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Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- No marquee names. No problem for the Tennessee Lady Vols.

Without well-known players like Kara Lawson, Tamika Catchings or Chamique Holdsclaw, top-seeded Tennessee (28-3) reached the round of 16 for the 23rd straight year with hopes of winning a seventh national title and first since 1998.

This year's team differs from many of the past built around at least one star player who took always charge.

Tennessee is relying on every player to contribute -- even more important after point guard Loree Moore's season ended Jan. 24 because of a knee injury.

The Lady Vols don't wonder whether a player will be the hot shooter, get a key steal or make a critical defensive play. The mystery instead is who will be the hero.

"That's the way it's been all year for us," senior center Ashley Robinson said. "No one in my eyes has just dominated our team this year. It just seems that on any given night somebody can dominate."

The Lady Vols, who face fourth-seeded Baylor in the Midwest Regional semifinal Sunday, had only one player on The Associated Press All-America list for the first time in six years.

Junior Shyra Ely made the third team. She is the team's leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 14.9 points and 8.1 rebounds a game.

Tennessee learned in last season's NCAA Tournament that having one or two key players was not enough. Lawson and Gwen Jackson were the main focus of opposing defenses, and the Lady Vols struggled when they were not scoring.

"We felt like (last year) we were playing offensively two against five or three against five. It's tough to win that way,'' coach Pat Summitt said Wednesday. "Certainly that makes us a better basketball team when we have a five-on-five attack.''

Tennessee ended last season with a 73-68 loss to Connecticut in the national championship game.

The Lady Vols missed the leadership of Lawson and Jackson early this season but have made huge strides since then. Summitt realized she had to put the offense in the hands of the whole team, not just one person.

"We haven't always played this way. We're not going to necessarily have across-the-board equal opportunity offense unless we feel that's to our advantage. With this team, we felt it was to our advantage,'' she said.

During games, the players recognize who is having a good game, and point it out to the coaches.

"If Shyra is hot, they will say, 'We need to run this and get Shyra the ball.' Or 'We have to get (Shanna) Zolman open or Brittany (Jackson) open for the 3,' '' Summitt said. "I really like the responsibility that every player has taken on offensively and defensively for us to be successful.''

Another good example was Tasha Butts during Tennessee's 94-88 win at Vanderbilt on Feb. 15. The senior guard came into the game averaging 7.8 points and finished with a career-high 37 points, as well as nine rebounds and seven assists. She made all six 3-pointers she attempted.

The points are distributed more equally in some games, such as the Lady Vols' 79-59 win over DePaul in the second round. Six players reached double figures.

Summitt has found it is easier to coach a team of equal players, and the players think it is better for them, too.

"When people scout us, they can't focus on guarding one person,'' Robinson said. "They have to guard all five of us.''



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