The NCAA Women’s Basketball playoffs always bring surprise and drama, but I can’t think of any greater shock than watching the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers fall to first-time dancers Ball State last Sunday.
The result was more than a blow to me, as a die-hard Lady Vols fan(atic). The game was historic — it was UT’s first loss in the first round of the WBB championship. It was the team’s first tourney loss to a seed lower than four. And it was the first time ever that the previous season’s defending champion lost in the first round.
Worst of all, however, is the fact that Vols fans can’t blame officiating or injuries or exhaustion. Ball State simply outplayed Tennessee. Just writing that gives me a slight lump in my throat. Watching the Lady Vols play is one of my favorite things in the world. And coach Pat Summitt is a personal hero.
Summitt has coached the Lady Vols since 1974 — she was 22 years old. Earlier this year, she won her 1,000th game, the most wins for any coach, male or female. Yet, this year, she had a team that never quite got it. Yes, they are young. But the passion and focus that make UT so much fun to watch was missing. And Pat is not about to let her women off the hook. Tuesday afternoon, the Lady Vols had practice.
“We’re not going to accept losing in the first round game and go on spring break; no,” Summit said. Before practice, in a team meeting, Summit had asked her players if they planned to stay. “We went around the table and I said, ‘you in or out. We need to know. I told them if you want to leave now’s the time. We’re getting ready to raise the bar on expectations.’”
Meanwhile, the Sweet Sixteen is this weekend. Oklahoma, Stanford, UConn and Maryland are still present and accounted for, as expected. But Purdue sent North Carolina home and Duke fell to its coach’s former team Michigan State, led by rookie coach and Sissy Spacek look-alike Suzy Merchant.
Rutgers rallied from an iffy season to crush Auburn, and injury-plagued AZ State defeated three-seed Florida State.
Ohio State, Vandy, Pittsburgh, Cal, Iowa State, Louisville, and Texas A&M are also on deck for the weekend. Wait, that’s just 15 — who’s missing?
Oh, that’s right — my alma mater. How silly of me. Never mind that I dream about Kim Mulkey punching the air on her way to consoling Geno with a soft “Good game” after Baylor CRUSHES UConn. Hey, you have your fantasies; I have mine.
What are your predictions for the WBB playoffs? Who will take home the trophy? Can UT return to glory next season?