March 15, 2010
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."
TENNESSEE LADY VOL POST-SELECTION SHOW QUOTES
HEAD COACH Pat Summitt
(On the current state of her team):
"I think we really have a lot of confidence. I think we're very invested. I think this team took ownership a long time ago and they're holding on to it. If I have an issue, I'll just walk over to (junior guard) Angie Bjorklund and tell her to take care of it or I'll talk to Kelley Cain and say, `you need to make sure that everything's in check,' and I think their leadership has put us in this position."
(On this year's tournament):
"I'm just excited for our basketball team, our program and our fans. We've got the greatest fans in the game and I want them to come out and really support us. Certainly, this team has kept everybody in check and they've worked hard. They're getting in extra shots outside of practice. I think that's why our shooting percentage has gone up so much."
(On the importance of playing the first two rounds at home):
"I think being at home in your comfort zone and sleeping in our own beds is a real plus for us because we are still a young team. I think getting that situation is really good for a young team and we're predominantly sophomores."
(On how close her team is to being a championship-level team):
"I think we're very close. If our practices are any indication, this group is really focused. I feel that from them in practice. We've only had a couple of players who I didn't feel that from. One of them was Glory Johnson. I met with her today and we had a heart-to-heart. She's got to play for us and so does Kamiko Williams. Those are two of our best athletes. If those two athletes invest in this team, it's going to be a hard team to beat."
SOPHOMORE FORWARD Glory Johnson
(On what it means to earn a No. 1 seed):
"I'm excited about just playing in general. It doesn't matter who we play because we have to bring the same effort no matter what team we play against."
(On getting a chance to atone for last season):
"We kind of showed everybody a new side of us. We just have to continue doing what we're doing and play the way we've been playing so that people don't underestimate us anymore."
(On the importance of playing the first two rounds at home):
"I love playing in Knoxville. The fans and the support that we'll have here in Knoxville while we play will help so much. Being in my hometown will be great."
FRESHMAN GUARD Kamiko Williams
(On her first NCAA Tournament game): "I'm very excited. I'm glad that it's a home game so it won't be as nerve-wracking as it would be somewhere else. I'm real anxious but when game time comes, you've got to bring it. It's really counting now."
(On how the intensity level changes in the postseason):
"Coach has been pushing us and trying to get the best out of us, telling us that we need to play to a higher level. She has been stressing to Glory and me that she needs us out there and we took that to heart. Our teammates have been helping us and when we bring energy out there, it picks them up. We've been feeding off each other and there hasn't been any negativity."
JUNIOR GUARD Angie Bjorklund
(On the possibility of playing the first four games of the tournament in the state of Tennessee):
"We learned last year that we focus on one game at a time. I'm so excited to be playing at home, everything is going to be familiar for us. If we get there (Memphis) it's going to be great playing there, in Tennessee. Anywhere we go the fan support is going to be incredible; that's one of the reasons I came to Tennessee, it's the best in the country."
(On how prepared the team in heading into the NCAA Tournament):
"Just having the couple of years of experience and the underclassmen getting the year of experience, we've been preparing ourselves since postseason last year. Everybody is ready and excited and really prepared for this. Every single person on our team has put a lot of time and energy in and I think it's made a lot of difference."
SOPHOMORE GUARD/FORWARD Alicia Manning
(On the mindset on the team going into the Tournament):
"Our overall attitude going into the tournament is completely different. We know this year we can't take any team for granted and that we have to come prepared every game to play hard and put everything we have on the floor."
(On the difference between 2009 and 2010):
"My investment and my commitment have changed. I've been getting in the gym more working on my game and I think it's paid off. Coming off of last season we spent the entire month after Ball State doing some soul searching. We had to figure out what we had to do and where we had to be for this season. We had to work hard every day, the whole team had to put in time and work on getting better every day."
SOPHOMORE GUARD Shekinna Stricklen
(On becoming more of a leader this season):
"Coach (Pat Summitt) has been on me about turning my volume up, stepping up and being a leader. I feel like I have stepped up to the challenge. Going into the NCAA Tournament, I'm really going to have to be a leader, control the point guard spot and take care of the ball. I'm going to have to make sure we're all together."
(On Tennessee earning a No.1 seed):
"It means a lot to us - especially after last year. We have worked hard and improved a lot. This season, we've played well and really earned that No. 1 spot. It feels great. Usually Tennessee is at a No. 1 seed every year. I feel like we are back to the way Tennessee is supposed to be. It just makes us all feel good. We're all really excited and confident, and we're ready for the tournament to get going."
SOPHOMORE POST Alyssia Brewer
(On what it means to earn a No. 1 seed after receiving a five-seed last season):
"For one, we're a lot better than we were last year - so that makes a big difference. Also, we're a whole different team than we were last year. We've been through some ups and downs. Last year there were more downs than ups, but I think we've gotten stronger as a team this year."
(On how winning the SEC Tournament prepares the team for the NCAAs):
"I think it prepared us really well because we saw the kind of mentality we needed to be able to pull out three games in a row. We did a good job of that."
(On the NCAA Tournament field as a whole):
"It's the tournament - you don't know what's going to happen. I was glad to see so many SEC teams made the tournament. Our out-of-conference schedule ranges from East Coast to West Coast. We play everywhere. I was expecting some of the teams we played out-of-conference to be in it."
FRESHMAN Taber Spani
(On playing in the first NCAA Tournament of her career):
"It's really exciting. I'm really excited about this team. We're focused. As freshmen, we've watched it growing up for so many years, and now it's special. Now I'm sitting in a circle with this team. Getting the No. 1 seed and seeing the bracket is a dream come true. We're really looking forward to Saturday."