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One seed worth talking about

The Lady Vols are a top seed again, thanks to Summitt

Posted: Tuesday March 15, 2005 12:39PM; Updated: Tuesday March 15, 2005 5:17PM
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Pat Summitt
Pat Summitt cuts down the net after winning the SEC tournament with son Tyler, 14, by her side.
NCAA Tournament

Is everybody through discussing how Stanford got dissed, Villanova got robbed, and asking who hatched the insidious plot to place Rutgers in Storrs, Conn.?

There is only one women's tournament seed that merits extended commentary -- Tennessee's No. 1. I'm not taking issue with it; I'm marveling at it. Hasn't anyone told Pat Summitt this is supposed to be the year the women's game achieves parity?

Three-peat champion Connecticut (23-7) seems to have heard the message; it has politely stepped back to a No. 3 seed. Perennial contender Texas (21-8) has done the same. Louisiana Tech (20-9) is doing its part, settling for a historically low No. 11 seed. Meanwhile, the Lady Vols have earned a No. 1 seed, for the 17th time.

How many other teams, in any sport, are so reliably successful? The Lady Vols have not only made every NCAA tournament field (24), they've made every Sweet 16. They've made all but four Elite Eights and all but eight Final Fours. Six titles, total. A down year for them is 1997, when they lost 10 games on the way to winning their fifth national title. The Lady Vols haven't won a title since 1998 -- a drought current players are calling "unacceptable" in TV commercials -- but they have been in the final three times since then. They are always, always, always a threat to win it all.

This year's journey, against the toughest schedule in the country, was typically dramatic. On the strength of their top recruiting class the Lady Vols were widely regarded as the preseason No. 1. As two freshmen -- Alex Fuller and national high school player of the year Candace Parker -- rehabbed knee injuries and starting point guard Loree Moore missed six games after a tonsillectomy, the Lady Vols dropped three games in December. Since then they've lost just one game (at then No. 1 LSU on Feb. 10), but two players, sophomore Sidney Spencer and freshman Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood have also been lost to knee injuries.

That didn't stop the Lady Vols from reclaiming the SEC tournament title, and it won't stop Summitt from making history next weekend. A win over 16-seed Western Carolina -- coached by the Lady Vols' former point guard, Kellie Jolly Harper -- on March 20 will give Summitt 879 career victories, tying Dean Smith for the all-time record for men or women. A win over Purdue or New Mexico two days later will set a new standard.