KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Co-head coaches Brooke and Scott Stoehr and the 16th-seeded Northwestern State women's basketball team will rely on experience against national powers Baylor and Texas to help when the Lady Demons take on No. 1-seed Tennessee on its own floor at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday at 3 o'clock CDT in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Fans in north Louisiana will see the entire game on ESPN 2 on cable systems. Satellite subscribers can watch ESPN2 or game-specific coverage on DirecTV channel 720, Dish Network 145 and Dish FullCourt 456. The Demon Sports Network will broadcast the game on 100.7 KZBL FM in Natchitoches, 92.1 KSYR FM in Shreveport and free streaming on NSUDemons.com.
NSU (21-12) surged to the Southland Conference Tournament championship last week as the fourth seed after upsetting the top two seeds in that tournament. The Lady Volunteers (27-5) won the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship as the second seed.
Tennessee's big front line, and NSU's relatively small frontcourt, pose the most obvious challenge for the Lady Demons.
"I think it's extremely difficult to simulate their size and athleticism during practice, especially from our roster. I don't think you can simulate that fully until you get in live-game situation and face them on the court," said Brooke Stoehr, who along with her husband Scott have led NSU to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 seasons.
"One thing that we continue to go back to is we've played at Baylor, we've played at Texas. This is not going to be the first time this young team has seen size of that magnitude," she said. "We've had to do some things, adjust offensively from what we've done over the last few weeks against teams in our league."
Northwestern State, who will play in its third NCAA Tournament and seventh postseason tournament, kept pace with Baylor throughout the first half. It was down by five with 2:15 to play in the opening frame, and trailed by eight at halftime.
The Lady Demons held a seven-point lead with 12:59 to play in the first half against Texas, and held an advantage until there was 10:52 to play in the first half. The Longhorns used a 37-11 run to blow open the game by halftime.
"It's not the first time we've faced a team of this size," said Stoehr. "Texas' front line is actually bigger than Tennessee's. The thing about (the Lady Vols) is they're playing so hard right now and our kids will be ready for that."
"I just feel like we need to approach it the same way we did our conference tournament and with the same confidence, determination and focus," said NSU's leading scorer and rebounder, Southland Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player Trudy Armstead.
Armstead, a 6-1 senior forward who was just third-team All-Southland Conference, averages 14.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
"Just going into a game like this, it's just like any other game. We compete the same way, we play together and we don't lose sight of what we have to do in order to be successful," said Northwestern State's 5-2 point guard Janelle Perez, an all-tournament pick last weekend.
Perez averages 10.1 points and 4.2 assists per game. She was second in the Southland Conference with a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Sophomore guard Keisha Lee follows Armstead in scoring with 13.6 points per game, and leads NSU with 1.5 steals per game. Freshman Kourtney Pennywell is second in rebounding with 5.4 boards per game followed by Chelsea Rogers with five per contest.
Northwestern State averages 64.2 and allows 61.8 points per game this season. It shoots at a 42.4 percent clip from the field and 32.3 from 3-point range.
Meighan Simmons' 16.2 points per game average leads UT, and is followed by Isabelle Harrison (13.9) and Ariel Massingale (12.5). Massingale is likely out due to injuries.
The Lady Vols average 78.9 points per contest and allow 63.5. They shoot 46.2 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range.
It is the first matchup between the two programs, but not the first matchup against UT or in Thompson-Boling Arena for Brooke (Lassiter) Stoehr. She faced Tennessee four times while at Louisiana Tech, and helped beat the Lady Vols 69-64 in Knoxville in 1999.
I said, 'well guys, I can tell you I've won here before'. I think we ended their 41-game home-game win streak my sophomore year," said Stoehr. "It's one of the better memories in my college career.
"Anytime you come in as a No. 16 seed, obviously, you're extremely proud and honored to be a part of the field of 64. You also see where you get sent and what can this experience means for our players and our program moving forward," she said. "Scott and I were thrilled to come to Knoxville. They have a first class atmosphere. They've done it for 33 years, and they know what they're doing around here."
The winner of the game will take on the winner of St. John's and Southern California in the Round of 32. That game starts 30 minutes after the UT and NSU contest.