Monday, March 15, 2010

Lady Vols Get No. 1 Seed in Memphis Regional

KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee's offseason work paid off. The Lady Vols have earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament a year after their worst postseason finish.

"They wanted to get better," coach Pat Summitt said. "I think they were embarrassed. They made history in a bad way, so now I think they want to make history in a good way."

The Lady Vols drew a No. 5 seed last year -- their lowest ever -- and lost to Ball State in their first opening round defeat in school history.

This year, all is right in Knoxville again -- so far.

Winning the Southeastern Conference's regular-season and tournament titles helped Tennessee (29-2) grab the top seed in the Memphis, Tenn., regional, which will be played 350 miles away from its campus. It's the 20th time the program has earned a No. 1 spot.

"It feels great because usually Tennessee is a No. 1 seed, and I just feel like we're back to Tennessee -- the way Tennessee is supposed to be," sophomore guard Shekinna Stricklen said.

The Lady Vols, who finished ranked third in the final Top 25 poll, will open against Austin Peay on Saturday on their home court in Knoxville named for Summitt. The Govs (15-17) are the eighth team in NCAA history to make the tournament with a losing record.

Two of Summitt's brothers attended Austin Peay, which is located in Clarksville, Tenn., 200 miles from Knoxville and just 13 miles from her hometown of Henrietta, Tenn. The Lady Vols have won all five meetings between the two teams.

Austin Peay lost to top-ranked Duke in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament.

"Tennessee is a tremendous team and has had a great season, and you know they're going to make a great run in the tournament," Austin Peay coach Carrie Daniels said "We're going to go step on the court having the experience of being in the tournament last year. Hopefully we'll draw from that experience and go out there and give them a good game."

Also in the Memphis regional are: No. 2 Duke, No. 3 West Virginia, No. 4 Baylor, No. 5 Georgetown, No. 6 Texas and No. 7 LSU. Tennessee beat Baylor, Texas and LSU during the regular season.

But the more anticipated matchup is the possible Final Four meeting with undefeated Connecticut. Geno Auriemma's Huskies have won an NCAA record 72 straight games, but none of them have come against the Lady Vols since Summitt ended their annual matchup in 2007.

"A lot of this (bracket arrangement) has to do with what they want to see," Summitt said. "I think a lot of people feel this is a matchup that we've got to have for the NCAA tournament and women's basketball. I'm not looking down the road at all though."

The Lady Vols graduated only one player last year and the three juniors, seven sophomores and three freshmen who returned worked harder in the offseason than any Tennessee team had for the better part of a decade to improve.

It paid off with Tennessee's first regular-season SEC title in three seasons and a 70-62 win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship. It's the first time the Lady Vols have taken both crowns since 2000, when they lost to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game.

"We've worked hard, and we've proven a lot," Stricklen said. "I feel like we've really earned that No. 1 spot."

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