Lady Raiders Revel In Underdog Status Against Tennessee

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March 27, 2000

AP Sports Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - The Texas Tech Lady Raiders considered themselves underdogs all season. That role is particularly appropriate tonight.

If the Lady Raiders are to reach the Final Four for the first time since their 1993 national championship, they will have to beat top-seeded Tennessee (31-3) in the Volunteer State. And no one has ever done that with a Final Four trip on the line.

The Lady Vols are 6-for-6 in regional championships played in Tennessee, and they will try to extend that tonight against Texas Tech (28-4) in the NCAA Mideast Regional championship at The Pyramid before essentially a home crowd.

That is just fine with the Lady Raiders.

"If everyone's cheering for us, it wouldn't be right," senior Keitha Dickerson said. "We always have to have someone against us, so I think it'll be a great atmosphere for us."

Coach Marsha Sharp said her Lady Raiders will feed off the orange crowd. They grew accustomed to being underdogs this season as they won the Big 12 Conference's regular-season title despite being picked to finish fifth.

"I'm not going to change anything in the way I've been motivating them," Sharp said. "They motivate themselves. ... That's the way they've approached things all year."

That mentality helped the third-seeded Lady Raiders dig their way out of early holes in each of their past two games, including a 17-0 start Saturday before they defeated Notre Dame.

Tennessee is shooting for its 12th Final Four berth in the 19 years of the NCAA tournament and its fifth in the past six years. But Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt said experience doesn't make regional finals any easier.

"While we know we're only one game away, I think this is always the most challenging game of the playoffs. In my estimation, it's probably the toughest to play, and the opponent makes it even tougher," she said.

Texas Tech features one of the nation's stingiest defenses, allowing just 55 points. The Lady Raiders play intense man-to-man, which Tennessee loves as well, but Summitt sees an advantage for Texas Tech.

"They're quick enough to really influence the interior game. While we may have an advantage with (6-foot-5 Michelle) Snow's size, I think they definitely have an advantage in terms of quickness in all of their positions," Summitt said.

The Lady Raiders successfully shut down Notre Dame's backcourt Saturday, holding Alicia Ratay and Niele Ivey to a combined 2-of-16 from the floor.

That defense will be tested by the Lady Vols, and not just because of All-American Tamika Catchings.

"You usually can concentrate on one player," Lady Raiders guard Melinda Schmucker-Pharies said. "That's not the case, even with Catchings. She's an awesome player, but I don't think we can concentrate on her."

Catchings does have Texas Tech's attention. She has scored more points than the game before in each round of the tournament and had 28 in Tennessee's semifinal victory over Virginia.

"You're not going to stop her," Dickerson said. "You just have to contain her. Hopefully, we can do our best and get the job done."




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