Tennessee Lady Vols wing Angie Bjorklund says stopping Ohio State Buckeyes center Jantel Lavender is key.
For the full printable bracket for the 2011 NCAA women's basketball tournament, head to SBNation.com.
After covering the last home game for Michigan State, I was able to see a team that I didn't recognize: "THE" Ohio State Buckeyes.
Now mind you, these were the same players and same uniforms but not the same team. As in year's past, Ohio State had developed a reputation as a team that doesn't always play up to their potential. But that game in Lansing showed a tenacity and fire that seemed to be absent for most of the season.
"Our team just had to understand that winning and losing is a part of basketball," said Ohio State center Jantel Lavender. " Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to go. I think that is who it was for us in the beginning of the season.
"We had a couple of losses in the beginning that were kind of a shocker to us. It hit us in a bad way. It exposed a lot of, when you lose like that, things come out. People tell how they truly feel about one another. I just think that really helped. It kind of helped us realize what our individual identities were and what roles were for the team and in order for us to be a good team."
And after winning their last eleven games including the Big Ten Tournament, you would think that this team is primed to finally have that breakthrough and get to the Final Four. I mean if you think about it, everything seems to be lining up: they are in the Dayton Region which is only an hour from their campus and during that eleven game winning streak, Ohio State has outscored their opponents by 13 points per contest. I was almost inclined to suggest that they will win tomorrow's game but then again, they are going against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
"They are a good team," said Ohio State coach Jim Foster of Tennessee. "They have good players. At this stage you just play good teams. They have size and quickness. They can play small teams and big teams."
After getting a chance to see Tennessee for the first fifteen minutes of practice at the University of Dayton yesterday, you almost feel like you have to go to the Oxford English Dictionary to find the words to define the immense talent that is represented. What strikes you the most is their imposing size. The combination of their size and ability to run is so potent that you have to wonder whether the the "good" Ohio State could even beat Tennessee?
"They can't run with us," said Tennessee post Glory Johnson about Ohio State. "I know for sure they can't run with us. We have quick posts and quick guards, and I think if we can push it, we can use that to our advantage.
"We keep up with Meighan Simmons. I think that other teams will have a problem keeping up with us in transition. She's a quick guard and she knows how to push it and with to push the ball. If we stay with her and push it and if we run with her, the whole game, they will have problems keeping up with us."
When you look at both teams' roster, one alarming sign that stands out is that Ohio State only has two players 6'2" and over who average over 4 minutes a game. On the other hand, Tennessee has six girls 6'2" and above who average at least 8 minutes or more a game. Will Tennessee's depth, size and length eventually wear Ohio State down?
"I think my conditioning is good," said Lavender. "I've played 40 minutes quite a few games this year, and I have had quite a few post players to play against. I think that Kelley Cain is the biggest body they probably have. I think that I can bang with anybody. I'm ready. I'm going to do whatever it takes to win the game. If they throw 7 different players at me, I'm going to throw 7 different defenses at them to play against."
This game seems to be shaping up to be survival of the "fittest" and whichever team is not worn out at the breakneck pace that this game seems to be heading towards. I was truly pondering and starting to believe Ohio State could pull off this upset, but after today, I'm not so sure.
"I don't know what kind of pact they came up with, but I think they are all on the same page right now," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "I think their focus is really good. I think the one thing with our team is that we've been really consistent in our post game. We can rotate three post players and keep people fresh."
Key Players to watch for Ohio State:
1. Jantel Lavender, 22.9 ppg, 10.9 rpg
2. Samantha Prahalis, 14.3 ppg
X-Factors for Ohio State to win:
1. Brittany Johnson, if she's hitting her three pointers, Ohio State is a very tough team to beat.
2. Ashley Adams, at 6'4", her size could be a huge help to offset the pressure on Jantel Lavender.
Key Players to watch for Tennessee:
1. Meighan Simmons, 13.7 ppg
2. Shekinna Stricklen, 12.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg
3. Glory Johnson, 12.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg
X-Factors for Tennessee to win:
1. Meighan Simmons, if she's hitting her shots and playing under control, Tennessee is almost impossible to beat.
2. Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer, Vicki Baugh, their size and ability to limit Jantel Lavender from dominating the post area will go a long way in deciding the outcome.