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By Stacey Dales-Schuman
Special to ESPN.com
 

Editor's note: Earlier this week, Stacey Dales-Schuman broke down each team's defensive strengths and needs. Click here to see Dales-Schuman's more extensive analysis on the Final Four matchups.

Unlike Minnesota and Connecticut, Sunday's other national semifinalists have a long tradition of playing each other.

Tennessee and LSU, in fact, played just more than a month ago. The Lady Vols won in a rout, 85-62, in Knoxville, Tenn., in both teams' regular-season finale.

The same advantages Tennessee had back then could trouble LSU on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Pat Summitt summed it up best.

"When we recognized the fact that we had dominated the inside game, and got the ball inside, that was the key," Tennessee's coach said after her team beat LSU in February as the Lady Vols took a 31-7 advantage in the all-time series.

LSU got hammered on the boards in that game 44-28. Everybody has criticized LSU's limited post game throughout the season, and look for Tennessee to continue to exploit the mismatch inside. The Lady Vols have the edge in size, and are much more experienced in the paint.

But because LSU's post players stepped up in the Elite Eight, other factors (such as rebounding, bench contribution and getting to the free-throw line) might have a bigger impact.

In the NCAA Tournament, the Lady Vols' bench is averaging 20 points; LSU's reserves combine for 13.2. Tennessee's bench came up huge in the Elite Eight, outscoring its Stanford counterpart 14-0. In LSU's last game, an Elite Eight win over Georgia, its bench scored just five points.

Two reserves in particular could have a huge impact. More than anything, LSU needs its bench to help out inside, and post Treynell Clavelle came up big against Texas in the Sweet 16. She scored 11 points in that game -- seven more than her average -- and gave LSU a tremendous boost off the bench.

The same can be said for Tennessee's Sidney Spencer, who Summitt challenged to come out and be more of an offensive threat in the tournament. Spencer responded, scoring double-figures against Colgate and DePaul, and grabbing nine boards in each of those games. She added another nine points against the Cardinal.

Spencer is important to Tennessee's offense because her ability to hit the 3 or go inside for some chippies can spread the opponent's defense. That creates more gaps in the opponent's defense and more avenues to the basket, which benefits Tasha Butts, especially since Butts takes players one-on-one so often.

Tennessee, obviously, has the edge in overall experience, reaching its 15th Final Four. But the Lady Vols also have done a very good job figuring out how to win games, and have consistently pulled out the win down the stretch when the game is on the line. They are 3-1 in overtime contests this season, and won both of their last two games on last-second shots.

Part of that success can be traced back to the Lady Vols' ability to get to the free-throw line, which is imperative at this point in the season. Their getting to the foul line does two things. First, it allows the Lady Vols to control the momentum of the game. Also, it stops the clock, which allows the players to recover and for the coaches to discuss the game plan.

That might come in handy against LSU, especially since the Lady Tigers seem to have found their offensive chemistry. Seimone Augustus, Temeka Johnson and Doneeka Hodges are a lethal combination on the perimeter. They are cutting and filling lanes very efficiently and, more importantly, playing very relaxed. They've also done a good job of getting Augustus on the low block a lot for her cuts, where she's lethal in the mid-range game.

That, of course, will test the one thing Tennessee has always emphasized -- defense.

Former Oklahoma standout Stacey Dales-Schuman, who has been a WNBA All-Star with the Washington Mystics, is an analyst for ESPN.



EAST
1 Penn State
2 Connecticut
3 Houston
4 North Carolina
5 Notre Dame
6 Colorado
7 Auburn
8 Virginia Tech
9 Iowa
10 North Carolina State
11 UC Santa Barbara
12 Southwest Missouri State
13 Middle Tennessee
14 UW-Green Bay
15 Penn
16 Hampton
MIDEAST
1 Duke
2 Kansas State
3 Boston College
4 Texas Tech
5 Louisiana Tech
6 Ohio State
7 Minnesota
8 Old Dominion
9 Marquette
10 UCLA
11 West Virginia
12 Montana
13 Maine
14 Eastern Michigan
15 Valparaiso
16 Northwestern State
WEST
1 Texas
2 Purdue
3 Georgia
4 LSU
5 Miami
6 TCU
7 Villanova
8 Michigan State
9 Arizona
10 Mississippi
11 Temple
12 Maryland
13 Austin Peay
14 Liberty
15 St. Francis (Pa.)
16 Southern
MIDWEST
1 Tennessee
2 Vanderbilt
3 Oklahoma
4 Baylor
5 Florida
6 Stanford
7 Rutgers
8 George Washington
9 DePaul
10 Chattanooga
11 Missouri
12 New Mexico
13 Loyola Marymount
14 Marist
15 Lipscomb
16 Colgate