The Tennessee State Lady Tigers found out where they were going in their first trip to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship since 1995, and it is a familiar place. TSU drew a #15-seed in the Albany Regional. For the second time this season, they will play the #2-seed Kentucky Wildcats on Friday afternoon at 1:30 pm. The game will be televised on ESPN2. Kentucky defeated Tennessee State 87-75 on December 28.
Kentucky comes in at 23-9 and off a semifinal loss in the SEC Tournament against Tennessee. UK is 16-11 all-time in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, reaching the Elite Eight four times and the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. The other matchup to be played at Memorial Coliseum will be between #7 Dayton and #10 Iowa State at 11 am on Friday. The winners of these two games will meet on Sunday at 1:30 pm.
The Lady Tigers got off to a great start in the first meeting up 14-6 early, but the ‘Cats answered with a 33-10 run fueled by mistakes. Kentucky forced TSU into an uncharacteristic 29 turnovers, leading to a chaotic game seeing 26 fouls called on TSU leading to 43 UK free throws. Without the surprise contribution from freshman Alexis Jennings, 27 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench for Kentucky, the outcome may have been different. Brianna Lawrence led the Tigers with 19 points; Chelsea Hudson chipped in 16 with nine rebounds; Imani Davis added 13 with 11 rebounds off the bench; and Rachel Allen had eight assists but six turnovers.
The Wildcats average four in double figures led by McKayla Epps at 14.5 and Jennifer O’Neill at 14.4. Linnae Harper led the team with 6.8 rebounds per game while Azia Bishop blocked 52 shots. As a team, none of Kentucky’s numbers are overly impressive.
The ‘Cats shot 39.5% from the field, 28% from three, 67.1% from the line—and only outrebounded their opponents by 0.4 per game, committing 190 more turnovers than they had assists. On a 10-game winning streak and with all the confidence in the world, based off the first meeting, this is very much a winnable game for TSU. A historic upset is not out of the question.
Elsewhere in the women’s draw, the Tennessee Lady Vols avoided Connecticut as the #2-seed in the Spokane Regional. The Lady Vols will host Boise State on Saturday at 12:30 pm on ESPN2. UT is 54-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament games at home. Boise won the Mountain West tournament and went 22-10.
The other game in Knoxville will match #7 Chattanooga and #10 Pittsburgh.
The Lady Mocs, coached by former Vanderbilt and Ohio State Coach Jim Foster, are 29-3 and on a 25-game winning streak. Their only three losses are all to tournament teams, and their highlight was a 67-63 win at home on November 26 over Tennessee. This is the highest seed ever for the Mocs who are but 1-12 in the tournament, with the lone win coming in 2004 over Rutgers at home. They then fell in the second round to second-seeded Vanderbilt.
Connecticut is the #1-overall seed and is in the Albany Region; Notre Dame #2 placed in the Oklahoma City Region; South Carolina #3 sent to the Greensboro Region; and Maryland #4 put in the Spokane Regional. Based on this, Tennessee would figure as #5 overall. The SEC placed seven teams into the tournament.
One piece of late breaking news: On Monday, Georgia Coach Andy Landers retired after 36 years as coach, one of the great coaches of all-time.