With the women's NCAA Tournament set to tip-off tomorrow, the senior Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons and her team are ready for the craziness that is about to ensue as they officially begin their grind for the programs ninth National Championship.
"Crazy," is the word that Simmons said to best describe the tournament. "You never know what is going to happen. A team can be down by 20 points and then come back to win with a shot at the buzzer. For our team it's a matter of remaining humble throughout the tournament and playing poised and passionate."
Twelve days after winning the SEC tournament championship over Kentucky, the No. 1-seed Lady Vols (27-5) will square off with the No. 16-seed Northwestern State Lady Demons (21-12) at 4 p.m. EST on Saturday in the Round of 64 in Thompson-Boling Arena.
"We've been waiting so long to play I think we are ready," Simmons said. "The energy is really high and there are expectations for us to do great things in the tournament. I'm really excited to see how well we play and get out there and get going."
The game against their Southland conference opponent - which is the two teams first ever match up - will mark the 41st time that Tennessee has played in its home arena in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, where they have yet to lose a game, with a 40-0 record.
While there has only been one time in women's Division-I basketball that a 16th seed has ever knocked off the top seed, second-year UT head coach Holly Warlick said her team will never overlook another team for any reason.
"This team has been so good about focusing one game at a time," Warlick said in the NCAA press conference on Friday morning. "We have not brought up statistics and we just look at our opponent and have a tremendous respect for them. If they are in the tournament they have had to do something outstanding or right to get here."
Warlick, who served 27 years as an assistant coach at UT under now head coach emeritus Pat Summitt, was serving under that role when Tennessee lost their first ever first round game to Ball State by the final score of 71-55.
"We lost in the first round to Ball State and we had the number one recruiting class in the country," Warlick said. "So there's no way possible that we are going to overlook a team as long as I'm here and we have the memory of how that felt. There's no need to look ahead because you have to take care of the present game at hand."
In order to go far into the tournament the Lady Vols are focusing on what got them to this point, which junior center Isabelle Harrison attributes to defense and rebounding.
"March Madness is all about uncertainty," she said. "There's been a lot of upsets in the men's and women's games. You never know what is going to happen so you just have to be consistent in your game."
With all the games from here on out being win-or-go home games, Tennessee is determined to keep battling and play 40 minute games as they want to make it to Nashville to play in the Final Four.
"No one is trying to go home right now," Harrison said. "This is where you see everybody's best game and they are going to give it their all and we are going to have to match that and give it our all."
Tennessee enters March Madness as winners of 13 of their last 14 games with their last loss coming on Feb. 16 to Kentucky. The team expects the tournament to be just as physical as the SEC Tournament in which they trailed in all three games they played.
"Going through the SEC Tournament it was really physical and it's going to get even more now," she said. "We just have to keep our minds right and be ready to play."
The first round game will be on ESPN2. The ensuing game will be St. John's against Southern California at 6:30 p.m. ET. The second round game will be played Monday night at 9 p.m.