Lady Vols to open NCAA in Chicago

The Lady Vols finally got a destination, Chicago, and an opponent, Tennessee-Martin – Pat Summitt's alma mater – and will open NCAA tourney play on Saturday. Go inside for the team's reaction to the bracket.

After a week devoted to both practice and rest, the Lady Vols were restless to know who they would next play in the postseason.

The answer came Monday at the end of the nearly hour-long Selection Show as Tennessee popped in as the No. 2 seed in the Des Moines Region – overall No. 1 Baylor tops the site – and will start the NCAA Tournament against No. 15 seed Tennessee-Martin.

The opponent brought as many cheers as the sight of Tennessee's name since Martin is where Pat Summitt played her college ball. She jokingly agreed that she should handle that scouting report for her assistants.

Tipoff is set for 4:10 p.m. Eastern (ESPN2) on Saturday at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

No. 7 seed DePaul (22-10) and No. 10 seed BYU (26-6) play in the second game, which will tip off 30 minutes after the completion of game one (approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern).

The winners will meet at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Monday for the right to advance to Des Moines.

Tennessee (24-8) was the automatic qualifier after winning the SEC Tournament and joined seven other SEC teams who made the Big Dance, including Kentucky, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Florida.

"It's a great conference," Vicki Baugh said. "And I am just glad to be in it because I know it makes us prepared to handle any team."

Tennessee-Martin (23-8) was the automatic qualifier from the Ohio Valley Conference and averages 81.1 points per game. One notable score this season was a 99-84 loss to Vanderbilt.

The Skyhawks are led by OVC Player of the Year Jasmine Newsome, a sophomore guard from Millington, Tenn., who became the second-fastest player in program history to reach 1,000 career points – ahead of Summitt and behind teammate Heather Butler, a First Team All-OVC selection, who leads the team with 98 three-pointers.

Newsome hit nine three-pointers in a win over Southern Miss and has 60 treys on the season.

Jaclissa Haislip, a forward/guard from Murfreesboro, Tenn., is the cousin of Marcus Haislip, who played for the Vols and was drafted into the NBA in 2002. Haislip has 65 treys on the season.

As a team the Skyhawks have 323 made treys on the season. Taylor Hall, a senior guard from Mt. Juliet who transferred from Roane State in 2010, has connected on 71.

Kevin McMillan is in his eighth year as head coach of Tennessee-Martin.

Summitt is a 1974 graduate of the Middle Tennessee school and then began her career as head coach of the Lady Vols in the same year while working on her master's degree in Knoxville. The Skyhawks have beaten Tennessee twice – in 1971 and 1972 when Summitt was on the team. The Lady Vols have won the other 13 matchups.

Tennessee is the only school that has earned a bid to every NCAA tourney since the event began in 1982.

"I thought it was a fair draw," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said. "UT-Martin had a great year. It will be competitive. DePaul, we played them once already. Don't know much (yet) about BYU but historically they have been very disciplined."

The announcement of the site brought a shriek of joy from freshman Ariel Massengale, who is from nearby Bolingbrook, Ill., and will play close to home and in front of family and friends.

"Massengale goes home so hopefully she'll bring a lot of relatives and fans," DeMoss said. "We have a lot of UT fans in the Chicago area, and I think we will have fans that will travel."

Once the show ended, Summitt, her assistants and the players conducted media interviews and then the coaches were interested in acquiring game film to begin the scouting process.

The assistants each take a team for scouting purposes and especially with one day between games for the winners, the coaches have to get a jump on film study. Dean Lockwood took Tennessee-Martin, DeMoss will handle BYU and Holly Warlick has DePaul.

Tennessee drew the overall No. 1 seed in Baylor, but Des Moines is not on the minds of the Lady Vols.

"Not this early," DeMoss said. "You start thinking about Baylor you are going to get beat in the first game. You've got to have total focus on the game in hand."

Junior Taber Spani nodded when asked the same question.

"Absolutely," Spani said. "It is all about this next game. We're guaranteed one game so it has got to be that mindset. We are excited, and we like our bracket."

Spani remains limited by a left knee injury that has hindered her mobility this season. The days off were good for the knee, but she won't be well until she gets extended off-season rest.

"We're working through it," Spani said. "It's a matter of maintenance and keeping everything where it is."

Spani wants to contribute when she can with her motivation being to win for the five seniors.

"That is obviously motivation and bigger motivation is doing it for Pat," Spani said. "This team is really tight, and we're a close-knit group. To get our seniors to a Final Four and compete, that is something we all want to do."

Senior Briana Bass, who is from Indianapolis, gets to go to the Midwest so hopefully her family can make the trip to the Windy City.

Bass wasn't focused so much as to who was in the bracket but instead how the Lady Vols would play.

"We've just got to go in there a game at a time and play Tennessee basketball," Bass said. "Stay focused. It is special because it is the last time.

"There are a lot of last times of everything going on this year. It is definitely a special moment."

Baugh also was getting into game mode.

"I thought me and Glory (Johnson) are going to have to step it up and just play smart," Baugh said. "There are a lot of strong posts and hopefully if we get to where we want to go, we are going to have to battle against those strong posts.

"That was my first thought. Get my defense mentally prepared, no foul trouble for the tournament."

Monday was Baugh's fifth, and final, Selection Show.

"They are all special," Baugh said. "You don't know what you are going to get. It's fun to see where you end up. We're very excited, and we knew it was going to be tough. It always is.

"We're going to take it a game at a time. That is one thing this team needs to do. We don't need to look ahead."

Tuesday will be the Lady Vols off day this week – spring break doesn't start until next week – and then they will practice Wednesday and Thursday before departing for Chicago. Baugh was ready to turn her focus to an opponent.

"Definitely," Baugh said. "We can concentrate more on a team's style of play. It helps to narrow it down. There are a lot of teams invited and now we know who we are going to play against next."

Kamiko Williams had been fielding questions about Baylor – but she noted they "were way at the top" of the bracket and the Lady Vols were at the bottom of it as the two seed – and she preferred to discuss Tennessee-Martin.

"I am excited for coach's sake," Williams said. "But we've just got to take it a game at a time because like Kara (Lawson) said (during the show) sometimes we've been inconsistent and when our energy is not there we have a tendency to play down to our opponent.

"We have seen some upsets, and anything can happen at tournament time."

The Lady Vols had to wait until the last bracket was announced to learn their destination.

It made the three freshmen a tad anxious.

"Rel was getting a little nervous," Williams said. "She didn't know where we were going to be."

It gave the seniors a little more time to reflect.

"This is it," Shekinna Stricklen said. "I am really happy that the five seniors are getting to start the game and start the tempo for the team. We have really realized that we've got to commit to defense, and that is what is going to get us through this tournament."

"About halfway through I looked at Bree and Strick and said, ‘Wow, this is the last time we're going to be doing this,' " Alicia Manning said. "We're all really excited. It's kind of bittersweet, but this is our time.

"I love Chicago so I am excited about it. I am sure Lady Vol fans will love it that we got there."

One of the happiest players after the bracket announcement was Massengale. Her scream pierced the television viewing room in Summitt's pool house when she realized the team was headed to Chicago.

"She had better bring that in Chicago," Williams said with Massengale listening nearby laughing. "I see her over there getting excited, ‘WE'RE IN CHICAGO!' If she plays like a scrub, I am talking bad about her. Put that on tape."

Stricklen, an Arkansas native, had hoped for Little Rock as an early round site, but she was happy for Massengale.

"It feels good to let Rel go home. We know she is the homesick one on the team," Stricklen said with a smile. "It's good that she's there. She'll bring it."

"She is excited," Meighan Simmons said. "She has been talking about going home and playing in front of her family and now she gets that opportunity.

"I think she is going to do something big. Something big is about to happen."

Simmons watched Summitt's reaction to the bracket and saw a familiar look in her head coach, especially when Martin was paired with the Lady Vols.

"I think she is going to be so ready," Simmons said. "I feel like she has got that Pat Summitt kind of mood right now. You could tell from her reaction."


Team watches brackets

Pat Summitt, Holly Warlick

Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison

Ariel Massengale

Glory Johnson

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