Saturday's game between the Tennessee Lady Vols and Ohio State Buckeyes was billed to feature so many big names in women's basketball: Pat Summitt, Jim Foster, Samantha Prahalis, Jantel Lavender, Meighan Simmons and Shekinna Stricklen.
Yet it was an unsung hero - someone who had not started in the SEC or NCAA tournament until this game - that was the difference in Tennessee's 85-75 victory over Ohio State: Kelley Cain.
"Kelley Cain had not started this year but we started her in this game," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. "We changed our lineup but we knew in practice that we wanted a post player with a presence that could battle against her. We knew Lavender was going to be huge and we felt the only player that could match up with her was Cain. Her first start was a good start and she handled it well."
And she couldn't have been more right as the first six points scored for Tennessee were by Cain. Cain's presence seemed to catch Ohio State off guard initially but they quickly found their bearings and started to put the Lady Volunteers on their heels. With 1:17 left in the first half, Ohio State's Brittany Johnson hit a three to push Ohio State's lead up to six and it seemed that the momentum was on Ohio State's side. Even after Shekinna Stricklen's buzzer beater to cut Ohio State's lead to 42-40 going into halftime, there was the sense in the arena that Ohio State might pull off a colossal upset.
"I think we executed well offensively in the first half," said Jantel Lavender. "We reversed the ball well and we got great shots on the outside. Our guards were penetrating and we were getting into the lane pretty easily."
After halftime, with Pat Summitt's "call to arms" speech lingering in the minds of the Lady Volunteers, you could sense a difference in all of the players but one in particular took it to heart.
"Coach lit a fire under our butts in the locker room and we stepped up our defense and made them play faster than they wanted," said Cain. "I think that was the main thing, getting up in them and making them play at a different level."
In a span of four minutes, Cain scored six points and had a block that helped Tennessee overtake Ohio State and have a four point lead with 13:06 to play in the second half. That spurt not only helped Tennessee get the lead, it catapulted them to go to another level as they started running laps around Ohio State like they were Kevin Harvick at a NASCAR race.
"We just started to get away from what was being successful," said Ohio State coach Jim Foster. "I thought we got into a quick-shot mode. It was probably the emotion of the game, the significance of the game, etc. When you take quick shots it gives the opportunity to run presenting itself more often.
"It wasn't real smart on our part. I thought for 33 minutes we played sound, smart basketball and for seven minutes we didn't. That seven minutes really cost us."
And it was the presence and contribution of Kelley Cain that gave Tennessee the edge that they needed to advance to Elite Eight for the first time in 3 years.
"When my teammates tell me they need me I have an obligation to give them what they want," said Cain.
Players of the game for Tennessee:
1. Shekinna Stricklen, 20 points, 7 rebounds
2. Meighan Simmons, 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals
3. Kelley Cain, 16 points
4. Glory Johnson, 11 rebounds
Players of the game for Ohio State:
1. Samantha Prahalis, 22 points, 7 assists
2. Jantel Lavender, 19 points 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks
3. Brittany Johnson, 16 points, 4-8 from the three point line (50%)
MVP of the game:
Kelley Cain, 16 points in only 21 minutes but most importantly being a sheer dominating presence in the low post against Ohio was truly the difference