The 20th-ranked Vanderbilt women’s basketball team earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament as brackets were released Monday.
The Commodores open play Saturday against No. 13 seed Montana at The Pit (Bob King Court) in Albuquerque, N.M.
VU will pin much of its hopes on its defense, Coach Melanie Balcomb said.
Despite a 63-48 loss to Tennessee on March 8 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Balcomb was pleased that her team held the Lady Vols to only 38.2-percent shooting and 15 points below their season average.
In addition, UT shot only 22.2 percent in the second half.
“The fact that we held them to 63 points, I don’t think that happens to them a lot,” Balcomb said. “I think that that's something that’s going to give us an opportunity to make a run in the NCAAs, and in the postseason that's where we want to be defensively.”
For Vanderbilt, a defense-first approach is unusual.
“I thought this team could be the best defensive team that we’ve had, and we just weren’t doing that early,” Balcomb said. “I think we really can play a very high level of defense and rebound, where our teams in the past were known to outscore people.
“I think we’ve changed. We’re just different.”
Vanderbilt (23-8 overall, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) will make its ninth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 21st overall.
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to the second round of the Spokane (Wash.) Regional and face either No. 5 seed West Virginia or No. 12 New Mexico on Monday.
The winner of Monday’s game will advance out of the Albuquerque pod to the Sweet 16 in Spokane, Wash., March 29-31.
Vanderbilt is 2-0 all-time against Montana (25-6). The two teams met in 2005 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Seattle, with the Commodores winning 67-44. Maryland, Stanford and Baylor make up the top three seeds in Spokane Region.
After starting 2-2 in SEC play, Vanderbilt set a school record with 11 conference wins this season, finishing third in the SEC before losing to Tennessee in the semifinals of the league tournament.
“I’m proud of how much we’ve improved as a team,” Balcomb said.
LADY VOLS GET NO. 1 SEED: For the defending national champion Tennessee Lady Vols, getting a No. 1 tournament seed is expected. UT lived up to that expectation again, as the Lady Vols were given the top seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.
UT will start the tournament on Sunday against Oral Roberts in West Lafayette, Ind. The Lady Vols have appeared in all 27 Women’s Division I NCAA Tournaments.
Last season, the Lady Vols went through a virtual murderer’s row in winning their seventh national title. This season, the road appears to be easier. The No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional is Texas A&M and the No. 3 seed is Duke.
LSU, Stanford and Rutgers were the other No. 2 seeds. LSU and Stanford beat the Lady Vols in the regular season and Rutgers came within a razor’s edge of beating UT in Knoxville before a controversial foul was called with less than a second left, allowing Pat Summitt’s team to escape with a win.
Leading the way for Tennessee is All-America forward Candace Parker, who averaged 21.3 points and 8.4 rebounds this season.