For the fifth consecutive season, the No. 1-seeded Lady Vols will try to advance to the Sweet 16, as they will face No. 8-seeded St. John's, who advanced with a last-second 3-pointer from Briana Brown to defeat USC in Round 32 on Monday night.
Despite not knowing if she'd even be able to coach her team's first round game against Northwestern State, second-year head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols toughed out a 70-46 win in the first round on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena and have won 14 of their past 15 games.
Warlick, who has only missed two games in her coaching career due to health concerns, recovered in the second half and is back to full-force after battling a stomach bug.
"I feel great and slept well," she said. "It's adrenaline and this is the best time of the year for myself and our team. I feel wonderful."
The game between the two teams, who will meet for the first time, will be Meighan Simmons' final game playing on her home court, as she will try to help her team extend their winning streak at home in NCAA tournament play all-time to 42 games.
The lone senior, who ranks fifth on UT's all-time scoring list, will attempt to get over a shooting slump and shake off a 4-for-15 shooting performance in the first round.
"She has been a scorer all her life," Warlick said. "That's her mentality. I don't want to change that, I just want to kind of corral it in a little bit and try to get her to recognize for her what is a good shot is and what a tough shot is."
Her shooting woes have been on display since the SEC tournament, in which she shot below 40 percent in every game, despite averaging 15.3 points per game and helping her team secure the programs' 17th conference championship.
"She is an outstanding offensive player, especially when she takes what I say is makeable shots," Warlick said. "I'm not going to change her competitiveness. I love how she competes and I love how she gets into the game. I love her fire and I love her energy."
After a sluggish offensive performance in the first half in the opening round, which had UT shoot 2-of-25 after hitting five of their first six shots and only led by two at halftime, UT's key to success against the Red Storm hinges on its ability to work the ball inside and to open outside shots as well.
Lady Vol guards combined to shoot just 10-of-32 from the field against the Red Storm.
"It's going to be huge," said junior forward Cierra Burdick regarding the importance of starting strong against St. John's. "You want to get that great start and carry the momentum throughout the entire game. We have to stick to our principles, playing the way we know we are capable of playing for a full for 40 minutes."
Aliyyah Handford led St. John's in its 71-68 opening round win over Southern California with 27 points. The sophomore was 11-of-15 from the free throw line.
Forward Amber Thompson also was a force for the Red Storm, as she scored 10 points and hauled in 17 rebounds.
"They are extremely fast and athletic," Burdick said. "They play fast basketball. They get after it and play with a lot of emotion, so we can't get into a running game with them."
The Lady Vols will likely try to utilize their heigth advantage against the undersized Red Storm.
"They really like to get out in transition, from what I saw last night," Burdick said. "So it's about just slowing down their transition play and really using our size against them."