Lady Vols earn 39th straight NCAA bid

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The only program to appear in every NCAA Tournament, the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team received confirmation that it had earned its 39th consecutive postseason bid Monday when the bracket was revealed on ESPN.

The Lady Vols (16-7) are seeded No. 3 in the River Walk Region. UT will face No. 14 seed Middle Tennessee (17-7) in the first round on Sunday in Austin, Texas, at 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. CT). The game will be televised by ABC and also carried on the Lady Vol Radio Network.

No. 6 seed Michigan (14-5) will meet No. 11 seed Florida Gulf Coast (26-2) in another other first round contest on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (2 CT) in San Antonio. That contest will be televised by ESPN2. The winners of the first-round match-ups will face off on Tuesday. Time, TV network and location are to be determined.

The Lady Vols, who are 125-30 all-time in NCAA play, are the only school to appear in all 39 tournaments, winning eight national championships. They also have recorded the most games played (155) and victories (125) in tournament history.

Middle Tennessee, meanwhile, is making its 19th overall NCAA appearance but its first since 2016.

The Lady Vols are 30-2 in NCAA First-Round games. The only blemishes are opening-round losses to Ball State (71-55) in Bowling Green, Ky., on March 22, 2009, and to UCLA (89-77) in College Park, Md., on March 23, 2019.

Because last year’s NCAA Tournament was not played due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) global health pandemic, Tennessee is making its first appearance under second-year head coach Kellie Harper. The 1999 UT graduate and LVFL became just the second coach to lead four different women’s programs to the NCAA Division I Tournament. She did so at Western Carolina, NC State and Missouri State before checking that box in Knoxville this season.

Harper joins Jim Foster (St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt, Ohio State, Chattanooga) in that rare company, but she is the first to do so at her alma mater.

The Lady Vols and Lady Raiders will meet for the 22nd time, with UT holding an 21-0 advantage in the series. The programs haven’t played since 2013, and this will be their second contest during the NCAA Tournament. They previously met on March 17, 1984, in a first-round game in Knoxville, with the Big Orange prevailing, 70-52.

Middle Tennessee posted a 12-4 conference record this season to finish first in the C-USA. It also won the C-USA Tournament. Tennessee, which placed third in the SEC at 9-4, is 101-27 all-time vs. that league, facing the C-USA’s Western Kentucky this season and defeating the Hilltoppers in the opener at Thompson-Boling Arena on Nov. 28, 87-47.

Tennessee played nine of the 64 teams in the NCAA Tournament field this season and owns a 5-7 record vs. those squads. UT captured victories over Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina, and fell to Georgia (twice), Kentucky, South Carolina, Texas A&M, UConn and West Virginia. It had games vs. NCAA participants Texas and Jackson State canceled due to COVID-19 pauses involving those programs, including one scheduled vs. the Longhorns in Austin on Dec. 13.

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