Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is still a little upset about her team bowing out of the NCAA tournament early two years in a row. A trip to the Final Four or national championship might help her forget, though.
The Lady Volunteers (31-2) earned their 21st No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on Monday night and will host Stetson on Saturday in Knoxville in the first round of the Dayton region.
After eight national championships, anything less than a trip to the Final Four is a disappointment for Summitt. In 2009, the fifth-seeded Lady Vols suffered the only opening-round loss in program history to Ball State, and in 2010, top-seeded Tennessee lost in the regional semifinals to Baylor.
“They’ve heard about it a whole lot,” Summitt said of the 2009 loss. “Ball State, it happened, but we learned a lot from it and we’ve improved obviously every year.”
Tennessee’s Dayton region draw puts it in position for a possible Final Four matchup with fellow No. 1 seed Connecticut, the team Summitt dropped from the regular season schedule after the 2006-07 season. Summitt and Geno Auriemma’s teams haven’t met since, despite strategic bracket arrangement by the NCAA selection committee.
Summitt isn’t talking about a potential matchup with the Huskies yet or about second-seeded Notre Dame, fourth-seeded Ohio State, sixth-seeded Oklahoma or any other Dayton region team for that matter.
“Our focus right now is on Tennessee and Stetson and finding out as much as we can about them and what we need to do to make our preparation the best it can be,” Summitt said. “I have all the confidence in the world.”
The Lady Vols have four all-time wins against Stetson, most recently a 83-33 victory in Knoxville on Nov. 20, 2005. The Hatters (20-12) earned an automatic bid after winning the Atlantic Sun Championship.
Tennessee ran through the Southeastern Conference undefeated and tacked on a tournament championship a week ago, cruising through those three games. Three other SEC teams earned NCAA bids: No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 10 seed Vanderbilt in the Spokane region and No. 6 seed Georgia in the Dallas region.
Even with the SEC accolades and No. 1 seed, the Lady Vols feel like they’re a bit under the radar with plenty of attention going to Connecticut and Baylor.
“After they got done (announcing the brackets), we all looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, they didn’t say anything about us,”’ junior forward Shekinna Stricklen said. “That’s OK. We have been down a little bit, but we feel like this is the year for us. We’ve got a lot of proving to do, proving to people that we can get to the Final Four.”