KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee senior guard Jordan Horston has not decided yet whether she’ll put her name into WNBA draft after this NCAA Tournament or return for another season on Rocky Top.
What wound up being a season-ending injury sidelined her for last year’s NCAA Tournament and Tennessee’s first Sweet 16 berth since 2016. So Horston is soaking up this opportunity, starting Saturday when the fourth-seeded Lady Vols (23-11) begin by hosting No. 13 seed Saint Louis in the first round.
“It feels really good,” Horston said Friday. “It was really hard for me being injured and just having to watch the game instead of playing. I am really excited to be able to play the big game of basketball again. So I’m taking advantage of every opportunity that I am given.”
Fellow senior Rickea Jackson, who announced Monday she’s coming back next season, has been lobbying Horston to join her. For now, the Lady Vols’ leading scorer can’t wait for her own NCAA debut after missing out at Mississippi State the last three seasons.
“I’m very excited for this and how far this team can go and the potential that we have to continue to keep playing great and build our chemistry,” Jackson said.
The 24th-ranked Lady Vols are hosting a second consecutive year thanks to the nation’s toughest schedule. Also in Knoxville is No. 17 Iowa State, the fifth seed in the Seattle 3 region. Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly plays his old team in 12th-seeded Toledo (28-4) for a spot in Monday night’s second round.
Tennessee coach Kellie Harper has a much healthier team than a year ago, even with center Tamari Key sidelined by blood clots. Harper said Horston makes so many plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“I blocked it from my memory that she didn’t play last year,” Harper said of Horston. “Obviously, having her out there, I mean, she’s just a talented player. You want her on the court with you.”
The Lady Vols will try to move to 25-0 in first-round NCAA games here against a program making its tournament debut as the Atlantic 10 Tournament champs.
The Saint Louis Billikens (17-17) are soaking in women’s basketball history, posing for photos with the statue of the late Pat Summitt and touring the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday along with Toledo.
Saint Louis coach Rebecca Tillett led Longwood to the tournament a year ago as the Big South Tournament champs. She brought guard Kyla McMakin with her, so they’re trying to share their experience. The Billikens feel confident having won six straight and 11 of their last 12.
“This is a historical place,” McMakin said of the arena filled with Tennessee’s eight national championship banners. “Why not come out and make history?”
Iowa State (22-9) had its own argument to host in Ames as the Big 12 Tournament champ. They’ve won four straight, including knocking off a trio of NCAA teams by double digits for their first league tourney title since 2001.
Fennelly, who had been texting with Toledo coach Tricia Cullop, said he didn’t want to play his old friends and the program he took to three NCAA berths between 1988 and 1995.
“Of all the teams that could pop up, that’s the one that did …” Fennelly said. “I’m sure the committee has a slight sense of humor. But no, I wasn’t excited about it.”
Toledo has matched the program record by winning 16 straight, including an upset of then-No. 14 Michigan at Ann Arbor in December. This is the Rockets’ ninth tournament berth and first since 2017. They are looking for their first win since beating Ole Miss in 1996.
The regional is a homecoming for two Cyclones.
Freshman Denae Fritz is from Maryville, a short drive from Knoxville, and was a 2021 Tennessee Miss Basketball. Sophomore forward Maggie Vick not only is from nearby Morristown, her mother teaches at the University of Tennessee — though currently is trying to return from a trip to Africa for tipoff.
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