Mike Siroky's SEC/NCAA Report: A Balanced Final Four But The End For Tennessee
With Tennessee losing an NCAA Regional for the second straight elimination season to Maryland, 58-48, on Monday night, it left the seeding committee in OK mode, all four top seeds advancing and little shown to suggest anyone can stop UConn from another title.
As we first wrote, UConn also has enough playing talent for next season as well.
Besides that, the three national conferences – Southeastern, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast – are all represented.
When all was done and said, Tennessee finished right where the national AP poll had them at the start, fifth in the nation.
They finished their Elite Game hitting one of their final 11 shots; Maryland needed only to hit free throws to put it away.
In the final game, according to coach Holly Warlick, “We just wore out Just congratulations to Maryland.”
As she exits college, senior Cierra Burdick took pride in the defense, holding a team averaging 80 to 58.
“You know, I think we did well on the defensive side of things,” she said. “They're a team that averages 80 plus points. That's something they lay their hat on is pushing the tempo and running every single possession.
“So I think we did a decent job on that end of the floor. But we couldn't get stops when we needed them in the crunch time and on the offensive end we just couldn't get in a flow. We couldn't get baskets to drop.
“ I don't know. The ball just wouldn't drop. We let the ball get stuck in our hands a couple times and I had a lot of turnovers. Just couldn't get in a flow.”
Indeed Tennessee only had 21 points at the half, the third-worst start this season.
Maryland had 22, its worst.
Despite all that, Burdick did have the last real shot of the game, an attempted 3 which would have tied it with 42 seconds left. Maryland hit 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute.
Speaking of free throws Tennessee was sent to the line just once.
A game after hitting 21-of-22 they were 0-of-1.
Warlick did the smart thing and declined to comment on that.
It is another NCAA tournament record though not one likely to make the media guide.
UT was outstandingly bad from distance. Burdick’s missed 3 left the team 4-of-22 on 3s. And there was that 1-of-11 from the field to close the game.
“I don't know what was going through my mind,” Burdick said of that final career shot. “I just knew we were down three. Looking back on it, I probably should have driven to the basket. So I didn't play well for my team tonight and if I could take it back, I would.”
Warlick said her four graduating seniors – everyone who plays four years at UT graduates – are “. . . Just outstanding young women. Their academics are, don't have to worry about them academically. They do a lot in the community. So, they're just solid kids. They're the type of kids we want at Tennessee.
“They were thrown into situations when they were very young, and they had to deal with a lot of things. And I think they have just handled everything that's been thrown at them.
"And they have got great character outside of being great basketball players.
“So, gosh, from that standpoint, I know we'll miss their athletic being on the basketball team, but just what they stand for off the court.”
“ It was a physical game and we had our chances.
“And this team, I mean, we just had to overcome a lot of obstacles and this team has really hung together and they're a very close knit team and just really, really proud of them.
“You got to go back to work and you got to go back to work we'll take some time off and then we'll go back to work.
“That's what you do. There's only going to be one team, one set of players, one set of coaches that are going to be happy next week. Just one.
“So, we're not going to stop saying that's our goal, because it is. We're just going to continue to try to get better and just try to keep pushing forward and try to stay healthy and reach our goal as I think we can.”
We were the only reporting group in America to pick UT to win the regular-season in the Southeastern Conference. They tied with South Carolina in the old-school race, the entirety of the season, then SC broke the tie in the regular season escape.
The same will happen in the coming season. UT and SC were the only conference teams to go undefeated at home. The rematch in the next regular season is at UT.
So UT was back to a No. 2 and got the best draw by being scheduled against the last of the No. 1s.
A late-season career-ending ACL tear to team leader in scoring and heart, Izzy Harrison realistically doomed any chance of a national title.
It would also have been a tough go by being in the bracket opposite UConn in the national semifinals.
Warlick has brought her first three teams to the Sweet 16 and this one to the Elite Eight.
As a measure of respect, simply by inheriting a team from a legend and being in the most-competitive conference in the land, those accomplishments are merely the expected ones.
In any other conference, there would be more institution support and pay raises.
Instead, she is in a firestorm waiting for Pat Head Summitt’s long shadow to extend as she finishes her battle against early-onset Alzheimer’s and a university which will end the Lady Vol brand (already for basketball only) when that happens.
In case anyone doubts Lady Vols could last past Summitt’s existence, remember the first person to wear a Lady Vol uniform was a lone track NCAA middle distance runner and the first women’s team to win an NCAA national title was outdoor track and field.
So it is not even historically tied into hoops.
The tradition does cut both ways. Already on campus and working with the team all season is 6-1 All-American point guard transfer Diamond Deshield and 6-6 redshirt center Mercedes Russell.
Tennessee is the only university to list these redshirts on their NCAA playoff roster this season, even though they obviously would not play.
They might have made a difference in the finale.
Russell endeared herself to her teammates in this playoff run when her family hosted the team at Spokane. They are from Springfield, Oregon.
She had corrective surgery in both feet.
As a rookie, she played in every game and was the fourth-leading rebounder (5.0.) and seventh-best scorer (6.3), averaging 18.5 minutes.
She hit double figures nine times and had 10 or more rebounds twice, while making 60 percent of her shots in the first 18 games. She was 6-of-8 from the field against Georgia Tech, and 2-of-2 from the free throw line.
In the Lady Vols’ SEC tournament over Texas A&M, she was 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line, with six rebounds and matched that against Missouri.
Once the NCAA playoffs began, she led UT in the opener scoring, 5-of-6 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. She shot 77.8 percent from the field in that NCAA run.
DeShields averaged 18 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game as the national consensus freshmen player of the year, the first time a UConn rookie did not win in several seasons.
She was an honorable mention All-American by AP and the WBCA.
It is not clear if she qualifies for league rookie of the year competition.
For comparison’s sake, any player in his first year of Major League Baseball is eligible irregardless of age or play in another country’s game.
Her freshman records in the original conference include All-ACC First Team and All-Freshman Team after setting four ACC freshman marks, including most points (648), field goals (248), field goals attempted (582) and double-figure scoring games (32).
She shot 42.6 percent from the field and 77.6 percent from the line.
Her lineage includes the accomplishments of her mom, Tisha a track & field All-American in the heptathlon as a freshman at Tennessee in 1991. Her dad, Delino, spent 13 seasons playing Major League Baseball and now manages Pensacola's minor league team, while her brother, Delino Jr. was selected by the Houston Astros with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft and is working his way through the minor leagues.
She had No. 10 all to herself his season at Tennessee, but will inherit No. 11 now that Cierra Burdick is done with it.
Her UT lineage includes playing on world age-group championship teams for Basketball USA while being coached both times by Lady Vol Hall of Famer Jill Rankin (Schneider).
This article concludes the focus on SEC women’s basketball until summer excursions and the start of next season.
Mel Greenberg will take us through the Final Four.
The same top teams – South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State – will be the upper tier of next season, with Ole Miss likely to ascend to the second tier of the SEC.
It has been a fun year.
Thanks for reading.
" Dulcius ex aspirus"
It's a nice day to read
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