While there is no doubt about the degree of difficulty Tennessee faces in light of its Dec. 17 struggle against the Blue Demons and DePaul's impressive showing against a higher seed on Saturday, there is a plenty of room for interpretation as to which team holds the psychological edge entering tonight's rematch.
Normally, the losing team has an advantage in a rematch but these aren't exactly normal circumstances. Pat Summitt used that earlier victory to lay down the law regarding the importance of sound defense to Tennessee's success. She treated the overtime win as more of a loss and enforced her point in a series of rugged practices that followed the OT battle.
The narrow defeat provided DePaul the confidence it needed to go on a 10-game winning streak before the Blue Demons ended the campaign with four straight setbacks. However against George Washington, DePaul appeared to recapture the form that it used to push the Lady Vols to the limit.
Moreover, the Blue Demons enjoy a quickness advantage in the backcourt that will test Tennessee's ability to shut down penetration, especially by 5-foot-5 Ashley Luke.
Conversely, the Lady Vols enjoy a decisive edge in size and depth as the Blue Demons' only starter as tall as 6-foot-2 is center Khara Smith who is averaging a team-high 20.6 points per game. Tennessee's starting lineup averages 6-1.5 and Summitt has three other players of 6-foot-3 or better on the bench. UT's starting center Ashley Robinson is coming off her first ever career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds against Colgate.
However UT's quickest guard Loree Moore is lost for the season with a torn ACL which has left the Lady Vols vulnerable to opponents with quick guards as was evident in their SEC Tournament defeat against Georgia.
The key for UT's man defense tonight will be getting plenty of off-the-ball help when DePaul's guards are able to penetrate off the dribble drive. Tennessee has to also hold a sizable rebound advantage on both ends of the floor to gain second chance opportunities and to ignite the transition game.
The Lady Vols are 33-0 in first and second round NCAA Tournament games. To go 34-0 and advance to Midwest Regional play in Norman, Okla., they will have to be on top of their game. Anything less than their best might mean an early rest.
DEPAUL: Guard Jenni Dant, 5-10 (14.4), Guard Ashley Luke, 5-5 (12.5), Forward Charlene Smith, 5-8 (17.7), Forward Sarah Kustok ,5-10, (6.4), Center Khara Smith, 6-2 (20.6)
TENNESSEE: Guard Tasha Butts 5-11 (10.1), G Shanna Zolman 5-10 (12.2), Forward Shyra Ely 6-2 (15.0), Forward, LaToya Davis 6-0 (4.3), Center, Ashley Robinson 6-5 (8.3).