Maybe there’s more parity in the NCAA women’s bracket then there once was.
Or maybe March is just out to get Tennessee and the Lady Vols.
A decade ago it would have been hard to imagine a No. 10 seed like Pitt closing to within three of Tennessee in the second half of a second-round tournament game, or being within striking distance in Knoxville before bowing 77-67.
Of course a No. 7 seed like Dayton going sweet with a sour end to Kentucky’s season on Sunday would have been outlandish.
In today’s arena, it’s no longer the case in the women’s game.
“I don’t think any game is a given. I really don’t,” UT coach Holly Warlick said Saturday after the Lady Vols had a challenging tourney start against No. 15 seed Boise State. “I think women’s basketball is getting better, there are better coaches, there are better players, they are multi-dimensional players.”
While that may be true, and judging by the declining score differentials in the women’s tourney games it’s certainly likely, but that doesn’t mean the Lady Vols didn’t draw a challenging road.
It started with Boise State and perhaps one of the most interesting first-round games involving a top-five seed.
“If that is a 15-seeded team, my hats off to them,” was how Warlick put it. Everybody else who saw it, just said woooah.
That put Tennessee into a second round game where it faced the pesky Pitt team that was on display Monday. The alternative was a rematch with the Chattanooga team that knocked off first the Lady Vols, then a Stanford team fresh off an upset of UConn.
Chances are even Geno Auriemma would have taken a score update on it if that meeting had come to fruition.
Now for good measure, the Lady Vols fly out to Spokane, Wash., where they’ll face a Gonzaga team that despite getting an 11 seed, is in its third Sweet 16 in the last five seasons and is playing all of three miles from their home floor. It’s the closest thing a team has to a home game in the regional rounds.
Assuming survival to the Elite Eight, it’s a rematch with either the Maryland club that prevented UT from making a Nashville hosted Final Four in last season’s Sweet 16, or the Duke team that is the rare minority of teams that can say it has won four of its last five with the Lady Vols.
With the exception of what was probably an over-seeded Kentucky team, UT has one of the more story-line rich roads on the horizon.
Yes, there may be more parity these days. That doesn’t mean the brackets really aren’t out to get you.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times.