Tech/Tennessee Continue Rivalry


Posted Dec 3, 2002 17:18:10
Tech/Tennessee Continue Rivalry

RUSTON - Although first year head coach Kurt Budke is fairly new to the series, he has a very good understanding of what Louisiana Tech vs. Tennessee is all about in the women's college basketball circle ... pride.

"There can't be five rivalries in the country any better than this," Budke said. "In fact, five might be a little high. The rivalry that Coach Barmore and Coach Summitt have built over the years has always been a treat for women's college basketball fans.

"We expect a great crowd, and I think our fans are going to see two teams battling for 40 minutes, matching each other's intensity," Budke added. "It should be a lot of fun to watch."

The annual showdown between the two perennial powers is set to tip off at 7 p.m. at the Thomas Assembly Center as the No. 4 ranked Lady Vols (5-1) and the No. 13 ranked Lady Techsters (2-1) will meet for the 35th time. The competitiveness of the two teams over the years can be seen in the series record as each program has won 17 times.

Tonight's contest will be the 11th time the two teams have met at the Assembly Center, and although he Lady Techsters own an all-time mark of 296-17 at home, Tennessee has had some success, posting a 6-4 mark, including six of the last seven games. However, five of Tennessee's six wins in Ruston have been by eight points or less, and Wednesday night should be no different.

"That's why I came to Louisiana Tech, to play the Connecticut's and Tennessee's," said sophomore guard Erica Smith. "I'm very excited. We've worked hard all week to prepare for Tennessee. We know a lot of the players personally on Tennessee's team and so that makes it personal. It will be fun."

Tennessee enters the game having won four straight games since a 21-point loss to No. 1 ranked Duke Nov. 24, including three straight lopsided wins this weekend at the San Juan Shootout. However, the Lady Vols final win over St. Louis Sunday night was costly as sophomore guard Brittany Jackson tore her medial collateral ligament in her left knee and is expected to miss a significant amount of time.

Until the injury, the 6-foot sharper-shooter averaged 8.7 points a game and had connected on 12 of 24 three-pointers on the season. Despite Jackson's loss for this game, Budke said Tennessee still has plenty of firepower.

"Every one of Tennessee's players were All-Americans in high school, every one of them," Budke said. "So when they go to the bench, they bring off one of the top recruits in the country. Their experience and depth are both better than ours right now. I think we match up with them with our speed and athleticism, and I think it will be a good game. I think our kids are ready for this game."

One of the key match-ups of the game is Tennessee senior guard Kara Lawson against Tech junior Amber Obaze. Lawson is averaging 13.5 points a game and is considered one of the top three-point shooters in the nation while Obaze is arguably the Lady Techsters best defender.

"The coaches have stressed to us that we have to match Tennessee's intensity for the entire game," Obaze said. "We also have to make sure we do a good job of blocking out and giving them only one shot. It will be exciting to play at home. It's perfect. I'd rather be here than (at Knoxville) so we have our fans."

Lawson and senior forward Gwen Jackson are the team leaders for head coach Pat Summitt. Jackson is the team's leading scorer through its first six games, averaging 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds.

"Tennessee's strength is their two seniors, Kara Lawson and Gwen Jackson," Budke said. "They are just like seniors should be ... they are their go-to players. Those two players are not going to let them lose in crunch time. They can go to the bench and bring in talented players, but as long as those two are in the mix, Tennessee is tough."