Lady Vols Readying For Round Of 32 Battle With Belmont

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    Tennessee is looking to break into the Sweet 16 Monday night when they face 12-seed Belmont in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.

    The Lady Vols advanced to the second round of the tournament, using a big fourth quarter to get past Buffalo Saturday afternoon.

    Four Tennessee veterans led the way for the Lady Vols with Jordan Walker (13), Tamari Key (16), Alexus Dye (18) and Rae Burrell (19) all scored in double-digits. 

    Instate foe Belmont upset No. 5 seed Oregon to set up a state of Tennessee Round of 32 matchup in Knoxville.

    “I think if you look at Belmont and what they’re able to do, they are excellent and efficient on both ends of the court,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “They can shoot it well. They pass it well. They are a low turnover team. They’re very, very intelligent. They make the right decision and a lot of that is on the defensive end as well. So, I think they’re not going to be intimidated. You look at their schedule. They’ve played a tough schedule. They made a run last year. And this is a very experienced basketball team, and they’re going to come out and fight and do what they do and what they do has been pretty good.”

    Belmont went 23-7 in the regular season and 1-4 against power five opponents, defeating Ole Miss and falling to Auburn, Georgia Tech, Arkansas and Louisville.

    These Bruins are no strangers to postseason success, winning a game in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year after not previously winning in “the Big Dance.” Belmont wants more this tournament but so do the Lady Vols. Tennessee hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2016, falling in the Round of 32 in three of the four tournaments since.

    Still, Harper insists past losses don’t affect this team’s motivation or drive to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

    “I think this is a motivated team,” Harper said. “They want it for this team. There’s a lot, you know, when you start thinking about numbers and win this and you got to do this for the program. And I get it, I understand. We carry that, that’s part of being a Lady Vol. But this team, they want to win. They just want to win. They want to advance. And the good thing is they understand it’s not going to be easy, and you got to go out there and earn it. So I think that’s the really exciting piece about this team and how competitive they are right now.”

    The Bruins are led by sophomore point guard Destinee Wells. The Lakeland, Tennessee native averages 16.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.

    Sophomore forward Madison Bartley gives the Bruins an inside/outside threat, averaging 11.6 points on 52% shooting from the field and 39% shooting from the three-point line.

    Belmont is one of the hottest teams in the country having won 13 straight games entering Monday night’s Round of 32 matchup. Tennessee limped down the stretch entering the NCAA Tournament, going 4-6 in its final 10 games before Saturday’s win over Buffalo.

    However, the Lady Vols have dealt with injuries and adversity throughout the season and that has them on the brink of Harper’s first trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament at Tennessee.

    “We have a lot of grit,” Harper said. “I do think we have a little bit more experience now. I think the NCAA Tournament last year was great for us to have that experience, both the positive and the negative. And our returners can think back and remember what that looks like. But I just — I think their toughness and their grit, their competitiveness is what gives them an opportunity to win basketball games.”

    Tip-off from Thompson-Boling Arena is set for 7 p.m. ET. ESPN is broadcasting the game.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.