Tennessee, Mississippi Gearing Up For The Rematch

Monday, March 26th 2007, 6:20 am
By: News On 6

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ At the time, it wasn't a game that stood out much from any other in a long, grueling season.

When Tennessee beat Mississippi 81-69 on Feb. 15 in Knoxville, most thought it was just another game between two good Southeastern Conference teams. Game over, move on.

``They beat us pretty good,'' Ole Miss coach Carol Ross remembered. ``We never got into what we do best.''

Her team has been at its very best over the past two weeks, earning a rematch with Tennessee on Tuesday night in the Dayton Regional championship game. A spot in the Final Four goes to the winner.

It's almost a certainty that the coaching staffs from both schools will be watching, rewinding the tape and watching again the earlier meeting in the hours leading up to the second showdown.

Tennessee (31-3) locked up its spot in the regional title game by beating Marist 65-46 behind Candace Parker's 16 points.

Armintie Price scored 31 points and Ashley Awkward added 25 to help lift Ole Miss (24-10) past Oklahoma in the other semifinal.

The Rebels had finished a distant fifth, five games back of the Lady Vols during the SEC race. But once they got an NCAA bid, the Rebels rededicated themselves to playing hard all the time, applying suffocating pressure and turning everything into a fast break.

``Coming into this tournament, we knew that this was a new start, a new season for us,'' Price said. ``We knew the teams we might face and we just wanted to step up and take care of our business.''

Against Oklahoma (28-5), the Rebels came out running and never stopped, denying passes, harassing shooters and trapping surprised Sooners whether they were in the corner or the middle of the floor.

Averaging 18 turnovers a game, Oklahoma had 15 by halftime and finished with 26. The Rebels piled up 16 steals.

``When we don't play great defense, we can lose to anybody,'' Ross said. ``When we play great defense, we can beat anybody. It's not a complicated formula for us.''

Courtney Paris led Oklahoma with 31 points and 20 rebounds. Chelsi Welch and Britney Brown each added 11 points for the Sooners, who never led after the 15-minute mark of the first half.

It didn't take long for Paris to realize that the Rebels had ratcheted up the pace of the game.

``When we started off we were playing at a super-fast speed _ faster than we like to play,'' Paris said. ``If I wanted to play that fast, I would have gone to Mississippi.''

Alliesha Easley added 12 points for the Rebels, who will be making their fifth trip to a regional championship game.

Ross said Tennessee poses lots of problems for her team, just like it did the last time.

``They have Candace Parker, who's so versatile that it's hard to find ways to get to her,'' she said. ``The flip side is that she has a great cast.''

Parker was nearly perfect against Marist, hitting her first eight shots from the field. But she was hardly the only standout for the Lady Vols. Sidney Spencer and Shannon Bobbitt each scored 11 points, guard Alexis Hornbuckle had eight points, eight rebounds and five assists and Nicky Anosike had six points, seven rebounds and three assists.

That was more than enough for the Lady Vols to end Marist's remarkable postseason. The 4,000-student school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was just the third No. 13 seed to make it to the round of 16 in NCAA history.

Meg Dahlman had 16 points and Rachele Fitz 13 for Marist (29-6), which had never won an NCAA tournament game until last weekend. The Red Foxes stunned fourth-seeded Ohio State 67-63 in the first round and fifth-seeded Middle Tennessee 73-59 in the second round, ending the Blue Raiders' 27-game winning streak.

``We went up against a tremendous basketball team today,'' coach Brian Giorgis said. ``It's tough to lose, but to lose to that team is really not that tough.''

Tennessee improved to 22-4 in regional semifinals. The Lady Vols, a part of all 26 NCAA tournaments, ran their record to 95-19 in the tournament.

``Survive and advance, that's what you want,'' coach Pat Summitt said.

Price said the Rebels were looking forward to the rematch.

``We know a lot about Tennessee because they're in our conference,'' she said. ``They're a championship team. They've been here many times. We're just going to do what we do best, which is run, and try to get them a little bit bothered.''