Tennessee, Pitt meet with media

Tennessee and Pitt met with the media to set up Monday’s second round matchup for the right to go to Spokane. Go inside with InsideTennessee for coverage and video interviews from the locker rooms.

Tennessee (28-5) and Pitt (20-11) square off at 6:30 p.m. Monday (TV: ESPN2) at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols dispatched Boise State, while Pitt ended Chattanooga’s season.

Both teams met with the media Sunday and held closed practice sessions in preparation for second round action.

Pitt was picked to finish last in the ACC and spent the season proving prognosticators wrong. The preseason goal, however, was the WNIT, not the NCAA tourney.

“It was,” Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “If you look back, we were coming off a 3-13 conference season and we were 11-20 overall. … I started thinking, maybe we could make the WNIT.

“Then we get into conference play and we started competing with Louisville, we beat North Carolina, we just continued to get better and better as a team.”

The Lady Vols finished tied for first in the SEC and spent the season adjusting to personnel losses because of injury. Jasmine Jones has been sidelined since December under the program’s concussion protocol, Jannah Tucker hasn’t recovered from microfracture surgery on her knee and played four minutes this season, and Isabelle Harrison, an All-American candidate, tore her ACL a month ago.

Bashaara Graves was in beast mode in the first round, and the Lady Vols will need that same effort against Pitt. She scored Tennessee’s first eight points and finished with a career-high 24.

“I think when Bashaara plays the game she played (Saturday) it does nothing but open up the outside for us,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “Bashaara went to work, and we needed her. She can post up, she can now face up the basket. She is strong. She had a couple and-one plays.

“It makes life a lot easier for us when Bashaara plays that way.”

Tennessee, a two seed, is the prohibitive favorite against Pitt, a 10 seed, but nothing has come easy for the Lady Vols in the NCAA tourney.

Graves, a junior, needs offensive help from the seniors, Ariel Massengale and Cierra Burdick, and a defensive stand from sophomores Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds.

Burdick was rather despondent Saturday after struggling offensively, but Warlick reminded the forward about her board work.

“Looking back, I did try to do what I could on the boards,” Burdick said. “I have a passion for rebounding, and I think I was able to do that so that’s definitely a positive. I tried to distribute the ball as best as I could but I made some costly turnovers so I canceled out any assist that I had. I think there are some positives that you can take away from the game, there’s also a lot to learn from. So I’m just trying and I’ll watch some film and regroup and refocus."

Warlick also wants Massengale on the glass, something the senior hasn’t done with consistency. When Warlick emerged from the locker room Sunday for walk to the press conference, Massengale was waiting in the hallway. Warlick saluted her point guard.

“She got that big rebound yesterday. She came out of nowhere. I was like, ‘Who got that board?’ ” Warlick said.

Warlick was referring to a defensive rebound by Massengale in the paint against Boise State when the Lady Vols led by just eight points with 2:20 left in the game. Massengale added two more defensive boards in the final two minutes and had five boards for the game.

She’s a rebounding machine!” Warlick said.

Both Massengale and Burdick are keenly aware that Monday is their final game on “The Summitt” court – see video interviews below, in which the seniors also shared their best Pat Summitt moment – and both want to make sure it’s not the last one of their careers.

The road to Spokane starts with pressure on the perimeter and that is where Carter and Reynolds are critical.

Pitt is led by dynamic 5-7 point guard Brianna Kiesel, who had 13 points and four assists in Saturday’s 51-40 win over Chattanooga. Kiesel, who is from Utica, N.Y., grew up a Tennessee fan.

“For a while, I thought I was going to be as tall as Candace Parker for a second, but something happened. I just stopped growing,” Kiesel said. We have the same number and everything. She was someone I looked up to.

“And of course, Coach Summitt. Everything she has done here. This is such a historic place to play. To have the opportunity to play here is just like ‘Wow.’ You’re a 10-year-old looking at this phenomenal program, and now you’re playing on their court. It means a lot to me.”

Carter will draw the defensive assignment on the senior, whose season average is 18.0 points per game.

“She will,” Warlick said. “She is our best defender. She is just a difficult player to guard, extremely quick with the ball, can shoot the three. When you can shoot the three and you can penetrate, it is a difficult guard. I think Pittsburgh plays a lot like us, they like to run the ball, they run through their point guard.

“Andraya is going to have to have a great defensive game.”

McConnell-Serio knows Kiesel will be a focus of Tennessee’s defense.

“You watch us play, you watch us on film, it is not a secret we run ball screens for Bri,” said McConnell-Serio, who noted the Lady Vols’ ability to execute their help defense. “I have seen Tennessee support by their post players, the guards fight over, I have seen them switch. They could trap her.

“That is when other players need to step up and hit some shots for them to change what they do. I think there are adjustments that we will need to make as a team and as a staff, but if we hit shots I think we will have a chance.”

While Pitt’s entrance into the NCAA tourney with McConnell-Serio at the helm is new, the head coaches in Monday’s game are very familiar with each other.

“I have known Suzie for a long time,” Warlick said. She is a former point guard, she is competitive. I think she is a great teacher. I think she does things right. She played the game with a lot of passion, and I think her expectations for her team are to play with a lot of heart and passion and play with a lot of energy.

“I think her team is a really strong reflection of her, especially her point guard, I think she is outstanding, and Suzie has done a great job with her.”

McConnell-Serio noted the tradition of Tennessee and then gave a shoutout to Warlick.

“I played against Tennessee when I was in college and it was on our home floor,” McConnell-Serio said. “And then I trained here with the Olympic team and I know the history of this program and I know, it is Pat Summitt, it is her court, it is the history of the program.”

“But I have to get Holly Warlick credit. She has done an amazing job taking over this program and putting her handprint on this program and maintaining the success they have had. Which isn’t easy. It is not easy to take over for someone like Pat Summitt. I think Holly Warlick has done a tremendous job. I think she is an amazing coach.

“Her team plays with so much power, so much passion and energy and seeing that up close and personal, because when you watch a team on film it is so different than seeing them live, I was impressed with what I saw.”

PITT PRESS CONFERENCE FROM UTSPORTSTV

TENNESSEE PRESS CONFERENCE FROM UTSPORTSTV

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE

Bubbles Anderson of Pitt

Aysia Bugg of Pitt

Brittany Gordon of Pitt

Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds

Ariel Massengale

Bashaara Graves

Cierra Burdick

Dean Lockwood


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