- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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Tennessee is playing as well as it has all season and seems to be peaking at the right time.
The struggles the Lady Vols had early in the year are gone. Everyone has stepped up their game, they're rebounding well and, most importantly, shooting with confidence.
That might be the biggest difference, and no matter how many wins she has, coach Pat Summitt probably should be most applauded right now for really emphasizing her Lady Vols to play free. Her shooters have the green light and nobody is playing scared. They're enjoying what they're doing and it shows. Tennessee shot 41 percent from the field in the regular season but has hit 47 percent (54-for-114) of its attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
The improvement is even bigger from 3-point range, where the Lady Vols shot 37 percent in the regular season. In two tournament games, they're 16-for-33 (48 percent) from downtown, and Shanna Zolman, especially, has been outstanding. She scored 28 points on 5-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc in the first round, then added 15 points and another three treys against Purdue in the second. In two tourney games, Zolman's shooting 70 percent (16 of 23) from the field.
Of course, after winning by a combined 72 points in its first two games, things will get a lot tougher for Tennessee in the Sweet 16, where the Lady Vols will meet Texas Tech on Sunday (ESPN, noon ET).
The two teams match up well. The Lady Raiders have plenty of balance, with four players averaging at least 12.1 points, and shoot 46.1 percent from the field. Defensively, Tech has held its opponents to just 34.5 percent accuracy from the field and 54.6 points per game.
Like Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle, Tech's Chelsey Dabbs (12.3 ppg) has a nice mid-range game. Point guard Erin Grant has dished out 213 assists (7.1 per game), which is 113 more than Hornbuckle (100 assists), Tennessee's leader in that category.
Both teams have big posts, although Tech's 6-foot-5 Cisti Greenwalt (team-high 13.2 ppg and 8.8 rpg) isn't as strong as Tennessee's inside players. Greenwalt's teammate, LaToya Davis, is very active and long and could pose some problems in the paint, too. She's averaging 12.5 points and 7.8 boards.
But the matchup that might steal the show is Zolman vs. Lady Raider Alesha Robertson, who is also playing really well in the tournament. Though not many players can match Zolman's quick-trigger release, Robertson has done an excellent job this season to improve her catch-and-shoot.
Robertson (12.7 ppg, 56 3-pointers), who is quicker than ever after losing 16 pounds in the offseason, is very good at freezing you with a shot fake and then putthing the ball down and driving left. She has gotten a lot better at getting her shot off and creating separation against quicker players.
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.
Tennesseee and Texas Tech match up well. But Zolman vs. Robertson might be the game's matchup to watch.