"Obviously Shyra was terrific in positioning and also just finishing some tough, tough shots," Pat Summitt said. "When I look at her stat line, that's the way we need for her to play. It made a big difference in how we played today."
Ely, one of the three Tennessee seniors, has been to three Final Fours but hasn't won a national title. This year's Final Four also happens to be in her hometown.
"It's tournament time; it's March," Ely said about elevating her game. "You really have to take it up another level. We had that two-week break between the season and the tournament. Coach takes it to another level so we have to, too.
"It's either go hard, or go home. There's no second chance, and I think because of that we have a higher sense of urgency to get out there and do what we have to do to win."
Two other Tennessee players were in double figures, and they are both freshmen. Guard Alexis Hornbuckle had 14 points; center Nicky Anosike added 11 points. Anosike was the leading rebounder with 11 boards, and Hornbuckle and senior guard Loree Moore had eight rebounds a piece.
Texas Tech, 24-8, was led by LaToya Davis with 12 points and Judith Smith with 10. Center Cisti Greenwalt was held to six points and played 21 minutes with only four of those coming in the second half.
Coach Marsha Sharp pulled Greenwalt to go with a quicker and smaller lineup in an attempt to keep up with Tennessee, 29-4. The Lady Vols also were pressuring the ball and preventing it from going inside.
Lady Raider Erin Grant was harassed into six turnovers, an unheard of number for the junior point guard who was picked as one of the top five floor leaders in the country by espn.com. The other four were Jamie Carey of Texas, Dionnah Jackson of Oklahoma, Temeka Johnson of LSU and Cappie Pondexter of Rutgers.
"They just pressured the ball like we knew they would," Grant said. "They tried to take away our passes to the wings and our entry to the post."
Moore said the day before the game that she wanted to make Grant "uncomfortable." Moore, Hornbuckle and Anosike picked up Grant on the perimeter and sometimes full-court and rarely allowed her an open view of the floor.
"I think it had a major effect because at times they were struggling to feed their post, which forced them to take outside shots," Hornbuckle said. "Coach emphasized ball pressure a lot because the post game is outstanding. They like to run the floor, they like to pound it inside. It was very crucial that we deny the ball on the wings and that we ball pressure a lot.
"Their offense definitely runs through her. She takes care of the ball very well. She sets everything up. We had to keep pressure on her and not allow her to get the looks that she wanted. I think we forced her to have six turnovers, which is great because she doesn't have a lot of turnovers period. I think our ball pressure had a lot to do with that."
Tennessee got off to a fast start – something Summitt has emphasized all season long.
"First of all I thought our basketball team came out of the gates really strong and got us off to a great start, which is what you hope will happen," Summitt said. "Throughout the course of the game I thought we did a better job of establishing our inside game. Obviously we struggled from behind the arc. In the paint I thought we were very efficient."
Texas Tech started the game in a hole and trailed 40-26 at the half. Although the Lady Raiders made a few runs, they could never close the gap to less than 11 points in the second half.
"It is a big mystery to coaches to determine when players are ready and when they will play well and when they don't," Sharp said. "I thought we had the best week of preparation that we could have had for them. I felt like their mentality was good and that they came out with the same feel to me that we had last week in Dallas, and we played well there.
"We got great looks but just couldn't knock the shots down, and they were the same shots that we made last week. I think it shook our confidence and our ability to get it done."
Tennessee was having shooting troubles of its own - 1-10 behind the arc - and didn't hit a three-pointer until Hornbuckle rattled one home with 21 seconds left in the game for the Lady Vols' final points of the game. Tennessee did shoot 43.3 percent for the game, primarily because of the efficiency of Ely.
Junior guard Shanna Zolman was scoreless from long range – 0-3 from behind the arc - but did score eight points on 4-7 shooting closer to the basket.
Zolman said the beauty of this team is its balance and the ability of different players to step up as needed. She also knew the priority Sunday was to get the ball to Ely.
"It was for me," Zolman said. "When you have players like Shyra going off like they did tonight, you just get them the ball. You want to feed who's hot.
"Tonight it was our inside game. The past two games we'd been lighting it up from outside. When they take that away we go inside. When they take the inside away, we go outside. That's why this team is so special, and that's why I love the chemistry that we have. It's not selfish by any means. We go with what's working."
Zolman was impressed by the rebounding of the backcourt.
"Wow," Zolman said when told of Hornbuckle's and Moore's work on the boards. "That's very crucial. The posts are going to be fighting. They fight every single time. Coach instills in us that there are four people going to the boards constantly. With our guards being able to rebound like they did that's a huge advantage for us."
One of those post players welcomed the help.
"That's huge. It starts our break," Ely said. "Our transition is one of our biggest strengths, our primary offense. You're able to run the floor and get easy buckets."
Defense and boards is Summitt's mantra all season, and most especially in the post-season.
"I've always been big on everyone rebounds on the defensive end," Summitt said. "Loree Moore's been a great rebounder throughout her career. There's no reason why you can't rebound and run when your guards are involved."
"I just think coach harps on that, that we need to get the rebounds," Anosike said. "The two things she says before every game are defense and boards. I think the three of us have been in tune for that."
Summitt was pleased with the efforts on the boards. Tennessee won that battle, 46-36. The defense was a different story.
"You asked me after that game?" Summitt asked when a sportswriter asked if she was happy with the defensive play.
"I thought we did some good things defensively but also thought we had some breakdowns. When I say deny one pass away I think you should do that 100 percent of the time, and we did it about 65 percent. I think this team has become a better defensive team not because of what they do one on one, but they support each other.
"For some reason they decided they wanted to play together at both ends, offensively and defensively. When that happens on offense you're going to be more efficient and you're going to move the ball more. On defense you're going to have early help, and you're going to support that help on the back side. This team is really fitting together in a way that's allowed them to a better team defensively."
That sounded as if Summitt was almost satisfied with the defense. There were breakdowns against the Lady Raiders, but they only shot 32.8 percent for the game, and Tennessee hounded their guards.
Tennessee is a better defensive team when Anosike is on the floor, but she is picking up early fouls. Her first foul appeared to be a clean block on Davis. Her second foul came on what seemed to be a held ball. A freshman post player doesn't get those calls.
"She's got to keep herself on the floor," Summitt said. "She gets so overanxious."
Anosike said she has talked to assistant coach Dean Lockwood about calming her nerves.
"I'm too anxious before the game starts," Anosike said. "I talked to coach Lockwood about it, how anxious I am going into the game. He said when I feel like that to take deep breaths. That's what I've been doing, and it's been pretty effective."
Tennessee needs an effective Anosike in the lineup. Despite being a freshman, she brings a defensive presence to the post and a level of energy that has earned even Summitt's admiration.
"I think we prepared her well," Ely said. "We basically told her you're not a freshman anymore. I think she's stepped into her role and accepted it and done everything that she can to help us. She's a mature individual."
Anosike has been an excellent player in practice. She rarely is on the receiving end of Summitt's wrath, because her effort rarely wanes. Practice is also where Summitt gets her team ready for the post-season, and the lessons start in October.
"I think it starts day one of practice," Summitt said. "There's a standard. There's a way in which we want to play the game. There's a way in which we want to influence how the game is played. I think you have to be tough, and that starts in practice. Our practices are really tougher than a lot of our games.
"I've said this and I'll continue to say this: You get from players what you demand, not what you expect. And we demand a lot from our players. Hopefully when they're on the court, they'll demand a lot of themselves. Like today I wanted them to take over. Somebody else coach. It needs to happen on the floor."
TITLE TOWN: Tennessee has hung six banners in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, but the last one was in 1998. The players know it.
"We don't view a team as successful unless we get the ring," Shanna Zolman said. "That's why we come here. We come here to win national championships, and anything less is not a very successful season."
"I think we have very high standards, but at the same time our fans have high standards for us, too," Shyra Ely said. "I think that's a great thing to have because we always shoot for the best. As well as we do play, when we don't win a national championship, it seems like it's not enough. But in reality it's pretty awesome to go to the Final Four three years in a row. I think that just makes us strive and strive. You always want to be the best, and I think that makes us better players and better competitors also."
Every team in the Elite Eight is capable of walking away with a national championship.
"I definitely think there are a lot of teams – you can look at anyone still playing right now and say that they've got a shot at it," Summitt said. "How do I assess where we are? I think we're one of the teams that can win a championship, but it's not going to be easy. The team that wins it will obviously have to separate themselves out and how will they do that? I think you obviously do it with great defense, board play and efficiency with the basketball. I think that guard play is critical in terms of being efficient on the offensive end.
"Today we weren't very efficient in terms of our guard play offensively, but defensively I thought we were very strong. Our inside game stood up."
Summitt has seen the tournament grow from its infancy in 1982 until now with thousands in attendance and millions more watching on television.
"Sure I think about it," Summitt said. "I'm excited about what has happened in women's basketball and just to be a part of it for so many years. But I think at this stage of the game it's kind of a love-hate feeling. I love what I've seen, but I hate the fact that there's no easy games now. It's tough, and there are a lot more people out there who can knock you out of the post-season. … And look at it today. What a great game.
"I would say there are more teams that could win it than a year ago or anytime that I've been coaching, and as you know that's a pretty long time."
PHILLY COACHES: The coaches at the Philadelphia region – Pat Summitt, Marsha Sharp, C. Vivian Stringer and Jim Foster – represent four different conferences in the SEC, Big XII, Big East and Big 10 – and have won, collectively, 2,736 games. Combined their teams have made 79 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Summitt has now won 881 games – the record-breaking 880th came in the second round against Purdue when she broke Dean Smith's record – and she has known the other coaches in this region for a long time.
"I've known Marsha Sharp for years," Summitt said. "She always has her teams prepared. A great teacher of the game, a great promoter of the game.
"Certainly Vivian and I have been friends for years as well. I would say if I needed someone in this profession, she's on a very short list of someone I would call. I admire what she's done on and off the court. Obviously having played them this year earlier we were never really in that game so I certainly respect her team.
"Coach Foster and I go back to the Tennessee-Vandy days in the SEC. It's always tough to play against his teams. As far as his teaching of the game, he's outstanding. All you have to do is look at every place he's been and won."
LINE 'EM UP: Once again, Tennessee played the toughest schedule in the nation, and the Lady Vols are still sitting near the top of the AP rankings at No. 3. Summitt once vowed not to schedule so many top teams, but she did anyway and will always.
"We've always scheduled that way, and there're been a number of reasons," Summitt said. "One obviously is I think to be the best you have to beat the best. When we were trying to build a program at Tennessee I wanted to play the teams that were winning championships. So we played Old Dominion, we played Southern Cal, we played Louisiana Tech, we played Texas. Those teams were beating us then. It really was a great measuring stick for where you have to go with your own program if you want to get to the top.
"Another reason obviously was to build our program – not just our team – our fan support. Obviously we've seen it grow tremendously over the years, and our fans are very educated. They're not going to come out in full force and watch an unranked opponent that we're going to beat by 40. They like us, but they don't like us that much."
Ely welcomes the schedule – even if it means some losses – because of the payoff in the postseason.
"I think it definitely prepares us for tournament time," Ely said. "I think it puts us in a position where we've had probably every type of game you can have. We've gone to overtime, beaten teams by a large margin, gone down to the wire. I think it just prepares us for the post-season when it counts the most."
INDY BOUND?: Indianapolis is the hometown of Ely, and she has made it no secret all season that her goal was to end her career at home, where she played at Ben Davis High School.
She added some words to her shoes to remind her, just in case.
"On my shoe it says ‘Homeward Bound' because I plan on going home next week and playing for a national championship," Ely said.
Her shoes also have the phrase "Nap-Town," which is local vernacular for Indianapolis.
FUN WITH FOCUS: When players are brought into the post-game press conference, they are often antsy and ready to get back to their locker room to be with their teammates. They also have to figure out how to answer the same basic questions in a fresh manner and bide their time until a query is lobbed their way. And sometimes reporters ask two-part questions.
That's what happened to Ely when she was asked what were Tennessee's chances of winning it all and how focused were they.
"I feel really good about our chances," Ely said. "What was the first part?"
"How focused are you guys?" the reporter reminded.
Summitt had to interject at that point.
"Not very as you can tell," Summitt said as the room roared with laughter.
But Ely recovered quickly when prompted again with the question. She also proved she does pay attention as she repeated what Summitt told the fans in Knoxville after the win over Purdue.
"I just think coach said it best after the Purdue game," Ely said. "We're on a mission. … We're very focused. We bought into our system."
Hornbuckle was asked the same question.
"I agree with Shyra," Hornbuckle said. "Very focused. I know our seniors want it, coach wants it, and we want it. We've all got to take the attitude that we don't want to lose, and we don't want to go home early. We come to practice every day ready to get better, ready to learn. I think we're very focused on what we need to do and what we have to do."
GAME NOTES: Tennessee is making its 20th appearance in the Elite Eight and will play in its 20th regional final. Game time is set for 9 p.m. The Lady Vols have a 15-4 record in these games. …. Big 12 teams don't have success trying to get out of the Sweet 16 against UT. Last year it was Baylor. This year it was Texas Tech. …. Tennessee's first three opponents in this year's NCAA tourney have all scored less than 60 points, and UT is 27-0 this season when scoring at least 60 points. …. Freshman Nicky Anosike is averaging 10.3 points a game in the tourney and had 11 against Texas Tech. …. Texas Tech is now 0-5 against Tennessee. The Lady Vols last beat the Lady Raiders on March 27, 2000, in the Elite Eight, which denied them a trip to the Final Four held in Philly that year. …. Texas Tech's Cisti Greenwalt had four blocks and ends her career with 300. She is the all-time leader in the Big 12 Conference. … The Lady Raiders are 109-35 in Big 12 play and got win no. 100 against Texas on Jan. 12. Texas Tech is the first school in conference history to record 100 wins.
SIGNS IN THE CENTER The following signs were on display in the Liacouras Center:
"Texas Tech Go Back to Texas and Take Bush! Cause Coach Summitt Rules Here."
"R U" – attached to bunny ears on a Rutgers fan.
"I Want To Be Like Pat."
"It's Your No. 1 Fan Pat Summitt" –sign came with cut-out hole for fan to stick her face through.