Tuesday, February 3, 2004 Updated: February 5, 4:02 PM ET
All eyes on Robinson, Ely as UConn comes to town
By Nancy Lieberman Special to ESPN.com
Connecticut might be the lower-ranked team, but the Huskies have two advantages going into Thursday's showdown with No. 1 Tennessee.
Ashley Robinson is averaging 8.9 points and 6.2 boards for Tennessee.
First, nobody passes the ball as well at every position like UConn. And with point guard and defensive stalwart Loree Moore out with a torn ACL, that could be a big swing in the Huskies' favor.
Secondly, no one can break you down in a close game like UConn's Diana Taurasi. She has the knack to win games all by herself, and it's no secret she hasn't had any problem coming up big against Tennessee in the past.
However, the biggest X-factor of the game might be Tennessee's post play and the battle of the bigs inside.
Shyra Ely and Ashley Robinson have played major roles in every big game Tennessee has won so far this season. For the first time in many years, Tennessee's success runs through its post, and their presence and productivity both offensively and defensively have been vital to the Lady Vols' 18-1 record.
In the past, Ely and Robinson were role players, supplemental players filling in the gaps. But this is their breakout year. They must dominate the glass for Tennessee to be successful Thursday.
Ely's biggest strengths are her footwork, quickness and ability to run the floor. Ely, who's averaging a team-high 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, is very versatile and can get you on the low block or go for the face-up and attack you.
Robinson, meanwhile, might be more valuable defensively. She's big and long, and her shot-blocking ability is tremendous. She can guard a 3, 4 or 5, and she proved it when she shut down Stanford's Nicole Powell earlier this season.
Junior Shyra Ely leads the Lady Vols in both scoring (15.4) and rebounding (8.4).
Robinson -- who's third on the team in scoring at 8.9 points per game and second in rebounding (6.2) -- can score, too, but she needs to maintain her aggressiveness on the offense end.
Both players are shooting better than 46 percent from the field and averaging about 29 minutes.
Moore's absence puts more pressure on the post players to produce. In the past, Moore could dribble inside and create so many options with her dribbling and quickness. Now, Tasha Butts is really the only penetrator. Shanna Zolman and Brittany Jackson aren't going to break an opponent down off the dribble and create their own shots.
And of course, UConn's inside game is feeling more pressure, too. Robinson, a 6-foot-5 senior, and the 6-2 Ely are bigger than UConn's 6-3 junior Jessica Moore (8.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 57 percent from field) and 6-foot sophomore Barbara Turner (13.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 53.4 percent from field), and the Lady Vols are just as athletic.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.