow her to move out from the basket, but that's not where Tennessee coach Pat Summitt wants her.

"She's at her best when her back is to the basket," said Summitt. "She has learned to play a smart game, to know when she can take chances and when she can't. The maturity she has shown this year has been startling. You can't watch us and not notice Dana Johnson. She's been very aggressive."

In the past, Johnson's over-aggressiveness was costly, both personally and to her team. Her penchant for picking up fouls reduced her playing time and took away an intimidating inside presence for Tennessee.

But Johnson has refined her game, and while she is second on the team in personal fouls, she has not fouled out of a game all year.

"That's shocking for me. I usually pick up two fouls a half. That's a given," said Johnson. "I've matured to a point where I know if I got into that situation, I can't be as aggressive as I need to be. I know if I foul out, I won't help the team at all."

Summitt says that Johnson has a chance to be named a Kodak All-America this season, which would make her only the second native Marylander to receive such an honor, following Rosemary Kosiorek of West Virginia, who was selected in 1992.

"That's a goal for me, but I won't let that get in the way of what the team needs," said Johnson. "If I do, then I'd be trying too hard for myself and not helping this team. If I play my game in the team framework, good things will happen."

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