Over two weeks ago, the Tennessee women’s basketball team looked as if it had all but made its mark on the wrong side of program history.
For the first time ever, the Lady Vols had lost to Vanderbilt on their home floor. That Vanderbilt team came into the contest 1-13 in SEC play.
The consensus around the country was that the loss would be the one to keep Tennessee out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the tournament’s 38-year history.
With one more regular season game at Ole Miss and the SEC Tournament right after, that probably would have been the time to fold for the Lady Vols, but they didn’t let the projections get to them.
After trouncing the Rebels on the road, Tennessee earned a big, second round win the conference tournament over LSU to reverse their fortunes. The fight it showed against top-seeded Mississippi State in the semifinals also helped, and probably was enough to show the selection committee that they were worthy of continuing on in postseason.
On Monday, those speculations were confirmed with release of the official NCAA Tournament bracket at 5 p.m. after the bracket was accidentally leaked on ESPNU several hours earlier, forcing ESPN to move its bracket release from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The Lady Vols (19-12) were named an 11-seed, facing off against 6-seeded UCLA (20-12) in the first round of the Albany Region.
The meeting will mark the 20th time that Tennessee and UCLA have played each other, as well as the first meeting in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Vols are 18-1 versus the Bruins, last playing each other during the 2011 regular season.
The game will be played on Saturday at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Maryland, at 1:00 p.m.
Also competing in College Park will be the 3-seed host school, Maryland (28-4), who will play No. 14 seed Radford (26-6). The winners of both games will play each other in the second round on Monday.
All-time, Tennessee is 30-1 in NCAA First Round games and 6-0 under head coach Holly Warlick. Only twice in the Warlick era have first round games taken place away from Thompson-Boling Arena.
According to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme, the Albany Region is the hardest of the tournament, with No. 1 seed Louisville, No. 2 seed UConn, No. 4 seed Oregon State and No. 8 seed Michigan also included in the 16-team region.