NCAA Women's Bracket 2011: Elite Eight Kicks Off With Notre Dame Vs. Tennessee In Dayton

In a tournament that began with little madness, the 4 p.m. PST (ESPN/ESPN3) matchup between the second-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish and top-seeded Tennessee Lady Vols is probably expected.

Yet even without any true madness, this game should be exciting, as described by David Hooper of SBN's Rocky Top Talk in his preview of the game.

Elite Eight: Tennessee Lady Vols vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Rocky Top Talk
The Dayton region of the women's NCAA tournament has been all about the chalk so far, with the only "upsets" being 6 seed Oklahoma's victory over 3 seed Miami and 10 seed Temple's win over 7 seed Arizona State. (To be honest, I don't really consider either game an upset.) With such stability, it makes total sense that the two best teams in the region would be locking horns for the chance to go to the Final Four in Indianapolis. This has the promise of being the best game of the entire region, as Tennessee brings depth, offense, and intensity against Notre Dame's precision and balance.

On Saturday against Ohio State, the big contributor for Tennessee was Kelley Cain, who got her first start of the tournament.

NCAA Women's Tournament 2011: Kelley Cain's Strong Start Helps Tennessee To Elite Eight - Swish Appeal
"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.

However, the key to this game might be defense: Notre Dame is a team that held Gonzaga Bulldogs point guard Courtney Vandersloot to 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting earlier this year and stifled the Oklahoma Sooners' dynamic guard combo on Saturday to advance. SBN's Swish Appeal has been following Notre Dame all year and contributor M. Robinson summarized their defensive accomplishments on Saturday well.

NCAA Women's Bracket 2011: Can Notre Dame’s Defense Help Pull Off An Elite Eight Upset Of Tennessee? - Swish Appeal
They held Oklahoma to 27 percent shooting in the first half, 1-10 from the three point line (10%) and to only 2 offensive rebounds for the entire game. Couple that with what they did to the star players of Oklahoma as Danielle Robinson, who is one of the nation's elite point guards to just 12 points while committing 7 turnovers. Whitney Hand who is Oklahoma's emotional leader was held to just 2-10 shooting (20%), 6 points and 0-5 from the three point line as Notre Dame's Brittany Mallory truly suffocated Hand with her defense. And freshman sensation Aaryn Ellenberg was held to just 9 points, well beneath her average of 16.2.

"I think they don't get enough credit for their defense because their offense is so salty," said Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale after Saturday's loss. "But defensively they're very good."

Notre Dame's defense might be a bit overrated and could be the difference in this game if they win. But Tennessee is easily among the most athletic, big, and talented teams in the country and beating them will be no cake walk.

To join a game thread, visit SBN's Rocky Top Talk. For more on the Elite Eight participants, visit SBN's Swish Appeal.

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