By Alex Norman
The Tennessee Lady Vols entered the NCAA Tournament trying to get to their first Final Four since 2008, and earn a trip to Nashville.
The wait continues.
On Sunday, March 30, the top seeded Lady Vols were stunned by fourth-seed Maryland 73-62 in their Sweet 16 matchup in Louisville.
“Well, I thought we came out just nervous, a little scared for whatever reason,” said Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick. “We didn’t have that fight-back at the beginning, and then we got ourselves in a hole. We’re a get the ball inside team, and we couldn’t find a way to get it inside. It was physical, and we just couldn’t, for one reason or the other, get the ball inside. When you turn the ball over 22 times, you’re not playing very well. As this team has battled back all year, Maryland wasn’t giving in. We dug ourselves in a hole too deep.”
Tennessee (29-6) led in the first minute of the contest, but trailed the rest of the way, eventually falling behind by as many as 18 points in the second half. The Lady Vols fought back to trail by only 8 points with less than 8 minutes to go, but could get no closer.
“They don’t give up. They don’t have that in them, so I think that’s what makes it tough,” said Warlick. “It makes it tough for us to go out this way. Obviously all teams put in the time and effort; that should be a given. But this team has been really close-knit team and they’ll take this pretty hard, as the staff and myself. But we just get down and we keep fighting and we keep battling, and that’s what our MO has been. We’ve just had to prove our worth all year.”
In a losing effort, Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons played her last game as a Lady Vol, chipping in a team high 31 points. She finishes her college career with 2,064 points, good enough for fifth-best all time in UT history.
“It’s always been a grind for us. We’ve had a heck of a year, and any game where we were down we found a way to fight back and Maryland just had the extra oomph today,” said Simmons. “They pushed through even harder. We just didn’t have it today. It was always a grind for this year. I mean, I think we showed that.”
Tennessee certainly did not play its best basketball of the season in this NCAA tournament. In their first two games they struggled in the first half before eventually beating Northwestern State and St. John’s. The Lady Vols won the SEC tournament this season, so there will be another banner to hang in the rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena. However, the drought continues in terms of returning this program to national prominence.
“A lot of people realized exactly what we could do out there on the floor and for the people that they have coming in, the freshmen who are coming in and the people who are returning, I would just say to any other team, just look out,” said Simmons. “Because I know when I leave here I know everybody else that’s going to be coming back is going to be pushing twice as hard to get back in this position and maybe even get over that hump and get to the Elite 8 and get to the Final Four.”
Warlick added, “We’re Tennessee, and we’re not happy that we’re not playing for a national championship. That’s in our DNA. So we’ll go back to work and we’ll prepare for next year.”