Lady Vols earn No. 2 seed in NCAA tourney

The Lady Vols got the placement they expected – a two seed in the Spokane Region – and now turn their attention to not looking ahead to the West Coast and instead focusing on the first matchup in Knoxville. Go inside with InsideTennessee for Selection Show coverage and player and coach interviews.

Tennessee (27-5) will open play in Knoxville against Boise State (22-10), a No. 15 seed on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPN2). Chattanooga (29-3), a No. 7 seed, will play Pittsburgh (19-11), a No. 10 seed, at 11:05 a.m. Saturday. The winners will meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern for the right to advance to Spokane.

Coach Holly Warlick intended to start watching film Monday evening of Boise State, just as soon as she finished media interviews and got home. Dean Lockwood and the other assistant coaches, Kyra Elzy and Jolette Law, also would start the film study process immediately of the three teams coming to Knoxville.

The Lady Vols already are very familiar with Chattanooga, a team that upset Tennessee last November. But a rematch with Tennessee isn’t guaranteed to either team, something Lockwood intended to remind the players at practice Tuesday and especially after he heard one player talking about Spokane when exiting the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio where the Lady Vols gathered Monday.

Lockwood noted that all 64 teams get one thing – 40 minutes of postseason basketball in the NCAA tourney.

“You’re guaranteed 40 minutes of basketball,” Lockwood said. “Not 80 minutes. Not 120 minutes.”

The excitement, however, could be understood. The Lady Vols, while hoping for a one seed but expecting a two seed, didn’t land in the same region as fellow SEC foe South Carolina or stalwarts Notre Dame or Connecticut. Warlick thought Tennessee would receive a two seed, and she expected Spokane. She was right on both counts.

If the Lady Vols clear Knoxville – and they have never lost an NCAA tourney game at home – three players will get a trip close to home in Oregon natives Jordan Reynolds, Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell. Reynolds broke out in a dance when Tennessee’s name officially appeared in the Spokane Region.

The suspense already was over for the Lady Vols, as the Spokane Region was the last to be announced. SEC schools, seven in all, kept popping up in other brackets, and when Florida State was tabbed the No. 2 seed in Greensboro – South Carolina earned the No. 1 seed in that regional – and with the Albany and Oklahoma City brackets already completed, Tennessee knew it was headed west.

Maryland, which defeated Tennessee in the Sweet 16 in 2014, was selected as the No. 1 seed in Spokane. The possibility of a rematch was immediately noted and while Lockwood said the players could have Monday evening to enjoy the brackets, Tuesday would be a swift reminder of the survive-and-advance mantra.

The Lady Vols, after a scintillating SEC tourney in 2014, looked anemic at home in the early rounds and ultimately bowed out to Maryland. Senior Ariel Massengale said the players felt a crush of pressure to get to Nashville, the site of the 2014 Final Four. If the Lady Vols arrive safely in Spokane, perhaps being across the country will help, though Gonzaga or Oregon State could loom in the Sweet 16.

The team gathered inside the athletics department complex and enjoyed a meal catered by Calhoun’s. Before the show began, ESPN taped some shots to be used during the live broadcast, and the players had to cheer for 20 consecutive seconds – it’s longer than it sounds – for a clip that aired for five seconds or less.

“That’s longer than you think,” Cierra Burdick said as the 20 seconds of yelling ended.

The senior had a raspy voice after coaching a middle school team all weekend with Massengale. Apparently, Burdick belongs to the high-volume school of coaching.

“I am intense,” Burdick said.

Burdick sat with Isabelle Harrison in front of a huge high-definition screen. Harrison, whose season ended with a torn ACL a month ago, elevated her leg on her fellow senior’s leg for support during the show. Burdick has made it clear that she is playing for “Izzy B” and when a graphic appeared of Burdick’s elevated stats since Harrison’s injury, the team erupted in cheers.

Burdick tried to quiet her teammates, but they were in a giddy mood. That looseness – and a greater sense of purpose and urgency – will be needed starting Saturday with Boise State.

The Broncos earned the Mountain West’s automatic bid after winning the tournament championship in Las Vegas. Boise State last appeared in the NCAA tourney in 2007 when the Broncos won both the Western Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships.

The NCAA Selection Committee kept Chattanooga close to home – and set up a possible rematch with Tennessee, though Pittsburgh, despite being a 10 seed to Chattanooga’s No. 7 slot, will be a stiff test.

Tennessee has never played Boise State. It also will be the first matchup between Pitt and Chattanooga.

“What an amazing experience,” said Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, whose Panthers were picked to finish last in the ACC and claimed seventh place. “We have come so far in two years, and I couldn’t be more proud of this team. I am especially happy for the seniors for how hard they have worked. We are going to enjoy every moment of this journey in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Lady Vols had a resume for a one seed based on RPI and SOS but fell to South Carolina in the regular season and conference tourney. Maryland won both in the Big Ten. However, if the Lady Vols were to be a two seed, the committee fairly placed them against the weakest one seed after UConn, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

The Lady Vols headed back to their campus apartments after the Monday show. The coaches would spend the evening and Tuesday peering at game film.

As Burdick tweeted afterwards: “Welp, let’s get it!! Best time of the year right here!”


Andraya Carter

Ariel Massengale

Ariel Massengale, part II

Bashaara Graves

Cierra Burdick

Jordan Reynolds

Dean Lockwood

Holly Warlick

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