Tennessee, the top seed in the Louisville Regional, erased double-digit deficits in each of its three Southeastern Conference tournament victories and was tied early in the second half of its 70-46 NCAA tournament first-round win over Northwestern State. St. John’s (23-10) has trailed at halftime in each of its last three games and rallied from 11 points down in its 71-68 opening-round triumph over Southern California.
Both teams know they must get off to a faster start Monday when they face off in a second-round matchup.
“I don’t think we look forward to coming back after being behind,” Tennessee center Isabelle Harrison said. “As a team, we want to be mindful and make a conscious effort to come out and play hard from the get-go because you never know. It’s March. We don’t have another game to prove ourselves. This is it.”
A fast start might be particularly imperative for St. John’s as it tries to beat the Lady Vols (28-5) on their home floor. Tennessee is 53-0 in NCAA tournament home games and has failed to advance beyond the second round of the tournament just once before, when it lost a first-round game to Ball State in 2009.
“We know that we’re going to have to play harder than we did last night,” St. John’s guard Aliyyah Handford said.
St. John’s carries plenty of momentum into Monday’s game after its dramatic victory over USC. St. John’s won on Briana Brown’s tiebreaking 3-pointer with four-tenths of a second left.
“There were plenty of times we could have given up,” St. John’s guard Danaejah Grant said. “We didn’t go on a run until the very end. I think it really gives us confidence to go up against Tennessee and sit there on their home court. I think it just shows we can withstand a lot of blows.”
Tennessee has a size advantage. St. John’s will try to counteract with its athleticism.
“They’re an extremely athletic team,” Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said. “They play fast basketball. They really do. They get after it. They play with a lot of emotion. We can’t get into a running game. That would be playing to their liking. We’ve got to focus on playing Lady Vol basketball, running when we can, but playing in the halfcourt I think will give us the advantage.”
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said she was feeling fine Sunday, one day after a stomach illness caused her to miss a team shootaround and require IV treatments. “I feel great,” Warlick said. “I slept well. It’s adrenaline. This is the best time of the year for myself and our team. I feel wonderful.”