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Coaching pals prepare for women's Final Four matchups

ESPN gets set to broadcast from inside the lower bowl at the St. Pete Times Forum. All Final Four teams practice today at the Forum, and it’s open to the public.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

ESPN gets set to broadcast from inside the lower bowl at the St. Pete Times Forum. All Final Four teams practice today at the Forum, and it’s open to the public.

TAMPA — If you stay in the game long enough, it's bound to happen. You're going to have to face an old friend.

When Tennessee and LSU meet in the second national semifinal game Sunday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, longtime friends Pat Summitt and Van Chancellor will face off.

Their friendship has lasted decades, and they are so close Chancellor requested that Summitt escort him when he was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

And while Chancellor stands in the way of Summitt's quest for an eighth national championship, for now, she's thrilled for him.

"I'm excited for Van," Summit said this week. "You look at his credentials and he's obviously won WNBA championships and an Olympic gold. Then I hear him say, 'I've never been to a Final Four.' It's something that obviously he's worked really hard at, taking over an LSU team and going in and doing such a great job. … I'm just really impressed with the way he handled the transition and managed this very, very talented team. I was excited for him."

A LASTING LEGACY: For the five starting seniors (Candace Parker is a senior academically) on Tennessee's team, the idea of walking away with back-to-back national titles is what's driving the team most right now.

"That means a lot," senior guard Shannon Bobbitt said. "We want to be remembered as a winning team. We want our legacy to be remembered, especially me and Alberta (Auguste) because we came in as (junior college) players. We want it to be known that we helped this team be the best we can be. We worked so hard for the Final Four, now we'll see what happens from there."

For her part, Summitt is challenging the players to challenge themselves.

"This senior class, they're a special group," she said. "They have been a challenging group at times, but we're in a good place right now and I think they're in a very good place. We talk about the legacy that this senior class could leave on this program. Yes, they've won SEC championships, and, yes, they've obviously cut down the net last year in Cleveland, but is there more for them to really leave their mark? And I've tried to put that in front of them because I think they are such a talented team that they should be thinking about that."

The current senior class is 129-15 with one national championship.

Vols visit: Summitt and defending champion Tennessee practiced Friday at the Academy of the Holy Names in South Tampa, thrilling the school.

"Coach Summitt and the Tennessee team were very gracious," AHN athletic director Pete Young said. "They came over to the side after practice and talked to our girls. The girls were beside themselves they were so excited."

AHN will receive no fee for the use of its gym. But that didn't seem to bother Young.

"Are you kidding me?" he said. "It's an honor."

A good cause: Fans can help a cause at the heart of women's college basketball by participating in the "4Kay" 4-kilometer run to benefit breast cancer research. The race honors North Carolina State coach Kay Yow, who is currently battling the disease and will be in attendance.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. today at the St. Pete Times Forum West Plaza, with the race starting at 8. Cost is $25 per person. Each participant will receive a 4Kay Run T-shirt and can present her race bib for free admission to the NCAA Hoop City exhibit at the Tampa Convention Center today.

For more information, go to ncaamarchmadness2008.com/womens.

After the race, elementary and middle school age children can participate in the "Bounce by the Bay" at 10 a.m., with a rally starting at 9:30 a.m.

Times staff writers Keith Niebuhr and Greg Auman contributed to this report.

Coaching pals prepare for women's Final Four matchups 04/04/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 10:23pm]
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