New Tennessee women's college basketball coach Holly Warlick speaks during a news conference Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee's Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt stepped down after coaching the Lady Vols for nearly four decades. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- After the Southeastern Conference Office unveiled this year’s league schedule on Friday, first-year Tennessee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Holly Warlick announced her team’s 2012-13 slate. The Lady Volunteers once again appear to have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation.
The Big Orange women are slated to face 19 teams that saw postseason action a year ago. That group includes 16 teams that made the NCAA Tournament, two that played in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and another that competed in the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
In addition to a 16-contest Southeastern Conference schedule, Tennessee will play 13 non-conference foes, including three teams that appeared in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Final Four. Stanford and Notre Dame will visit Knoxville, while defending NCAA Champion Baylor will play host to the Lady Vols in Waco, Texas. After going on the road for NCAA First and Second Round games last season, UT will have an opportunity to return to its familiar role as host this season, with games being played March 23 and 25 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We’re glad to finally have the schedule, and we’re anxious to get started,” Warlick said. “Our non-conference schedule is as tough as it has ever been, but I think our team is going to be up for the challenge.
“I’m excited for our fans to get to see us play the type of competition we have on the home schedule this year,” Warlick said. “We hope those match-ups will attract some big crowds, and our fans will provide the kind of great atmosphere and support they always give our players.”
Also lined up for non-league tilts at Thompson-Boling are North Carolina, Rutgers and Middle Tennessee, while first-time meetings are set with Rice, Alcorn State, which is coached by former Lady Vol Tonya Edwards, and Davidson. In addition to facing Baylor away from Knoxville, Tennessee also will play road contests at Chattanooga, Georgia Tech, Miami (Fla.) and Texas.
“We open up our first two games on the road at Chattanooga and at Georgia Tech, and that’s going to be a huge challenge for us right off the bat,” Warlick said. “We also play Texas and Baylor back-to-back on the road, and that’s a tough swing for us as well.”
This marks the fourth year of the 16-game SEC schedule for women’s basketball and the first with 14 teams. The schedule is a single round robin with one permanent opponent and two random opponents. The permanent opponents are: Alabama – Auburn; Arkansas – Missouri; Florida – Georgia; Kentucky – South Carolina; LSU – Texas A&M; Ole Miss – Mississippi State; and Tennessee – Vanderbilt. The random opponents will change annually.
Missouri and Texas A&M grace UT’s SEC schedule in their inaugural seasons as league members. Tennessee will face Mizzou, Auburn and Vanderbilt at home and on the road, and will have single contests against 10 other schools. The Lady Vols also will play host to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M and they also will travel to South Carolina, Florida, LSU, Arkansas and Kentucky.
“The SEC schedule is always going to be a challenge, whether you play the games in Knoxville or you play on the road,” Warlick said. “It’s one of the toughest conferences in the country, and the coaches and players are getting better every year.
“Last year eight SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament, and we add Missouri and Texas A&M, another NCAA team, this season. That just shows you how strong our conference is.”
During the week of January 13-20, SEC member institutions will participate in the second annual “We Back Pat” Week. The week-long initiative is focused on bringing awareness and recognition to the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund of East Tennessee Foundation and its fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
Tennessee opens up the 2012-13 campaign with a pair of exhibition contests against NCAA Division II schools, taking on Carson-Newman for the eighth-straight season on Nov. 1 and encountering Coker for the first time on Nov. 4. Coker is located in Hartsville, S.C., hometown of Lady Vol sophomore Jasmine Phillips
For the first time since 2004-05, the UT women will play their first two contests of the regular season away from Rocky Top, facing Chattanooga on Nov. 9 and Georgia Tech on Nov. 11. This will mark the 10th time the Lady Vols have played in Chattanooga and first time since 1988 that they’ve battled Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
After Rice makes its debut at Thompson-Boling on Nov. 15, Tennessee pays a return visit to Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 18 for a rematch of last year’s inaugural meeting at The Summitt, won by the home team, 92-76. Then UT returns for three straight home games, facing Alcorn State on Nov. 25, Middle Tennessee on Nov. 28 and North Carolina on Dec. 2.
Two weeks after facing UNC, the Lady Vols will head to the Lone Star State for the 34th all-time meeting with Texas on Dec. 16 and a match-up vs. defending NCAA Champion Baylor on Dec. 18. Tennessee’s 2012 campaign ended at the hands of the Lady Bears, 77-58, in the 2012 NCAA Des Moines Regional Final.
A three-game home stand completes the bulk of the Big Orange’s non-conference slate. NCAA Final Four semifinalist Stanford is first on the itinerary, coming to town for a Dec. 22 showdown. Davidson and Rutgers will close out the 2012 portion of the schedule, playing UT on Dec. 28 and Dec. 30, respectively. The only other non-league foe is a traditional rival, as Notre Dame heads to Rocky Top for the 23rd all-time meeting between the schools. That game is part of ESPN2’s Big Monday presented by Bud Light schedule and will tip off at 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN2.
The SEC home schedule includes two first-time visitors to Thompson-Boling Arena, as Missouri serves as Tennessee’s second home league opponent on Jan. 10 and Texas A&M makes the journey to Knoxville on Feb. 28. The rest of the home SEC schedule includes Georgia on Jan. 6, Alabama on Jan. 20, Mississippi State on Jan. 31, Ole Miss on Feb. 10, Vanderbilt on Feb. 17 and Auburn on Feb. 21. The Alabama contest will be UT’s “We Back Pat” game.
UT’s league road itinerary includes the SEC opener vs. South Carolina on Jan. 3, followed by contests at Florida on Jan.13, Auburn on Jan. 17, Vanderbilt on Jan. 24, Missouri on Feb. 3, LSU on Feb. 7, Arkansas on Feb. 24 and Kentucky on March 3.
Postseason play will begin in Duluth, Ga., where Tennessee will try to defend its 2012 SEC Tournament title on March 6-10 at The Arena at Gwinnett Center. After the NCAA bracket is announced on March 18, UT will play host to the NCAA First and Second Rounds on March 23-25. The NCAA Regionals will be contested on March 30-April 4 in Norfolk, Va., Oklahoma City, Okla., Spokane, Wash., and Trenton, N.J., followed by the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans on April 7 and 9.