Liberty women receive #14 seed, will face #3 Tennessee on Friday
LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET/Liberty Flames) - Big South champion Liberty has earned the No. 14 seed in the Lexington Region of the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship and will meet No. 3 seed Tennessee in the first round. The first matchup between the Lady Flames and Lady Vols in 20 years will tip off Friday at 2:30 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
The winner of the Liberty-Tennessee contest will face the victor of Friday's opening game between No. 6 seed Oregon State and No. 11 seed Western Kentucky on Sunday at a to-be-determined time, inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Lady Flames (24-9, 16-2 Big South) earned their 17th trip to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship in the last 22 years with a 60-42 victory over UNC Asheville in the Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game, Sunday at the Vines Center. Liberty, which has made a quick turnaround from a 13-17 season in 2016-17, returns to the tournament for the first time since 2015.
Sheana Vega, one of two seniors on the roster, is the lone remaining Lady Flame from the 2015 NCAA Tournament team and the only current player who has ever been to the "Big Dance."
Liberty is seeded No. 14 for the fifth time, following the Lady Flames' tournament appearances in 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2009.
Liberty has won a season-high eight games in a row and is 15-1 in its last 16 outings. Defense has fueled the Lady Flames' success, as Liberty has held 17 straight opponents below the 60-point mark and is allowing just 53.7 ppg for the season.
Offensively, the Lady Flames' balanced attack is spearheaded by the trio of 6-1 sophomore post Keyen Green (13.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-1 junior post KK Barbour (9.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and 5-6 freshman point guard Ashtyn Baker (8.0 ppg, 3.0 apg). Green was named Big South Player of the Year, Baker was honored as Big South Freshman of the Year and Barbour was voted Big South Championship MVP.
Tennessee (24-7, 11-5 SEC) tied for fourth in the SEC regular-season standings and reached the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. Head coach Holly Warlick's Lady Vols are currently ranked No. 12 nationally in the AP Top 25 poll and No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches poll. Tennessee is the only program which has appeared in every NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship since the tournament began in 1982.
Three Lady Vols score in double digits, including 6-2 senior guard/forward Jaime Nared (17.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg), 6-6 redshirt senior center Mercedes Russell (15.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and 6-2 freshman guard/forward Rennia Davis (12.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg). Nared and Russell were both honored as All-SEC first team performers, with Davis being chosen for the SEC All-Freshman Team.
The only previous Liberty-Tennessee hardwood clash came in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship, March 14, 1998, at Thompson-Boling Arena. Both teams entered the matchup with undefeated records, but the Lady Vols prevailed 102-58, beginning their trek towards their sixth of eight national championships won to date.
Liberty is facing its 10th SEC opponent all-time in the NCAA tournament, but its first since 2010, when the Lady Flames lost to Kentucky, 83-77, in Louisville, Ky.
Liberty Head Coach Carey Green grew up just outside of Knoxville in Maryville, Tenn. He earned a master's degree in science education from Tennessee in 1981.
Friday's game will also feature a pair of 2017 Tennessee Miss Basketball honorees in Liberty freshman point guard Ashtyn Baker (Division II-A) and Tennessee freshman point guard Anastasia Hayes (Class AAA).