The battle tonight in Spokane to reach the Final Four pits two teams that have been on a collision course ever since Maryland upset Tennessee last year in the Sweet 16.
While the roles are reversed, somewhat, with the Terrapins as the No. 1 seed and the Lady Vols as the No. 2, the game promises to deliver fireworks.
“I thought that (the Gonzaga) game was one of the best games of the tournament,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “Tennessee is a tremendous team. So I think that it will come down to both teams, their battle of wills.”
Maryland (33-2) dispatched No. 4 seed Duke 65-55 on Saturday and then Frese watched as Tennessee (30-5) marched back from 17 points down to beat Gonzaga 73-69 in overtime to qualify for the regional final.
“It was a phenomenal game. Your heart goes out to Gonzaga,” Frese said. “But … Tennessee went out and won that game. They showed great tenacity … and showed their will to win.”
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said she hopes her team will be able to continue to ride the emotion from the comeback win over Gonzaga when it plays a talented Maryland team.
“I would hope that we take that momentum into (tonight’s) game,” Warlick said. “It’s just a tough game because you know what is at stake.”
The Terrapins are led by four players who average double figures. Laurin Mincy, a 6-foot senior, leads Maryland with 13.9 points a game. She scored 15 points in the win over Duke.
But Maryland also has sophomore Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, a 5-11 guard, who averaged 13.5 points a game but exploded for 24 points against Duke.
Guard Lexie Brown averages 13.3 and Brionna Jones, a 6-3 center, averages 12.3.
“We have countless players that can come in and make an impact,” Mincy said. “Shatori had a big night (Saturday). Brionna had a great game the first game. So this year, like we have been doing, it’s winning by committee.”
Tennessee previously relied on the scoring of Bashaara Graves to get into the Sweet 16. But Gonzaga’s bigger players mostly shut down Graves inside. Instead, senior Cierra Burdick stepped up and led the Lady Vols with and 22 points and 15 rebounds.
“I think (Graves) will get back on track,” Warlick said. These players “have a grit about them as a team … that I wouldn’t trade.”
The Lady Vols, who lost top scorer and rebounder Isabelle Harrison to injury last month, are led by guard Ariel Massengale’s 11.4 points a game. She scored 15 against Gonzaga.
“We understand that the ball’s not always going to fall for us,” Massengale said. “But one thing we can always do is play defense. We’re pleased for this opportunity and we’re looking forward to taking advantage of it.”
Walker-Kimbrough said her Maryland teammates will have to pressure the Tennessee guards and play physical to win the game.
“They play extremely hard and I know their defense is up-tempo,” Walker-Kimbrough said of the Lady Vols. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”
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