Tennessee loses for first time at home in NCAAs
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee winning at home had become a women’s NCAA Tournament lock.
But the tradition-rich program saw its remarkable streak finally come to an end on Sunday afternoon.
The Lady Vols lost for the first time at home in NCAA Tournament history when sixth-seeded Oregon State defeated third-seeded Tennessee 66-59 in the second round in front of a crowd of 4,338 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee had been 57-0 at home with most of those victories coming under late Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, who led the program to eight national championships. It’s the second straight season that Tennessee lost in the second round of the NCAAs and will miss the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program’s 37-year tournament history.
“You come here wanting to win championships and the expectations are extremely high. Sometimes the things thrown at these kids are unfair,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “They come wanting to learn and get better and just play the game. They get criticized quite a bit.”
Mercedes Russell finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds in the final game of her Tennessee career. Fellow senior Jaime Nared scored nine points on 3 of 14 shooting.
“It’s tough, obviously my last game as a college athlete. But I’m just blessed and thankful for the journey Jaime and I have been on,” Russell said. “It’s been awesome playing alongside her. I’m super thankful for our coaching staff and our university believing in us.”
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck read an article at 2 a.m. Sunday morning about Tennessee’s unblemished NCAA home record and thought, “How often in life do you have a chance to do something for the first time?”
He informed his players at shootaround, and the Beavers went out and added another chapter to their renaissance.
Marie Gulich had 14 points and 12 rebounds as Oregon State advanced to the regional semifinals for the third straight year.
“We had an opportunity to do something today that is really special and that is a first,” Rueck said. “So when the clock was ticking down right at the very end and we knew we had it, I just couldn’t hardly believe how far this team has come.”
Rueck can say the same for his program. The one-time Pac-12 Conference doormat has become a perennial contender with expectations to make deep tournament runs and share the stage with tradition-rich Tennessee.
Tennessee (24-8) and OSU (25-7) played an intense game befitting of two teams separated by only one spot in the AP poll entering the tournament.
Tennessee’s swarming pressure defense flustered OSU early, forcing turnovers and contested shots. The national leader in 3-point field goal percentage, OSU started 1 for 7 from behind the 3-point line in the first half.
The Lady Vols went on an 11-2 run in the first quarter, punctuated by a Jaime Nared 3-pointer, to take a 17-7 lead. But OSU switched to a zone defense in the second quarter that slowed UT’s offense and began hitting shots on the other end to claw back.
The Beavers embarked on a 13-2 run to take their first lead on two free throws by Kat Tudor with 2:44 remaining in the half. Rennia Davis hit a deep 3-pointer to send Tennessee into halftime with a 26-24 advantage.
The teams battled through a physical third quarter, with OSU attacking the basket and drawing fouls to end the quarter on an 11-2 run for a 44-39 advantage.
OSU grabbed two offensive rebounds to keep a possession alive to start the final quarter, and Mikayla Pivec capitalized with a 3-pointer to set the tone.
The Beavers gradually built their lead to as large as 13 points. Tennessee made a desperate attempt to rally in the final minutes, but OSU managed to keep the Lady Vols at bay and beat Tennessee for the first time in five attempts.
Tennessee: Although second-round exits won’t satisfy the Tennessee fan base, the future should be bright. The Lady Vols lose senior cornerstones Russell and Nared, but they started two freshmen (Davis and Evina Westbrook), had a freshman named SEC Sixth Woman of the Year (Anastasia Hayes) and have signed the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation. The only other time the Lady Vols failed to reach the Sweet 16 was 2009.
Oregon State: The Beavers were not an average No. 6 seed, and proved it. The switch to a zone defense in the second quarter changed the game for the Beavers and contained a Tennessee team that thrives on uptempo offense.
TESTS KEEP COMING
Oregon State hasn’t just been studying its NCAA opponents this weekend. The Beavers are scheduled to take finals next week before heading to Lexington. Pivec, a Bio-Health Science major with a 3.98 GPA, has finals in Health, Psychology 202, Physics and Organic Chemistry.
OSU advances to the Sweet 16 to play No. 2 Baylor or No. 7 Michigan in Lexington, Kentucky.