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Tradition, championships loom large at Tennessee's arena

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Posted: Friday March 12, 1999 08:07 PM

  Pat Summitt's Lady Vols will attempt to become the only team to win four consecutive national titles. AP

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Lady Vols don't even have to be on the court to intimidate other teams.

The aura around the three-time defending national champion is enough.

The Lady Vols (28-2) are hosting first and second round games in the NCAA East regional on their home court where six national championship banners hang from the ceiling.

And 18,000 of the 24,535 seats are colored Tennessee orange. That same shade rings the court where the Lady Vols have never lost a NCAA tournament game.

Just practicing there Friday was enough to impress Boston College guard Brianne Stepherson.

"There's been so many memories here that you step on the court and you want to work hard as soon as you get there," said Stepherson. "It was nice. There's a lot of orange out there."

But it is Appalachian State (14-14), the only team in the tournament without a winning record, that meets Tennessee Saturday night in the first game of the Lady Vols' quest to become the only team to win four consecutive national titles.

"It is a bit like David and Goliath," said Appalachian State coach Barbi Breedlove.

To combat the Lady Vols' mystique, Breedlove blasted Tennessee's "Rocky Top" anthem from speakers and tried to simulate noise for an average crowd of 17,568 during practices. She also had her players practice breaking the press against eight defenders instead of five.

"Obviously, that's not enough," Breedlove said. "You can't simulate Thompson-Boling Arena. You have to experience it. Our young women are here, and I think they look forward to the chance to experience that."

Summitt knows that playing at home is a big advantage, and she favors switching opening games to neutral sites like the men's tournament once the women's game is popular enough nationwide.

"We're still at a position in women's basketball where we have to have the format," she said.

Not that the Lady Vols plan to take their home court for granted. Guard Semeka Randall spent Thursday watching several of the upsets in the men's tournament.

"I just know that won't happen to us because we're coming in with the mindset to take one game at a time. Take our first game slowly but surely and try to put them away early," she said.

"You should be self-motivated in March anyway."

Ohio State and Boston College play each other Saturday night yet still faced questions about Tennessee, their potential second-round opponent.

Coach Beth Burns said her Buckeyes (17-11) are not looking past the first round.

"We're excited to see we've got an opportunity not only to play a good Boston College team but in an environment that is unequaled anywhere in the history of the game," she said.

Boston College coach Cathy Inglese already has her strategy ready on how to prepare her Eagles (21-7) for Tennessee if they get past Ohio State.

"Speak to them on Saturday night and Sunday on the fact that let's look back to our positives," Inglese said of upsetting Notre Dame and Connecticut earlier this season.

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