Who Will Survive Tennessee-Stanford Showdown?

Some say Tennessee is lucky to be in the Midwest Regional final against Stanford tonight because the Lady Vols benefitted from a foul called at the end of the Baylor game that sent Tasha Butts to the line with 0.2 seconds remaining.

In the aftermath, Baylor cried foul, demanding clarification from the NCAA for what seemed to be a crystal clear situation. The Lady Bears were called for a foul with time remaining on the clock. You can't uncall a foul anymore than NFL officials can enforce a penalty while reviewing a play. Immediately after UT's 73-71 victory, ESPN's studio crew protested the ending as if they each had money riding on the game. It was the type of outrage that followed the O.J. Simpson verdict. But the Lady Vols didn't get away with murder, they simply enforced the law of the jungle and the survival-of-the-fittest principle prevailed.

After all, it was Baylor that had control of the ball and the clock before turning both over to Tennessee in the final seven seconds. It was the Lady Vols who seized the opportunity and triggered a fast break. And it was UT players trailing Ely's missed layup that kept the ball alive and out of the hands of their adversary. And it was Butts who calmly sank both shots with the game on the line. We'll never know if Tennessee would have outscored Baylor in overtime, but we do know they outscored Baylor by nine points in the last 6:41 of the game to capture the win.

We also know the Lady Vols outscored Stanford in overtime on Dec. 14 to take a 70-66 win. We know they overcame an 11-point halftime deficit on the road to force the overtime. Like we know they played the nation's strongest schedule each year to prepare themselves for games of this magnitude as well as the kind of crunch time the faced against Baylor.

In Stanford (27-6), Tennessee (29-3) faces a team that conquered SEC Tournament champion Vanderbilt with a crunch-time 3-point basket by Kelley Suminski. That may also be a case of the stronger team surviving because Stanford has made 253 triples at a rate of 39 percent this season.

The Lady Vols held Stanford to 5-of-21 (23 percent) from trey town in their earlier meeting and need the same type of perimeter defense to advance to their 16th Final Four. Pat Summitt's squad also needs to hit the boards better than they did against Baylor or in the first Stanford game when it was out rebounded 42-36. Senior center Ashley Robinson has to remain out of foul trouble and fully engaged in the paint to allow UT defenders to push Stanford's offense out of its comfort zone.

Tennessee has to limit Lady Card all-American Nicole Powell who scored 32 points in that December encounter and shoot better than the 39 percent UT shot in the first match between these clubs.

Look for the Lady Vols to turn up their intensity, pound the ball to the post and rebound with a vengeance. Intensity always tops timidity when the law of the jungle rules.

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