Monday, December 03, 2007

Stats don't reflect Anosike's value

North Carolina couldn't beat Tennessee on Sunday night. But it at least showed how the Lady Vols could be beaten.

That's progress for any team trying to prevent the No. 1-ranked Lady Vols from repeating as national champions.

The fourth-ranked Tar Heels outrebounded UT 57-39 and scored repeatedly inside against the Lady Vols in an 83-79 loss at Thompson-Boling Arena.

North Carolina accomplished something else. It reminded everyone how valuable UT senior center Nicky Anosike is.

Anosike often gets lost in the statistics. She's fifth on the team in scoring, third in rebounding and third in assists.

You usually have to see the game, not just the stats, to appreciate her presence. And when she drew her fourth personal foul early in the second half, UT lost its best and most versatile defender.

Fans were reminded of that midway through the second half when Anosike returned to the floor with the Lady Vols holding a 62-61 lead. On North Carolina's next possession, Anosike stole the ball from Erlana Larkins.

One UT steal led to another. And the next thing you know, the Lady Vols were up 74-62.

"We call her the X factor," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "She's really good at finding the open player. She's someone who makes their team better. She makes them a little more complete.

"It really helps when she's not out there. I don't think she gets the credit she deserves."

Hatchell is prejudiced when it comes to Anosike. She was on the losing side of Anosike's best game. In last year's Final Four semifinals, Anosike had 14 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four blocks in UT's 56-50 victory over North Carolina.

Anosike is most valuable in the toughest games, against the best teams. That's why UT coach Pat Summitt found her center's foul problems so unsettling when assessing her team's post play.

"The biggest concern is Nicky Anosike getting in foul trouble too much," Summitt said. "That's the first thing we address - not to get in foul trouble early, because she's the one player who has the size and the presence. She has the ability to defend a lot of positions and board well.

"She has to be disciplined to keep herself on the floor."

Anosike's value increased Sunday night when UT announced that freshman center Kelley Cain would undergo season-ending knee surgery.

"When Kelley came in, it was clearly evident to all of us that she could be a difference maker in the post game," Summitt said. "She has great hands, a soft shooting touch, good up and down the floor.

"It's a big loss for us. Unfortunately, no one knows how big a loss, except for the coaches who watched her play so much and saw her in practice."

Cain would have provided needed depth behind both Anosike and star forward Candace Parker. Without her, the development of freshman post player Vicki Baugh becomes more important.

"Vicki Baugh has got to get better," Summitt said. "I wasn't as comfortable to play Vicki (against the Tar Heels)."

Baugh played only four minutes against North Carolina. Fortunately for UT, veteran post player Alex Fuller continued to provide a spark off the bench. She had nine points in 16 minutes.

But one of the most significant stats in UT's narrow victory was 20 minutes played by Anosike.

Against a team as good as North Carolina, half a game from Anosike won't always be enough.

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