Tennessee comfortable again being team to beat

BY foxsports • March 19, 2010

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 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.

The Flyers (24-7) are making their NCAA tournament debut 15 years after moving to Division I.

``There's a lot of emotion that goes along with it, but at the same time it almost hasn't hit me that we are in the NCAA tournament,'' sophomore forward Justine Raterman said. ``This is what we've dreamed of and have been working for all season, and now it's finally here.''

TCU (22-8) has reached the second round of the tournament in five of their eight appearances, most recently winning in 2006 as an 11th seed.

Horned Frogs coach Jim Mittie discarded talk that his team's tournament experience will make a difference against Dayton. He noted TCU's loss to NCAA newcomer South Dakota State 90-55 in the first round last year, where the Jackrabbits overcame any nerves by hitting 16 3-pointers.

``It's really about your team is prepared coming in. I think that can be an overrated part of this. For every time you see one of those teams be really nervous and not play well, you see another one play great. It really just depends on the makeup of your team,'' Mittie said.

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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.


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