KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Cierra Burdick had 21 points and 11 rebounds as Tennessee relied on its smothering defense to pull away from St. John’s for a 67-51 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday night.
Tennessee, the top seed in the Louisville Regional, advanced to a regional semifinal Sunday against the winner of Tuesday’s game between No. 4 seed Maryland and No. 5 seed Texas.
Although St. John’s (23-11) never led, the eighth-seeded Red Storm tied the game 39-39 with 16:59 remaining. St. John’s would score just two more points over the next nine minutes as its hopes for an upset disintegrated. The Red Storm shot 5 of 24 overall and 5 of 11 from the free-throw line and committed 13 turnovers in the second half.
Meighan Simmons scored 17 points as Tennessee (29-5) won for the 15th time in its last 16 games. Isabelle Harrison had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Aliyyah Handford scored 23 for St. John’s.
Tennessee improved to 54-0 in NCAA tournament home games and reached the third round for the 32nd time in the 33-year history of this event. The only time the Lady Vols failed to get past the second round was in 2009, when they lost their opener to Ball State.
This marked the second straight game in which Tennessee dominated its opponent only after being tied early in the second half.
The Red Storm erased an early 11-point deficit and pulled even thanks largely to Handford.
She sank a pair of free throws with 16:59 left to tie the game at 39 and draw St. John’s even for the first time since the opening tip.
Tennessee regained the lead 36 seconds later on a Burdick putback, and the game slowed to a crawl from there. The two teams combined for 10 points in the first 9 minutes, 22 seconds of the second half, as neither offense could get out of its own way.
But the Lady Vols gradually pulled away by relying on their superior size and stifling defense.
Simmons scored eight points during a 16-2 run that turned a 43-41 advantage into a 59-43 runaway. Nobody other than Handford scored for St. John’s in the second half until Amber Thompson finally made a basket with 5:20 left in the game
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