Five questions with Kyra Elzy

The Lady Vols are in Spokane for a Sweet 16 matchup with Gonzaga. InsideTennessee had five questions for Kyra Elzy before tipoff on Saturday. Go inside with InsideTennessee for an interview with the assistant coach.

Tennessee (29-5) will square off against Gonzaga (26-7) at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena at 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN) on Saturday evening. The Lady Vols secured two wins in Knoxville and now will play in a hostile environment against the hometown Bulldogs, which dispatched Oregon State to reach the Spokane Regional in the state of Washington.

Assistant coach Kyra Elzy chatted Friday by phone with InsideTennessee during the Lady Vols’ session with media.

InsideTennessee:What challenges does Gonzaga present to Tennessee?

Kyra Elzy: They are a veteran team that has experience. They are probably one of the most-efficient offensive teams that we have played this year. They average 18 three-point attempts, and they are a great passing team.

We have really focused on limited help, not making our defense rotate and defending the three-point line. That is a big key for us – one-on-one defense.

IT:Tennessee arrived early in Spokane to get acclimated to the time change. How has practice been in terms of energy level?

Elzy: Well, the one good thing is they are all young. They adjust very quickly. They are fine. We have had great practices. It’s the NCAA Tournament. Everyone has to play. Everybody has to travel. Everyone has to deal with some type of adversity.

But at the end of the day, we have one game, 40 minutes, and one team is going to want it more than the other, and let’s just hope it’s the Lady Vols.

IT: Bashaara Graves has been tremendous in postseason. That has been exactly what Tennessee needed, especially with Isabelle Harrison sidelined because of a knee injury. How critical is Graves to the game plan?

Elzy: She plays a huge piece to the success of our program. She has been playing well in the postseason. I think she is playing with a lot of confidence, and she has really stepped up to the challenge that Holly (Warlick) has given her since Izzy’s been out. We told her she doesn’t have to do everything, but we need her to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor.

She has really taken that to heart, demanding the basketball. She is passing the ball extremely well. The thing that she is doing the best is going back to the old school Tennessee basketball and crashing the offensive boards.

IT:What does Tennessee have to do to win this Sweet 16 game?

Elzy: One thing we have to do is play pressure defense. We cannot let Gonzaga run their offense comfortably. They are a rhythm team, and we cannot let them just sit and be in rhythm offensively. One-on-one defense is critical, keeping someone in front of you, so we don’t have to rotate our defense.

And boxing out. We must win the battle of the boards.

An additional question related to that, how critical is it that the guards, even if they don’t get the board, get a body on somebody and box out?

Elzy: It’s critical. We talked about that for the last couple of days. We have really challenged the guards to be active, participate in the play, get box-outs, get rebounds. That is a huge key for us. We challenged them, and I think they will step up to the challenge.

In preseason, we talked about the loss in the Sweet 16 a year ago. The team was upset. I think the word you used was embarrassed. The bitterness of that loss lingered for some time. You’re at this point now. You’re back in the Sweet 16. What is the mind-set of the players and coaches?

Elzy: We really want to attack this year. We were at this point a year ago, but it’s a new year, new team, new season. We still have the same goals, but we want to be aggressive. Play hard on both ends of the floor. Play our style of basketball the way we want it.

We just told the kids, ‘No regrets.’ We want to leave our heart and soul on the floor the Lady Vol way for 40 minutes.

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