Lady Vols earn No. 1 seed

Alyssia Brewer had one stipulation before an interview following Monday's Selection Show – the only opponent in Tennessee's bracket that she would discuss would be Stetson. It was a familiar refrain from the junior class, which has adopted the one-game-at-a-time mantra of its championship predecessors.

It was two years ago that Alyssia Brewer, fresh off her first Selection Show as a freshman, giddily guaranteed that Tennessee would keep its program record intact of always at least reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

The rest, of course, was Ball State history in the first round in 2009, and in another sign of the juniors' maturity – they cackled when Coach Pat Summitt said on ESPN during Monday's show that it took them awhile to reach that point – they all repeated Brewer's basic premise: Don't think past the next game.

"We take it game by game so Stetson is on our mind right now," Brewer said. "Some people might not take me seriously right now, but I am dead serious."

Redshirt junior Kelley Cain nodded her head as Brewer spoke.

"That's where the learning came, so we definitely don't take a team for granted and look past them," Cain said.

Cain missed the second half of that 2009 game – Ball State had no answer in the first half for the 6'6 center – because of the pain and injury associated with two screws migrating out of her lower leg from an earlier surgery.

Tennessee followed up the 2009 tourney with a loss to Baylor in the Sweet 16 in 2010.

"I think last year we sold ourselves short," junior Alicia Manning said. "We could have gone deeper in the tournament, we all think that. This year is just a totally different attitude.

"We have so much more experience and two freshmen added to our lineup and didn't lose anybody, so it's going to be a whole different ballgame this year."

The players will be off Tuesday, while the coaches will get busy breaking down tape, a process they started Monday evening as soon as the media interviews were completed.

Summitt will stick with viewing Stetson, the Atlantic Sun Conference champion, but the assistants have to work ahead and will divide the three incoming teams assigned to Knoxville with Dean Lockwood taking Stetson, Mickie DeMoss getting Texas – the Lady Vols played the Longhorns already this season, and DeMoss, who was an assistant at Texas last season, handled that scout, too – and Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick taking Marquette.

The Lady Vols video coordinator, Dustin Edwards, assembles a library of film all season, and the coaches will get in the checkout line. Edwards headed back to campus to gather DVDs – the coaches want footage of games as recent as possible – as soon as the brackets were unveiled.

No. 1 seed Tennessee, 31-2, will play No. 16 seed Stetson, 20-12, at 11 a.m. Eastern (ESPN2) on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I like it," freshman Meighan Simmons said of the morning tipoff time. "That's my time."

The second game Saturday matches No. 8 seed Marquette, 23-8, against No. 9 seed Texas, 19-13, at approximately 1:30 p.m. Eastern.

The winners will meet next Monday at 7 p.m. for the right to go to the Dayton Region in Ohio.

The Lady Vols enjoyed the Selection Show, especially the two freshmen, and were especially amused when the last matchup was revealed in the Philadelphia Region that had No. 2 Duke meeting No. 15 seed Tennessee-Martin, the alma mater of Summitt.

ESPN showed three action photos of Summitt's collegiate playing days, and the players erupted with laughter.

As usual, Summitt invited the administration, players, coaches, support staff and media to her house for a home-cooked meal before the show. The players got in line first – nobody gets between them and food – and Summitt, as host, was the last in line after everyone else had filled their plates and found a place poolside to eat.

The menu included salad, rolls, cornbread, biscuits, mashed red potatoes, jalapeno corn, green beans, macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken, baked salmon, fried catfish, ribs, banana pudding, hand-churned vanilla ice cream, cookies, chocolate cake, water, iced tea and lemonade with orange cloth napkins and silverware.

The only plastic was in the drink cups and reinforced plates – a nice touch considering how loaded down they were with food, especially by the media members. One TV broadcaster remarked he needed to hurry and finish his live shot before Summitt's signature corn was consumed. He need not worry – replacement platters of food arrived throughout the buffet-style meal.

The group gathered in the game room of the pool house to watch the Selection Show and didn't have to wait long as Tennessee's region was the second one announced.

Player quotes and reaction also is available on the Lady Vols website.

The other No. 1 seeds were Connecticut (Philadelphia); Baylor (Dallas); and Stanford (Spokane).

If both Tennessee and UConn were to make it to the Final Four in Indianapolis, they would meet in a semifinal, a colossal matchup given the cessation of the series after the 2007 game by Summitt's decree. Summitt said in a New York Times article published March 5 that, "We don't play by the same rules," a reference to recruiting, when asked about halting the regular season matchup between the powerhouses of the sport.

The TV media asked junior Shekinna Stricklen about the possible matchup if both teams got to Indy.

"I really want to play UConn," Stricklen said. "I love the rivalry. When I was younger I used to watch it all the time. I think the fans will love that. I feel like there won't be one seat open in the arena."

Tennessee has a ways to go before such could occur. Only three players on the roster have been to a Final Four as active players – seniors Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone and redshirt junior Vicki Baugh. Cain sat out that season to recover from kneecap realignment surgery.

"We've been working on mostly defense and boxing out," Stricklen said. "Practice has been really intense. We've been going against each other, and we've been making each other better. We know it's going to be hard."

Baugh watched the Selection Show a year ago knowing she was sidelined to recover from her second ACL surgery. She always enjoys this time of year, but Monday was even better.

"I was pretty excited every year," Baugh said. "This year is extremely exciting for me because I am a part of it, and I get to go out there and help my team win championships. We were a young team and now we're a veteran team. We know what to expect. We can honestly say we've been through it all.

"I just think it would be extra special if this team won a championship."

It was Bjorklund's final Selection Show, something not lost on the senior sharpshooter.

"It's been going through my head since the beginning," Bjorklund said. "This is my last preseason workout. This is my last SEC tournament game. That thought has been going through my head for a while and I am just excited.

"I am excited to get going on Saturday. It's been a long spring break just waiting and now that we have a goal in mind, we know where we're lined up, practice will be good."

The Lady Vols have practiced for the past week between tourneys and have been battling against each other on the court, along with a handful of male practice players, including three who made it Monday despite it being spring break at Tennessee. Both the coaches and the Lady Vols were ready for a bracket so they could narrow their focus to opponents.

"Most definitely," Baugh said. "Every team is different and just knowing who we're going to play we're going to be able to better prepare for them."

"To actually have a target right now, that helps a lot," Cain said.

"We were trying to create opponents," DeMoss said with a laugh, referring to the coaches' temperament for the past two sessions. "We were their opponents for a couple of days.

"Now, we're more focused. We've got some direction. We know what we've got to do, who we've got to beat. I think the intensity of practice will pick up."

Overall, DeMoss was satisfied with Tennessee's draw. The other top seeds in Tennessee's region were No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Miami (Fla.) and No. 4 Ohio State.

"I am pleased with our draw," DeMoss said. "It's very doable. It's got some very good teams in it, but it's not anyone we look at and say, ‘Oh, God, how are we going to guard them? Or how are we going to score?'

"I think it's a very competitive region, but I think if we do what we need to do it's very doable to get to a Final Four."

Before the Selection Show began, DeMoss was asked for her take on the Big 12 teams since she was an assistant at Texas last season, and she said the Longhorns were likely a bubble team. They were indeed, and ironically, also got assigned to Knoxville.

"Usually they try to spread it out if you've already played a team," DeMoss said. "I think this year the committee I think they were more concerned about geographically not having to send teams too far. I know Texas was a little concerned. They were a bubble team getting into the tournament.

"That will be a good matchup between Texas and Marquette. That game can certainly go either way."

LSU also was on the outside looking in before the brackets were announced and remained there when all slots were filled. The SEC got just four teams in the tourney in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt. Despite that, two of them, Vandy and Kentucky, ended up in the same bracket, with the Wildcats being sent west to Albuquerque, N.M., and the Commodores going north to Cincinnati, Ohio.

"I knew they would be a bubble team," DeMoss said of LSU. "It's like an LSU and a Texas – they were right there, their resumes are very much alike. I don't know what was the determining factor there."

Tennessee will make its 30th appearance in the tournament, the only team to make every field since the NCAA event began for the women in 1982.

Next on the list of most-frequent participants is Georgia with 28; followed by Louisiana Tech with 27; Stanford and Texas, both with 25; and Vanderbilt with 24. Of the two other one seeds, it is Connecticut's 23rd appearance and the 10th by Baylor.

Six teams are making their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament – UC Davis, Gardner-Webb, McNeese State, Navy, Samford and Tennessee-Martin.

It was the first Selection Show for Simmons, and she got some TV time from ESPN, which always seemed to be accompanied by the commentator noting her propensity for shooting, an observation that tickled her teammates.

"They were giving me a hard time, and they were laughing," Simmons said.

Like fellow freshman Lauren Avant, Simmons remembers watching the show while in high school and anticipating being a part of it.

"It means a lot," Simmons said. "I remember watching last year when they announced the brackets, and it got me really excited."

Simmons had been showing some signs of fatigue before the SEC tourney, but she has put on the afterburners in practice lately and has a noticeable bounce back in her step. Ironically, it's the lack of games that may have helped the most. Without opponents to prepare for and the need to save legs, the coaches have pushed the players harder in practice.

"You get more cardio from all the running that we've been doing," Simmons said. "That helps me as well and lets my body relax just a little bit."

Simmons was nervous several days before the SEC tourney in early March, and she hopes that taste of postseason will help before the big one tips off Saturday.

"It was a little preview of what to expect," Simmons said. "I think this tournament is going to be a little bit more comfortable for me. I might have little jitterbugs but I think once we get started I think I'll be a little bit more comfortable.

"I just need to go out there and play. Play my game and get my teammates involved."

Two other matters should help Simmons also: Tennessee opens at home and Bjorklund is back in the starting lineup after missing six games late in the regular season with a foot injury.

"I really do (like starting at home)," Simmons said. "I think it's going to give us a big boost."

The other boost for the rookie is having a senior in the backcourt with her.

"Angie's leadership," Simmons said. "She calms me down, especially when it seems like I'm out there rushing. She'll say, ‘Meig, slow it down.'

"She's real calm, very patient. She'll get on you now and then – she has her moments – she'll get on you whenever she feels something is wrong, and she'll try to help you to correct it."

Bjorklund wants to bookend her Tennessee career with national titles – she won a championship as a freshman in 2008 – but she noted that that final result would be apropos not just for the seniors.

"I think for this whole team for what we've been through, all the hard work we've put in since my sophomore year," Bjorklund said. "I think this team deserves it, but we're going to have to work for it.

"Every team is working for it, too. We just have to be the hardest working team, and we've just got to want it the most."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Monday practice clips

Selection Show

Post-show interviews


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