KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Jordan Horston spent much of the final quarter cheering from the bench, at one point even waving a towel cheering on her teammates.
Coach Kellie Harper has a very deep roster, and the Tennessee Lady Vols started their latest NCAA Tournament in dominating fashion.
Horston scored 21 points and Rickea Jackson added 18 as the fourth-seeded Lady Vols remained perfect when opening the NCAA Tournament on their home court, routing No. 13 seed Saint Louis 95-50 on Saturday.
“We did what we were supposed to do, and I think the score’s a result of that,” Harper said.
The Lady Vols (24-11) improved to 25-0 in first-round games on their home court to reach Monday night’s second-round where they will play 12th-seeded Toledo, an 80-73 upset winner over No. 5 seed Iowa State. Tennessee improved to 6-2 all-time as a No. 4 seed.
Jordan Walker added 11 points and Tess Darby had 10 as 13 Lady Vols scored. They will try to advance to a second straight Sweet 16 in the Seattle 3 region.
“It’s very important to get a win now because if you don’t, you’re done,” said Horston, who also had eight rebounds and two steals after missing the tournament a year ago with an injury.
The first NCAA Tournament appearance ended quickly for Saint Louis (17-18). The Billikens snapped the six-game winning streak that helped them win the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament after starting the season 6-16.
First-year coach Rebecca Tillett said even in the loss she saw her Billikens executing things they had no chance of even 20 games ago because they hadn’t been together long enough.
“So just to continue to build on that foundation over and over again is why this team will go down in history,” Tillett said.
Brooke Flowers led Saint Louis with 17 points. The fifth-year senior also had five blocks, giving her 398 for her career and passing Rebecca Lobo for 18th all-time.Kyla McMakin, who followed Tillett from Longwood as a transfer, added 11. Camree Clegg added 12 off the bench.
“We’ll forever be the first champions so a wonderful experience,” Flowers said.
The Billikens led twice in the first couple minutes, the last on a McMakin jumper at 4-3. Walker tied it at 4 with a free throw, then finished a fast break with a layup putting the Lady Vols ahead to stay with 6:51 left. Darby added a 3, and Horston’s jumper capped an eight-point spurt for Tennessee.
The Lady Vols led by as much as 10 before McMakin banked in a buzzer-beating 3 that pulled Saint Louis within 20-15 at end of the first quarter. Flowers hit two free throws to pull Saint Louis within 20-17 to start the second quarter.
Tennessee seized control in the second outscoring Saint Louis 28-9 for a 48-24 lead at halftime. The Lady Vols, who led 67-41 at the end of the third, polished off the win exactly matching the second quarter outscoring the Billikens 28-9.
That allowed Harper to pull her starters with 6:24 left. Freshman Edie Darby even had four points in less than 3 minutes, and Horston was not surprised when Darby knocked down a jumper, calling her a “baller.”
“I knew that shot was going in when it left her hand,” Horston said.
Saint Louis: The Billikens’ future seems bright with Tillett picking up where she left off after leading Longwood to the NCAA Tournament a year ago from the Big South. She joined Lisa Bluder (Drake and Iowa) as the only Division I coaches to lead teams in different conferences to tournament titles in consecutive years. This loss was just their second in the final 13 games for a program that last won 11 of 12 in the 1978-79 season. Not bad for a program picked to finish 12th in the A-10.
Tennessee: The program that has appeared in every NCAA Tournament improved to 32-2 in the first round. The Lady Vols used their height advantage for a 54-22 scoring edge in the paint. They also took care of the ball with only 10 turnovers and turned the Billikens’ 20 turnovers – 13 off steals – into 30 points.
Tennessee played 15 teams in this NCAA Tournament field, but they will be playing Toledo for only the second time in program history. The Lady Vols beat Toledo in December 1985 in a regular season tournament in Hawaii.
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