Ball State stuns Tennessee 71-55

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP)—Pat Summitt wondered when her young Tennessee team would finally get through its growing pains and finally figure it out.

Ball State gave her the emphatic answer: maybe next year.

The Cardinals stunned the two-time defending national champions 71-55 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday night, snapping one of the more remarkable streaks in college basketball history.

The Lady Volunteers (22-11) had never lost in the first two rounds of the tournament, going 42-0 through the years. It’s a run the program has used as a launching pad to eight national championships.

No. 9 will have to wait.

Tennessee became the first defending champ to lose its opening game in the women’s tourney. Old Dominion won the title in 1985 and failed to make the tournament the following year.

The Lady Vols were never in danger of missing the NCAAs even after an uneven regular season, though the selection committee dropped them all the way to a fifth-seed, lowest in 28 tournament appearances.

Summitt, college basketball’s all-time winningest coach, hoped for a fresh start in the NCAAs. She made the team watch a documentary on Tennessee’s 1997 national championship team, a club that lost 10 games during the regular season before finally figuring it out in March.

Yet instead of history repeating itself, the Lady Vols made the kind of history they were hoping to avoid.

Tennessee had never lost to a team seeded lower than fourth, yet looked outclassed against a team playing on college basketball’s biggest stage for the first time.

“I thought we were tentative, maybe uptight,” Summitt said. “But you have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to the Ball State basketball team. They had a lot more toughness. They beat us to loose balls. They made shots.”

The 12th-seeded Cardinals (26-8) will play Iowa State in the second round on Tuesday.

Porchia Green led Ball State with 23 points, Audrey McDonald added 18 and the Mid-American Conference champions dominated the second half to capture the biggest win in school history.

The upset and its decisiveness even left the Cardinals stunned.

“I would be lying to you if I told you I thought it would be a 16-point victory,” Ball State guard Kiley Jarrett said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. “It is just unbelievable.”

Shekinna Stricklen had 17 points for Tennessee. The Lady Vols shot just 35 percent and played the second half without center Kelley Cain, who went down in the first half with a knee injury.

The way the Cardinals fearlessly challenged the Lady Vols, it might not have mattered if Cain was available.

Green and Jarrett did whatever they wanted against the bigger—but decidedly slower—Lady Vols. Using their speed to go by defenders, Green and Jarrett were able to get into the lane or find open teammates.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, appeared to be a step behind all night.

“Their guards did an awesome job,” Tennessee’s Angie Bjorklund said. “We need to get down and defend no matter what and we didn’t do that today.”

Ball State took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Emily Maggert with just over 14 minutes remaining and Tennessee had no response.

The Cardinals pushed the lead to 10 on a pair of free throws by Jarrett with 7:20 to go and Tennessee would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.

“To go out and do what they just did, it’s going to take us a really long time to get our minds around the accomplishment that they have been able to achieve,” said first-year Ball State coach Kelly Packard who has 26 career wins, or 979 fewer than Summitt.

Jarrett celebrated the victory by jumping into Green’s arms at midcourt as the buzzer sounded while the large contingent of the orange-clad Tennessee fans who made their way to E.A. Diddle Arena walked to the exits in stunned silence.

This one may take awhile to sink in.

Getting through the first two rounds has been a mere formality for the Lady Vols through the years, as Tennessee used the opening games as glorified scrimmages in an effort to iron out the kinks before getting to the round of 16.

It’s a formula that’s worked for 27 years and ended with the Lady Vols cutting down the nets in the national championship game, including titles behind star Candace Parker each of the past two seasons.

Parker is long gone now and the seven freshmen that comprise the core of the youngest team of Summitt’s remarkable coaching career will have to wait a year to get a shot at starting another streak.

Updated Monday, Mar 23, 2009

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Ball St.
Porchia Green Porchia Green
9-17,  23 Pts
8 Rebs, 3 Assists
 Tennessee
Shekinna Stricklen Shekinna Stricklen
8-20,  17 Pts
8 Rebs, 2 Assists

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Sunday, Mar 22