Last August, the Lady Vols were looking at an overhauled roster, a new head coach and a schedule…
Lady Vols earn No. 2 seed in tourney
The Lady Vols gathered high atop Neyland Stadium to watch the brackets be unveiled on ESPN and it played out the same as it did a year ago. The name of Tennessee didn't show up in the first three regions, so the Lady Vols knew before they saw it on the big screen that they were assigned to Baylor's lair. One can only presume that the selection committee forgot to put Tennessee there in 2011 as the Lady Vols have been matched with Baylor's Brittany Griner for three of the four years she has been in Waco – Memphis in 2010, Des Moines in 2012 and now Oklahoma City in 2013. "I don't know many people that would say I'd love to be in Baylor's bracket," Head coach Holly Warlick said. "I think everyone in Baylor's bracket would want to be in the other ones, but it is what it is. They play the game, and we have to play the game. "Potentially we could possible play Baylor for the third time in Brittney Griner's senior year. Any bracket is going to be tough, and so we're going to take it one game at a time. We've got some solid teams in Knoxville." That was definitely Cierra Burdick's response when asked about Baylor. The sophomore's stock answer was Oral Roberts. That would be Tennessee's first round opponent. The Lady Vols, the No. 2 seed in the region, will play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: ESPN2) against No. 15 seed Oral Roberts (18-12), the winner of the Southland Conference tourney. It will be the Golden Eagles first trip back to the NCAA tourney since 2008 when they played Tennessee in Lafayette, Ind., in the first round. Oral Roberts' Kevi Luper, a 5-10 senior guard from Adair. Okla., led the Golden Eagles with 26 points in the tourney title game to secure the berth. Oral Roberts, located in Tulsa, Okla., also played in the NCAA tourney in 1999, 2001, 2005 and 2007. The other two teams assigned to Knoxville are No. 7 seed Syracuse (24-7) and No. 10 seed Creighton (24-7). That game will tip off at 11:20 a.m. (TV: ESPN2) on Saturday. The winners play Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern for the right to head west. Syracuse earned an at-large bid out of the Big East Conference and went 11-5 in league play. The Orange are back in the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2008. Other appearances for Syracuse were in 1985, 1988 and 2002. Creighton earned an at-large bid out of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bluejays nearly upset No. 3 seed St. John's in Norman, Okla., a year ago in the NCAA tourney but fell 69-67. Creighton's other tournament appearances were in 1992, 1994 and 2002. The assistant coaches had selected their scout teams and were retrieving game film before the post-selection show media interviews had concluded. After a week of practice without an opponent, the Lady Vols were thrilled to see a bracket with names on it so that preparations could begin. While Tennessee may be in Baylor's bracket, the coaches' immediate message to the players was that much work had to be done to get to an Elite Eight matchup. Tennessee will enter postseason with a roster of 10 – sophomore post Isabelle Harrison has returned to practice after a right knee injury – and four of the players will be suiting up for an NCAA tourney game for the first time in their careers. The Lady Vols have never lost an NCAA tourney game at home, a feat that was a surprise to the youngsters. Marquette came close in 2011 so seniors Kamiko Williams and Taber Spani and junior Meighan Simmons can sound that warning to the freshmen and sophomores. The message to the players Monday was to focus on the next team on the schedule, an apt approach given some uneven performances this season and a roster of youth. Only Spani and Simmons have started an NCAA tourney game. The Lady Vols also accentuated the positive – they earned a two seed in what was definitely a rebuilding year with a new head coach and a roster overhauled by graduation. "It's great, it's a great seeding and a great bracket," freshman Bashaara Graves said. The Lady Vols have already overachieved this season by winning the SEC regular season. They also have dropped games they should have won. None of it matters now. The NCAA tourney is the final season within the season. "I think any game is a chance for redemption for us, because we were ranked twenty-something before we even started this journey," Warlick said. "I think the opportunity to play and these ladies perform, and whoever they play we're going to be ready." The spacious suite in the football stadium was suitably decorated for basketball. There were placards that welcomed attendees to the event and outlined the program's history. The players and coaches had place cards for their seats in front of a wall of televisions, and they drank from cups with the Lady Vol logo. A Lady Vol banner was draped on one table, and etched pieces of glass with the Lady Vol logo were placed throughout the suite. A catered meal of chicken, salmon, sweet potatoes, broccoli and salad was served, along with an orange-and-white cake. The players were in a festive mood before and after the show with two freshmen sneaking out a tray of cookies. A sophomore made the mistake of getting on the elevator with two cookies and had them confiscated by the assistant coaches. The Lady Vols seemed momentarily aghast at getting Baylor's region yet again, but they bounced back quickly, something they have done all season. "Everyone knows and respects Baylor, and we all know they're a great team, but we also believe in who we are and what we can do," Spani said. "They call it March Madness for a reason. You never know what's going to happen." Perhaps the night was best summed up Nia Moore, who was headed to Illinois until her intended head coach was fired. Jolette Law and Moore both ended up at Tennessee, Law as an assistant coach, Moore as a freshman post. "It's awesome," Moore said. "I'm overjoyed." INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE Players, staff watch the Selection Show Holly Warlick Jolette Law Taber Spani Meighan Simmons Cierra Burdick, Isabelle Harrison, Ariel Massengale Jasmine Jones, Bashaara Graves Andraya Carter
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