SEC's title familiarity breeds some contempt Tennessee, Georgia meet in championship game

NCAA Women's Tournament

March 31, 1996|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tonight's NCAA women's basketball championship game is bound to make Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma a tad upset, and not just because his Huskies aren't participating.

On Thursday, Auriemma delivered a brief but memorable tirade against the heft that the Southeastern Conference displays in this sport, saying that while the conference is the dominant league, there are other good teams.

As if on cue, the SEC placed both finalists, Tennessee and Georgia, in tonight's contest, the second time in the 15 years of the NCAA women's tournament that the title-game participants were from the same conference.

And, of course, the other time that happened was in 1989, when Tennessee and Auburn, two SEC teams, played for the title.

"It will be a great day for the conference," said Georgia coach Andy Landers. "Even Geno admitted, finally, that the Southeastern was the best conference. I'm sure the other conferences get tired of hearing about us, but they don't get tired hearing about it as much as we do getting up every day and playing in it."

These two old rivals, who have combined to win 11 of 17 SEC titles, will meet today at a sold-out Charlotte Coliseum.

"Right now, we're focused on winning a national championship, but to beat Tennessee would make it sweeter," said Georgia guard Rachel Powell. "Beating Tennessee would prove ourselves, and leave no doubt that we are the best team in the country."

Even though No. 4 Tennessee (31-4) enters the game with a higher seeding, more national championships (3-0) and a 73-51 drubbing of Georgia in last year's national semifinals, the fifth-ranked Lady Bulldogs (28-4), who spent three weeks atop the polls, have emerged as a favorite.

Chalk that up to the fact that Georgia has a pronounced edge in quickness and defeated Tennessee, 77-71, in the regular season.

Georgia, the SEC regular-season winner, overcame an eight-point halftime deficit -- and whopping 63-30 rebounding disadvantage -- thanks to outside shooting. The Lady Bulldogs were 8-for-16 from three-point range, led by reserve guard Pam Irwin's 4-for-5 effort.

"In the second half, Georgia did an excellent job running its half-court offense," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "Georgia had great balance and we played in spurts, and that's how Tennessee lost."

That balance is especially evident in the backcourt, where national Player of the Year Saudia Roundtree, a 5-foot-7 senior, has emerged as one of the dominant players in the game.

The Lady Vols likely will alternate guards Latina Davis and Michelle Marciniak on Roundtree, who had a game-high 26 points in Friday's 86-76 semifinal win over Stanford. Roundtree had 20 points and eight assists in the first Tennessee game.

"If there's a matchup problem, I think it's with Saudia Roundtree because we don't have anyone who can match her quickness in the open floor," said Summitt.

Roundtree, a junior college transfer, told Landers before she signed that she would lead Georgia to a national championship, a brash declaration.

"I thought about that [yesterday]," Roundtree said. "I'm really here. I'm sitting here and my heart is really racing. God, we're going to play for a national championship.

"Hopefully, we'll win our national championship and I'll keep my promise to Coach Landers."

Title game

Tennessee (31-4) vs. Georgia (28-4)

When: Tonight, 6: 30

Where: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum

TV: ESPN

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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