Tennessee sweeps away game Flames, 102-58 Lady Hilltoppers win, then challenge Lady Vols

Women's Mideast Regional

March 15, 1998|By Milton Kent | By Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Apparently that axiom about paying homage to Goliath, especially in his backyard hasn't made it to Bowling Green, Ky., and the 15th-ranked Western Kentucky women's basketball team.

After beating No. 19 Stephen F. Austin last night, 88-76, in a first-round NCAA tournament game, Lady Hilltoppers coach Steve Small dared to say that neither he nor his team would cower before top-ranked and unbeaten Tennessee tomorrow night in a second-round game here at Thompson-Boling Arena before an NCAA first-round record crowd of 12,577.

"The pressure's on Tennessee. They're at home. They've been beating teams by 30," Small said. "We're not afraid of Tennessee. We look forward to the opportunity."

Western Kentucky center Leslie Johnson said: "We're looking forward to that feeling of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country. We're focusing in on the great feeling we're going to have if we win. They're being called the greatest team in history."

The 34-0 Lady Vols, who conquered Liberty, 102-58, certainly didn't look like the greatest team in history, or even the best team in the NCAA tournament field in the first half last night against the Flames (28-1).

Tennessee, the top seed in the Mideast, seemed a bit surprised that the 16th-seeded Flames, the champions of the Big South Conference and the only other unbeaten team in the country, weren't going to play the role of hapless patsy.

"A lot of people thought [the Flames] were going to be scared," said Tennessee All-America forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who scored a team-high 22 points. "They were going to compete and do whatever they needed to do, not just early, but through the entire first half."

Liberty, which was as much as a 45-point underdog in some pre-game Las Vegas betting lines, gamely battled the physically superior Lady Vols for as long as possible, behind the outside shooting of sophomore guard Sharon Wilkerson. She hit four first-half three-pointers on the way to 20 points before intermission.

But, as if awakened from their sleepwalk, Tennessee, leading by 19 at the half, ripped off the first nine points of the second half on the way to a 26-8 run that decisively extinguished the Flames.

The Lady Vols, who had five players in double figures, dominated the interior, outscoring Liberty 62-16 in the paint. In addition, Wilkerson was held scoreless in the second half until the 2: 40 mark, when she hit a meaningless three, long after the Tennessee starters had headed to the bench.

In the first game, the eighth-seeded Lady Hilltoppers placed all five starters in double figures, led by Johnson, who scored 24, and senior forward Danielle McCulley, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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