KNOXVILLE -- It wasn't as easy as most Tennessee fans -- and perhaps even coach Holly Warlick -- expected, but the basketball Lady Vols took care of business at the end.
The Lady Vols, No. 2 seed in the Spokane Regional, had a tougher than expected fight on their hands against 15th-seeded Boise State on Saturday before pulling away in the final minutes for a 72-61 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee (28-5) was led by 24 points from Bashaara Graves and 18 from Ariel Massengale, which made up for a scoreless performance by Cierra Burdick.
"It's about people stepping up, and I thought we had people step up," Warlick said. "I thought Nia Moore stepped up. Obviously Bashaara was dominating, and that was our game plan to get it to her. I also thought Jamie Nared had a great game, but she just didn't shoot the ball particularly well.
"But that's the sign of a great team. When one of your best players doesn't score and we're still competing is awesome."
Boise State wasn't intimidated playing the Lady Vols on their home court and took the fight to them from the opening tip.
The Broncos (22-11) jumped to a five-point lead less than three minutes into the game and were up 9-4 after a layup by Miquelle Askew. Tennessee finally took the lead, but Boise State kept making shots, tying the game at 30 with 3:13 to go in the first half before the Lady Vols made a run to take a 39-32 lead into the break.
Graves had 12 points by halftime and helped lead a surge to start the second half as the Lady Vols pushed the lead to 15 points.
"I just think I was working hard, and my teammates were getting me the ball," she said. "I just had the hot hand today. I wanted to help my team get the win."
Boise State refused to fold, going on a 13-3 run to cut Tennessee's lead to 63-58 with 2:51 remaining, but a 3-pointer by Massengale and a layup by Graves pushed the advantage back to 10 with 1:48 to play, sealing the win and a second-round matchup with Pittsburgh on Monday night.
"I just think we had to stay together," Warlick said. "We knew we needed stops at that time because they were coming back. We just needed to play defense. We just came together, made shots and got stops."
Boise State was led by Brooke Pahukoa with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Deanna Weaver scored 13 and Shalen Shaw added 10 for the Broncos.
"We could have won that game," Pahukoa said. "Kudos to Tennessee for making those shots at the end. Any competitor doesn't want to lose, but I'm really proud of my team. I'm proud of the seniors and the coaches. I was happy with our season, happy to know that we competed with Tennessee."
Despite not scoring, Burdick contributed to the victory with 11 rebounds, and Nared had 10 rebounds and six points for the Lady Vols. But it was mainly Graves who saved the Lady Vols from a major upset.
"She's an anchor for us," Warlick said. "When she plays well inside for us, the outside opens up. She needs to play the way she played, and we need to get her the ball.
"I thought it was a great test for us, and we stepped up and finished the deal."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.