The Lady Vols, led by a beastly performance by Bashaara Graves, claimed a first round win over Boise State. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis and video interviews from the locker room with players and coaches.
Tennessee (28-5) followed the survive-and-advance mantra Saturday against Boise State (22-11) – and got some sticky defense in the second half from Andraya Carter and timely shots from Ariel Massengale – to move to Monday.
“If that is a 15-seeded team, my hats off to them,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “They were solid and never quit. We had to bring our best. They are just an outstanding basketball team.”
The Broncos definitely looked like they belonged in the No. 10 vs. No. 7 matchup in the first game. Pitt (20-11) took out Chattanooga (29-4) and will face the Lady Vols on Monday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. The winner of that game heads west to the Spokane Region.
Pitt never trailed Chattanooga, though the game was tied four times, and became just the second team this season – Notre Dame was the other – to beat the Mocs by double digits.
“We’ve been the underdog all year,” said Pitt guard Brianna Kiesel, a 5-7 senior from Utica, N.Y. “Coach, she just fires us up. We could be playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Coach would go in and say that we could win. She just gives us that type of confidence. She’s very fiery. Everything she says is what needs to be done.”
The Pitt win was the first in the NCAA tourney as a head coach for Suzie McConnell-Serio. It was Warlick’s sixth win as a head coach in the NCAA postseason. Boise State made sure it didn’t come easy.
“Congratulations to Tennessee,” Boise State head coach Gordy Presnell said. “They played very well and scored when they had to. They kept balls alive. They got us on the boards, too, and they got second-chance opportunities because of that.
I was proud of our team. I thought we battled the whole way. It was a great game.”
Tennessee's Cierra Burdick swats away a Boise State shot on the defensive end.
Tennessee dominated the glass, 46-28, led by Cierra Burdick’s 11 boards and 10 from Jaime Nared. The Lady Vols had 17 assists on 26 made baskets and kept turnovers to a very manageable 13. Led by Carter’s three thefts, Tennessee had eight steals.
But the game was much closer than Tennessee wanted, in part, because Boise State shot 5-10 from the arc in the first half.
Brooke Pahukoa led the Broncos with 18 points and was a perfect 7-7 overall from the field and 3-3 from the arc.
Carter got instructions to face guard her for the second half – Warlick said she became a no-touch player – and Pahukoa added just four points to her total.
“It was harder for me to get shots off,” Pahukoa said. “That didn’t stop what my goal was on the team. I just focused on defense and tried to contribute in a different way.”
Massengale saluted her sophomore teammate.
“As you know, Andraya is our best defender, so we told her, ‘Draya, that is you. Lock her up.’ That is what Andraya brings to this team,” Massengale said.
Carter also contributed on offense with eight points, four assists and no turnovers. She grabbed four boards and connected on 2-3 treys.
Massengale tallied 18 points and connected on three long balls, none bigger than the one with 2:38 left in the game to give Tennessee a 66-58 lead.
“She was open; she took great shots today,” Warlick said. “She didn’t force anything. I probably love how aggressive she was getting to the free throw line because she is one of our best free throw shooters.”
Boise State had trimmed a 15-point lead at 60-45 with 8:22 left to play to just five before Massengale swished the shot from the left corner.
“We could have won that game,” Pahukoa said. “Kudos to Tennessee for making those shots at the end. Any competitor doesn’t want to lose, but I’m really proud of my team.”
Pahukoa had good reason to be. On the other hand, the Lady Vols never looked as if they would lose the game. Despite the early deficit and narrow lead late, Tennessee never lost its poise or look rattled.
“We had some lapses down the stretch, but I think we stayed together as a team,” Massengale said. “We have been in tough situations before, and like Coach Warlick said, they are a very good team.
“Credit to my team, we got stops when we needed to get stops. One-and-done, box-out rebounding – I think when you can do that, you have a very good chance of closing out games.”
Tennessee put on a glass clinic – 18 of the 46 boards were offensive, while Boise State got just seven on their offensive end – with seven of the eight players who logged minutes getting at least two rebounds. Massengale, Jordan Reynolds and Bashaara Graves had five each.
“The physicality killed us on the offensive boards,” Presnell said. Almost every time in women’s college basketball, if you get a good offensive board and go right back up, you’re going to go to the free throw line.”
Tennessee shot 15-21 (71.4 percent) from the stripe, led by Graves’ 6-8 marksmanship and 5-6 from Massengale.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick shouts out words of encouragement to the Lady Volunteers.
Graves led all scorers with a career-high 24 points, besting her previous mark of 23 vs. Georgia Tech in 2013. Her prior NCAA tourney high was 11 points against Louisville in 2013.
Graves scored Tennessee’s first eight points to wipe out Boise State’s early lead. Graves’ two free throws midway through the first half gave Tennessee a 14-13 lead, and the Lady Vols never trailed again.
“I was working hard, and my teammates were getting me the ball,” Graves said. “I just had the hot hand today. I wanted to help my team get the win.”
During pre-game stretching, Massengale, a senior, told Graves that she wanted to wear her Tennessee uniform for another game. Massengale should have that chat before every postseason game.
Graves scored in the paint and was active on both ends. She made pinpoint passes – including a sweet feed to Nia Moore in the second half – and added three assists to just one turnover in 32 minutes of play.
It was a performance that Pat Summitt would appreciate, and the head coach emeritus had a great view of the game from directly behind the Lady Vols’ bench.
When Summitt was shown on the overhead scoreboard video screen, the crowd of 6,439 erupted in applause.
While the Lady Vols – and their fans in attendance – would have preferred a more-dominant win, the mood in the locker room was upbeat. That wasn’t the case a year ago when a desultory performance in the first round left the locker room mood sour and downcast.
Burdick was disappointed at going scoreless, and Nared was clearly frustrated by her offensive struggles. But Reynolds, Carter, Graves and Graves were relaxed and smiling.
Warlick, who was visibly upset a year ago, sat on the couch in the lounge area of the locker room with Reynolds, and both were smiling.
Assistant coach Dean Lockwood agreed that the Lady Vols took survive and advance a tad too seriously, but his focus was on learning and moving forward. He also made it a point to remind Nared and Burdick of what they did right.
The Lady Vols’ depth has taken significant hits with the loss of Isabelle Harrison last month and Jasmine Jones in December, but Warlick still tried to spread out minutes as best she could. Eight players logged double-digit minutes. Massengale logged the most minutes at 35.
Massengale looked physically drained in Little Rock, Ark., two weeks ago. She was smiling after Saturday’s game and looked ready to play another game . So did Carter and Graves, who both logged 32 minutes.
Massengale’s next task was to get Burdick smiling again.
“I need her being the other senior out there – just her experience, her knowledge of the game,” Massengale said. “I told her to bounce back. She’ll be fine. She got this out of the way now.
“We’ll get back in the gym, get some shots up, get her confidence back and she’ll be ready to go Monday night.”
INSIDE TENNESSEE AUDIO COVERAGE
Graves, Massengale, Warlick post-game audio
GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTVTENNESSEE PRESS CONFERENCE FROM UTSPORTSTVBOISE STATE PRESS CONFERENCE FROM UTSPORTSTVINSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGEAndraya CarterAriel MassengaleBashaara GravesCierra BurdickJaime NaredJordan ReynoldsDean LockwoodHolly Warlick