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N.C.A.A. Women’s Tournament: N.C. State Somehow Escapes Notre Dame

Tennessee had advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2016, as coach Kellie Harper, in her third season, continues trying to rebuild what was once a dominant women’s basketball program. But Tennessee struggled against Louisville’s ferocious press, and shot just 36 percent.

Louisville jumped to an early lead, and grew it to 11 by halftime behind a stifling defense. Their press made even crossing half court a challenge for Tennessee’s ballhandlers, and they forced eight first half turnovers. When Tennessee did get into offensive sets it was rarely able to penetrate to the basket and often had to resort to long cross-court passes and contested 3-point attempts.

Tennessee is one of the better half court defensive teams in the country, and managed to bottle up the left-handed Van Lith, who shot just 7 for 21 in the game. But Engstler was very effective, Kianna Smith chipped in 12 points and freshman Payton Verhulst, a Kansas native who was playing about two-and-a-half hours from home, contributed 7 points in the first half as a safe bailout option.

Tennessee attempted to fight back in the third quarter behind the deep ball, and closed Louisville’s lead to just five. After making just one 3-pointer in the entire first half, the Volunteers shot 4 for 6 on threes in the third quarter alone. They also took advantage of foul trouble, as Louisville seemed discombobulated behind constant changes necessitated by players shuttling in and out of the game.

But Engstler had 8 points in the fourth quarter, including an emphatic putback with two minutes remaining, and Tennessee just couldn’t get its offense going.

Engstler was a semifinalist for this year’s defensive player of the year award, and her versatility was evident. Engstler, a 6-foot-1 forward, frequently led the press and used her agility to trap the smaller Tennessee guards. On the same play, after Tennessee beat the press, she would sometimes retreat into the paint to fight with Tennessee center Tamari Key, whose 6-foot-6 frame towered over Engstler.

Tennessee played without Jordan Horston, its only first-team all-Southeastern Conference player, who fractured an elbow in February and has not played since. Rae Burrell, a senior wing, had 22 points and was the only Tennessee player who shot a lot and shot well.

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