Lady Vols, forward Bashaara Graves set to host Pittsburgh
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee forward Bashaara Graves is playing some of her best basketball and the Lady Vols need her to continue as they try to reach the Final Four without injured center Isabelle Harrison.
Graves scored a career-high 24 points Saturday as Tennessee outlasted Boise State 72-61 in its NCAA Tournament opener. The 6-foot-2 junior faces a tougher challenge against a Pittsburgh frontcourt featuring freshman Stasha Carey, who is coming off a big performance of her own.
''It's definitely something I can build off of,'' Graves said of her performance. ''It's always great to start the tournament like that. It gives me a lot of confidence coming into this next game.''
The winner of Monday's game between the second-seeded Lady Vols (28-5) and 10th-seeded Panthers (20-11) advances to the Sweet 16 in the Spokane Region.
Graves compiled 13.2 points and 8 rebounds per game as the Southeastern Conference newcomer of the year as a freshman, but she hasn't matched those averages since. Graves has 10.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this year. She entered the NCAA Tournament having scored in double figures just once in her last five games.
The Lady Vols need more from her as they play without Harrison, who was leading the team in scoring and rebounding when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee on Feb. 15.
''Since Izzy's been out, I've definitely felt like I need to step up my game for us to win,'' Graves said. ''All of us have to step up a little bit more. I definitely took that and put that on my shoulders.''
Graves did step up Saturday.
So did Carey.
In the first NCAA Tournament game of her career, Carey had 16 points and 13 rebounds as Pittsburgh beat Chattanooga 51-40. Carey, one of three freshman starters for Pittsburgh, has averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game.
''I'm just going to come out and play with all I have,'' Carey said. ''We've got nothing to lose.''
Pittsburgh needs the 6-2 freshman to deliver on the boards to have a shot at the upset. Tennessee outrebounded Boise State 46-28, while Pittsburgh has a negative rebound margin.
''We know we're not a very physical team,'' Pittsburgh coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. ''Sometimes we get taken advantage of on the boards, there's no doubt. ... (The Lady Vols) make a living on the offensive glass. We didn't do a great job yesterday giving up second chances, especially late in the game, against Chattanooga. That is something that definitely needs to improve for us to even compete in this game.''
Some things to know in advance of the Pittsburgh-Tennessee game.
BURDICK REBOUND: Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick, a second-team all-SEC selection, didn't bother to hide her disappointment Saturday after being held scoreless Saturday. She's eager to make amends. ''I'm an emotional player, and last night I let my emotions get the best of me,'' said Burdick, who did have 11 rebounds. ''We got a team win. That's what's most important. I've got to move on, move forward, try to bounce back and stay positive.''
BENEFITS OF PATIENCE: Pittsburgh had endured four straight losing seasons before turning things around. Senior guard Brianna Kiesel, who averages a team-high 18 points per game, pondered transferring before deciding to stay. ''Luckily for coach, she talked me out of it, and she made me believe in her system, and look at us now,'' Kiesel quipped.
STINGY DEFENSES: Pittsburgh allowed Chattanooga to make just 26.2 percent of its shots. Tennessee has given up just 55.5 points per game, matching the Lady Vols' best average since the school started measuring that statistic in 1974-75. Tennessee's 2007 national championship team also gave up 55.5 points per game.
DOMINANT AT HOME: Tennessee has won all 55 NCAA Tournament games it has played on its home floor.
FORMER LADY VOLS FAN: Kiesel grew up rooting for Tennessee and wanting to model herself after Candace Parker, the 6-4 forward who led the Lady Vols to national titles in 2007 and 2008. The only problem is Kiesel stopped growing. ''On paper, it says I'm 5-7. In my mind I'm 6 foot, but in reality, I'm 5-6,'' Kiesel said.