UD draws blue-blood Tennessee in first round of women’s NCAA tourney

Dayton celebrate after a victory against Saint Louis on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

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Dayton celebrate after a victory against Saint Louis on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, at UD Arena. David Jablonski/Staff

Watching their name pop up during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show was only slightly more exciting for the University of Dayton women’s players than seeing who they will be playing.

The Flyers, who received a No. 12 seed, will take on No. 5 Tennessee, one of the legendary programs in the women’s game, in a first-round game at 4 p.m. Saturday in Louisville, Ky.

“I think every little kid grew up watching them,” UD junior guard Jenna Burdette said.

“It’s like a dream come true,” added junior guard JaVonna Layfield, who not only will get to face the Volunteers, but will do so in her hometown.

Tennessee won eight national titles from 1987 to 2008 under late Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, and the Volunteers have advanced to the regional final 27 times in the last 35 years. Tennessee defeated Dayton 92-64 in a second round NCAA Tournament game in Knoxville in 2010.

“I have a ton of respect for that program and what it’s about, what it’s always been about,” UD coach Shauna Green said. “That’s what I grew up watching, was Tennessee and Pat Summitt. So yeah, it’s a cool storyline. But it’s another game, and we’re going to prepare the same way.”

The Volunteers (19-11) haven’t played since March 2 when they lost to Alabama in their opening game of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

The Flyers (22-9) are riding the high of capturing the Atlantic 10 tournament championship with three consecutive double-digit victories, and they head into the NCAA tournament having won 19 of 22 after a 3-6 start.

“It’s all about peaking at the right time and playing your best basketball in late March,” Green said. “How we’ve been playing, and especially this past weekend at the A10, I’m really, really happy with where we’re at. I think we’re playing with a great deal of confidence.

“We’re really just starting to gel and we’re making reads and we’re just playing very, very confidently, very, very smoothly,” she added.

It’s the program’s seventh trip to the NCAA tournament in eight years after failing to make it last season. And the first under Green, who took over as head coach on Sept. 11 after Jim Jabir’s abrupt resignation.

“Not making the tournament last year, this is special,” Green said. “Making it (six) years in a row here, I don’t want to say taking it for granted, but you start to get used to it. Having this feeling and being back here and watching and seeing your name called, that never gets old.

“I keep telling our team, do not take this for granted ever and enjoy every second,” she continued. “We’ve been enjoying our practices. We’ve had a ton of energy. It’s special.”

And even more so for Layfield due to the return to her hometown, where she was a 2014 Miss Kentucky Basketball finalist at Louisville Ballard High School.

“Of all the places, we land in Louisville,” she said. “It’s going to be a really great experience and a really fun time. It’s going to be the first time (my family) gets to see me play in the NCAA tournament, and it’s even more special that it’s at home.

It will be meaningful, and I’m just excited about it,” she added. “My mom gets to see me play, my dad, grandma, grandpa, old coaches, family friends. It’s going to be a fun thing.”

The Dayton-Tennessee victor advances to play Monday against the winner of Saturday’s first game between No. 4 Louisville and No. 13 Chattanooga.

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