Sorting Through the Big One

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPNET SportsZone


JANUARY 14, 1999

Leaving Hartford, Conn., on Monday after the big game ... it's really comforting to have the Tennessee team on your airplane.

You just know that if there was, say, a "minor" crash landing, everything would be fine. Pat Summitt would take over the evacuation:

"Tyler, get your jacket on.

"No, Semeka, you can't go down the exit slide more than once.

"I said 'Semeka,' Chamique.

"I said 'Chamique', Tamika.

"Semeka! What did I just say?

"Shalon, if you took those headphones off for three seconds you might know I'm talking to Semeka.

"Sir, excuse me. SIR! Your nearest exit is BEHIND you.

"Ace, pass this kid to his mom.

"Mister! Jacket! Now! Thank you.

"Will somebody please wake up Tree."

Alas, the flight went smoothly, just as Tennessee's entire Connecticut experience did. Well, pretty much. There was Chamique Holdsclaw's coughing spells (Connecticut air is really cold), the Svetlana-Semeka entanglement, the UConn fans' predictable overreaction to it and the 76-76 tie with 3:53 left.

Then Tennessee took over, and the game was over just like that.

"Yeah, it happened fast," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But that's the way it usually happens."

What had he learned from the experience?

"I don't think I learned anything I didn't know," Auriemma said. "But what's good is these players got to see what I already knew. For a bunch of them, this was their first time playing against competition like that."

What the nation got to see was a still-developing, high-potential UConn team stared down by a Tennessee group that Holdsclaw said was at its most intense so far this season. It saw a freshman UConn point guard, Keirsten Walters, tossed into the churning water and told to avoid drowning. It saw Tamika Catchings make big shots at key moments. It saw Holdsclaw, as usual, make hard shots look really simple.

Svetlana Abrosimova, bottom, and Semeka Randall were too close for comfort on Sunday.

And, of course, it saw the Svetlana-Semeka thing. This is gonna be like the Zapruder tape. Tennessee and UConn fans will keep watching it over and over, in slow-motion, maybe do some frame grabs.

"Her foot comes close to her head."

"Yeah, close. You said she kicked her."

"I said it looked like she kicked her."

"You said it looked a lot like she kicked her."

"I said it looked a lot like she might have kicked her."

"She didn't kick her."

"I didn't say she did."

"You said it looked like it."

"I didn't say I didn't say it."

"I didn't say you did. I just said it didn't look like it at all."

"It didn't to you, but it did to me. That's all I said."

"Oh, so now you're saying she kicked her?"

"I didn't say that."

Anyway, to the rest of the us, Semeka Randall and Svetlana Abrosimova are just very fun people to watch play basketball. But it's also fun to watch Tennessee and UConn fans fight about it.

But now that it's over, what's next? For Tennessee, an immediate test is Thursday versus Georgia. This rivalry dates back to when Wilbur said, "I'm telling you, Orville, let's blow this bicycle shop."

Georgia, even if Andy Landers were suiting up the mascot, two cheerleaders, the bus driver and Vicki Lawrence, would think it had a chance to beat Tennessee. That's just how they think at Georgia; there's a ton of respect for Tennessee, but not the intimidation factor that tends to paralyze other teams.

More Lousy ACL News -- Southern Cal's (or USC's if you're a Left-coast American) Kristin Clark is out for the year with a partial tear.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star writes a regular women's basketball column for ESPNET SportsZone. Her e-mail address is