Tennessee Lady Vols
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REGION: Midwest SEED: 1
COACH: Pat Summitt CONFERENCE: SEC
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
Loree Moore's absence means the rest of the Lady Vols -- from their leading scorers to the last player off the bench -- must play some big-time basketball. Shyra Ely will be consistent, but players such as Ashley Robinson must step up. And Tennessee must find a way to be successful against teams with especially strong guards. That's what troubled the Lady Vols in that SEC semifinal loss to Georgia.
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While senior Tasha Butts has been an offensive spark plug for the Lady Vols recently, Ely has been a constant, ranking first in scoring (15.4 points) and rebounds (8.4). And when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, the 6-foot-2 junior forward only seems to get better. Despite starting only eight games in all of last season, Ely averaged 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds over six NCAA Tournament games en route to Mideast Regional All-Tournament honors. This season, she was voted a unanimous All-SEC first-team pick. But she'll be eager to back it up when the tournament opens. Despite tallying 27 points and 12 boards, Ely was held scoreless in overtime as Georgia upset then-No. 1 Tennessee in the SEC tournament semifinals.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
Tennessee is yet another team that has had to battle through injury all season -- the obvious one losing junior point guard Loree Moore to a torn ACL in the nationally televised Duke-Tennessee matchup.
Moore is the type of player you just don't want to lose; she's strong, well-conditioned, and she set a defensive tone for her team better than anyone in America. Besides Moore, Tasha Butts had a knee scare back in January, as did junior shooter Brittany Jackson in February. While it was only a scare for Butts, Jackson had to be much more careful as she sprained her MCL. Her "full-fledged" return is essential for the Lady Vols in the NCAA Tournament. Despite all the uproar, Pat Summitt isn't deemed a Hall of Fame coach for any old reason -- she has had her team rolling all along.
The Lady Vols have had a number of different players step up all season. Butts, a senior guard, and senior center Ashley Robinson are providing good vocal leadership while junior forward Shyra Ely has used her versatility to play inside and outside. Ely must play well for Tennessee to triumph; the Lady Vols need her to post up facing and attack off the dribble against less mobile "bigs." Moreover, Ely has to relentlessly pursue offensive boards, something that Tennessee prides itself on.
From a scoring standpoint, it is important that the Lady Vols gain contributions from a number of players. But it is crucial that sophomore plant-and-pop purist Shanna Zolman sets the tone. Her ability to make shots will give Tennessee added confidence and momentum.
Though Tennessee has experienced some adversity -- and lost in the SEC tournament semifinals -- the Lady Vols are sitting in a good situation. They have once again played the toughest strength of schedule in women's basketball, as at least 41 percent of the teams they faced this season are or were ranked in the top 25 of women's hoops. This preparation, in addition to playing in the SEC, will only help the Lady Vols in usual fashion.
From a defensive standpoint, Tennessee will show us the suffocating player-to-player defense we're accustomed to. The Lady Vols, however, will also offer a much-improved zone defense that will come in handy to change the flow of a game or simply stifle teams that struggle to shoot the ball.
With the general understanding that defense and rebounding will propel Tennessee, it is the Lady Vols' offense that leaves a small question mark. The Lady Vols have capable scorers, but how much do they miss Loree Moore? They will need productive minutes from nearly every player on the roster and require more sound communication than ever before to continue carrying the shared point guard duties. Leadership must continue to be a collective effort for the Lady Vols, who have been fairly successful in this regard all season.