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Lady Vols lose for first time ever before Sweet Sixteen


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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Tennessee's title defense ended sooner than expected, wrapping up the worst season ever for Pat Summitt's vaunted program.

Ball State stunned the two-time defending national champions 71-55 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday night, snapping one of the more remarkable streaks in college basketball history.

The Lady Volunteers (22-11) had never lost on the opening weekend of the tournament, going 42-0 through the years.

Tennessee also became the first defending champ to lose in the first round of the women's tourney. Old Dominion won the title in 1985 and failed to make the tournament the following year.

The 12th-seeded Cardinals (26-8), who were making their NCAA debut, will play Iowa State in the second round on Tuesday.

Porchia Green led Ball State with 23 points, Audrey McDonald added 18 and the Mid-American Conference champions dominated the second half to capture the biggest victory in school history.

Shekinna Stricklen had 17 points for Tennessee. The Lady Vols shot only 35 percent and played the second half without center Kelley Cain, who went down in the first half with a knee injury.

The way the Cardinals played in the second half, it might not have mattered if Cain was available.

Green and backcourt mate Kiley Jarrett did whatever they wanted against the bigger -- but decidedly slower -- Lady Vols.

Ball State took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Emily Maggert with just over 14 minutes remaining and Tennessee simply could not catch up.

The Cardinals pushed the lead to 10 on a pair of free throws by Jarrett with 7:20 to go and Tennessee would get no closer than eight the rest of the way.

Jarrett celebrated the victory by jumping into Green's arms at midcourt as the buzzer sounded while the large contingent of the orange-clad Tennessee fans who made their way to E.A. Diddle Arena walked to the exits in stunned silence.

This one might take a while to sink in.

Getting through the first two rounds has been a mere formality for the Lady Vols through the years, as Tennessee used its perfect opening weekend record to win eight national championships, including titles behind star Candace Parker each of the previous two years.

Parker is long gone now and the seven freshmen that comprise the core of the youngest team of Summitt's remarkable coaching career will have to wait at least another year to get a shot at No. 9.

The Cardinals made sure of that.

Tennessee lost each of its starters from last year's team to graduation. That, coupled with inexperience, led to a very unTennessee-like season.

The Lady Vols lost 10 games during the season -- eight of them to ranked teams -- and entered the tournament with the lowest seeding in the program's history.

Still, Summitt remained optimistic the Lady Vols would respond to the challenge of playing on college basketball's biggest stage.

The team watched a documentary of the 1997 national championship season on the trip to Bowling Green. The Lady Vols entered that season's tournament with 10 losses before things clicked in March.

The players hoped history would repeat itself.

Instead, the Lady Vols made the kind of history they were hoping to avoid.

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