Tenn. pair's final word is `almost'

Despite 3 Final Fours, Jackson, Lawson exiting with shakes of their heads

NCAA women's notebook

College Basketball

April 09, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - For most players, reaching a Final Four three times in a career would be an indescribable honor, but for Tennessee seniors Gwen Jackson and Kara Lawson, the feeling is slightly hollow.

Final Fours are a seeming birthright in Knoxville, as the program has reached the national semifinals a record 14 times. But Lawson and Jackson are members of only five Lady Vols senior classes to leave the program without a championship.

"Being at the Final Four three times in your career, it's tough not to come home with a championship," said Lawson, who had 18 points in last night's 73-68 loss. "Gwen and I came to Tennessee to win one and that's hard."

The Lady Vols advanced to the Final Four with regular-season losses to all three of the other teams in the semifinals - Connecticut, Texas and Duke - and played unevenly at times throughout the year. But their play picked up in the NCAA tournament, and they emerged as the favorite last night.

"We came a long way this year," said Lawson. "I don't think a lot of people expected us to get to the championship after losing some of the games that we did. Bur there's a bright future for the program. I feel blessed to have been a part of it. It's a great staff and great teammates."

Jackson, who had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Lawson leave with a four-year record of 125-17, a 54-2 Southeastern Conference mark and four straight SEC championships, but not the big one.

"These two young ladies, I want them to know how much I appreciate them and our Tennessee program appreciates them," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "They've become like two of my daughters. I hurt for them."

Return to arena

After two years in domed stadiums, the first two years that has happened in women's history, the Final Four will return to a more conventional arena setting next year at the New Orleans Arena.

However, Cheryl Marra, the chair of the Division I women's basketball committee, said that as the tournament continues to grow, the Final Four will likely be staged in domes.

"I can say for myself ... [it] has really been helpful for me to see that we now have had two dome experiences, they have been great experiences," said Marra, a senior associate athletic director at Wisconsin.

"At the same time, I can say we have loved our experiences in a smaller facility and we don't want to go away from that completely. My sense will be we will continue to do both because we have the ability with the women's game to be able to do that."

After next year, the Final Four will take place in 2005 at Indianapolis' Hoosier Dome, before moving to the Fleet Center in Boston in 2006 and to Cleveland's Gund Arena in 2007.

The committee will select sites for the next three years this summer, with Philadelphia, Denver, San Jose (Calif.), Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Antonio and Tampa all submitting bids. The last four cities have indicated that they would be host in their domed stadiums.

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