PHILADELPHIA (-- Shyra Ely scrawled her goal on the back of her sneakers: Homeward Bound. With the way Tennessee is playing, Ely might get her wish.
Ely scored 23 points and led the top-seeded Lady Vols into their 20th regional final with a 75-59 win over Texas Tech on Sunday. The Lady Vols (29-4) will play Rutgers in the Philadelphia Regional on Tuesday night for a trip to the Final Four in Ely's hometown of Indianapolis.
``I plan on going home next week and playing for a national championship,'' said Ely, the 2001 Indiana Miss Basketball from Ben Davis High. ``It would just be icing on the cake to finish my career where I started and to be in Indianapolis in front of friends and family.''
Ely already told her parents they can dole out tickets only to fans who have been to a Tennessee game this year -- not a bandwagon jumper. Those on the fence might want to rush to Philly.
Ely, averaging 17 points in three tournament games, offered a simple explanation for her sharp shooting.
``It's tournament time. It's March,'' she said.
Certainly, Tennessee knows a thing or two about playing its best in March.
The Lady Vols used a smothering defense to shut down the fourth-seeded Lady Raiders (24-8) and help coach Pat Summitt build on her NCAA record with her 881st career victory. She hopes to make it 884 by the end of the tournament.
``I think we're one of the teams that can win a championship,'' Summitt said.
Alexis Hornbuckle scored 14 points, and Nicky Anosike added 11 points and 11 rebounds as part of a balanced offense for Tennessee.
Texas Tech entered with four players scoring in double figures, but never got any offensive rhythm. The Lady Raiders missed their first eight shots and made only nine baskets on 30 attempts in the first half. LaToya Davis had 12 points and Judith Smith added 10.
``We got into a big hole in the first five minutes and never recovered,'' Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. ``My job is to get them ready and we didn't handle the first five minutes well. It probably shook our confidence a little.''
The Lady Raiders briefly snapped out of their slump in the second half, and Darrice Griffin's basket in the lane pulled the Lady Raiders to 52-41 with just over 9 minutes left.
But Ely made a couple of free throws and Hornbuckle hit a jumper to push the lead back to 15.
Ely exited to a standing ovation with 1:10 left in the game. Of course, it only seemed appropriate in the city of Rocky, there was ``Rocky Top.'' These Lady Vols, though, were no underdogs.
In what was supposed to be a battle of the point guards, Tennessee's Loree Moore outplayed Erin Grant. Grant said a day earlier she hoped to be the key to the game. Instead, she was pretty much a non-factor, with a season-high six turnovers and only five assists.
On Texas Tech's first possession, Grant had her dribble picked clean by Hornbuckle, who scored the easy layup. Grant entered with 213 assists to only 60 turnovers.
``They just pressured the ball like we knew they would,'' Grant said.
Tennessee, which has won six national championships but none since 1998, cruised to easy wins in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, and Ely led the way in this one.
She got the Lady Vols going midway through the first half, scoring six straight points to help build a 15-point lead. When Ely scored another easy inside basket late in the half, the couple hundred orange-clad fans who made the nearly 625-mile trip erupted. Tennessee led 40-26 at the break.
Ely finished 8-for-11 from the floor and made eight of 11 free throws.
``Shyra was outstanding at finishing, as was her inside play,'' Summitt said.
The Lady Vols improved to 5-0 against Texas Tech, including a win in the 2000 regional final that sent them to Philadelphia.