Austin Peay-Tennessee Preview
One thing has changed for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers as they prepare for their 20th NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed.
They're comfortable once again being the team to beat.
A season ago, Tennessee was loaded with freshmen and the Lady Vols were uncomfortable being the favorite. It showed as they lost 71-55 in the opening round to 12th-seeded Ball State.
``We definitely have a big target on our backs,'' sophomore center Kelley Cain said. ``That makes it more fun. We want to be sought after, and we want to be the team that everyone wants to beat.''
The loss to Ball State was the Lady Vols first-ever exit in the opening round of the tournament. They made a commitment to playing and training harder this season to keep from being embarrassed again.
``Our basketball team has worked hard to put us in this position,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. ``We're real serious, and we'll be focused.''
Austin Peay (15-17), who will face Tennessee (30-2) in the first round on Saturday, isn't intimidated by the team that's a top seed for a record 20th time and NCAA-best eight national championships.
The Lady Govs, who are the eighth team in history to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record, closed their season on a four-game winning streak to take the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship.
``In the tournament anybody can beat anybody, it's just a matter of who shows up and who is playing hard,'' Austin Peay junior guard Ashley Herring said. ``It's just about going out there and playing hard and competing, and whoever is the best team at that time will win.''
The Lady Govs' task isn't an easy one. They're playing in Tennessee's home arena on the court named ``The Summitt'' for the Lady Vols' legendary coach.
Despite the struggles of a season ago, Tennessee has only lost three times in the past three seasons in Knoxville and are undefeated at home this season.
``We have the best fan support anywhere we go, but especially at home. We have a regular routine and we can sleep in our own beds. Having that kind of comfort will help us and give us an advantage,'' junior guard Angie Bjorklund said.
Tennessee is bigger than Austin Peay at every position, but the Lady Govs have had some experience being undersized having played Xavier and Pittsburgh during the regular season. They were routed by Xavier but lost by only a point to Pittsburgh.
``At one point or the other during the season, we played five teams that had been in the Top 25, so we have gone up against some top caliber teams,'' Austin Peay coach Carrie Daniels said. ``But I think the size is something our players are going to have to be aware of, and they can't back down to that.''
The winner of the game will face either No. 8 Dayton or No. 9 TCU.