Tennessee and the three other women’s basketball teams convening this weekend for the Oklahoma City regional know their way to a Sweet 16 — and beyond.
The Lady Vols have been this way 31 times in their 32 NCAA women’s basketball tournament appearances. They’ve proceeded to 18 NCAA Final Fours and eight national championships. However, recent history suggests they’ve lost their way compared to the other semifinalists.
Baylor is the defending national champion. The Lady Bears have reached two Final Fours in the last three years.
Oklahoma, which is making its 10th Sweet 16 appearances, reached the Final Four in 2009 and 2010.
Louisville, appearing in its fourth regional semifinal in the past six seasons, played in the 2009 national championship game.
“I do expect the quality of basketball to be extremely high,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. “We’ve all been in these games that have such great weight.”
Another round of games begin with No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-7) playing No. 6 Oklahoma (24-10) at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena (TV: ESPN2). Top-seed Baylor (34-1) and No. 5 Louisville (26-8) follow in the other semifinal.
The winners meet at 9 p.m. Tuesday for a trip to the Final Four.
The Lady Vols haven’t survived a regional since passing through Oklahoma City in 2008. They went on
to win the national championship. No players are left from that team. Guard Alberta Auguste, a starter five years ago, did visit practice on Wednesday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
While Meighan Simmons can’t follow a leader, she can make out the trail blazed by Auguste and the other predecessors.
“It has a lot of impact,” the junior guard said of UT’s postseason history. “It sets the foundation for a lot of teams that come later on. I think for those teams that come later on, they have to remember the two things that have gotten teams there, which is defense and rebounding. If you continue to do that, anything is possible. You could follow in their footsteps, which is to get to a Final Four.”
Two other Lady Vols offered their own perspective on Tennessee’s tournament history. Ariel Massengale described it as incentive.
“It definitely comes with a lot of pride,” the sophomore point guard said. “Every time we step on the court, you don’t want to be that team that doesn’t make it to the Sweet 16 or don’t make it to the Elite Eight.”
After four years, senior guard Kamiko Williams doesn’t feel burdened by any related expectations.
“It’s pressure but, at the same time, we signed up for it,” she said. “It’s something I’ve been used to for four years.”
Among other topics covered on Wednesday:
UT coach Holly Warlick was named one of eight finalist for the WBCA Division I national coach of the year award. Simmons was chosen as one of 12 finalists for the State Farm Wade Trophy.
Williams said Lady Vols head coach emeritus Pat Summitt spoke to the team following Monday’s second-round victory over Creighton.
“To have her tell you that she loves you and that she’s proud of you and that she wants you to keep going forward, that means a lot,” Williams said.