WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The Western Kentucky women's basketball team nearly knocked off Tennessee in last year's Mideast Regional in Knoxville, and the Hilltoppers swore that it wouldn't happen again.
Last night, on a neutral floor, Western Kentucky got its revenge, knocking the defending champions out of the tournament, 75-70, at Mackey Arena in this year's Mideast Regional semifinal.
The Hilltoppers (25-7) advanced to meet Maryland in tomorrow night's regional championship at Mackey Arena for a berth in next week's Final Four in Los Angeles.
Western Kentucky rode the shooting of senior guard Kim Pehlke, who had a game-high 28 points -- 21 in the second half -- to climb out of a 38-30 halftime hole.
The Volunteers, who had won three championships in six years and had not been knocked out of the tournament this early since 1985, were done in by poor shooting and questionable shot selection.
Western Kentucky, bidding for its third trip to the Final Four, was the recipient of extreme good fortune, as Tennessee was unable to take advantage of six missed free throws in the last two minutes and failed to convert any shots down the stretch.
With 3.2 seconds left and the Hilltoppers leading by three, Western Kentucky's Paulette Jordan missed the first half of a one-and-one, but got her own rebound despite being the only Hilltopper in the area, and sank the follow shot to cap the victory.
In the second half, Western Kentucky looked like the team with championship experience, shooting 59 percent; the Volunteers hit 36 percent.
Even after shooting just 36 percent in the first half, Western Kentucky was able to draw to within one at 51-50 on two free throws by Paulette Monroe and a three-pointer with 12:40 left from Pehlke to cap an 11-2 run after the Volunteers had led 49-39.
The Hilltoppers, who won the Sun Belt Conference's regular-season and tournament championship, were plagued all night by foul trouble, as two of their inside players, Monroe and reserve forward Trina Wilson, carried four fouls throughout most of the second half.
But they crawled back and took their first lead of the second half with 3:02 left when Pehlke, who had 21 points in the second half, sank two free throws.
On the play, Tennessee forward Kelli Casteel fouled out and the Volunteers, who also lost starters Dena Head and Peggy Evans to disqualification, missed her inside presence down the stretch.
With just over one minute left, Western Kentucky's Renee Westmoreland hit a three-pointer with five seconds left on the shot clock to give the Hilltoppers a 73-68 lead.