Tennessee Hoopsters Don't Know How to Lose

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Now that the winter Olympics have ended, it's time to think orange. That's the color worn by the University of Tennessee women's basketball team, which is due to attract some serious attention during the next three or four weeks.

The Lady Volunteers have assembled possibly the best women's collegiate squad ever, a distinction that could hang in the balance as they attempt to run their two-season winning streak to 45 games.

Here are some additional facts on this powerhouse:

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Winning streak: 36 and counting. Thirty this year, plus six at the end of the 1996-97 season. Louisiana Tech, with 54 straight wins, set the all-time, major-college women's mark in 1982; UCLA set the men's record with 88 straight wins from 1971 to 1974. If Tennessee stays on track, it will join Connecticut (35-0 in 1995) and Texas (34-0 in 1986) as the only women's teams to complete perfect seasons.

Average margin of victory: 31.9 points a game (Connecticut's 33.2 in 1995 is the national record). The closest any opponent has come to victory this year was Alabama, which fell, 73-66.

Winning tradition: Although women's basketball dates to 1903 at Tennessee, the university has only seriously pursued the sport since the early 1970s. Coach Pat Summitt arrived on the Knoxville campus in 1974 and began developing a succession of winning teams and players (14 All-Americans and 10 Olympians, including 1996 Olympic team members Nikki McCray and Carla McGhee).

Attendance: Tennessee established two milestones this season, setting a national single-game record with 24,597 spectators for the Lady Vols' victory over the University of Connecticut and surpassing 3 million fans in all-time attendance. At home the Lady Vols average 15,435 a game, the best in the country.

Coach: Pat Summitt is in her 24th year as head coach. Her Tennessee teams have won five national championships, second only to John Wooden's 10 in 29 years at UCLA. She has never had a losing season. Her 1984 United States Olympic team won the gold medal. She's written a new book, expected out in mid-March, entitled "Reach for the Summitt."

Players: Junior forward/center Chamique Holdsclaw, a New Yorker, is a cinch for Player of the Year. She's closing in on Bridgette Gordon's school scoring record of 2,460 career points. The roster is drawn from nine states and includes four freshmen, who score about half the team's points. Junior playmaker Kellie Jolly is one of just three Tennesseans.

What's ahead: Tennessee enters the Southeastern Conference tournament (Feb. 27-March 1), followed by the NCAA tourney, which begins March 13 and runs through a Final Four showdown March 27 and 29 in Kansas City, Mo. ESPN and ESPN2 will televise both events.

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