Vanderbilt is headed back to Cincinnati and on track for a rematch.
The Commodores learned Monday that they will open the NCAA Women’s Tournament in the Queen City for second straight year. Vanderbilt earned a No. 10 seed in the Spokane Regional and matched up with seventh-seeded Louisville in a first-round contest at 11 a.m. Sunday (ESPN2).
However, on the horizon could be a possible repeat of last year’s second round. Host Xavier is the No. 2 seed and will play 15th-seeded South Dakota State. Xavier edged Vanderbilt 63-62 a year ago to advance to the Sweet 16.
“It is hard not to look ahead. It is because they are the team that beat us last year,” forward Tiffany Clarke said. “To get to them we have to take it one game at a time. We have to focus on Louisville first. ... Louisville is going to be a hard game. It is going to be rough and challenging. So we can’t overlook that game. But we are excited about if we do — when we do — win that game, playing Xavier.”
The Commodores (20-11) are in the tournament for the 12th straight season and 24th overall. The 10th seed is the lowest in Melanie Balcomb’s nine years as head coach. Prior to that she spent seven years as Xavier’s head coach.
If Vanderbilt and Xavier win, the two teams would meet on Tuesday.
“Obviously you have to win your first game first so that is all we are going to focus on,” Balcomb said. “We had a good win there [against DePaul in the first round[ and then a tough loss there last year [against Xavier]. I’m sure they will be remembering that.”
Louisville (20-12) finished tied for fifth in the Big East and are led by Monique Reid (15.8 points per game) and Shoni Schimmel (14.3 ppg).
Vanderbilt transfer Tia Gibbs is averaging 8.3 points a game in her first year for the Cardinals. Gibbs sat out last year after averaging 5.1 points as a freshman in 2008-09 for the Commodores. The Louisville native and the 2008 Miss Kentucky Basketball in 2008 also has 82 steals, which is tied for the most in the Big East.
“I have no thoughts,” Balcomb said about Gibbs. “Kids transfer all the time.”
The Commodores have lost four of their last seven, including twice to ranked Kentucky and once to Tennessee, which earned a No. 1 seed in the Dayton Regional.
Vanderbilt hasn’t played since last Saturday when it lost to Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. The extra time off has helped the team heal up from injuries and illness. Balcomb said she and several players are just starting to get over the flu. The Commodores have been plagued by injury all season, with senior starter Jence Rhoads along with freshmen Christina Foggie and Stephanie Holzer all missing games.
They feel confident, though, that they are getting healthy at the right time to make a run and reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in two years.
“I feel good about this team because of our resilience,” Balcomb said. “We are the youngest team I’ve ever had, plus injuries and illness during the [SEC] tournament — we have had it all. We will be at full strength for the NCAA Tournament and that is what I am looking forward to is actually having my deck stacked for the first time.”
• MTSU gets in as an 11th seed: Middle Tennessee State is headed to its third straight and 14th overall NCAA Tournament and will play sixth-seeded Georgia at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Auburn, Ala. (ESPN2).
The Blue Raiders (23-7) earned the 11th seed in the Dallas Regional. They won the Eastern division of the Sun Belt Conference for the third straight year but fell in the first round of the league tournament last week to Arkansas State. That was just four days after MTSU junior guard Tina Stewart was stabbed to death, allegedly by her roommate. The team attended her funeral on Saturday in Memphis.
The Blue Raiders will try to bounce back from the tragedy and reach the second round for the first time since 2007. MTSU is led by Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Ebony Rowe, who averages 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Georgia (21-10) finished fourth in the SEC and is paced by Jasmine James (12.1 ppg) and Porsha Phillips, who averaged 11.1 points and 10.8 rebounds.
If MTSU wins, it will play either No. 3 seed Florida State or 14th seed Samford on Tuesday.