March 17, 2002

From the Associated Press

GAME: No. 7 Notre Dame (20-9) vs. No. 2. Tennessee (26-4).
REGIONAL: Midwest, Second Round.
TIME: Sunday, 7:06 p.m. EST.
SITE: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.

If Notre Dame wants to prolong its stay in the NCAA tournament, it will have to beat powerhouse Tennessee for the first time.

Seeded No. 7, the defending champion Fighting Irish have lost all 13 previous meetings with the second-seeded Lady Vols. Their most recent defeat was an 80-66 setback in the 1997 NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame returned only two starters from last year’s national title team and has six freshmen – including reserve forward Jacqueline Batteast, the Big East rookie of the year.

Still, the Fighting Irish managed to get by New Mexico 58-44 in the first round on Friday. Junior Alicia Ratay had 14 points and Batteast added 13 for Notre Dame, which tied a Midwest regional record by limiting the Lobos to 11 second-half points.

“This was a huge win for us. We’ve got some young players, and it was important for them to get experience,” coach Muffett McGraw said.

McGraw knows repeating as champion will be a longshot for the Irish, who have to get past a Tennessee team with six national titles.

“Every experience we have is a learning experience for next year,” she said. “We’re really happy to have the opportunity to come to a place like this that has so much tradition because it is a great learning opportunity for us.”

Tennessee rebounded from an early exit in the SEC tournament by beating 15th-seeded Georgia State 98-68 in the first round on Friday.

“I think this basketball team has greatly improved from the SEC tournament to the first game in the NCAA,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “Clearly our post game stepped up.”

The Lady Vols were without senior center Michelle Snow, who missed the game for cutting class. However, junior forward Gwen Jackson, who had not played as well this season as last, broke out for 28 points and 10 rebounds.

“She’s a big-time player. I know she’s not happy with the kind of year she’s had, but I think she can have a great tournament,” Summitt said. “This is the beginning of what we think can be a Gwen Jackson breakout for the tournament.”

Tennessee has now won 39 straight NCAA home games.

The winner advances to the Midwest regional championships at Ames, Iowa, on March 23-25.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Notre Dame – F Ericka Haney (6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg), F Katy Flecky (5.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg), C Amanda Barksdale (3.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), G Le’Tania Severe (6.5 ppg, 5.1 apg), G Alicia Ratay (15.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Tennessee – F Jackson (10.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), F Snow (13.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg), C Tasha Butts (4.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg), G Kara Lawson (16.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg), G Loree Moore (5.3 ppg, 4.0 apg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Notre Dame – At-large bid, Big East conference, defeated New Mexico 58-44, first round. Tennessee – At-large bid, Southeastern Conference, defeated Georgia State 98-68, first round.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Notre Dame – 17-7, 9 years. Tennessee – 72-14, 21 years.