To say the Lady Vols' last five wins have been easy would be misleading.

Before entering the NCAA tournament, the team prevailed in three games where they trailed by double digits to three SEC teams that still have their dancing shoes on in March.

Since winning its 17th conference title in program history, the road to the Final Four hasn't become any easier for Tennessee.

In the opening round of the tournament, the Lady Vols had to overcome a sluggish first half to defeat Northwestern State and were then the benefactors of a 16-3 run in their Round of 32 game to pull away from St. John's on Monday night.

With the field of play narrowed down and the competition becoming more legitimate in the Sweet 16, assistant coach Dean Lockwood said the team realizes it will have to avoid slow starts.

"The margin of error now is going to get less and less," Lockwood said after UT's win on Monday. "There's 16 teams left in this tournament and pretty soon you are going to have eight and of those eight you are going to have a national champion.

"You can't afford the luxury of a lot of slow starts and being sluggish for too long now."

While the early struggles in games have been attributed to too many quick jump shots, poor defense and lack of intensity, one area of the game has remained dominant for the Lady Vols.

Throughout the last five conference and NCAA tournament games, the second-best rebounding team in the regular season has out-rebounded opponents 222-152.

Tennessee (29-5) has only been out-rebounded twice on the glass, by Stanford and Arkansas this season.

"Going forward as we practice, crashing the boards is going to be a big part of our emphasis in what we are doing," Lockwood said. "So much of our success stems from defense and rebounding.

"Defensive rebounding has been huge for us and will be key through the rest of the tournament."

Junior forward Cierra Burdick, who has averaged 14.5 points and nine rebounds per contest in the NCAA tournament, attributed the success of her team's play to their post coach.

"I think Dean (Lockwood) is the unsung hero," Burdick said. "He has brought the post leaps and bounds to where they are now. He is just a phenomenal post coach. Our posts wouldn't be where they are without him right now.

"It's important for him to get some of the credit," she added. "He provides great leadership and encouragement."

Despite only leading by a combined seven points in the first two rounds of the tournament, the Lady Vols ended up winning both games at Thompson-Boling Arena by 16 points or more.

Now they will travel to take on four-seed Maryland (26-6) at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., on Sunday at noon. The winner advances to the Elite Eight to play either seven-seed LSU or three-seed Louisville.

The arena is home to the Cardinals, who defeated Tennessee 86-78 last season in the Elite Eight.

"This team is very well prepared for a challenge of going on the road," Lockwood said. "We played in Duluth and were down double digits in the first half to three NCAA tournament teams and were able to come back victorious in all three. It's a tribute to our grit, intensity, and toughness, but we have to be there all the time.

"We feel good about our team's ability to function and execute under those conditions."

The key on offense for the No. 1 seed of the Louisville region will be to feed the post and score fastbreak points.

"Our philosophy is we are going to run for a layup first," Lockwood said. "If we can't push the ball ahead and wing a layup, we call it the post highway. Our posts run the middle of the court and we look to get a touch to them in the post highway. We want to reward them for running."

Whether it is Isabelle Harrison, Bashaara Graves, Mercedes Russell, or even Burdick, Lockwood expressed his confidence in all his post players to make a difference on the court.

"We've had a very effective post game and all of our players can operate," he said. "We want to play through our middle, we want to make the defense have to guard us on the interior, and doing so opens up so much more options that way.

"We want to play from the inside-out."