KNOXVILLE — Jordan Horston spent much of the final quarter cheering from the bench, at one point even waving a towel to cheer on her teammates.
Coach Kellie Harper has a very deep roster, and Tennessee’s women’s basketball team started its latest NCAA Tournament in dominating fashion.
Horston scored 21 points, Rickea Jackson added 18 and the fourth-seeded Lady Vols remained perfect when opening the NCAA Tournament on their home court, routing No. 13 seed Saint Louis 95-50 on Saturday.
“We did what we were supposed to do, and I think the score’s a result of that,” Harper said.
The Lady Vols (24-11) improved to 25-0 in first-round games on their home court to reach Monday night’s second round in the Seattle Region 3. They will play 12th-seeded Toledo, which knocked off No. 5 seed Iowa State 80-73.
Jordan Walker added 11 points and Tess Darby had 10 for Tennessee, which had 13 players score and improved to 6-2 all time as a No. 4 seed. UT is looking to reach a second straight Sweet 16.
“It’s very important to get a win now because if you don’t, you’re done,” said Horston, who also had eight rebounds and two steals after missing the tournament a year ago with an injury.
Saint Louis (17-18) was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Billikens’ six-game winning streak had carried them to the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament title after starting the season 6-16.
First-year coach Rebecca Tillett said even in the loss she saw her Billikens executing things they had no chance of even 20 games ago because they hadn’t been together long enough.
“So just to continue to build on that foundation over and over again is why this team will go down in history,” Tillett said.
Brooke Flowers led Saint Louis with 17 points and nine rebounds. The fifth-year senior also had five blocks, giving her 398 for her career and passing Rebecca Lobo for 18th all time.
“We’ll forever be the first champions so a wonderful experience,” Flowers said.
Camree Clegg added 12 points off the bench and Kyla McMakin, who followed Tillett from Longwood as a transfer, had 11.
The Billikens led twice in the first couple minutes, the last on a McMakin jumper at 4-3. Walker tied it at 4 with a free throw, then finished a fast break with a layup putting the Lady Vols ahead to stay with 6:51 left. Darby added a 3, and Horston’s jumper capped an eight-point spurt for Tennessee.
The Lady Vols led by as many as 10 before McMakin banked in a buzzer-beating 3 that pulled Saint Louis within 20-15 at end of the first quarter. Flowers’ two free throws got Saint Louis within 20-17 to start the second quarter.
Tennessee then seized control in the quarter by outscoring Saint Louis 28-9 for a 48-24 lead at halftime.
The Lady Vols led 67-41 at the end of the third and Harper pulled her starters with 6:24 left.
UT freshman Edie Darby even had four points in less than three minutes, and Horston was not surprised when Darby knocked down a jumper, calling her a “baller.”
“I knew that shot was going in when it left her hand,” Horston said.
Tennessee, a program that has appeared in all 41 NCAA Tournaments, improved to 32-2 in the first round.
The Lady Vols used their height advantage for a 54-22 scoring edge in the paint. They also took care of the ball, committing only 10 turnovers, and turned the Billikens’ 20 turnovers into 30 points.
UT won the rebound battle 39-28.
Tennessee has played 15 teams in this NCAA Tournament field, but Iowa State and Toledo weren’t among them.
Iowa State, ranked 17th, had its own argument to host opening games. The 24th-ranked Lady Vols got the edge thanks playing the nation’s toughest schedule.