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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 03/23/2011 10:09 PM

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Women's Basketball
Notebook: OSU Women Prepare for Tennessee
By Tony Gerdeman

Tennessee women's basketball. The name connotes a storied history of national titles, great players, and a reputation that until recently was unmatched.

The Buckeyes are preparing to face that same Volunteer program this Saturday afternoon in Dayton, but head coach Jim Foster made it clear that his team wouldn't be facing a typical Tennessee basketball team

“More offensive-minded," he said.

"More three-point shooters. Not a traditional pound it inside (team). They have very good post players, but it's not the emphasis that they once had."

If it's not your father's or mother's Tennessee basketball team, what should we expect from the Volunteers this weekend?

“They like to push the ball, and we've seen that before," added guard Brittany Johnson.

"I don't think they're going to be as physical as Georgia Tech, but they're still gonna try to push us around. But we handled Georgia Tech very well, and I think we can handle the other teams.”

If we're speaking of the physical nature of the games they've played, nobody is more qualified to give her thoughts than Jantel Lavender, who took an elbow to the face in Ohio State's win over Georgia Tech on Monday.

“I definitely think that game prepared us for anything we can potentially face because I don't think any other team is going to play physical/dirty like that," she said, comparing Tech's rough-and-tumble style to the Vols.

"I think Tennessee will be physical, and that game definitely did prepare us. Hopefully we'll do the same thing we did with that game, take it and be mature, and handle the physicality of the game and win."

Summing up the match as a whole, Johnson was quite matter-of-fact.

“I think that if we just play defense against Tennessee we got it."

The Aura Is Upon Us? Eh, not so much.

Seemingly, as long as there has been women's college basketball, Tennessee has been at the forefront of the sport in just about every single way.

Volunteer head coach Pat Summitt has been at Tennessee since 1974, and in that time she has amassed 1,070 wins and eight national championships. She's the only coach in men's or women's basketball to ever reach 1,000 wins.

“I think she's done a great job of getting great players," Foster said.

"I think Tennessee was sort of first to get serious about women's basketball in terms of their commitment and what they did. I think people have had to play catch up to that commitment.”

There's obviously respect for what the Tennessee program has become, that doesn't mean the awe reserved for Summitt necessarily stretches to her team.

"I think that Tennessee is a good team, but it's more Pat Summitt," Lavender said regarding the aura surrounding Tennessee.

"She's had a great legacy there, but those players haven't been there all of the years she's been there. I don't think it's any different than playing any other team we've played against. We've just got to go out and try to take away some of their strengths and play it like any other game.”

Foster gives an interesting answer when explaining why certain teams don't necessarily have an aura of invulnerability about them anymore. He credits television.

"Quite frankly, I think the Big Ten Network has changed the landscape of this thing. We were the team that was on national television the most this year in the country. Four or five years ago, that was a pipe dream. And now it's sort of become a reality. "

"So these kids, their basketball life, the seriousness of it, they've seen a lot more games, they're a lot more into it. Whereas four or five years ago, only the select few had the opportunity to be on national television. So I think these guys are much more familiar with [Tennessee]. So therefore the aura with teams is not quite what it was because they see them more often. I think that's probably a good thing.”

When this Tennessee team gets compared to the Connecticut team the Buckeyes faced earlier this season in an 81-50 loss, Foster takes exception to the notion.

“I think it's apples and oranges," he said.

"The Connecticut team as constructed right now has won a couple of national championships in a row, and is the team to beat. And Tennessee is in the crowd with us. They're one of the other teams that is trying.”

A Friendly Rivalry?

Having spent eleven seasons in the SEC as the head coach at Vanderbilt, Jim Foster is no stranger to Pat Summitt and Tennessee basketball.

As you would expect with a rival, let alone one you have a 3-24 record against, when talk turns to Tennessee, Foster has to choose his words carefully, lest he say something that maybe he shouldn't.

“No love lost,” he said after a pregnant pause regarding his feelings for Tennessee back when he was at Vanderbilt.

But he doesn't quite know how he feels about them right now, because he hasn't played them since 2002. When asked if he's a changed man regarding Tennessee, he elicited laughter by answering the question with a question of his own.

“Do you think I'm a more loving person?”

“I'm not one of those people that answers a question that you can't answer, like most of the pundits on television. How can I answer a question when I haven't played them in nine years, or have an opinion about it? Now maybe after the game you might ask me a question and I'll have an opinion. But we haven't played in nine years. My last game at Vanderbilt was against them to go to the Final Four.”

While he apparently can't tell you how he feels about Volunteer basketball now, he can tell you how he feels about their color scheme.

“I don't even eat orange M&Ms," he said

Playing At Their Best

Every team wants to be peaking during the NCAA tournament, and if you've noticed, the Buckeyes are doing just that. They're currently sitting on an eleven-game winning streak, and have been dominating opponents for a month now.

That's not just indicative of momentum, but also of a comfort level amongst the entire team. It's also an indication of a renewed purpose.

"I definitely think we're more focused than we have been," admitted Lavender.

"We realize what's at stake and what we can accomplish here. It's just different. I think the sense of urgency that we gained earlier in the season is kind of following to still wanting to play and not wanting the season to be over.”

How does Foster describe the once-turbulent season?

“Probably you'd like your EKG looking like that.”

Letting Emotion Get The Best Of Them

Against Georgia Tech, forty minutes of physical play was quite the catalyst in firing up the Buckeyes emotionally, and according to Foster, as long as it's a by-product of the game itself, he's perfectly fine with it.

“I think it depends on why they're showing the emotion," he said. "We've played some teams that have come out very emotional against us this year, and I don't think that that's a good thing. I think if the game starts to cause you to be emotional, and good plays start to cause you to be emotional, and circumstances and situations, I think that's a good emotion."

"But to get them fired up and run out on the floor with emotion—we've beaten a lot of teams that came out that way this year, because that disappears. That's not real."

"I thought the emotion shown the other day was real. And quite frankly, I loved the role reversal. I loved seeing Jantel fired up. And I loved the fact that Sammy Prahalis became the idea of modification. I love it when they are fired up because of what's transpiring.”

There's No Beach In Dayton

Ohio State is currently finishing up Spring Break, which means that while the NCAA tournament has been going on, the Buckeye players haven't had to worry about classes. Obviously, this has its advantages.

"I like the down times," Johnson said. "It's nice to go home and relax after practice and not have to go to classes."

On the other hand, however, while their classmates are living it up on various beaches around the Sunshine State, these Buckeyes have been stuck in Ohio.

But then maybe that's not all bad if you think about it.

"Wouldn't you want to go to Dayton on Spring Break," Foster deadpanned.

So while "living it up" may not be in the cards for the Buckeyes this year, it doesn't even matter because "living on" is all they're really concerned with.

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