JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Familiar foes hit the hardwood in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA Women's Basketball Championships as top-seeded and sixth-ranked Carson-Newman hosts eight-seeded Anderson Friday evening at 5 p.m. inside of Holt Fieldhouse.
"I think they are excited to play," Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey said of his team. "I think they understand what kind of advantage they have with preparations in your own gym. You don't have to travel. You get to sleep in your own bed. We are enjoying every minute that we get to stay home. A lot of that stuff goes out the window. Crazy things happen in March. We have to make sure our prep is very good."
The Lady Eagles are in the playoff field for the eighth time in program history reaching its highest seed while holding a 3-7 overall record in the NCAA Tournament. Its last win came in the opening round of the 2010 playoff in a 79-72 win over Lenoir-Rhyne.
Two of the victories for C-N came in its deepest run in 2005 when the club beat Fayetteville State by 12 and Clayton State by 14 points before losing in the South Atlantic Regional final to Shaw 67-53.
Carson-Newman (29-2) was last in the tournament field in 2014-15 when it lost as the No. 7 seed to fifth-ranked Columbus State in Gaffney, S.C. Only one player on the current roster played in that contest and has NCAA Tournament experience as Jecca Simerly (Talbott, Tenn.) played 25 minutes scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds.
Since the NCAA aligned to Southeast Region, only one SAC school has hosted the region as Lenoir-Rhyne did so in 2008-09 and 2013-14. Mars Hill hosted the South Atlantic region in 2001-02 and Catawba was the top team in 2002-03 making C-N the host institution for a regional for the fifth time since the field went to a host site system in 2001.
A school from the league has advanced to the Elite Eight on five occasions with Wingate going in 1995, 1996 and 2008. Mars Hill advanced to the national quarterfinals in 2002 and Tusculum made a trip in 2010. No program has won a game in the Elite Eight in those five outings.
Since the Southeast Region came into existence, the top seed has won four of the nine region championships including three of the last five. It has been boom or bust over that five-year stretch as the top seed has lost in the opening round in the two years that the No. 1 did not advance as Augusta and Armstrong State each went to the title game with each club losing to the No. 7 seed.
Overall in the previous nine tournament, top seeds are 7-2 in the first round, 5-2 in the semifinals and 4-1 in the Southeast Region Championship game.
Early in the game, Mincey's crew will become the highest scoring team in the history of the South Atlantic Conference as the club needs 19 points to establish the high mark for points scored in a season by a league team set by Wingate's group in 1989-90 over a 33-game season.
The Trojans and Lady Eagles will meet for the 21st time as C-N holds a 12-8 margin having swept the regular-season series. Mincey's group led for all but 4:44 between the 80 minutes played leading by as many as 41 in the Holt Fieldhouse matchup. It was a 72-56 decision in the Palmetto State and a 99-61 dismantling at Mossy Creek across the two meetings.
Anderson (20-10) is in the playoff field for the fourth straight season and 12th time overall as a program with a 9-11 record in the postseason. In 2017, the Trojans were the No. 8 seed and lost to eventual region champion Columbus State 73-62. The last win in the tournament came in 2016 at the fifth seed crushing Clayton State 80-56 before falling by eight to No. 8 seed Augusta.
The Trojans were one of the best defensive teams in the country ranking eighth in blocked shots per game at nearly six and seventh in rebound margin at nearly plus-10. Alexis Dillard was named the SAC Defensive Player of the Year after placing fourth in rejections with 43 and fourth in rebounds at just over eight per night.
In terms of scoring defense, it was a team that was 29th in the country at just shy of 59 per night. The Trojans allowed more than 70 points on seven occasions, losing six, with the lone win coming in overtime at Coker on Jan. 13, 77-74.
The team won seven of its last nine with a pair of losses to Wingate in that stretch. With a 10-2 record at home, Anderson was great on its home floor but went 10-8 in contests played away from home.
"The two games in the regular season don't matter as much," Mincey assessed. "We won both of those games. It's tournament time. It's March madness. You have to throw out the records. They will throw a lot at us. We have to try to get the game going the way that we want in terms of tempo. If we can do that I like our chances."
Alexy Mollenhauer, an honorable mention All-SAC pick, leads three scorers in double figures per game at just under 12 per night on the year. She scored a total of 16 points in the two meetings with the Lady Eagles on the year going 6-for-17 from the field.
The usual outlets will provide the soundtrack for the contest with radio coverage on 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online with audio and video streams available on cneagles.com/live starting 15 minutes before the opening tap.
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