First, the principals.
In this corner, fighting out of Knoxville, Tenn., wearing the orange-with-white-trim trunks, ranked No. 4 in all polls, a record of 11-2 with their last win a 108-26 knockout of Florida Atlantic, the defending champion of the world, Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
In this corner, fighting out of DeKalb, Ill., wearing the white-with-red-trim trunks, unranked in the polls, a record of 9-5 with their last win a 102-84 technical knockout of Valparaiso, the NIU Huskies.
This rumble won’t take place on the Las Vegas strip. Instead, tonight’s game between the NIU and Tennessee women’s basketball teams will be at Chick Evans Field House.
“It’s at our place and we’re not going to play just to play,” NIU head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said. “We’re not bowing to these people.”
NIU’s last practice before the game came Thursday afternoon. Afterward, the team agreed they were ready.
Said forward Tracy Mondek: “I think it was a really good practice. I think everyone was really focused. I don’t think we’re nervous. I think we’re excited. We’ve been waiting toplay them for a long time. This is a big challenge for us.”
Said guard Cindy Conner: “I think it was a good practice. We just went over some stuff that coach saw on the tapes that Tennessee does. Some of them might be kind of nervous. I think they’re going to be fine. They might be thinking about this game more than they would a usual game.”
Said Albright-Dieterle: “We had a very good practice. It wasn’t really emotional. It wasn’t really up and down. We know what we have to do. I think we’re very ready for that. I don’t think we’re overly ready. I think we’re right where we need to be. We have more confidence than we had several weeks ago.
“We’ve got a game plan to beat them. I’ve probably watched six games they’ve played this year, which is very out of my character. But I know their system. We’ve got a good plan.”
Part of the plan is to stop Tennessee’s heralded point guard Dena Head. The 5-11 senior averages 14 points, almost six rebounds, three assists and two steals a game.
“They’re good,” Conner said. “I don’t really know anything about their players. I’ve heard about their point guard, Dena Head. I heard she’s pretty good. We kind of think that size bothers her. So, I’ll be playing a little defense on her since I’m bigger than her (Conner is 6-1).”
As fight referee Mills Lane says, “Let’s get it on!”
Or, as Albright-Dieterle said, “We’re just going to go at it.”