SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Syracuse has made it to the women’s Elite Eight for the first time. Tennessee has reached a regional final for the fifth time in six years after a surprising run that followed – by the Lady Vols’ daunting standards – a horrid season.
This improbable matchup Sunday – No. 4 seed Syracuse vs. No. 7 seed Tennessee – will send the winner to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
“Basketball is a tournament sport. That’s what we’ve been teaching,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said Saturday. “We’re in the Elite Eight and we have 13 losses. We split our season up in three seasons. It’s the regular season, the SEC, now the NCAA Tournament. Whether you win all your games or lose, when you get into the tournament, it’s a clean slate. It’s tournament time and anything can happen.”
Syracuse (28-7) posted its biggest win in program history when it came back from a 13-point deficit to upset No. 1 seed South Carolina 80-72 on Friday. Tennessee (22-13) followed its victory at No. 2 Arizona State a week ago with a 78-62 romp over No. 3 Ohio State.
Whoever wins in Sioux Falls will face the winner of the regional in Lexington, Kentucky, where No. 7 seed Washington beat No. 3 Kentucky and No. 4 Stanford shocked No. 1 Notre Dame.
“They’re always preaching parity. I think it’s getting a little closer,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “You have UConn who is a very good basketball team. South Carolina is a dominant basketball team. So is Notre Dame. You look at those teams, two of those teams losing, it does say a lot about the game and where the game is going.”
Syracuse and Tennessee will play for the second time this season. The Lady Vols won the first-ever meeting 57-55 in Knoxville on Nov. 20 in a game Warlick said she scheduled because she wanted her team to face a 2-3 matchup zone defense.
“We thought we may see it down the road,” she said, “so we are.”
The Lady Vols held Syracuse to 32-percent shooting and capitalized on their size advantage, with the 6-foot-2 Bashaara Graves scoring 16 points and the 6-6 Mercedes Russell adding 13.
“I think the experience from that game and playing other big games we played in our league has been big for us,” Hillsman said. “Hopefully we can play better in this game.”
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