SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Tennessee is used to playing before large hostile crowds. In fact, some players seem to enjoy it.
”When the other team’s fans are booing us, we say: `They love us, they love us,”’ said Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick.
Second-seeded Tennessee is really going to feel the love Saturday when the Lady Vols face 11th-seeded Gonzaga in its hometown. The Sweet 16 matchup in Spokane won’t be on the Zags’ home court but their campus is only about a mile away so a large rooting section is to be expected.
Burdick said a hostile environment doesn’t bother the players. ”You are so in the zone you hardly hear anything,” she said.
Tennessee (29-5), which is making its longest trip ever to a regional, got here by winning two games at home, The winner of this game plays the winner of the game between No. 1 seed Maryland and No. 4 seed Duke.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick, a long-time Vols assistant who replaced Pat Summitt, said she respects Gonzaga’s program.
”They’re a veteran team,” Warlick said. ”They’re dangerous.”
Statistically, the programs are very similar, although Gonzaga likes to shoot more 3-pointers and spreads the floor out more, Warlick said.
The balanced Tennessee offense is led by Ariel Massengale, Bashaara Graves, and Burdick, all of whom are averaging double-digit scoring. Leading scorer Isabelle Harrison was lost for the season in February with a torn ACL.
Gonzaga (26-7) is led by first-year coach Lisa Fortier, who replaced Kelly Graves after he went to Oregon.
The Zags upset third-seeded Oregon State last weekend, their record eighth win as a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Zags are stoked to be playing in front of a friendly crowd, but that won’t decide the game, guard Elle Tinkle said.
”We didn’t have to travel far, but we still have to come out and play our best,” said Tinkle.
The two upset wins in Corvallis are in the past, and the team must remain focused on winning Saturday, she said.
”We knew we were not satisfied with just making the Sweet 16,” Tinkle said. ”We don’t want to be done yet.”
Fortier noted that the West Coast Conference doesn’t have many physical teams like Tennessee. But she is confident ”we can play that type of game.”
”We are both defense-oriented,” Fortier said. ”We have offensive and defensive weapons at all positions.”
Other things to watch Saturday:
THE SERIES: Gonzaga and Tennessee have played three times before, with the Lady Vols winning all three. Back when sisters Angie Bjorklund played for Tennessee and Jamie Bjorklund played for Gonzaga, the Lady Vols won a 2007 game in Knoxville, and a 2008 game in Spokane – the last time they played.
GONZAGA STREAKS: Gonzaga is making its seventh straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and eighth overall. The Bulldogs have never advanced to the Final Four. Gonzaga won at least 25 games for the seventh straight season.
TENNESSEE STREAKS: The Lady Vols are 26-6 all time in Sweet 16 games, and 119-25 all time in the NCAA Tournament. They rank first in games played and in wins. But they have not been to a Final Four since winning their last national title in 2008 in Tampa. This year’s finals are also in Tampa. ”What a better way than to go back to Tampa, the last place Pat won a national championship,” Burdick said.
OREGON TRAIL: Tennessee players Jordan Reynolds, Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared all hail from nearby Oregon. ”Those three players from Oregon are ecstatic” to be playing in the Northwest, Warlick said.
REGIONAL SWITCH: This regional tournament was originally scheduled for Sacramento, but was moved to Spokane because of scheduling conflicts with the Sacramento arena. ”It’s a happy accident for us,” Fortier said.