KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s close call in its NCAA Tournament opener left Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick wanting to double-check Boise State’s record.
“I just told their coach, ‘I don’t know how you lost 10 games,'” Warlick said Saturday after the Lady Vols outlasted Boise State 72-61. “That was a great team, a great effort.”
Bashaara Graves scored a career-high 24 points as Tennessee (28-5) pulled away after creating some nervous moments for the partisan Thompson-Boling Arena crowd. Tennessee, the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region, advances to a second-round game Monday with No. 10 seed Pittsburgh (20-11), which beat Chattanooga 51-40.
The Lady Vols were clinging to a 63-58 lead after Boise State’s Camille Redmon made the front end of a one-and-one with 2:51 remaining. But Redmon missed her second free throw, and Tennessee’s Ariel Massengale sank a 3-pointer 13 seconds later to spark a game-clinching 8-0 run.
“I’m satisfied we got the ‘W,’ but we could do much better,” Graves said. “Our one-on-one defense has got to be tight right now. This is crunch time.”
Tennessee withstood an exceptional performance from Brooke Pahukoa, who scored 22 points for the 15th-seeded Broncos (22-11). She had 18 in the first half, when she shot 7 of 7.
“They’re a great team, but the net’s the same, the hoop’s the same, the court’s the same,” Pahukoa said. “You’re still going to be able to knock down the shots you always do. That’s what we went into the game thinking.”
Massengale scored 18 points for Tennessee, which outrebounded Boise State 46-28. Deanna Weaver had 13 points and Shalen Shaw had 10 for Boise State.
This game matched two programs with monumental differences in postseason experience.
Tennessee is the only program to appear in all 34 NCAA Tournaments and has reached at least the regional semifinals in all but one of them. Boise State was in the NCAA field for only the third time and was seeking its first tournament victory.
The only time the Lady Vols failed to get to at least the Sweet 16 was 2009, when they lost to Ball State in the opening round. The Lady Vols improved to 55-0 in NCAA Tournament games on their home floor.
“We weren’t coming here for any moral victories,” Boise State coach Gordy Presnell said. “Our kids really believed that we could win this. And we almost did.”
Tennessee seemed on the verge of putting the game away on a few occasions in the second half.
After a 3-pointer by Weaver cut Tennessee’s lead to 49-43 with 14:59 left, the Lady Vols went on an 11-2 run during a stretch of nearly seven minutes in which Boise State missed 10 straight field-goal attempts.
Boise State still wouldn’t go away and gradually crept back into the game.
“We were thinking we have nothing to lose,” Pahukoa said. “So we’re down 15. People thought we were going to be down 25 the whole game.”
The margin got all the way down to five before the Lady Vols finally delivered a knockout blow.
“We kind of had some lapses there midway through the second half, but with the maturity of this team, we pulled back together,” Massengale said. “We knew what it would take to get the ‘W.’ “
Tennessee: The Lady Vols remained unbeaten at Thompson-Boling Arena and tied a school record with their 17th home victory of the season. Tennessee will seek to finish unbeaten at home for a 15th time in this program’s storied history when it hosts Pittsburgh on Monday.
Boise State: The Broncos’ only previous trips to the NCAA Tournament were in 1994 and 2007.
Graves’ previous career high was a 23-point performance against Georgia Tech on Nov. 17, 2013. … Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick went scoreless for the first time since Nov. 21, but she did have 11 rebounds. Burdick also had double-digit rebounds in her only other scoreless performance of the season. … After going 7 of 7 for 18 points in the first half, Pahukoa was 2 of 5 for four points in the second half. … Boise State’s nine 3-pointers matched the highest total by a Tennessee opponent this season.
“I thought it was a great test for us, and we stepped up and finished the deal.” Warlick said.
Tennessee hosts Pittsburgh in a second-round game Monday.
Boise State enters next season having to replace two senior starters from Saturday’s game – Weaver and Redmon.
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