Tennessee began its NCAA women's basketball tournament preparations in earnest Tuesday by bracing for a bomb squad.
Ball State, the Lady Vols' opening opponent, doesn't resemble a first-round long shot when you consider its long-range shooting.
The No. 5 seed Lady Vols (22-10) and the No. 12 Cardinals (25-8) play at approximately 9:30 p.m. Sunday (TV: ESPN2) in the second game of a Berkeley (Calif.) regional doubleheader in Bowling Green, Ky. No. 4 Iowa State and No. 13 East Tennessee State play in the first game.
The winners meet Tuesday night in the second round for a trip to the regional semifinals.
Ball State has made 239 3-pointers this season in 660 attempts (36.2 percent accuracy). That total already would be a Tennessee single-season record, with two 3-pointers to spare.
Nearly 35 percent of the Cardinals' 1,914 field goal attempts have come from long range. To say that UT's defense will be stretched is certainly no stretch.
Although the Lady Vols put a greater emphasis on defending the 3-point shot after Oklahoma freshman Whitney Hand went 4-for-5 from long range against them on Feb. 2, they still have given up more 3-pointers to date (166) than they've scored (161).
"We have to have a sense of urgency about defending the three ball,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said.
The mindset during Tuesday's practice had its beginning in Monday night's tournament selection show, which featured candid comments from Summitt about the difficulties she's experienced in coaching her young team. The show also highlighted UT's relatively pedestrian place in the 64-team field as the lowest-seeded team in school history.
UT's tournament profile didn't seem to cast a long shadow over Ball State. The Cardinals gathered to watch the selection show at a Damons Grill in Muncie, Ind.
"Seeing them as a five seed, you know they're beatable,'' Ball State's Danielle Gratton told the Muncie Star Press.
Summitt thought that the evening put the tournament in perspective for the younger Lady Vols, particularly how it relates to Tennessee.
"The freshmen, I'm sure, sitting there, they realize how important this tournament is and what a big deal it is,'' Summitt said.
If anything, the rookies seemed energized afterward.
"I'm just ready to get this show on the road,'' freshman point guard Briana Bass said.
Summitt will gear this week's preparations toward preserving that feeling.
After meeting Monday night with Heather Mason, the Lady Vols' strength and conditioning coach, Summitt is following Mason's advice and giving the team today off.
"She said we have to have our legs at this time of year,'' Summitt said. "They can be the first thing to go. So I want to make sure they stay fresh."
The university being on spring break should help in this regard. Sophomore guard Angie Bjorklund had four mid-term exams last week.
"I know a lot of my teammates had a lot of tests (too),'' Bjorklund said. "Just having that out of the way and having a week off from school and just focusing on basketball is going to be huge for us. Getting good rest, taking care of the little things, that will help us get ready."
No classes also will afford Summitt the opportunity to meet with each player, which she plans to do. Her intention is to reinforce not only expectations but also the opportunity before them.
"We're not the top dog, we're the underdog,'' Summitt said. "And they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by laying it on the line."