By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001
Tennessee concerned about defensive play
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The NCAA Tournament has yet to tip off, and top-seed Tennessee already is playing from behind.
The Vols open against Austin Peay on Friday as part of a Mideast Region doubleheader at Thompson-Boling Arena with a revamped offense that may have cost defensive strength.
Tennessee spent a great deal of practice this season overhauling its offense to improve scoring balance. That was time away from the usual amount of drill work on defense.
"We're playing catch-up on that end," assistant Mickie DeMoss said.
The new offense hasn't turned the Vols into defensive slackers. The opposition averaged 61.6 points per game and shot 37.4 percent.
However, the NCAA Tournament puts a greater premium on airtight defense. By their admission, the Vols can feel a breeze blowing through their defense.
DeMoss described Tennessee's pressure defense as "inconsistent." Guard Kara Lawson said the zone alignment has been a "big liability," affecting the effectiveness at changing defenses.
Coach Pat Summitt was left to play the optimist, saying, "I feel better about our defense right now than I have all year."
Summitt's goal is to have five dependable defenders on the court at key moments. And just who might they be? "I have to determine that in the course of a game," she said.
BEAST OF AN EAST: Andy Landers thinks that in his 22 years of coaching Georgia he has seen just about everything. That said, he couldn't quite believe it when he realized the Bulldogs didn't get a No. 1 seed.
When the selection show went to a commercial, Landers tried to figure out where his team would be placed.
"I think traditional thinking would be that a hair was split between Duke and Georgia," he said. "So logical thinking, in my mind, would be that Georgia and Duke would be in the same region because that would make us the four and the five overall."
And then the rest of the bracket was revealed, showing the Bulldogs had been awarded the No. 2 seed in the East Region, behind Connecticut.
"I didn't really have a reaction to it," Landers said. "As I've said before, I'm past being surprised."
Which doesn't mean there aren't plenty of questions about the East Region.
Behind No. 1 seed Connecticut, which finished the regular season as the top-ranked team, are Georgia, Louisiana Tech, North Carolina State, Villanova and Penn State, a lineup that caused Summitt to say of the region, "It's loaded. Absolutely loaded."
How did Georgia wind up in the same region as Connecticut?
After winning the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs figured they had finally satisfied the committee's requirements. In past years, the committee had said Georgia was penalized because it hadn't won the conference tournament.
This time, however, Maryalyce Jeremiah, the first-year chairwoman of the committee, said weight was given to teams that had won regular-season conference titles.
"That is different," Landers said. "It seems that we have experienced ... at least it's my opinion ... that we have experienced some inconsistency with what is reported from year to year."
ALL-AMERICA TEAM: Ruth Riley, the dominating center who led Notre Dame to its first No. 1 ranking, was a unanimous choice for the Associated Press All-America team.
Riley was the only player named to the first team by all 39 members of the national media panel, made up of writers and broadcasters.
She was joined on the first team by national scoring leader Jackie Stiles of Southwest Missouri State, Kelly Miller of Georgia, Katie Douglas of Purdue and Stacey Dales of Oklahoma.
Riley had 195 points in the voting, and Stiles was a first-team pick on 34 ballots and had 183 points. Douglas had 23 first-team votes and 155 points, Miller 24 first-team votes and 151 points, and Dales 13 first-team votes and 123 points.
Tennessee's Tamika Catchings and Connecticut's Svetlana Abrosimova, first-team picks last season, had their seasons cut short by injury but made the second team.