Tennessee advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2016, as coach Kelly Harper, in her third season, continues to try to rebuild what was once a dominant women’s basketball program. But Tennessee struggled against the fierce press in Louisville, shooting only 36 percent.
Louisville jumped into an early lead, lifting it to 11 in the first inning behind a stifling defense. Their press made crossing half the field a challenge for the Tennessee ball contractors, and they forced eight first-half swings. When Tennessee got into offensive groups, she was rarely able to break through the basket, and often had to resort to long passes through the courts and contested 3-point attempts.
Tennessee is one of the top half-court defensive teams in the country, and it managed to beat left-hander Van Leith, who shot just 7 for 21 in the game. But Engstler was very effective, with Keanna Smith scoring 12 and freshman Bayton Verhulst, a Kansas native who played about two and a half hours from home, contributed seven points in the first half as a safe save option.
Tennessee attempted to respond in the third quarter behind the deep ball, sealing Louisville’s lead by just five goals. After making only 3 single pointers in the entire first half, the volunteers shot 4 for 6 on three in the third quarter alone. They also benefited from blunders, as Louisville seemed unblinking behind the constant changes imposed by players in and out of the game.
But Engstler had 8 points in the fourth quarter, including a confirmed dip with two minutes left, and Tennessee couldn’t move forward in attack.
Engstler qualified for the semi-finals for Defensive Player of the Year, and her versatility was evident. Engstler, a 6-foot-1 striker, leads the press a lot and uses her agility to corner the smaller Tennessee guards. In the same play, after Tennessee’s win over the press, she would occasionally retreat to the paint to fight with Tennessee center Tamari Key, who is 6-foot-6 by engstler.
Tennessee played without Jordan Hurston, the only first-team player from the Southeast Conference, who fractured his elbow in February and hasn’t played since. Ray Burrell, a senior winger, had 22 points and was the only Tennessee player to hit a lot and shoot well.