A monumental comeback, a milestone win, and an Elite Eight party crasher highlighted the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 on Saturday.
Now the field for the regional finals is set with seven of the top eight teams advancing and seventh-seed Dayton. The Flyers were almost joined by No. 11 seed Gonzaga in the next round before Tennessee pulled off an unbelievable comeback.
No team has more tournament wins then the Lady Vols, who needed overtime and a stunning rally to pull off their 120th NCAA victory. Down 17 with 6:34 to go, the Lady Vols shocked Gonzaga.
“No matter how many punches you throw at us, we continue to get up,” said Cierra Burdick, who scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Tennessee. Her four late free throws provided the winning points.
“We had to draw fouls late to win this game,” Burdick said. “Our free throws are what saved us.”
The win sent Tennessee to the 27th Elite Eight in its storied history. It was also the Lady Vols first overtime game in the tournament since a 1996 Final Four win over Connecticut.
Former coach Pat Summitt was on the sideline for 112 of those victories, but her teams rarely had to overcome such a deficit late. The 17-point rally equaled the team’s biggest in the NCAA Tournament, matching the comeback against Virginia in 1996.
The Hall of Famer gained some company in the century club when UConn coach Geno Auriemma won his 100th game earlier in the day. Those two are the only coaches in men’s or women’s basketball to win 100 or more games in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s lots of wins, 100 wins in the NCAA Tournament,” said Auriemma, who is 100-17. “Some people don’t get to play in the NCAA Tournament ever or play a couple games. We’ve been pretty fortunate. We didn’t win anything in the NCAA in our first couple years.”
Auriemma’s team accomplished the feat in record fashion, beating Texas 105-54. It was the largest margin of victory in a game in the Sweet 16 and beyond in the history of the tournament. Next up for the Huskies is seventh-seed Dayton, which is making its first appearance in the regional finals.
The Flyers beat Louisville 82-66, becoming just the fourth No. 7 seed to advance this far since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994. Only Minnesota in 2004 made it to the Final Four. Arkansas also did it in 1990 as a seven seed, but the field wasn’t as big then.
Maryland was the other winner on Saturday, beating former rival Duke.
Here are other tidbits from the Sweet 16.
OLD RIVALRIES NEVER DIE: Maryland coach Brenda Frese gave a little jab at Duke at the beginning of her press conference after the Terrapins’ 65-55 win.
“I don’t know what it is, but I think we just love being able to beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament,” Maryland’s head coach said.
Frese’s squad improved to 2-0 against the Blue Devils with the other victory coming in the national championship game in 2006.
This was the team’s first meeting since Maryland departed for the Big Ten after last season. Even the mascots got in on the fun of the former conference foes getting together with Duke’s Blue Devil wearing a taped message on his forehead reading “The ACC Don’t Miss Ya,” and Maryland’s Turtle responding with “April 4th 2006,” the date of the Terrapins’ national title victory over Duke.
FREE THROWS: Tennessee didn’t score a field goal in overtime against Gonzaga, but was 10 of 10 from the free throw line. … Dayton’s Andrea Hoover set a regional semifinals record going 15 for 15 from the free throw line.
UPCOMING MATCHUP: South Carolina will face Florida State in the Greensboro Regional title game on Monday. Baylor and Notre Dame will square off for the Oklahoma City Regional championship.
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