KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee and Chattanooga put long streaks on the line Saturday in their respective NCAA Tournament games with both teams looking to avoid a repeat of last year's postseason disappointment.
The Lady Vols (27-5), the No. 2 seed in the Spokane Region, haven't lost at home this season and are 54-0 in NCAA Tournament games on their home floor. Tennessee hosts No. 15 seed Boise State (22-10), which has never won an NCAA Tournament contest in two attempts.
"It's definitely a comfort level, but as we all know, it's the NCAA Tournament and anything can happen," Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said. "That comes with March Madness. We can't focus on the past. The present is what's most important."
Chattanooga (29-3), the No. 7 seed, carries a 25-game winning streak into its matchup with No. 10 seed Pittsburgh (19-11).
Last year, Chattanooga also had won 25 straight before a 59-53 opening-round loss to Syracuse, its seventh straight NCAA Tournament defeat since a first-round victory over Rutgers in 2004. Tennessee lost 73-62 to Maryland in a regional semifinal, marking the sixth consecutive time the Lady Vols had missed the Final Four since their 2008 national championship season.
Chattanooga upgraded its schedule in an attempt to be more prepared for the postseason. Chattanooga beat Tennessee and Stanford when both were ranked in the top 10.
"We had some good wins (last year), but nothing significant," Chattanooga coach Jim Foster said. This year "we played some of the better teams in this tournament, and we've won some of those games."
Foster faces a familiar foe in Pittsburgh coach Suzie McConnell-Serio, whose team was picked before the season to finish last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The two were Atlantic 10 rivals in the 1980s when Foster coached St. Joseph's and McConnell-Serio played for Penn State. Foster was an assistant coach on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team that included McConnell-Serio and won a bronze medal.
"She had a lot of hops," Foster said. "She was a great playmaker. She had a pull-up jumper that was way before its time, in my opinion. Some players from that era would have trouble today, but there's a large number who could move in and be very successful today, and she'd be in that group."
Some things to watch in Saturday's first-round games at Knoxville:
FASTER START: The Lady Vols were tied early in the second half of their first two tournament games last year before advancing. Sophomore guard Jordan Reynolds believes those two sluggish performances had a carry-over effect to their loss in the regional semifinals. "I know now we've got to take care of all the little things and just never take anyone for granted," Reynolds said.
BOISE STATE'S SHOOTERS: Boise State's chances of threatening Tennessee likely depend on how well the Broncos shoot from long range. Boise State makes 8.2 3-pointers per game to rank 13th among all Division I teams. The Broncos have made 39.6 percent of their 3-point attempts in their 22 wins and only 29.2 percent in their 10 losses. "We've always thought (this season) if we hit eight 3's, we have a chance to be in the game," Boise State coach Gordy Presnell said.
BOARD GAMES: Chattanooga and Pittsburgh both earned NCAA bids despite posting negative rebound margins. Foster calls rebound margin "the most overrated stat in basketball" and said it can be skewed by teams that get a flurry of offensive boards on a single possession. "In the framework of a game, if a team has a couple of flurries and they walk out with nine rebounds and two points, what does that have to do with anything?" Foster said.
SWITCHING SPORTS: Pittsburgh forward Monica Wignot spent four years away from basketball while playing on the Panthers' volleyball team. Wignot says she didn't even touch a basketball during that stretch. She joined the basketball team this year as a graduate student and averages 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. "I think it's pretty safe to say all my expectations were blown out of the water with how well this season's going," Wignot said.
SEEKING REDEMPTION: Pittsburgh wants to bounce back from a 51-45 ACC tournament loss to Virginia Tech that McConnell-Serio called probably the Panthers' worst performance of the season. "Our players knew that had we won one (more) game, we were probably a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament," McConnell-Serio said. "And then we lost, so we become somewhat of a bubble team. That was the longest week of our life."
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