Lady Vols exceed expectations with No. 2 seed
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After all that work in Holly Warlick’s first season as head coach of the Lady Vols, the last five games are the measuring stick for the storied Tennessee program.
If the Lady Vols only play four after the seeds are announced, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Anything less is shocking.
Having been a part of UT’s last 27 trips to the NCAA Tournament, Warlick knows just how high the bar is set, how lofty the expectations are and that raising another banner to the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena every so often is the standard she help set.
Mentor and legend Pat Summitt only went through four NCAA tourneys without Warlick on the staff — 1982-85 — and didn’t break through for that first elusive title in 1987 until her former player had returned to Rocky Top.
And the first season with Warlick taking on the most potent of potential career pitfalls in following a legend on to center stage, the first-year head coach has so far met all the expectations. Yes, The Lady Vols stumbled by not winning the SEC Tournament but they did win the regular season league title, something more promising for NCAA postseason results than capturing the SEC tourney title for Tennessee.
It was enough for a No. 2 seed, the first measuring stick for a program that has only been a No. 3 or lower five times while making all 32 NCAA tournaments.
Next up is the 38-game postseason win streak for the Lady Vols when they host an early-round site. Tennessee has never lost in when hosting first and second round games and its the next expectation that Warlick’s first squad must meet Saturday when they take on No. 15 Oral Roberts with the winner between Syracuse and Creighton waiting in the wings.
But so far Tennessee under Warlick has met the challenges inherent in taking over a program of the Lady Vols’ stature. This team wasn’t expected to perform this well, not because of the official coaching change, but because of five graduating seniors off last year’s roster leaving a huge experience gap. The wake up call loss to Chattanooga not withstanding, this Lady Vols team would have to be graded as exceeds expectations on the performance evaluation. Toss in the multitude of injuries UT has faced this season and the fact talk of New Orleans was even in the conversation Monday night is a miracle.
Yes, if the seeds hold there is still the challenge of UCLA with a third regional meeting with Baylor in Brittney Griner’s four seasons as the reward.
But this was a season where Tennessee was on the precipice of slipping off the platform of the elite women’s basketball programs. The one where youth and the most publicized coaching change in the history the women’s game were supposed to allow the shadow of UConn, Notre Dame and the rather longer one of Griner and Baylor seal the fall of Lady Vol basketball to the status of good not great.
But it hasn’t.
The players, young and old alike, haven’t let it happen. the staff hasn’t let it happen. Warlick has refused to let it happen.
Which is why it’s good to be No. 2.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com