Lady Vols Meet Mirror Image

Tennessee and Baylor have several similarities heading into Sunday's Midwest Regional semifinal showdown in Norman, Okla., but the Lady Vols hope to parlay a significant difference into a decided advantage.

The Lady Bears boss, Kim Mulkey-Robertson, played at a prolific basketball program in Louisiana Tech and went on to play in the Olympics before becoming a successful head coach. UT's Pat Summitt followed the same path to the college coaching profession. In fact, Summitt went on to coach the 1984 U.S. Olympic team that Mulkey-Robertson played to the gold medal. Summitt won six national championships at Tennessee as a coach, Mulkey-Robertson won two national championships at La Tech as a player.

Both Baylor and Tennessee reached the Sweet 16 despite losing a key player for the season to injury. Baylor lost post player Steffanie Blackmon and UT lost the services of point guard and play maker Loree Moore. The Lady Vols have adjusted to Moore's absence by letting Tasha Butts and Shanna Zolman share lead guard duties. The Lady Bears have seen center Sophia Young step up her game inside scoring 23 points against in Baylor's most recent outing against Florida.

The teams match up favorably through the starting five and both squads are extremely athletic, preferring to play an up-tempo game. Baylor has the type of quick guards that gives Tennessee trouble, especially without Moore, but the Lady Vols appear to have taken their defensive intensity level up in the postseason.

Tennessee also has better overall depth although it might not mean so much in a contest peppered with TV time-outs. However if UT can get the ball inside and draw fouls the Lady Bears will drop off sharply, especially with Blackmon unavailable.

The Lady Vols biggest advantage is probably in the area of postseason experience as they have been to the Sweet 16 a total of 23 straight years. Tennessee has thrived in the survive-and-advance format and its players, outside of a pair of true freshmen, are battled tested and hardened. On the other hand, Baylor has never advanced this far in the program's history.

The experience edge could cut like a knife if the Lady Vols can grab an early lead and force Baylor to play from behind. Conversely, the Lady Bears have to stay on the lead or at least within striking distance or run the risk of being struck down by one of Tennessee patented double-digit runs.

UT's focus can't drift to a potential regional final match up with intrastate rival Vanderbilt or get caught scoreboard watching the Lady Dores' contest against Stanford. If Baylor gets its confidence early it could be a long night.

Rebounding was the key for Tennessee in its victory over DePaul and it will be critical against Baylor. Another big game by 6-foot-4 pivot Ashley Robinson who scored a double-double against the Blue Demons would neutralize Baylor in the paint. Summitt's crew will look for transition baskets but its more important to deny Baylor fast break opportunities. Disrupting the Lady Bears rhythm is critical to UT's success.


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