The No. 4 Tennessee Lady Volunteers received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament on Monday, their first top seeding under head coach Holly Warlick and the program's first since 2011.
The Lady Vols' (27-5, 13-3 SEC) first round opponent will be the Northwestern State Lady Demons, who are in the tournament for only the third time in their program's history, in Knoxville on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST.
"I think our kids are ready. The coaches are ready," Warlick said. "It's good to see us in a bracket. (We got) a No. 1 seed, thats what we were hoping for and we are anxious to get started."
Tennessee has now made it to their record 33rd NCAA tournament and secured it's 22nd No. 1 seed in program history.
Prior to the SEC tournament, the Lady Vols found themselves on the outside looking in when it came to being atop a regional. A weekend sweep of LSU, Texas A&M and Kentucky to win the conference title, however, propelled the Lady Vols into one of the top four spots in the eyes of the selection committee.
"It's an indication of how we finished our season and how hard we played," Warlick said. "I hope it's about respect for this team. It's difficult to get into the tournament, and we hadn't been a No. 1 seed in a while. We have the opportunity, we are in the tournament, we know who we are playing, so it's a good feeling."
Knoxville will play host for first and second round action of the tournament, as St. John's and Southern California will play in the 8-9 matchup following Tennessee-Northwestern State. The winners of both contests will face each other inside Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday.
"I haven't seen Northwestern State, but I have seen St. John's and USC," Warlick said. "All three teams I'm sure are very athletic, so it's going to be a difficult task. I'm probably least familiar with Northwestern State, but I'll get familiar with them tonight."
Further down the road in the Lady Vols bracket, though, awaits the Louisville Cardinals, who are hosting the regional, which could set up a de facto road game for UT if the two happen to meet up in the Elite 8.
"It's where the NCAA chose to have the location of their region sites and I just hope we get that opportunity (to play them)," Warlick said. "We have to win some pretty tough games along the way. I hope we get that chance."
And while "Grind for Nine" has been the team's slogan all season, the Lady Vols are looking to make it to their first Final Four since the 2007-08 season, which is the longest Final Four drought in program history.
Warlick, however, isn't concerned with the past.
"We are living in the present," Warlick said. "We know what we've been trying to accomplish this year. It's about this team and what we are doing now.
"We are really focused on us and trying to take care of our business."