For Vols, future just recruiting class away

Six All-Americans coming to Knoxville next season

Championship notebook

Ncaa Women's Tournament

April 07, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - In the wake of yet another heartbreaking loss to Connecticut in the national championship game last night, it was hard for Tennessee's returning players to see a bright spot on the horizon.

But for the Lady Vols, who made their third straight Final Four appearance, next year promises to be more of the same, as they welcome a star-studded freshman class that includes Candace Parker, a 6-foot-3 forward who last week won a dunk contest over five high school boys.

With six high school All-Americans coming to Knoxville next year, Tennessee appears to be poised to stay near the top of women's college basketball.

"I'm definitely excited about next year, and what we have in front of us," said Tennessee junior Shyra Ely. "It's just a situation of players, the freshmen, buying into the coach's system and being committed to that and just making it a goal of theirs. It's going to be a challenge, leading a group of six freshmen. It will be a task, but I think we can take care of it."

Said coach Pat Summitt: "I'm really excited about the talent that we're bringing in. On paper, they look great. But we have a lot of work to do."

Making dome the home?

This year's Final Four took a one-year respite from a dome, where the event had been staged the previous two years (San Antonio and Atlanta). Next year's semifinals and championship will be played at the RCA Dome, rather than Conseco Fieldhouse, in Indianapolis.

Cheryl Marra, the outgoing chair of the NCAA women's basketball committee, said the women may follow the men into domes on a permanent basis when the next set of Final Fours are awarded, in 2011.

The change from arena to domes has been a shock to the system of many who have been a part of the game for a long time.

"This arena looks a lot different, much more like where we play," Summitt of New Orleans Arena. "And I think that there was much more of a comfort level with our players."

Ratings get bounce

TV ratings for Monday's men's national final were the lowest in 22 years, but ESPN reported that the ratings for its telecast of Sunday's second women's semifinal, Minnesota-Connecticut, were the fourth highest for any college basketball game telecast in the nearly 25-year history of the network.

The Gophers-Huskies game drew a 3.5 rating and was seen in 3 million households, making it the most-watched and highest-rated women's national semifinal. The first semifinal, Tennessee-Louisiana State, got a 2.3 rating and was seen in 2 million households. The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs.

From Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma's perspective, the building numbers are a benefit of ESPN's decision to televise all 63 games of the tournament, giving the casual fan a chance to see three weeks of action.

"I would hope that ESPN would look at that and continue to add more regular-season games to their schedule and even do more for the tournament," Auriemma said. "I don't know how much better it can get, but I think it surprised them, believe me."

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