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
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
"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.''