Lady Vols bound for Spokane

The Lady Vols are headed west to the Spokane Regional after claiming their 33rd Sweet Sixteen in program history and running their NCAA record at home to 56-0 with a win over Pitt. The seniors departed Thompson-Boling Arena with a perfect record on “The Summitt” in their final season. Go inside for full coverage.

The Lady Vols are headed west to the Spokane Regional after claiming their 33rd Sweet Sixteen in program history and running their NCAA record at home to 56-0 with a win over Pitt. The seniors departed Thompson-Boling Arena with a perfect record on “The Summitt” in their final season. Go inside for full coverage.

Tennessee (29-5) held off Pittsburgh (20-12) and earned the right to advance to the Spokane Regional with a 77-67 win over the Panthers in front of 5,712 fans who expended most of their energy booing the officials for 40 minutes.

“It was a great win for us,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “We had to battle. I am really happy that these two seniors could go out the way they did. They have been through a lot, and they have had a lot of pressure put on them since their freshman year. I am just excited that they get to keep playing basketball.”

Cierra Burdick hit her first two shots and finished with 14 points and 10 boards. Ariel Massengale notched 16 points and swished her free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

It was a wretchedly officiated postseason game in the second round Monday in Knoxville, but the Lady Vols shook it off – and noted they needed to get better at closing out games.

Tennessee will fly to the state of Washington – Jordan Reynolds, Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell were elated post-game to be going to the Pacific Northwest, while Burdick asked exactly where the state of Washington is located.

“It’s above Oregon, right?” Burdick asked.

Senior Cierra Burdick drives to the basket in her final game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
(Danny Parker/

Tennessee will square off against hometown Gonzaga, with Maryland and Duke meeting in the other matchup in Spokane. The winner of the regional claims a spot in the Final Four in Tampa.

The Lady Vols had to get past a persistent Pitt team before they could make travel arrangements.

“They played their hearts out, they wore their hearts on their sleeve, couldn’t be more proud of the effort,” Pitt coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said.

Four Tennessee players tallied double digits, and the Lady Vols dominated the glass, 46-29.

“I think Carter is one of the best rebounding guards and it was an emphasis on all five players,” McConnell-Serio said.

Andraya Carter was credited with two rebounds, both on offense, in the box score, but she and Jordan Reynolds, who notched six boards, with four on offense, repeatedly kept possessions alive. Reynolds had two consecutive offensive boards in the first half that ended with an and-one play and a 27-17 lead.

“It was on our board, all five players must box out and there were too many times where we had two or three boxing out and then they would come in, get a hand on it,” McConnell-Serio said. “They got second or third chances. Against a team like Tennessee, it will kill you. They make a living on the offensive glass.”

Tennessee’s Jordan Reynolds drops a pass into the paint.
(Danny Parker/

Bashaara Graves feasted on the glass with 14 boards, including 10 on the offensive end. The junior center was hammered all game – rarely with the benefit of a foul call – but stayed aggressive and led Tennessee with 21 points. She also got a shoutout from former Lady Vol Chamique Holdsclaw on Twitter: “I like Bashaara Graves she is a banger. Real physical player.”

Former Lady Vol Glory Johnson sat behind the Lady Vols bench and gave Pat Summitt a hug at halftime. She was accompanied by former Baylor great Brittney Griner. The two, who are engaged to be married, posed for photos and signed autographs. Future Lady Vol Te’a Cooper, a point guard from Georgia, also was in attendance and spoke to Summitt at halftime.

With Isabelle Harrison out with a torn ACL, Graves logged 35 minutes and put together back-to-back beast-mode games in Knoxville. Post Nia Moore provided solid relief off the bench and added three points and three rebounds.

The Lady Vols led 35-23 at halftime and held sensational Pitt guard Brianna Kiesel in check with eight points. That changed in the second half. Pitt scored the first seven points to cut the lead to 35-30 – Graves restored order by getting to the rim and Carter drained a timely three and got an athletic tip-in to push the lead to eight points, 42-34, with 15:26 to play.

But Kiesel erupted and would finish with 32 points. As Warlick walked to her post-game radio show, she hugged the Pitt guard, and the two exchanged smiles and a brief conversation.

“She just said I was a good player and that I played my heart out and did all I could, I left it out there,” Kiesel said.

Kiesel went the distance and shot 11-24 from the field and 9-13 from the line. At times, she was well-defended and still drained the shot.

“Every shot I took was physical,” Kiesel said. “I got to the free throw line but I missed too many free throws. I had number 14 on me who was one of the defensive players of the year in the SEC, and she’s very good, and every shot I took was contested. I wish I had shot 20-24 and maybe we would have won.”

Kiesel was right and wrong about Carter, who wears No. 14. Carter was one of the best defenders in the SEC this season but wasn’t even named to the All-Defensive Team in the SEC.

Carter provided timely offense Monday and didn’t have any turnovers in 34 minutes of play. As a team, the Lady Vols had just 13 miscues, with nine coming in the first half.

The Lady Vols shot 40.3 percent (27-67) for the game with 17 assists. Tennessee got to the line 24 times – with most of the fouls coming late when Pitt wanted to stop the clock – and shot 75.0 percent. But the Lady Vols got to the line just six times in the first half, much to the crowd’s ire. When Graves finally received the benefit of a whistle late in the second half, the crowd provided sarcastic applause.

Both teams got seven points from their bench with the starters doing the heavy lifting, both in scoring and minutes played. The paint points were even at 30. Pitt capitalized on Tennessee’s 13 turnovers with 17 points, while the Lady Vols got 11 points off Pitt’s 12 turnovers.

The difference was on the glass, a stat that had to make Summitt smile. The head coach emeritus was seated behind Tennessee’s bench and received a standing ovation when she walked into the arena.

Lockwood delivered the news to Graves that her effort had earned praise from, as Lockwood said, “Lady Vol royalty” in Holdsclaw.

“I think she has been aggressive, and we have been getting her the basketball,” Burdick said. “She has been working and getting great position on the block. She is just a mismatch for every team we play against. She is so strong and so physical that the smaller players can’t really handle her. Then, you have the big players that she is just too quick for.

“She is a tough matchup, and we are going to continue to look for her. She has done a great job of stepping up in Izzy B’s absence, and she is a lot of fun to play with.”

Graves said she is playing for the seniors, which includes Harrison, and her 20-plus point performances in back-to-back games, a career first, gave her a lot of confidence.

“I know I need to show up in these games,” Graves said. “Since Izzy has been out, I knew I needed to step up and do my part.”

Tennessee will need more of the same in Spokane. The Lady Vols will take off Tuesday, practice Wednesday and then depart early for the West Coast to get used to the time change.

The Lady Vols made the ending of both games a tad too adventurous in Knoxville, but the mood of the locker room was remarkably different than a year ago when Tennessee struggled in the early rounds.

The players were smiling with the East Coast ones promising their allotment of tickets to Russell, Nared and Reynolds, who all hail from Oregon. Russell is taking a redshirt year but still travels with the team. For the trio, it’s a game that family members can drive to in Spokane.

The Lady Vols kept the fans engaged until the end as a 14-point lead, 64-50, with 5:18 left in the game dwindled to six points, 66-60, with 1:39 left.

“As I love how we battle and we go down to the wire, we figure out how to win, I would much rather us win by 13 and keep it 13,” Warlick said. “That is really fun for me. I don’t think they want me to have any fun, so they like to make it interesting.”





Jaime Nared

Jordan Reynolds

Andraya Carter

Alexa Middleton

Dean Lockwood

Ariel Massengale

Cierra Burdick

Bashaara Graves


Warlick post-game presser

Burdick, Graves, Massengale post-game audio

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