Knoxville, TN — The sun shone brightly down upon the orange and white faithful gathered in Knoxville for two reasons. First, superstar forward Rickea Jackson announced on Monday that she would be returning next season, and secondly, their beloved Lady Vols took the hardwood with vengeance and purpose.
In a dazzling display of skill and teamwork, Tennessee’s women’s basketball team handily crushed the overmatched Billikens of Saint Louis, steamrolling their way to a 95-50 victory in front of a raucous home crowd.
Led by the dynamic duo of Jordan Horston and Rickea Jackson, who poured in 21 and 18 points, respectively, the fourth-seeded Lady Vols turned what was supposed to be a somewhat competitive match-up into an emphatic statement of their championship potential.
“We took care of business today, and the score reflects our focus and preparation,” said Tennessee had coach Kellie Harper after the game.
For Horston, the margin of victory underscores the razor-thin margin of error in March: “It’s win or go home now, so we had to leave nothing to chance.”
— The Ball Out Sports (@TheBallOutSport) March 18, 2023
Tennessee halts Saint Louis’ magic, but history was made
The Saint Louis Billikens’ magical underdog run came to an abrupt end in their first NCAA Tournament appearance, but not before cementing their place in school history. After starting the season 6-16, the Billikens rattled off six straight wins to capture an unlikely Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title.
Though their championship feelings were cut short in the Big Dance, first-year head coach Rebecca Tillett saw a team executing at a level scarcely imaginable just weeks earlier.
“To continue building on that foundation over and over is why this team will go down in history,” Tillett said of her rapidly improving squad. For senior Brooke Flowers, the loss did little to dampen a memorable final season in which she established herself as one of the program’s all-time greats.
With five more blocks, Flowers surpassed Rebecca Lobo for 18th on the NCAA career list.
“We’ll forever be the first champions,” Flowers said, “so a wonderful experience.” Against considerable odds, the 2022-23 Saint Louis Billikens etched their name into the annals of school history.
The Lady Vols will take on Toledo on Monday after the Rockets (12-seed) upset the No. 5-seed Iowa State Cyclones.