Seven games into her freshman season, Kara Lawson is inspiring the kind of compliments that are usually reserved for players who have worn the Tennessee jersey for a season or two.
"She's the best pure three-point shooter I've seen there in 15 years," said Memphis Coach Joye Lee-McNelis, who watched Lawson score 21 points against her team on Tuesday night. "She's quite a player."
"They run some quick hitters for her where they try and get her a shot," Wisconsin Coach Jane Albright said. "Our scouting report said never help off of her. There's not a lot of freshmen we say that about."
However, the ultimate compliment came from Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt.
"We've never had anyone quite like Miss Lawson," said Summitt, whose program has won six national championships and produced numerous all-Americans. They include Chamique Holdsclaw, a four-time all-American and two-time national player of the year--and current Washington Mystic--who is regarded as one of the best women's college basketball players of all-time.
Lawson's credentials entering Tennessee included leading West Springfield High School to two Virginia AAA state championships and being named the 1999 Washington Post girls player of the year. Now she is the No. 2-ranked Lady Vols' second-leading scorer, at 15.3 points per game. She is shooting 47.6 percent from the field, including 46.3 percent from three-point range (19 of 41).
And this hasn't been in a series of early season mismatches. Tennessee has played No. 1 Louisiana Tech, No. 22 Stanford, No. 8 UCLA, No. 18 Purdue and Wisconsin, which is just outside the top 25 this week.
Lawson's play is making Tennessee's opponents rethink their defensive strategy.
Opponents lean on all-American forward Tamika Catchings and try to cut off the drives of Semeka Randall, the other all-American in Tennessee's lineup. Now, when the double team moves toward Catchings, the 5-foot-9 Lawson is on the wing to shoot three-pointers. If Randall draws the defense, there's another opening for Lawson.
"I told our team not to give her any daylight," Lee-McNelis said, "because once she gets the pass, the ball is out of her hands immediately and going in the basket. Actually, she doesn't even need daylight. Most set shooters have to get their feet set, then they are ready to go; she doesn't need. All she needs to do is catch it."
Lawson helped break open a close game with Memphis on Tuesday night. She swished in three three-pointers within two minutes, helping Tennessee run away to a 92-69 victory.
Summitt has shown the confidence in Lawson's shooting that is usually reserved for Lady Vols veterans. In Tennessee's 65-64 exhibition win over the U.S. national team on Nov. 7, Summitt designed the Lady Vols' final play for Lawson, who won the game by making a layup with nine seconds left.
"Once you step across the line, you have to believe you're the best team out there," Lawson told the Knoxville News-Sentinel after her game-winning shot. "You have to come out there with the mentality that you're going to win the game."
When Lawson doesn't shoot well, she makes up for it as a rebounder--she averages 5.6 rebounds per game. She also had made 28 of 32 free throws.
"I don't think she has many assists," said Lee-McNelis, the Memphis coach. "But if I shot the ball that well, I don't think I'd have many assists, either."
CAPTION: Former area player of the year Kara Lawson, right, is No. 2 scorer at Tennessee.