Lady Vols’ Fab 4 Freshmen Deliver
What a difference a year _ and a great recruiting class _ has made for Tennessee.
Sure, the Lady Vols won a second straight national title last season. But coach Pat Summitt spent the 1996-97 season waiting through her worst regular season in 11 years, trying to hold on until her four newest recruits arrived on campus.
Not even she anticipated how quickly her Fab Four would deliver.
Thanks in large part to Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall, Kristen Clement and Teresa Geter, the Lady Vols have won more games (37) than any other NCAA team and are poised to grab an unprecedented third straight title at this weekend’s Final Four in Kansas City.
``I don’t think there’s a better example than the regional championship game,″ Summitt said Wednesday. ``We talked about that yesterday in our team meeting and how our four freshmen stepped up in a huge way.
``If you look at the numbers, the freshmen were ready to play. They had no fear.″
While junior All-American Chamique Holdsclaw and point guard Kellie Jolly struggled Monday night against North Carolina in the Mideast championship, the freshmen combined for 43 points and 25 of Tennessee’s 45 rebounds in the 76-70 victory.
Catchings and Randall had seven of their 11 steals, while Geter keyed a 15-1 run with three-point play and a putback of a Holdsclaw miss, as they rebounded from a 12-point deficit in the final 7:06.
``I’m happy for her (Geter) because she’s been in the shadow there of the other three freshmen,″ Summitt said. ``They were the ones everyone talked about, the All-Americans coming out of high school, and the other player Teresa Geter. But I think they know who she is now.″
How good has this class been?
The 6-1 Catchings worked her way into the starting lineup by the second game and became the Lady Vols’ second leading scorer with 18.3 points. Randall became a starter by the eighth game, and the 5-10 guard is averaging 15.8 points and is the defensive leader on the floor.
Geter led the Southeastern Conference in blocked shots, and Clement is usually the first player off the bench, averaging 3.3 assists at the point.
``I don’t think at all that we’ve been intimidated,″ said Clement. ``This is a very special class. We’re very mature when it comes to that. From the first day we stepped on the court, I don’t think we ever considered ourselves freshmen.″
With their athleticism and quickness, the Lady Vols are playing like no other team in women’s history. Their trademark has been a full-court press, trapping and harassing opponents into an average 27 turnovers per game.
``If you don’t practice that, you’re in the do-do house,″ said Western Kentucky coach Steve Small.
With the freshmen’s help, Holdsclaw has been able to relax and work on improving her own game. She now is a better passer and quicker moving back on defense.
``She recognizes if she wants to get some touches in the open court, she has to sprint because she has some company going up and down the floor,″ Summitt said.