Top seeds UT, LSU win; Purdue to face Lady Vols

First-round action in the NCAA Tournament in Knoxville saw the No. 1 seeds – Tennessee and LSU – run away with wins and both No. 8 seeds – Oklahoma and New Mexico – bow out. <p> The day started at noon and ended at nearly midnight and in between some players and coaches cheered while others cried. Some of the loudest cheers came when a former Lady Vol and a now-departed Vol coach came into Thompson-Boling Arena. <p>

Kellie Jolly Harper, who led Tennessee to three national titles, received a standing ovation when she took the floor as coach of Western Carolina. Buzz Peterson, who just last week was ousted as the Vols basketball coach, was met with thunderous applause when the 10,534 fans in attendance saw him courtside.

Of course the biggest event was the last game in which a Tennessee win over Western Carolina tied coach Pat Summitt with Dean Smith – who coached Peterson at North Carolina – with 879 career victories.

It was an emotional day, and the tourney is only getting started. Round two is Tuesday. Here's what happened Sunday.

GAME ONE/CHATTANOOGA REGION: No. 9 seed Arizona defeated No. 8 seed Oklahoma, 72-69. NEXT UP: No. 1 seed LSU, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Arizona took care of the hard part of the NCAA Tournament – surviving the opening game – but the reward is meeting top overall seed LSU in the second round. On Sunday, the Wildcats just wanted to celebrate the victory over Oklahoma, the program's first NCAA tourney win since 2000. Today, they turn their attention to the Lady Tigers.

"We were overdue; our team was overdue for a win in the tournament," Arizona coach Joan Bonvicini said. "It took guts, and I am so proud of this team."

Arizona, 20-11, had three players in double figures in Dee-Dee Wheeler (16 points), Jessica Arnold (15 points) and Danielle Adefeso (10 points).

"We had lost in the first round of the NCAA three years straight, and it is great for us to come out with a win," said Wheeler, who as a senior was enjoying the first tourney win of her career. "The first game is always a tough game. Tuesday is going to be a tough game as well; we just have to go out and play a great game."

It was a game of runs for both teams with Oklahoma claiming the halftime lead, 34-29. The score was tied six times, and the lead changed hands on a half-dozen occasions.

Oklahoma, 17-13, was led by sophomore center Leah Rush, who had 28 points on 11-16 shooting, including 5-6 from behind the arc. Senior guard Dionnah Jackson had a balanced day – 17 points and 17 rebounds.

Oklahoma had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer, but the shot was a little out of the range of sophomore guard Chelsi Welch.

"They are a great team," said Rush, who battled inside with Arizona's Adefeso and Shawntinice Polk. "Both 44 (Adefeso) and 00 (Polk) are good players. They are very skilled and they have a size advantage on me. I tried to go outside because of their size advantage, so give credit to them and their team."

Polk struggled offensively – she scored nine points on 4-13 shooting – but she pulled down seven rebounds and had two assists. She had only one basket in the first half.

"I was just off in the first half; nothing was falling," Polk said. "At halftime my teammates picked me up and coach got into me. I had to play the second half and let the first half go."

Arizona's game plan was to try to control tempo, and the Wildcats ran on Oklahoma misses and walked it up the floor on made baskets. But in the first half, the Sooners were dictating the flow of the game.

"I had to challenge some players in the second half," Bonvicini said. "Polk was struggling, but we basically just missed a bunch of layups in the first half. We pushed at the beginning of the second half and got our confidence back."

Oklahoma uses a four-guard lineup so Arizona backed off of pressing the Sooners until the second half. The pressure allowed the Wildcats to wipe out a five-point deficit and forge an eight-point lead.

"When we went to a smaller lineup when Che Oh came in, we thought we could catch them off guard, and thankfully we did," Bonvicini said. "We knew they could go on runs. I was very impressed with Rush. She hit a lot of shots. We watched some tape, but those threes she hit were big. I was really impressed with her."

Oklahoma did make another run – led by Rush's and senior Lauren Shoush's shooting – got within one point and nearly overtook Arizona.

The game was similar to several others in the Sooners' season in which a very winnable game slipped away. But it didn't feel the same.

"I think this is way different than any other game, because we don't get to play anymore," Jackson said. "I just felt like it was an all-around good game on both ends. Anytime you can down to the wire and be down by just a bucket, then it is a good game. So in that aspect I don't feel like it is just like any other game. I thought we fought hard, and it was just one possession."

Jackson's coach, Sherri Coale, felt the same way.

"I agree with Dee in that it is different in the NCAA Tournament," Coale said. "We fought our way back in. We have a very small margin for error and when you play a team that has such a size advantage on the inside, you are forced to make some adjustments."

Oklahoma's adjustments will now come in the off-season, but Coale wasn't quite ready to let go.

"Dionnah Jackson went out being Dionnah Jackson … finished with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds, and that is who she is for four years," Coale said. "She and Shoush are incredible kids to coach. It is always hard for a season to end, especially when you have to say good-bye to your seniors."

Arizona now turns its attention to LSU, a prohibitive favorite to win the national title this year.

Polk and Wheeler are aware of how formidable the Lady Tigers are with guards Temeka Johnson and Seimone Augustus. But Sunday's win gave them some of what Polk calls the "umph" factor.

"Getting over the first game is where we were struggling," Polk said. "This made us a lot more confident. The team we played today made us better. They have a great inside game, a great outside game, great shooters and a great coach. Now whoever we face on Tuesday (the LSU game followed this one), we'll be ready. We'll have that little umph."

GAME NOTES: Arizona was 1-9 this season when trailing at halftime entering the game and is now 2-9. Nine of the 11 losses this season were against teams in the tournament. Arizona is now 6-6 in tourney games. Its last NCAA win also came in Knoxville against Kent State in 2000. Arizona fell in the second round to Tennessee. Oklahoma's Leah Rush set a career high with 28 points. She previously had 26 twice. The output nearly doubled her season average of 15.1 points. Oklahoma has made it to the Big Dance eight times and now has only twice failed to make it out of the first round.

GAME TWO/CHATTANOOGA : No. 1 seed LSU defeated No. 16 seed Stetson, 70-36. NEXT UP: No. 9 seed Arizona on Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

LSU set two school records in its first round romp over Stetson, but the Hatters won over a few hearts in the press conference after the game.

Stetson center Kristy Brown was in tears trying to explain her sadness at her season ending and the honor of wearing a Hatter jersey for four years. Her remarks also left her coach, Dee Romine, in tears as she addressed the media.

For LSU, 30-2, it was a chance to finally take the court after a two-week layoff and work on some team objectives: defensive pressure, transition baskets and rebounding.

"It's about goals," said LSU junior forward Seimone Augustus, who scored 14 points, with eight of them coming from the free throw line. "We didn't focus on the score. Our ultimate goal is to win a national title. To do that we have to finish."

Romine said she realized the game was getting away from Stetson, 17-14, at about the eight-minute mark of the first half when LSU "dominated us at every phase of the game." The Hatters – accustomed to starting their offense at the top of the key – were pushed out about five feet. Entry passes into the post were often futile as they were stolen or batted away by the Lady Tigers, who finished the game with 12 steals. LSU, as expected because of the height advantage, ruled on the boards, 52-38.

Johnson also was applying pressure about three-fourths of the way down the court so that Stetson couldn't run the clock down on each possession.

A 41-19 halftime lead could have swelled to a much-larger margin in the second half, but LSU coach Pokey Chatman went deep into her bench. Everyone on the 15-player roster saw action, except for injured freshman Ashley Thomas, and at one point four freshmen and one lightly-used senior were on the floor. That group didn't include super frosh Sylvia Fowles, who played 14 minutes and scored nine points.

Early in the game, Brown was matched up with Fowles. She used the word "tall" three times in the post-game press conference to describe her. She also used the word quick and said Fowles ignored her head fakes.

Brown and senior guards JoAnn Smith and De'Andre Matheny played their last game in a Stetson uniform.

Brown left the game late in the second half and received a standing ovation and shouts of "We love you Kristy," as she sat crying on the bench.

"It just means a lot to me," Brown said. "It means a lot to make it to the NCAA Tournament, but it means a lot more to make it with the team that I am on, because the group of girls I play with are amazing. I'm just honored to wear the Stetson jersey. I can't really tell you what is going through my head.

"My heart just hurts because I've been playing basketball since I was 5 years old. We have competed against the best. You can say we lost to LSU, but it still hurts. At least it is LSU. My heart is broken right now because I love the game so much, and I am so honored just to have worn the uniform and to play with my team, especially Nefertiti."

Junior guard Nefertiti Walker had 13 points on 5-17 shooting but struggled to get open against LSU and often had to shoot with a defender draped on her.

"It is a tough loss," Walker said. "You come into the NCAA Tournament, but yet you also want to win. I have that competitive spirit, and I always want to win. We had a tough shooting night, and it was an all-around tough game."

The outcome of the game was tough for Romine, but the toughest part was saying good-bye to her seniors, including Brown.

"I'll tell you what," said Romine, who seemed relatively composed until Brown broke down. "This gal sitting next to me – she's been the heart and soul of our basketball team for four years. It is really hard to see the three seniors leave this program. You spend so much time with these kids on and off the court, and they sacrifice so much for us. We just love them to death. It is just so hard."

LSU's reaction after the game was muted – except for a funny reaction from Johnson after an odd question from a reporter – and relatively devoid of celebration beyond the starters cheering on the reserves.

LSU got a complete performance from Johnson – 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and zero turnovers. But Augustus (3-11 from the field) and Scholanda Hoston (3-13) struggled shooting-wise.

"I'm just glad I got that out of the way," Augustus said. "Hopefully that won't continue."

Despite the poor shooting performance overall – 38.1 percent – Chatman was pleased with the team's shot selection and the way Augustus got to the foul line.

"I'm always OK with good looks to the basket if it's within the confines of our offense," Chatman said. "The shots may not fall."

As far as Augustus, Chatman said, "I liked her mentality. It was attacking. She didn't press. She got great looks. I'll take that anytime."

LSU's defensive mentality earned the Lady Tigers two school records for NCAA tourney play. The 36 points scored by Stetson is the fewest by an opponent in the tournament. The previous mark was 45 by Stephen F. Austin on March 19, 2000. The Hatters' 24.1 percent field goal percentage was the lowest by an opponent since Liberty shot 30.9 percent March 17, 2000.

"You just enlightened me on something," Johnson said when asked about the record during the press conference. "I didn't know anything about a record."

Johnson had another exchange with a reporter that left those in the room laughing.

The players were asked how they kept their focus in a runaway victory. Then, Johnson was asked about an interaction she had with the Lady Tigers mascot and whether or not she was trying to keep herself entertained out there.

The question caused Chatman to look up from her stat sheet and then slightly smile as Johnson struggled with her answer.

"You're trying to get me in trouble," Johnson said. "I was paying attention to the game. I don't know what you're talking about."

Augustus was doubled over in laughter as Johnson sputtered through her answer.

Johnson could be forgiven if she did momentarily lose focus as the Lady Tigers were only down once, 5-4, in the first three minutes before overwhelming Stetson with their speed and size.

"We ran up against a very good basketball team today, and LSU, with their size, quickness, length and athleticism, had very good match-ups at every position," Romine said. "We didn't play very well today, but I think you have to give a lot of credit to LSU."

For the Stetson Hatters, the season ends with an Atlantic Sun Championship and the school earning its first-ever berth – men or women – in the NCAA basketball tourney.

"Our kids were very positive going into this tournament," Romine said. "Maybe that is a little naïve, but we wanted the kids to believe in themselves and the steps they have taken to take this program to the next step."

For LSU it was one small step toward its goal: the Final Four in Indianapolis April 3-5, and a national championship.

"There will be no celebration," Augustus said. "We want to focus on our next opponent."

GAME NOTES: Stetson's 36 points were an all-time low for the program. The previous low, 37, was against another SEC team, Auburn, on Nov. 21, 2003. Former Lady Vol Bridgette Gordon is in her fourth season as an assistant coach on the Stetson staff. Brown's 17 points led all scorers. LSU's winning margin of 46 point ties the season record set against Arkansas, 91-45, on Jan. 20.

GAME THREE/PHILADELPHIA REGION: No. 9 seed Purdue defeated No. 8 seed New Mexico, 68-56. NEXT UP: No. 1 seed Tennessee on Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.

New Mexico, 26-5, did its best imitation of a Big 10 team and nearly beat Purdue, 17-12, which prides itself on the physical nature of its conference.

The win by the Boilermakers set up a match with Tennessee, which has two Indiana players on its roster, Shanna Zolman and Shyra Ely. Ely nearly signed with Purdue.

But the Lobos, the tournament champions in the Mountain West Conference, nearly messed up the homecoming of sorts by borrowing a page from the Big 10 handbook of post play.

"We knew it was going to be a physical game, and that was true – it was a physical game," said New Mexico coach Don Flanagan. "I thought their defense took us out of our offense. I thought our offense broke down too many times. … Their physical play was probably the most important factor in the game. I thought they were just a little bit stronger and a little bit bigger than our players at each position."

The game was tied at halftime, 29-29, and New Mexico led by one, 43-42, with nearly nine minutes to go on a layup by freshman forward Dionne Marsh. But Purdue's outstanding freshman forward, Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, sophomore forward Erin Lawless and senior center Emily Heikes began taking it to the Lobos inside. Wisdom-Hylton even stepped outside and hit two three-pointers.

Wisdom-Hylton finished with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds. Lawless led all scorers with 22 points, and sensational shooter Katie Gearlds had 16 points for the Boilermakers.

The Lobos were led by senior guard Mandi Moore with 18 points. Fellow senior Lindsey Arndt had eight points as did Marsh.

"They were just taking it inside," Arndt said. "They were taking it hard and strong inside and drawing the foul. We were collapsing on them, and I guess we were either reaching or hacking them in the process. But that is what we needed to do on offense. We needed to take it in like they did."

For awhile New Mexico did. The Lobos got 28 points in the paint; Purdue got just two more with 30. Purdue out-rebounded New Mexico, 40-35, but the Lobos held their own there, too.

In the end Purdue made more big plays and was committed to getting the ball inside down the stretch.

"We were physical with them," Lawless said. "Physicality is going to be a part of basketball whether it is the guard play or the post play. I think they did a great job and were very active in their (2-3) zone with their hands up, and they kept playing strong."

Arndt wondered post-game if perhaps all the pre-game talk about being physical got inside the Lobos' heads a little.

"It was probably more mental than anything," she said. "The game was not as physical as I thought it would be. They were big strong girls, but they went for the blocks a lot, and I think I should have taken it in more and gone for the shots."

Purdue coach Kristy Curry told her team to take the ball inside in the second half. New Mexico's 2-3 zone had somewhat stymied the Boilermakers' inside game, and it was a gamble that nearly worked for Flanagan.

"I played the zone all last year and my reasoning for it was not because of mismatches, but more because they didn't have that many good three-point shooters," Flanagan said.

But Purdue heeded the words of their coach in the second half.

"You need to be able to get the ball down inside," Lawless said. "The guards had to understand they just have to get the ball in there and when you are a post you have to go up strong with that. … But you have to give a lot of credit to New Mexico; they played tough."

Curry said the win bolstered the Boilermakers' case that they belonged in the tourney after all.

I am really proud of this bunch," Curry said. "I think a lot of people questioned whether we belonged, and we proved it against a good New Mexico team."

Purdue gets its next chance to silence the naysayers against Tennessee. The game will be played on UT's home floor at Thompson-Boling Arena, and Pat Summitt will be trying to become the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history by notching no. 880.

"We are going to have to play the best we have all year without question," Curry said. "This is an opportunity for our team to accept the challenge. It is only 40 minutes, and it will take 40 minutes. Anything can happen; that is why they throw it up."

"I am sure a lot of people are writing us off, but we believe we can play with them," Gearlds said. "We believe we can beat them. We have to come out and play hard, execute offensively and play solid defense. They are very good, but anyone can win the game of basketball; that is why we play it."

GAME NOTES: Gearlds was also recruited by Tennessee. She went into the stands during Tennessee's game to say hello to Summitt's husband, R.B. Summitt. Purdue's record in the tourney is now 34-14. New Mexico entered the tournament with a seven-game winning streak. The Lobos never shot a free throw until less than three minutes remained in the game. Purdue was whistled for 11 fouls but never when a Lobo was in the act of shooting. New Mexico had 18 fouls. New Mexico is one of only 11 schools this year to send its football team to a bowl game and both its men's and women's teams to the NCAA tournaments. The others are Boston College, Connecticut, Iowa State, LSU, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Utah.

GAME FOUR/PHILADELPHIA : No. 1 seed Tennessee defeated No. 16 seed Western Carolina, 94-43. NEXT UP: No. 9 seed Purdue on Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.

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