The Lady Vols are 51-0 at home in the NCAA tourney, counting Saturday's 83-62 win over Oral Roberts, while Creighton stunned Syracuse in the first round with a 61-56 win behind a barrage of three balls.
"I don't even know if they knew we had won every game (at home) so you kind of drew that to their attention," Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. "I think this team understands … staying in the moment and taking one game at a time."
Creighton sweated out an NCAA bid after falling in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tourney and now finds itself a week later playing a second game in Knoxville.
But the Bluejays, a team used to playing from behind, didn't panic after a bad start against Syracuse – they opened 0-8 from the arc – and managed to knot the game at 24 by halftime.
"Starting cold like that wasn't really new for us, either," Creighton's Ally Jensen said. "It's happened in games before. We are a really deep team, and we rely on everyone. It was obviously huge of McKenzie to keep us in the game, and then we just fed off of that. People started to hit shots, and we started getting on a roll."
McKenzie Fujan has 17 of Creighton's 24 first-half points against Syracuse after shooting 5-6 from long range. Her teammates were 1-18 from the arc.
"That's not exactly how we wanted to start, but at the timeouts Coach (Jim) Flanery was saying that only one person's hit shots, and we're in this game," Jensen said. "Just keep rebounding and doing the things that we need to do to win, and we'll start hitting shots."
That is precisely what happened as Creighton was 5-12 from the arc in the second half – for a total of 36 trey attempts – and the Bluejays out-rebounded Syracuse, 43-35.
The Orange players were bigger and more athletic, but the third-place team in the Big East departed Knoxville after one game.
Needless to say, the game got the attention of Tennessee and particularly Dean Lockwood, the coach assigned to scout Creighton.
Lockwood smiled when he was told that Creighton has studied the game film from Tennessee's 80-63 loss to Missouri on the road Feb. 3 – Flanery wanted the tape as soon as he knew they were in the Lady Vol bracket – and said that was expected.
"The two assistant coaches doing advanced scouting on that were like, ‘Man, if you watch this game, you wouldn't think Tennessee is Tennessee,' " Flanery said.
"Because they weren't. But Missouri had something to do with it. We're definitely going to take some hope and some confidence from it."
It is also expected that Flanery would not want to view the tape from Tennessee's 84-39 wipeout of Missouri in Knoxville on Jan. 10.
"I didn't watch that one," Flanery said with a smile.
Tennessee should not have lost in Columbia, Mo. – it was one of just two blemishes during the SEC regular season – but the Lady Vols were hobbled for the rematch.
Isabelle Harrison had just had left knee surgery and was back in Knoxville watching on television. Cierra Burdick, who missed the first game, was just back from a broken hand. Kamiko Williams, the only player that Missouri had no way to stop, severely injured her right ankle early in the second half, and could not return.
Missouri also shoots the three-ball well, and Flanery noted a young team is vulnerable to having to defend deep into the shot clock.
"The more you can make a young team guard, in terms of connecting passes, the more chance you have of success," Flanery said. "If we can connect passes and make them guard three to five screens and three to five passes, experience can negate their athleticism. And we can take advantage of some of their youth."
The pressure is on Tennessee to defend its home court, and the players seemed prepared to do just that. While the players are young they don't seem burdened by the expectations of Tennessee – and that is a credit to Warlick.
Warlick has struck the correct balance of demands and praise, and she has refused to look ahead on the schedule throughout the season.
|Isabelle Harrison contributed seven points and five rebounds off the bench against Oral Roberts.|
"We essentially have 40 minutes of basketball left and that's how we've approached it and we'll continue to do that," Warlick said. "We can't look ahead."
Burdick is one of those young players whose shoulders aren't weighed down by the history of Tennessee. She came here to play for Summitt and now is one of just six players to be on the last one coached by the legend and the first one helmed by Warlick.
The undefeated slate at home in NCAA play brings a smile to the face of the sophomore.
"I mean I think it just speaks to the tradition and the legacy that Holly and Pat have built," Burdick said. "We come here to play because of stats like that. I don't think it's pressure at all. It's an expectation, if anything.
"We want nothing but greatness, and that's what the coaches expect from us. We just need to come in and play our best basketball, and everything will take care of itself."
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale, 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.1 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game); Kamiko Williams 5-11 senior guard, No. 4, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (6.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Meighan Simmons, 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (17.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg); and Bashaara Graves, 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (13.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg).
Warlick has two former starters coming off the bench in sophomore post Isabelle Harrison and sophomore forward Cierra Burdick and is inclined to leave that in place for now.
It makes sense against Creighton because the Lady Vols have to pressure the ball and Williams can do so, while Spani can defend inside.
However, Warlick also want minutes with Graves and Harrison playing together.
"We plan on pounding the ball inside and look to play Izzy and Bashaara at the same time," Warlick said.
Creighton coach Jim Flanery is expected to start: Marissa Janning, 5-8 freshman guard, No. 23 (12.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.5 apg), hails from Watertown, Minn., tallied six assists in Syracuse win, scored 3,587 points in high school after joining team as seventh-grader, which began as a seventh-grader, earned 18 varsity letters in basketball (six), cross country (two), track (six) and volleyball (four), brother Matt played for Northeastern and then professionally in the NBDL and Europe; Ally Jensen, 5-6 senior guard, No. 12 (7.8, 4.2 rpg), hails from Ames, Iowa, had five boards, five assists against Syracuse, has connected on 70 treys this season, also played golf and ran cross country in high school; McKenzie Fujan, 5-11 junior guard, No. 11 (9.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg), hails from Weston, Neb., scored 24 points against Syracuse, grabbed five boards, played volleyball in high school and was four-time state champ in 300-meter low hurdles; Sarah Nelson, 6-0 junior guard, No. 42 (11.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg), hails from Omaha, Neb., played 37 minutes against Syracuse with 17 points, seven rebounds, also played soccer in high school; and Alyssa Kamphaus, 6-3 junior center, No. 55 (5.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg), hails from Seward, Neb., grabbed four boards against Syracuse in 13 minutes, also played volleyball and threw discus and shot put in high school.
A key player off the bench for the Bluejays is Carli Tritz, a 5-11 junior guard from Sioux City, Iowa. Tritz, who is dealing with an arthritic knee, has started 21 games this year and played in all 32. She averages 6.9 points per game and leads the team with 121 assists.
GLASS WORK: The box scores from Saturday were rather symmetrical in the rebound columns.
Creighton had 16 offensive boards against Syracuse, the same number grabbed by the Orange. Oral Roberts had 18 on the offensive glass against Tennessee, the same number grabbed by the Lady Vols.
"I think in these games in the NCAA Tournament toughness wins a lot of them," Creighton's Carli Tritz said. "We were tough enough to keep going to the offensive glass.
"We missed our first four shots, and we got four shots on the first possession. That was evidence right there that we were going to be tough all game. We're going to keep trying no what they threw at us."
Part of the reason for undersized teams having success on the offensive glass is the number of launched three balls, because those misses tend to be long rebounds.
That means the guards have to box out and be in position to grab the caroms, a point noted by the Lady Vols perimeter players before they took the practice court Sunday.
Tennessee also has been playing small inside of late because of the injuries to Isabelle Harrison. With the sophomore post now available, the Lady Vols can keep two natural rebounders on the floor more often by choosing among Harrison, Bashaara Graves and Cierra Burdick.
FIRST SHOT: Tennessee and Creighton have never played each other in program history so Monday will be the debut matchup.
Creighton has never won two consecutive games in the NCAA tourney. Tennessee will be trying to earn its 31st Sweet 16 berth.
Holly Warlick has sounded the alarm all season about not underestimating an opponent. For the most part, the Lady Vols have listened. It would behoove them to do so again.
"You can't just show up and think we're going to beat Creighton," Warlick said. "That's not how it works. We're going to prepare against Creighton like we prepared against Notre Dame, Stanford … It doesn't matter.
"We're going to prepare and make sure our players come and bring their ‘A game regardless of who we're playing. That's one thing we've learned from the Missouri game. You can't just show up."
Creighton press conference
Tennessee press conference
The press conference transcript for Creighton can be read by CLICKING HERE.
The press conference transcript for Tennessee can be read by CLICKING HERE.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
LOCKER ROOM VIDEO FROM UTSPORTSTV