(AP) – Tennessee puts a long streak on the line Saturday in its NCAA Tournament opener while looking to avoid a repeat of last year’s postseason disappointment.
The Lady Volunteers (27-5), the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region, haven’t lost at home this season and are 54-0 in NCAA Tournament games on their home floor. Tennessee hosts No. 15 seed Boise State (22-10), which has never won an NCAA Tournament contest in two attempts.
”It’s definitely a comfort level, but as we all know, it’s the NCAA Tournament and anything can happen,” Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said. ”That comes with March Madness. We can’t focus on the past. The present is what’s most important.”
Tennessee lost 73-62 to Maryland in a regional semifinal last year, marking the sixth consecutive time the Lady Vols had missed the Final Four since their 2008 national championship season.
The Lady Vols were tied early in the second half of their first two tournament games last year before advancing. Sophomore guard Jordan Reynolds believes those two sluggish performances had a carry-over effect to their loss in the regional semifinals.
”I know now we’ve got to take care of all the little things and just never take anyone for granted,” Reynolds said.
Boise State’s chances of threatening Tennessee likely depend on how well the Broncos shoot from long range. Boise State makes 8.2 3-pointers per game to rank 13th among Division I teams. The Broncos have made 39.6 percent of their 3-point attempts in their wins and only 29.2 percent in their losses.
”We’ve always thought (this season) if we hit eight 3s, we have a chance to be in the game,” coach Gordy Presnell said.
Senior Deanna Weaver averages 12.7 points to lead the Broncos and shoots 42.0 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Brooke Pahukoa scores 10.1 per game.
This tournament run will be the last for players who suited up for former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt. Massengale, Cierra Burdick and injured center Isabelle Harrison played for Summitt as freshmen and would like to cap their senior seasons by helping Tennessee reach the Final Four, which this year is in Tampa, Florida.
Tampa also was the site of the Lady Vols’ last Final Four appearance.
”We owe it to Pat,” Burdick said. ”She gave us a chance to put on this Lady Vol uniform and to have confidence in us to get the job done. We want to get to Tampa for this program, for this team, for (coach) Holly (Warlick), for Pat. We deserve to be there.”
Harrison tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee last month, so she’s forced to watch from the sidelines. She was averaging 12.2 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Burdick averages 11.0 points and 7.2 boards, while Massengale scores 10.9 per game. Junior forward Bashaara Graves averages 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Burdick and Massengale have asserted themselves even more since Harrison’s injury. Warlick said earlier in the season Burdick and Massengale often deferred to Harrison.
”When she went out, somebody had to step up, and both of them have really done a fantastic job,” Warlick said. ”They’ve both stepped up their game as well.”