Tigers hosting Missouri State in season opener.
Heading in to her fourth season at the helm of the Lady Tiger program, Head Coach Blair Savage-Lansden made some moves in the off-season in order to provide some new energy for her young Lady Tiger team. With seven letterwinners returning from the 2006-07 season, but with just one senior and one two-year letterwinner on the roster, Savage made two changes in her coaching staff in hopes that new energy would help a young roster push through its growing pains. Savage tapped former co-worker Jennifer Hoover as her new Associate Head Coach from the University of Virginia. Hoover, still Wake Forest University's leading career scorer, spent one year on the Memphis coaching staff as an assistant with Savage, before moving to Virginia to take a lead recruiting spot there. Savage also reached back in Lady Tiger history and brought the first former Lady Tiger on board the coaching staff since Mary Lou Johns was a coach at Memphis when Jennifer Sullivan joined the staff for the 2007-08 season. Sullivan was a four-year letterwinner for the Lady Tigers, and played under Savage when Savage was both an assistant and a head coach at Memphis.
Those moves built on some of the pieces that were laid as far back as 2005-06, when Savage and her staff put in the motion offense for a seven-player roster. The decision was made to put the motion in place that year, despite the low roster numbers, in order to allow the returning players to build some experience in the offense, and to demonstrate to recruits that the Lady Tigers were committed to running the motion offense.
Savage's staff then went out and signed eight newcomers for her third season, all of whom came out of backgrounds with the motion offense. The six prep signees for 2006-07 marked Savage's first recruiting class that the staff has been working on since they were juniors, and earned a significant amount of playing time as true freshmen.
Of her first recruiting class, Savage helped the program's first Memphis prep signee since Patosha Jeffrey (1995-1997) earn Conference USA Sixth Player of the Year honors as Wooddale High School's Paris Leonard earned the league honor as a freshman in 2005-06. Leonard had an impact freshman season with the Lady Tigers, scoring 334 points, the sixth-best single season total for any Lady Tiger freshman dating back to 1978-79. The change in the offense also enabled junior guard Devin Necaise to break out and score more points in 2005-06 (396) than in her first two years in Memphis combined. The lone Lady Tiger with experience in the motion offense, Necaise went on to knock down 56 three-point field goals on the season, sparking a long-range shooting Lady Tiger squad to a school-record 154 field goals from beyond the arc.
Getting an opportunity to put her own mark on a program is something Savage has waited for after spending nine seasons as an assistant coach for the Lady Tigers under previous coach Joye Lee-McNelis and one season as an assistant at Belmont University in Nashville under Tony Cross.
Savage began her collegiate basketball career as a standout post player at Arkansas. She capped her career in Fayetteville as the Lady Razorbacks' 10th all-time leading scorer with 1,072 points and currently ranks among the top 25 all-time in scoring for Arkansas. Playing under coach John Sutherland, Savage also set two game records for the Lady Razorbacks, grabbing 14 rebounds in a half and 12 offensive rebounds in a game, both against Arkansas rival Oklahoma during her freshman season.
Savage still ranks 13th all-time in rebounds (771) and in the top 20 in assists. In 2000-01, she was named to Arkansas' Lady Razorback Silver Anniversary team after averaging 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in her four years in Fayetteville. A 6-1 post player, she shot over 50 percent from the field in all four seasons in Arkansas.
Also a standout in the classroom, Savage was an Academic All-America nominee in both 1990-91 and 1991-92, the first-ever time that Arkansas had two women's basketball teammates nominated for the award. In 1993, Savage was selected as the NCAA Woman of the Year for the state of Arkansas, and also received the NCAA/Entergy Winning for Life postgraduate scholarship. She earned her degree in secondary mathematics education from Arkansas in 1994, while serving as a student assistant coach with the Lady Razorbacks.
A native of Gravette, Ark., Savage's first stint at the Memphis began during the 1994-95 season when she joined the staff as the Lady Tigers' restricted earnings coach. She served in that capacity for two seasons, before being named a full-time assistant in 1996-97. Savage completed her master's degree at the University of Memphis in sports administration in 1996.
As a full-time member of the staff, Savage served as recruiting coordinator and handled the on-the-floor coaching duties of the guards and posts. She was also the liaison of the mentoring program and the "Tracking the Lady Tigers" program. She also monitored the academic status of the student-athletes, and worked on the Lady Tigers' opponent scouting reports. Her nine-year stint as a member of the Lady Tiger staff ended in 2003-04 when Savage followed her husband, Bill, to the central Tennessee area where Bill had been named an associate athletic director at Middle Tennessee State in 2002-03. While in central Tennessee, Savage landed a job as an assistant on Tony Cross' staff, where she served as the coach of the Bruins' post players. There, she helped land forward Brandi Miller on the All-Atlantic Sun team and rookie center Destri Bockey on the A-Sun All-Freshman squad. The Bruins finished the season with a 16-12 overall record, 14-6 in the A-Sun.
On her return to Memphis, Savage's first task was to retain former associate head coach Tom Cross and to hire Angela Crosby from four-time NCAA participant UT Chattanooga. Her first assistant coaching staff would also include a WNBA representative, as Helen Darling joined the Lady Tigers for Savage's first season. Cross would leave the Lady Tiger program in December of 2004 when he was tapped as Director of Player Personnel for the WNBA's Houston Comets, leaving Savage short-staffed for the remainder of the 2004 season. But the task of rebuilding the Lady Tiger program continued, and Memphis advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Conference USA tournament for just the second time in four years, before falling to No. 12 DePaul.
In her first year as the head coach at Memphis, Savage would guide the team through some major changes, not counting the coaching staff changes. The Lady Tigers would not rely as heavily on a full-court press and would focus on improving each individual's straight-up man-to-man defensive capabilities.
The result was the program's 13th straight Thanksgiving/Lady Tiger Classic title and the 17th 1,000 career-point scorer when Victoria Crawford became the second Lady Tiger in as many years to hit the 1,000 career point mark in a loss to Western Kentucky at the Fun in the Sun Shootout in Cancun, Mexico. Crawford, who was known league-wide as a slashing-style player who would work her way to the free-throw line, found continued success under Savage, repeating third-team All-Conference USA honors.
Off the court, the Lady Tigers had their most successful semester ever in Savage's first term at the helm. All three freshmen from the 2004-05 class would be named to the Dean's List during the fall semester, and two, Gresh Gorman and Jessica Hall, would post perfect 4.0 semesters in their first semester of college basketball.
That duo would go on to earn Conference USA Commissioner's Academic Medals for having a GPA of 3.75 or higher by the end of the spring semesters in 2005, while seniors Raven Rogers and Kaneshi Hart would join that duo on the C-USA Academic Honor Roll at the end of the year. In addition, the team's cumulative GPA at the end of the fall semester was its highest ever.
"I am excited that Blair Savage-Lansden is our head basketball coach for our Lady Tiger program," said Athletic Director R.C. Johnson. "She was highly involved in every aspect of Lady Tiger Basketball as a member of the previous staff, and has gained invaluable experience over her 10 years as an assistant coach. I feel confident that we have hired one of the dynamic young coaches in women's college basketball, and I am certain that we will see even greater successes for our program under Coach Savage's direction," added Johnson.
Savage is married to Bill Lansden, who is the Associate Athletic Director for Development at the University of Memphis. The couple resides in Germantown, Tenn. and has a set of twin daughters, Delaney and Madeleine, born in December of 2005.