Des Moines, Iowa It isn’t too often that Kansas University’s women’s basketball team makes it to the Sweet 16.
With victories in each of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament last weekend in Little Rock, Ark., the Jayhawks reached the second weekend of March Madness for just the third time in program history and the first time since 1998.
But it’s just as rare for KU to face Tennessee, the Jayhawks’ opponent at 11:04 this morning at Wells Fargo Arena. The teams have only met twice, the first coming in the 1996 Sweet 16. The Vols won that game, 92-71, and earned a regular-season home win against the Jayhawks, 79-60, during the 1996-97 season.
However, Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick pointed out Friday afternoon that the Volunteers are plenty familiar with the Jayhawks.
“It just so happens that (KU coach) Bonnie Henrickson worked our basketball camp, so we know all the ins and outs of Kansas,” Warlick said. “Bonnie’s a good friend, and we’re excited to play her. She’s done a great job with her team. We’re just ready to play.”
Warlick addressed the media, because Tennessee’s coaches have taken on different responsibilities since head coach Pat Summitt — with an unfathomable 1,097-207 coaching record and eight NCAA championships — was diagnosed this past offseason with early-onset dementia.
“We’ve kind of got this system down,” Warlick explained. “Pat is still the head coach. It’s almost like Pat and I have switched roles. Don’t expect anything different than what we’ve done all year. As a team, as a staff, we all work really well together. I’m up, but there’re three head coaches sitting behind me. I’m the only one who hasn’t been a head coach. It’s a group effort, and it’s really worked out.”
Henrickson had nothing but glowing things to say about Summitt, one of basketball’s coaching legends.
“I have never gotten the sense from Pat that success defines who she is,” the KU coach said. “Pat is an unbelievably loving, giving, compassionate person. I have gotten a couple of notes from her that I will have forever. To me, that is the most impressive thing — when people in their careers, in or out of basketball, have the kind of success she has had, it often defines who they are. I have never gotten that impression about her. She has always reached out to help people. To me, that is who she has always been.”
During Friday’s media session, Kansas junior point guard Angel Goodrich, a team captain, said the Jayhawks (21-12) are looking forward to meeting the elite Volunteers (26-8) and showing what they can do on the court.
“We’re just blessed to be here,” Goodrich said. “With the first two games (of the tournament), we feel like we have a little bit of momentum going into this next game. We’re just glad that we have this opportunity to be here. We’re excited to just get out there and play.”
Trying to limit Goodrich
After her 27-point performance in KU’s second-round win over Delaware, containing Goodrich will be the primary defensive focus for Tennessee. Vols sophomore guard Meighan Simmons said Goodrich makes Kansas go.
“It’s just a matter of containing everyone and making sure that they don’t get to their peak performance,” Simmons said. “I think, with us, we are going to stop her as much as we can and just make sure she isn’t getting anything out of the ordinary.”
Senior Tennessee guard Briana Bass said she and the rest of the Vols’ perimeter defenders will have their hands full.
“I think, this game, we definitely have to really trust our one-on-one defense,” Bass said. “We shouldn’t have to always rely on our teammates to have our backs. We need to rely on our one-on-one defense and stay in front of people.”
In Summitt’s 38 seasons at Tennessee, the Vols have reached the Sweet 16 30 times and have advanced to the Final Four 18 times. … The other regional semifinal at Des Moines will feature Big 12 champion Baylor (36-0), which swept KU this season, winning by an average of 29.5 points. The Bears face Georgia Tech (26-8) approximately 1:30 p.m. … Kansas has an all-time record of 11-11 in NCAA Tournament games and has never reached a regional final. … The Des Moines regional final will be played at 6 p.m. Monday.