Kelley Cain (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
March 22, 2009
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) -- Tennessee's title defense ended sooner than expected, wrapping up the worst season ever for Pat Summitt's vaunted program.
Ball State stunned the two-time defending national champions 71-55 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday night, snapping one of the more remarkable streaks in college basketball history.
The Lady Volunteers (22-11) had never lost in the first two rounds of the tournament, going 42-0 through the years.
Tennessee also became the first defending champ to lose its opening game in the women's tourney. Old Dominion won the title in 1985 and failed to make the tournament the following year.
"I thought we were tentative, maybe uptight," Summitt said. "But you have to give credit where credit is due and that's to the Ball State basketball team. They had a lot more toughness. They beat us to loose balls. They made shots."
The 12th-seeded Cardinals (26-8), who were making their NCAA debut, will play Iowa State in the second round on Tuesday.
Porchia Green led Ball State with 23 points, Audrey McDonald added 18 and the Mid-American Conference champions dominated the second half to capture the biggest win in school history.
Even the Cardinals were stunned by the decisive upset.
"I would be lying to you if I told you I thought it would be a 16-point victory," Ball State guard Kiley Jarrett said. "It hasn't hit me yet. It is just unbelievable."
The way the Cardinals fearlessly challenged the Lady Vols, it might not have mattered if Cain was available.
Green and Jarrett did whatever they wanted against the bigger -- but decidedly slower -- Lady Vols. Using their speed to blow by defenders, Green and Jarrett were able to get into the lane or find open teammates.
The Lady Vols, meanwhile, appeared to be a step behind all night.
"Their guards did an awesome job," Tennessee's Angie Bjorklund said. "We need to get down and defend no matter what and we didn't do that today."
Ball State took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Emily Maggert with just over 14 minutes remaining and Tennessee had no response.
The Cardinals pushed the lead to 10 on a pair of free throws by Jarrett with 7:20 to go and Tennessee would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.
"To go out and do what they just did, it's going to take us a really long time to get our minds around the accomplishment that they have been able to achieve," said first-year Ball State coach Kelly Packard, who has 26 career wins, or 979 less than Summitt.
Jarrett celebrated the victory by jumping into Green's arms at midcourt as the buzzer sounded while the large contingent of the orange-clad Tennessee fans who made their way to E.A. Diddle Arena walked to the exits in stunned silence.
This one may take a while to sink in for a program that had never lost to a team seeded lower than fourth in the NCAAs.
Getting through the first two rounds has been a mere formality for the Lady Vols through the years, as Tennessee used its perfect opening weekend record to win eight national championships, including titles behind star Candace Parker each of the last two seasons.
Parker is long gone now and the seven freshmen that comprise the core of the youngest team of Summitt's remarkable coaching career will have to wait at least another year to get a shot at No. 9.
The Cardinals made sure of that.
Tennessee lost each of its starters from last year's team to graduation. That, coupled with inexperience, led to a very unTennessee-like season.
The Lady Vols lost 10 games during the year -- eight of them to ranked teams -- and entered the tournament with the lowest seeding in the program's history.
Still, Summitt remained optimistic the Lady Vols would respond to the challenge of playing on college basketball's biggest stage.
The team watched a documentary of the 1997 national championship season on the trip to Bowling Green. The Lady Vols entered that season's tournament with 10 losses before things clicked in March.
The players hoped history would repeat itself.
Instead the Lady Vols made the kind of history they were hoping to avoid.