Lady Vols hope they can rely on Ely in Indy
INDIANAPOLIS -- Much has been written about Shyra Ely playing her last one or two collegiate games in her hometown. Prior to Tennessee's victory over Rutgers in the Philadelphia Regional, Ely was absolutely beaming about the possibilities.
But despite Ely's happiness about playing in front of her family and friends, the fact remains that Tennessee's senior forward has failed to show up offensively in her previous three Final Four appearances.
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As a freshman in 2002, she pumped in only six points against Connecticut. As a sophomore, she poured in six each against Duke and UConn. Then last year, she shot a dismal 1-for-11 from the field to score four points against LSU in the semifinal. Her 10 points against UConn in the championship was the first time she reached double digits.
Ely will probably need to double that output on Sunday when Tennessee goes up against a tough Michigan State team at the RCA Dome (ESPN, 9 ET).
Ely, who led the Lady Vols with 14.5 points and seven rebounds per game during the regular season, sighed and smiled when asked about her Final Four offensive struggles.
"I am quite aware I haven't been really effective in the Final Four," she said. "I have had some problems in the past. But I'm hoping -- I know I will be leaving those problems in the past."
Ely blames her past woes on trying to do too much. She believes she will be more effective on Sunday because she is much more relaxed.
"Some people thought I'd be more nervous here at home, but that's not the case," Ely said. "I feel very relaxed and I'm happy to be in the 4-spot where I feel more comfortable. I'm very confident that we're all going to do well tomorrow, including me."
Her coach feels likewise.
"Oh, you know what? She's due," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "She puts incredibly too much pressure on herself. And I think, to me as a coach, a player that cares that much -- that's a good thing. I also think that we have a more balanced team this year so she doesn't seem as anxious. And if she gets that way, we're just going to sit her down and talk to her."
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Apparently, the players have gotten a head start.
"We've talked about it among ourselves a little bit," junior guard Shanna Zolman said. "Shyra's a great player, a great friend ... It's our job as her teammates to try and help her out, to try and relieve any pressure or stress on her that may detour her from playing the game that she needs to play.
"We really haven't talked about it a whole lot because we really have faith that she's going to turn it around and play the best she can possibly play for us," she said.
Although Ely, a 2004 Kodak All-American, is the leading scorer and rebounder on one of the best teams in the country, her contributions were overlooked by this year's Kodak selection committee. It was only the fourth time in the NCAA era of women's basketball that a Tennessee player failed to make the 10-member squad.
Ely grimaced when asked whether this year's exclusion mattered to her.
"Um, you know, I'm not going to get caught up in all that," she said with some hesitation. "The most important thing is that we're here and we're confident and we're hopefully going to reach our goal of being national champions. The committee picks the people they think are best. Some days someone might think I'm the best and the next day they might think I'm the worst. So that's just the way it goes. I'm not really that disappointed because I'd rather be here with an opportunity to win this thing.
"Like I've said before, anything less is unacceptable," she said.
Miki Turner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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