Monday, March 15, 2004
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com
Same seed, different year.That seems to be the story for Tennessee, which received its 15th No. 1 seed in 17 years. Those are pretty impressive numbers, and the Lady Vols also have 18 victories over teams that made the NCAA Tournament, including a 72-69 win at top-ranked Duke. Tennessee already has beaten eight teams this season that were placed with the Lady Vols in the Midwest. Numbers don't lie, but as Tennessee begins its quest for the program's first NCAA title since 1998, will Loree Moore's absence hurt in the long run? Let's take a look at the Midwest's top seed. 1. What has impressed you most about Tennessee so far this season?
Uh-oh. That was the collective response from Lady Vols fans when Moore was lost for the season after tearing an ACL in that aforementioned victory over the Blue Devils on Jan. 24.
|Junior Shyra Ely leads the Lady Vols in both scoring (15.4) and rebounding (8.4).|
Though we knew Tennessee would rally and adjust to life after Moore, the undefeated SEC season was surprising. Even Summitt hadn't imagined the Lady Vols posting an unblemished record in league play for the second year in a row. "Particularly after (Moore) went down, I'm not sure that if I were a betting person I'd have bet on us," she said Jan. 29 after a win over LSU in the regular-season finale. " I might have bet against us." And keep in mind that perfect 14-0 conference mark came on the heels of the toughest nonconference schedule in the nation. That's pretty amazing and speaks volumes to what this team is capable of. 3. What are Tennessee's biggest strength and weakness?
"Defense and boards -- you have to have it if you want to be a championship level team," Summitt said in a recent teleconference. But it could have been from last week, last year, or even 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Summitt has always emphasized these two things, and rebounding continues to be Tennessee's greatest strength. Defensively, Tennessee rotates very well, and the Lady Vols are tremendous rebounders. Their pursuit of the basketball is unmatched. They average 42.6 boards per game and boast a plus-7.3 rebounding margin. The Lady Vols go hard to both boards, creating offense off those rebounds and taking possessions away from opponents. From a personnel standpoint, Tennessee also is very versatile. In addition to the talents of Butts and Ely, expect Ashley Robinson to remain an energetic, vocal leader to help make up for Moore's absence. Like Tennessee's other posts, Robinson is very athletic and can guard a 3 very effectively. And watch out for Shanna Zolman, who has an uncanny ability to get off her shots. Thanks to Georgia, we got a glimpse at Tennessee's only weakness, and it can be traced back to Moore. The Lady Vols must find a way to be successful against teams with especially strong guards. Georgia has one of the quickest, most athletic backcourts in the country, and it exploited Tennessee in the SEC tournament semifinals, when the Lady Dogs harassed Tennessee into 23 turnovers. 4. Who's the wild card for Tennessee that we might not have heard much about?
Freshman Sidney Spencer hasn't started a single game this season, but she's averaging 16 minutes, 5.1 points and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 43.7 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent at the foul line. And after scoring 1,743 points in high school, the 6-foot-3 freshman post obviously knows how to put the ball in the basket and can provide offense off the bench. LaToya Davis, a 6-foot senior forward, also could be an X-factor. She has been to two straight Final Fours. She's experienced and explosive, and this is her time to have a breakout performance or two. 5. What does Tennessee need to do to win the NCAA title?
Stay patient on offense. Tennessee has a tendency to try to set up its offense and make things happen too quickly, which often gets the Lady Vols out of rhythm. They need to stay within their system and look for the fast break. When it's not there, they need to reverse the ball and start again, find their open shots and find the right shooter, someone with a little space and separation. The Lady Vols needs to work the opposing defense a bit instead of letting it work them. Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.