UNHERALDED Ball State's 71--55 win over Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament on Sunday shocked a lot people. Just not Pat Summitt. Sure, the last time her Lady Vols didn't reach the Sweet 16 was 1981—because there was no women's tournament until 1982. They had gone 42--0 in first- and second-round games. And the 12th-seeded Cardinals didn't look like a giant killer; they sneaked into their first tournament by squeaking past Bowling Green in the MAC tournament title game.
But all year long Summitt has sounded resigned to the possibility that her season could end early, making cutting comments—some in jest, some heated—about Tennessee's lack of defensive toughness and experience. (All five starters from last year's national champs graduated.) Summitt joked early in the season that she might not even win the 17 games she needed to get to 1,000 career victories. She did, but it took some work. The Lady Vols went 22--11 and fell out of the Top 10 for the first time in 211 weeks. "I could sit here at the house and drive myself nuts about how are we going to respond and who's going to show up," Summitt said before the Ball State game.
Here's who showed up: The Cardinals, who smothered Tennessee on the perimeter (the Lady Vols were 2 for 18 from behind the arc) to pull away for an upset that emphatically shows that there are no longer any walkovers in women's hoops. Ball State was one of five teams seeded 10th or lower to win a first-round game, the most since 2000. Coming as it did on the same day the men's tournament finalized its chalk-heavy Sweet 16 (14 were top-four seeds), the Cardinals' win underscored what is very good news for fans of the sport: No longer does Cinderella have to be a boy.