CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. Kansas' first-ever trip to the Sweet 16 ended abruptly on Saturday, but not before it provided some valuable insight-seeking opportunities.
The Jayhawks fell to a 19-point deficit by halftime and never recovered, losing to Tennessee, 92-71, in the NCAA Women's East Regionals.
But coach Marian Washington said that for her team, which boasts only two seniors, the game would serve as a lesson in how to succeed in the postseason.
"We're the new kid on the block," she said. "After today, hopefully we will not be as new. We're going to gain an awful lot from this experience."
Tennessee was a good tutor on Saturday at University Hall. The Lady Vols rolled out strong, shooting 64.5 percent and outrebounding the Jayhawks 21 to nine in the first half. Standout freshman Chamique Holdsclaw and senior guard Latina Davis combined for 39 of Tennessee's 49 first-half points.
"They're a great ballclub, and they shot the lights out in the first half," said Angie Halbleib, KU guard, who led all scorers with 21 points.
Meanwhile, Kansas was shooting 41.7 percent and getting virtually no second chances on its misses. KU grabbed only three offensive rebounds in the opening half.
"I thought rebounding for us was big, and our inside people were contributing to our performance there," said Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt.
Pacing KU in the first half was senior guard Charisse Sampson, who shot 100 percent, including two three-pointers, for 12 points.
Sampson ended with 18, having missed only two field goals and one free throw. But it wasn't enough for Kansas to make a run at the Lady Vols, whose lead wavered between 19 and 32 after halftime.
Still, the game wasn't without surprises for the Lady Vols, said Summitt and Davis. The two said KU's offensive strategies were different than they'd expected, particularly in the play of point guard Tamecka Dixon.
"I was expecting her to be a little more aggressive and penetrate to the basket," Davis said.
Dixon, KU's leading scorer, ended with only six points, fouling out with 13:41 left to play.
Halbleib took up the slack, scoring 17 of her 21 points after the break.
"I expect we'll be back next year," she said.
Sampson, who walked off the court as the fifth-highest scorer in KU history, said she wasn't hanging her head.
"I guess I could say it's pretty satisfying, just because we've done something Kansas had never done before," she said. "I can see them going farther next year, because we have so much depth ... and now we have experience. I can see them going a lot farther."
Washington said that although there was little sweet about Saturday, "I'm very, very proud of our accomplishments this year." She said the team overcame injuries and surgeries, plus key early losses, to win the Big Eight title and two NCAA Tournament games.
"I certainly hate losing, to anyone," Washington said. "But I'm not going to let this one loss take those wonderful things away from our players."