Middle Tennessee put a scare into No. 13 Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament but a strong third-quarter push by the Lady Vols carried them to an 87-62 win here Sunday.
The teams were knotted 39-39 at the half and the Lady Raiders (17-8) had visions of becoming the first No. 14 seed to upset a No. 3 in tournament history, however, Tennessee (17-7) had different plans coming out of intermission.
The Lady Vols used a 23-10 third-quarter run to carry them to victory.
Middle Tennessee was 0-of-4 with two turnovers on its first six possessions of the third quarter, while Tennessee was 4-of-5 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line on its first six possessions to turn the tide.
Tennessee used the strong third quarter start to build the game's first double-digit lead, 56-44 with 3:33 remaining in the frame.
Anastasia Hayes capped a remarkable junior campaign with a game-high 26 points, five assists and three steals. Aislynn Hayes was also in double figures for the Lady Raiders with 15 points, while adding two assists and one steal. She played all 40 minutes without a turnover.
The first half provided an excited brand of basketball and hope for a first-round upset for Middle Tennessee. The Lady Vols raced out to a 16-9 lead, but Middle Tennessee closed the quarter strong. Aislynn Hayes' long 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining pulled the Lady Raiders to within 21-18 at the end of the quarter.
Alexis Whittington, Anastasia Hayes, Aislynn Hayes and Deja Cage all converted field goals during Middle Tennessee's first-quarter run.
The Lady Raiders won the second quarter, 21-18, with an exciting brand of basketball to pull even 39-39 entering halftime.
Middle Tennessee was 7-of-17 from the field in the second quarter, including 4-of-11 from 3-point range. Anastasia Hayes led the Lady Raider scoring with seven in the quarter, while Courtney Whitson tallied six points on the strength of two 3-pointers and Alexis Whittington contributed five.
"We felt good about things at halftime," Lady Raider Head Coach Rick Insell said. "We were able to battle on the boards and we hit shots in the first half. Hitting shots is what we are about. We weren't able to knock down some shots to start the third quarter, and Tennessee took advantage."
In the end, Tennessee's size was too much. The Lady Vols had a decisive advantage on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 56-21. Of those 56 rebounds, 20 were on the offensive glass as Tennessee piled up 21 second-chance points. It also scored 48 of its 87 points in the paint.
"Their size was a difference," Insell said. "We haven't been outrebounded like that all season. We knew we were going to have to keep them off of the offensive boards to have a chance and we were not able to do that in the second half."