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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Tennessee's New Theme Is Really Same Old Song in Squashing Arkansas

Women's Final Four: In semifinal matchup, Razorbacks are no match for Lady Vols, who improve to 38-0.

March 28, 1998|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the HBO documentary about Pat Summitt and her Tennessee women's basketball team's 1997 drive to the national championship, she is seen addressing her players the week the NCAA tournament began.

"Our theme now is 'survive and advance,' " she tells her players. " 'Survive and advance.' "

That was a year ago. The new theme now might be:

"Squash and advance, squash and advance. . . ."

Tennessee, reaching 38-0 on the season with its 44th consecutive victory, crushed Arkansas, 86-58, and caused some to wonder if this freshman-dominated team just might be too good.

Friday night, the Lady Vols were so good they sucked the life out of a basketball game, and created such an appalling rout that only about two-thirds of the original sellout crowd of 17,976 at Kemper Arena saw the final minutes.

It was a slow, methodical demolition, in spite of a slew of blown easy layups.

Will Tennessee's talent and aggressive defense similarly consume Louisiana Tech Sunday night?

Tennessee's elder stateswoman, junior Chamique Holdsclaw, seemed to imply so afterward, talking about the Lady Vols' talent well.

"If my shot isn't falling, I don't panic, or get in a rush," she said. "I don't have to. I know someone else will step up."

This team that seeks a third consecutive NCAA crown Sunday is one that makes tough, difficult plays seem ordinary.

Example: Near the midway point of the second half Friday, Tennessee is up, 59-37.

Freshman guard Kristen Clement has the ball out in front of her own bench. On the baseline, weaving her way through the defense of Arkansas (22-11), is Holdsclaw.

It's crowded there and she doesn't appear to be open, but there is a crease which Clement finds with a quick no-look pass.

Holdsclaw catches it chest-high, moving toward the basket, and in two long, gliding steps, she rises above everyone and softly lays it in.

It was a difficult play at both ends, made to look routine by two exceptional athletes. In a game that was already lifeless, there was little cheering, no electricity. Even the Tennessee band remained silent.

This is Tennessee women's basketball, folks.

The Lady Vols can beat you a dozen different ways, at a dozen different speeds and with half a dozen different players. And it's like a landslide--there is no stopping it.

They were up, 39-28, at halftime and up over 20 midway through the second half.

Louisiana Tech Coach Leon Barmore had to notice Tennessee won easily on a night its players blew a bunch of layups, because Summitt certainly did.

"We missed a lot of easy shots," she said. "Sometimes we get caught up in the pace of a game when we need to switch gears down, to get more poise."

She praised Semeka Randall for a superb full-court defensive game. Her hounding of Arkansas point guard Christy Smith produced four turnovers.

"My goal was to force her to play faster than she wanted to, to make turnovers," said Randall, who also had 22 points and 8 rebounds.

Holdsclaw finished with a game-high 23 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 30 minutes.

Seventeen more rebounds and she'll surpass former USC star Cheryl Miller in the tournament record book.

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