'We'll be back'
Loss fuels talk of more Tennessee titles
Posted: Monday April 03, 2000 09:45 PM
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Tennessee's loss to Connecticut merely marked the end of the season -- not the end of an era.
With nearly its entire roster expected to return, Tennessee is poised to make yet another title run next season.
"We are not going away," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said following the Lady Vols' 71-52 loss to UConn in the NCAA championship game Sunday night. "I'm not as old as Geno (UConn coach Geno Auriemma) thinks I am, and I'm certainly not on my way out. We'll be back here, hopefully again, next year."
Summitt is an expert on the matter. She has taken the Lady Vols to 12 Final Fours and come away with six national titles. Tennessee's hopes for a seventh title ended when Kristen Clement twisted an ankle in a morning practice, forcing the team to play without its emotional leader, main perimeter threat and top defender.
"We missed her greatly," Summitt said. "We have a lot of things to change. But you can't let one game -- that doesn't mean your program is falling apart or that you can't be competitive at this level. We haven't won six titles thinking that way.
"We've lost some along the way. We'll go back home and try to figure out how to get back here and win one. The players have to learn more than anything how they handle the situation and what they learn from it."
Niya Butts, a seldom-used forward who played five minutes in the championship, is the only player without any remaining eligibility. Tennessee will have Tamika Catchings, the AP player of the year, Semeka Randall, a second-team All-American, Clement and Kara Lawson, a freshman who played well beyond her years. Add to that a top recruiting class and the Lady Vols can book their reservations for the 2001 Final Four.
"We have four freshmen coming in I'm really excited about," Summitt said. "We won't be hanging our heads for long."
Catchings, who struggled against a tenacious UConn defense Sunday, is optimistic the team will treat the loss as motivation.
"We've got a whole summer ahead of us," Catchings said. "Pat went in the locker room and said next year is all about what you do during the summer. We've got to come back. We can't reflect on this loss."
Randall, who shot 1-of-11 and scored just eight points, took the loss personally, blaming herself in the locker room afterward. She believes the team will rebound as it continues to mature.
"What I learned is really you need to grow up and handle adversity," she said.
Clement said she was "disappointed" her team wasn't more "fired-up" for a championship game. But she blamed it on the team's youth.
"We played young," she said. "Hopefully, we'll learn from this."
Tennessee went 33-4, losing twice to UConn, including when it counted most. But the Lady Vols should enter next season as the No. 2 team in the country. They will play UConn twice more during the regular season and possibly again in the title game.
With Catchings, Randall, Clement and Lawson a year older and a year wiser, Tennessee's future is as bright as their orange uniforms.
"In no way do I want this (loss) to take away from the fact that this team, this year, has competed with great teamwork and desire, great competitiveness," Summitt said.