Next up for the Lady Vols is St. John's (23-10), which defeated Southern Cal (22-13) with a buzzer-beating three by Briana Brown for a 71-68 win. Brown was 0-5 before she swished the shot with 0.4 seconds remaining that sent the Red Storm to the second round and a crushed Trojan team back to Los Angeles.
Both surviving teams will meet with the media Sunday, with tipoff scheduled for Monday at 9 p.m. Eastern. (TV: ESPN2)
Coach Holly Warlick will take Saturday's win but no doubt she wants to see a much better first half in the second round.
"I thought Northwestern State was a very good basketball team. They're very well-coached," Warlick said. "We could tell we hadn't played in about two weeks. We missed a lot of easy shots.
"Our defense wasn't a priority but I think in the second half we got our point across. We got the ball inside. We showed a little bit of what our defense is supposed to be like."
Warlick was pale and rather inactive on the sideline in the first half after battling a serious stomach disorder for the past 24 hours. She received IV fluids at home and was supposed to get them at halftime Saturday - her left wrist was taped and ready for an IV line - but she wouldn't sit still long enough in the locker room for fluids to be administered.
"I got a bug and it probably started about 2 a.m. this morning," Warlick said. "About 9 a.m. this morning, I didn't think I was coming to the game. I had a lot of IVs and fluids pumped into me. That was my choice to sit the first half. I was still a little light-headed. Then I couldn't sit there any longer."
Warlick was on her feet for the second half, with her signature foot stomp and whistle, and her team responded.
"Holly gets to stomping and yelling, it draws your attention, and that's just her and her care for us and for this team and her passion for the game," Isabelle Harrison said. "She is trying to put it into us, so if we had any confusion, we looked towards her and she lets us know, so I think we really fed off of that."
The players also knew what they had done wrong.
"We came in and a lot of us were saying things to each other," Andraya Carter said. "We weren't being negative or tearing each other down, but we just knew that we had to do better.
"We just talked about what we needed to do and basically everything surrounded just playing Lady Vol basketball and playing hard and giving our full effort on defense and playing together. We all knew what we had to do, we were on the exact same page and came together."
Outside of Carter's 31 minutes, no other Lady Vol reached 30, as coach Warlick spread time among all nine available players. Junior point guard Ariel Massengale remained a no-go, hasn't played since Jan. 23 and likely is done for the season.
The Lady Vols have weathered her absence because of the steady play of Carter and the swagger of fellow freshman Jordan Reynolds, whose mother got to see her play in Knoxville for the first time.
Reynolds, who is from Portland, Ore., has been an infusion of talent and energy for the Lady Vols and teams very well with Carter in the backcourt.
"Jordan has swag," said assistant coach Kyra Elzy said.
She indeed does, and the freshman, once again, put on a passing show as she found Carter with a perfect bounce pass - that put the Lady Vols up 39-26 eight minutes into the second half - and made pinpoint passes to Mercedes Russell and Harrison to get the ball inside.
Reynolds was on the receiving end of an assist when Carter found her in the second half with the shot clock winding down, and Reynolds drained the three-pointer.
Reynolds' minutes have increased since Massengale was sidelined under the concussion protocol - she logged 28 against Northwestern State and was inserted quickly in the second half - and the Lady Vols are better because of it.
She tallied seven points with three rebounds and three assists against Northwestern State and is developing - with the assistance of Carter - into a much better defender.
The first half was a forgettable one for Tennessee, but it didn't start that way. The Lady Vols opened 5-6 from the field with an 11-2 lead, forcing the Lady Demons to take a timeout at the 16:01 mark of the first half. A media timeout followed two seconds later, and while Northwestern State regrouped, Tennessee seemed to relax.
The Lady Vols proceeded to shoot 2-25 before halftime - they were 7-31 (22.6 percent) in the first 20 minutes - and the first half mercifully came to an close. But the defense remained fairly stout - the Lady Demons shot 8-28 (28.6 percent) and 1-10 (10 percent) from the arc - and Tennessee held a halftime lead, 22-20.
"I think we went away from some of our defensive assignments and we might have gotten a little comfortable, but that just shows from not playing in two weeks," Harrison said. "We've got to get back in our rhythm of having a sense of urgency for the full 40 minutes."
The second half was everything the first half wasn't. Tennessee shot 18-31 (58.1 percent); got the ball inside with 30 points scored in the paint compared to eight in the first half; valued possession of the ball with three turnovers compared to nine in the first; dominated the boards 21-8; and the bench got involved in the scoring from two points in the first to 25 points in the second.
One thing the Lady Vols did well in both halves was make free throws - 6-6 in the first from the stripe and 11-12 in the second for a 94.4 percent mark overall.
The Lady Vols looked like a No. 1 seed in the second half - and Warlick eased up on the Lady Demons early - and Northwestern State bowed out as a No. 16 seed.
"Hats off to Tennessee, obviously they are a great program, one of the most successful programs in women's college basketball history," Northwestern State co-head coach Brooke Stoehr said. "I thought they really ignited that run in the second half. I couldn't be more proud of my team and the way they competed.
"Fearless was a word that we kept using over and over this week. I am just so proud of their fight and their effort and their will to compete for each other and for our staff. I am just really excited for them to experience an atmosphere like this, and go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country. I am just happy I am going home with this group."
Tennessee finished with three players with 12 points - the aforementioned Russell, who was joined by Harrison and Meighan Simmons. The glass work was handled as a team with Bashaara Graves leading the way with 12 rebounds, while Cierra Burdick and Jones grabbed seven each.
Simmons continued her postseason shooting woes - the senior was 4-15 from the field - but she had three assists, including a sweet feed to Russell, and no turnovers.
Northwestern State emptied its bench with 14 players listed in the box score, but the bulk of the minutes were handled by five players. The Lady Demons were led by Trudy Armstead with 12 points and Beatrice Attura with 11.
It will take a much better effort Monday against St. John's, and the Lady Vols know it.
"This is it," Warlick said. "Each team is playing 40 minutes of their best basketball and all out. There's no, ‘we have to get better tomorrow.'
"This is it. Hopefully we got that out of our system and we can get back to playing 40 minutes of basketball."
GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV
NORTHWESTERN STATE POST-GAME
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Nia Moore, Jasmine Jones
Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison
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