Lady Vols put perfect NCAA home record on the line
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee is ready to put its perfect NCAA tournament home record on the line.
The Lady Vols have won all 52 NCAA tournament games it's played on their home floor, a streak top-seeded Tennessee (27-5) will try to extend Saturday when it hosts No. 16 seed Northwestern State (21-12). No. 8 seed St. John's (22-10) meets No. 9 seed Southern California (22-12) in the other first-round game at Knoxville.
''I don't think we are paying it much mind,'' Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said. ''I guess it's a great statistic for you all, but we're just focused on coming out and playing our game. We leave the statistics and the records for you all.''
At least one person from Northwestern State knows what it's like to beat the Lady Vols in Knoxville.
Northwestern State co-coach Brooke Stoehr played for a Louisiana Tech team that beat Tennessee 69-64 on Nov. 14, 1999, to snap the Lady Vols' 41-game home winning streak. Stoehr, who was known as Brooke Lassiter at the time, said she's told her team about that game.
''What I didn't tell them was that there were about five WNBA players on that (Louisiana Tech) team,'' Stoehr quipped. ''They didn't need to hear that.''
In Saturday's other first-round matchup, Southern California tries to extend a six-game winning streak that includes a Pac-12 tournament title. Southern California was 16-12 and unsure of its postseason status before going on this late surge that included a Pac-12 semifinal upset of Stanford.
''The fact that our season could be ending was looming over our head,'' USC forward Cassie Harberts said. ''One game could be our last, and we knew what we had to do to even get a chance to get into the NCAA tournament.''
Southern California is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. St. John's is making its fifth consecutive appearance.
USC ''is a team that certainly got hot,'' St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said. ''They're coming in hot. We know that. We also feel that we have all the tools necessary to match up.''
Here are five things to know about Friday's NCAA tournament action in Knoxville.
TROJAN TURNAROUND: USC is in the tournament just one year after going 11-20 and matching the highest loss total in school history. USC is on a six-game winning streak that caps a remarkable resurgence under new coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, a two-time WNBA most valuable player who played on USC's 1983 and 1984 national championship teams. ''When I first took over the program, I absolutely believed we had the ability to play postseason basketball in the NCAA tournament,'' Cooper-Dyke said. ''I absolutely believed we had the level of talent. I still thought we had to work on and change the culture.''
STREAKY ST. JOHN'S: St. John's won 11 consecutive games at one point in the season to climb into the Top 25, but the Red Storm followed that up by losing four straight. St. John's now is back on the upswing, as the Red Storm won three straight games before falling 65-57 to DePaul in the Big East tournament final.
COACHING COUPLE: Northwestern State's Brooke and Scott Stoehr are the first co-head coaches to reach the NCAA tournament since Louisville's Martin Clapp and Sara White in 1999. Scott Stoehr coached against Brooke when Scott was an assistant at North Texas and Brooke played at Louisiana Tech. ''She drove me crazy because she was kind of their glue player,'' Scott Stoehr said. But they didn't get to know each other until Scott was an assistant and Brooke a graduate assistant at Florida State in 2002-03.
TENNESSEE CONNECTIONS: Stoehr's experience beating the Lady Vols during her playing career at Louisiana Tech isn't the only link between Tennessee and Northwestern State. Joan Cronan, the Tennessee women's athletic director from 1983 to 2011, coached Northwestern State in 1967-68 when women's basketball was a club program.
AILING MASSENGALE: Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale doesn't know whether she'll play the rest of the season. Massengale hasn't played since inadvertently getting hit in the face Jan. 23 in a victory over Florida. Massengale, who says she has a history of concussions dating back to high school, said the incident left her with a head injury and that she's still dealing with headaches. Tennessee coach Holly Warlick says she's ''probably 99.9 percent sure'' Massengale won't play this weekend. ''I'm still staying hopeful and prayerful that things may turn around,'' Massengale said. ''You never know. If it happens, great. If not, I'm going to be the biggest cheerleader for this team.''