KNOXVILLE — Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt doesn’t like to overwork her players during postseason practices. She hopes Marquette convinced the Lady Volunteers to try a little bit harder, though.
The top-seeded Lady Vols survived a scrappy match with eighth-seeded Marquette to advance to the NCAA regional semifinals with a 79-70 victory Monday night. They will face No. 4 Ohio State next in Dayton, Ohio.
“I think that we’ve had some good practices but not great practices, and the last couple have not been at the level of intensity [necessary],” Summitt said. “This is probably a good wake-up call.”
Tennessee will be making its 29th appearance in the round of 16 and is aiming for a Final Four berth after back-to-back disappointing ends to the postseason. The Lady Vols suffered their only first-round loss in 2009 to Ball State and lost in the 2010 regional semifinals to Baylor, despite having a No. 1 seed and playing in Memphis.
Marquette never led, but every time the Lady Vols (33-2) built a lead, the Golden Eagles fought back. It was Tennessee’s narrowest margin in a NCAA tournament win on its home court since a 69-65 victory over Auburn in 1991 and second narrowest second-round victory.
The Lady Vols, who are now 50-0 in NCAA tourney games played in Knoxville, led by 11 points in the second half and had a 62-55 lead when Marquette’s Tatiyiana McMorris sank a 3-pointer and Angel Robinson hit two long jump shots to cut it to 63-62 with 6:15 left.
“That stretch was about making stops,” Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said. “We threw in some random traps. We started switching, doing a little more doubling inside, we got some stops and we pushed it. We were better when we were pushing it and attacking.”
Tennessee scored the next six points, though, to make it 69-62 with 4:53 left and kept Marquette at bay by clamping down on defense and hitting six of its next eight foul shots.
Meighan Simmons led Tennessee with 18 points. Glory Johnson scored 16, Alicia Manning sank 11 and Shekinna Stricklen had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Tennessee, which shot 51.7 percent, built an eight-point lead midway through the first half, but the Golden Eagles used a 7-0 run to cut it to 28-27 with 5:18 before halftime.
The Golden Eagles, led by six seniors, had spent extra time in the offseason working out in hopes of reaching their first NCAA tournament in four seasons. Marquette has reached the second round four times now but never won.
Angel Robinson led Marquette (24-9) with 19 points. McMorris added 15 points, Jasmine Collins had 14 and Fiedorowicz scored 12.
The Golden Eagles were smaller than the Lady Vols but managed to frustrate them in the paint at both ends of the court. Marquette matched Tennessee’s 32 points in the lane and kept the Lady Vols from hitting as many layups as they would have liked.
“When they have physical guards and their whole team is physical, we have to be physical back,” Johnson said. “We can’t let them throw us around in the paint, and that’s something that we struggled with for the majority of the game.”
Both teams turned the ball over 11 times, but the Lady Vols scored nine more points off of giveaways.
Marquette shot 40.3 percent and hit eight 3s but seemed to lose what little advantage it had inside when starting forward Paige Fiedorowicz fouled out with 5:25 left to play.
“There were two good teams out there on the floor, and good teams make runs,” Robinson said. “We were back and forth with making our runs. We stopped them and they stopped us. The outcome is who scores the most points. Everybody up here said we left everything out there. We played until the buzzer buzzed.”