LSU Eyes Upset of Tennessee

Tennessee (30-3) goes into Sunday's battle in the bayou against LSU (27-7) having survived a pair of buzzer beaters thanks to the ubiquitous Tasha Butts, who figures to be the key again to the Lady Vols success.

Another fight to the finish looks to be in store as LSU has hit its stride coming into what amounts to a home game in the NCAA Women's Final Four. The Lady Tigers beat two teams — Texas and Georgia — in the West Regional semifinal and finals to reach New Orleans. Perhaps Tennessee's biggest problem is littlest Lady Tiger — 5-foot-3 senior point guard Temeka Johnson who has been a post-season throne in UT's side. The diminutive Johnson's size, quickness and ball-handling skills pose a perpetual mismatch for the Lady Vols man-to-man defense. She was the difference in LSU upset wins over Tennessee in the 2002 and 2003 SEC Tournaments and will be the player the Lady Vols must stop to survive.

That responsibility figure to fall to the Lady Vols 5-foot-11 guard Tasha Butts who is UT's quickest player and arguably their best man defender. Butts has to limit penetration and shield Johnson from getting to rebounds and loose balls with her quickness.

Last year Johnson had a herculean effort against the Lady Vols in the SEC Tournament title game, as she scored 24 points on 10-of-15 from the field. She also grabbed nine rebounds, dished out seven assists and recorded four steals to lead the Tigers to a one-sided 78-62 victory.

The Lady Vols got their revenge in February's regular season encounter, scoring a commanding 85-62 triumph. This will be the fifth different venue these squads have met in their last five meetings — having previous played at Nashville, Baton Rogue, Little Rock and Knoxville before renewing hostilities in the New Orleans Arena.

While the locale favors No. 4 seed LSU, the format is much more familiar to No. 1 seed Tennessee which is playing in its 15th Final Four compared to the Lady Tigers first. Additionally, LSU is being led by interim head coach Dana "Pokey" Chatman who is filling in for sidelined veteran Sue Gunter.

How that factors into this competition is an intriguing sidebar to Sunday's contest. Pat Summitt has a huge edge in experience and making decisions under this type of pressure, but Chatman's troops may draw an emotional lift playing near home along with inspiration playing for their 40-year veteran head coach and her rookie replacement.

Another key is the play of Tennessee's 6-foot-2 junior forward Shyra Ely vs. LSU's 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Seimone Augustus. Ely leads UT in scoring with 15.0 point per game and rebounding with 8.1 per contest. Augustus leads LSU in scoring with 19.5 points per game.

Tennessee has better inside strength with 6-foot-5 starting center Ashley Robinson (8.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) in addition to Tyesha Fluker, 6-5, and Sidney Spencer, 6-3, coming off the bench. The Lady Tigers' tallest player is 6-foot-3 forward Tillie Willis. UT held a huge advantage on the boards in its February victory and will need to control the glass to win again.

Starting lineups:

LSU: G Temeka Johnson, 5-3, Sr., G Doneeka Hodges, 5-9, Sr., F Seimone Augustus, 6-1, soph., C Tillie Willis 6-3, Jr., F Wendlyn Jones, 6-1, Soph.

Tennessee: G Tasha Butts, 5-10, Sr, G Shanna Zolman 5-10, Soph., F Shyra Ely, 6-2, Jr., F Latoya Davis, 6-1, Sr., C Ashley Robinson, 6-5, Sr.

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