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ELIZABETH A. DAVIS • Mar 13, 2007 at 5:45 AM

KNOXVILLE - When you've been a No. 1 seed 17 times before, by the 18th time it's expected.

That's how the Tennessee Lady Vols reacted Monday night when the NCAA tournament bracket was announced. The players and coaches sat calmly and were nearly silent when Tennessee was named a top seed with Duke, Connecticut and North Carolina - teams the Lady Vols were 1-2 against this season.

What may have caused a little stir was the rest of the Dayton Region. The other high seeds were Maryland at 2, Oklahoma at 3 and Ohio State at 4.

"This region is very, very stacked, but am I surprised? Absolutely not. I'd have been surprised if it hadn't been," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "There's a lot of great teams, obviously, in our bracket and yet there's no easy bracket in women's basketball these days."

The Lady Vols (28-3) will play 16th-seeded Drake in the first round Sunday in Pittsburgh. With a win, Tennessee would face either Pittsburgh or James Madison in the second round.

The Lady Vols are going for their seventh national title but first since 1998. They have never failed to reach the round of 16.

"We know what's before us right now and what we're capable of and we're not worried about who we play," forward Candace Parker said. "We're just worried about whether we show up and whether we're able to play in the postseason."

The players and staff watched the selection show at Summitt's house, and it did not bring surprise like last year when the Lady Vols were named a second seed. Summitt had been predicting a No. 1 seed this year since the last part of the regular season despite a 63-54 loss to LSU in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals.

"I think (the players) know we're Tennessee and when you're Tennessee things like this happen. We've gone through some tough brackets in the past," Summitt said.

Summitt said she believed the NCAA tournament committee made the region to fit teams geographically or had other reasoning.

"Maybe they think we're better than everybody else. Just stack them up," she joked.

"Just seeing the teams ... I can't imagine the other teams being real thrilled about it either. If I'm Ohio State, I'm a 4 seed? Oklahoma a 3 seed? Both of those surprised me."

As the regular-season winner of the SEC and with the top RPI in the country, the Lady Vols should be ready for another run through the NCAA tournament, Summitt said.

"You look at our schedule and our conference, the games night in and night out. You look at our non-conference schedule, the opportunity for us to play at North Carolina and to play Duke here, and although we lost those games we're better having been in that situations," she said.

"To beat Connecticut at Connecticut, beat LSU at their place, Georgia at their place, Vanderbilt in Nashville, we had some really tough road games that allowed our team to grow significantly and really be put in pressure situations."

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