WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In a year when down is up and up is down in women's basketball, along come the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to make things even more topsy-turvy.
Western Kentucky unceremoniously bounced defending national champion Tennessee from the NCAA tournament in Thursday's Mideast Regional semifinal, leaving mouths agape from coast to coast among women's basketball followers.
So the topic of conversation at yesterday's pre-game news conference was respect, or the lack of same that Western Kentucky's been getting.
"I feel like we've had a lack of respect for our program and our ability," said junior guard Renee Westmoreland. "We've put a lot of belief into ourselves and we think we can get to the Final Four."
Said center Paulette Monroe: "Maryland has a great ballclub, but we have a great ballclub too. They probably think it was a fluke that we beat Tennessee. That's OK. We'll use it as a motivating factor."
After beating top-seeded Tennessee, 75-70, the fourth-seeded Hilltoppers need little motivation, since a win would send them to their first Final Four in six years, and their third in eight.
Western Kentucky had placed a great deal of importance on beating Tennessee, which had won all five previous meetings.
Last year, in a Mideast semifinal in Knoxville, Tenn., the Volunteers won, 68-61, a game the visitors thought they could have pulled out.
When the brackets were announced and a regional rematch seemed possible, the Western Kentucky coaches and players had all the motivation they needed.
"I was excited. I didn't know how to feel, whether we as a team should be over-happy or just happy," said Monroe.
But did the Hilltoppers spend too much emotion in beating the Volunteers?
"If you have trouble getting up for a game to go to the Final Four, then you have no business being here," said coach Paul Sanderford.
The second-seeded Terps (25-5) have their own motivational challenges, after knocking off third seed Purdue, 64-58, on the Boilermakers' home court.
The expectation was that Maryland would face Tennessee for the regional title. Now the Terps must deal with the team that knocked out the reigning champions.
"We haven't even thought of the Final Four," said Maryland forward Dafne Lee (Walbrook). "We're just focusing in on one game -- the biggest game on our schedule. [Tonight] will tell where we are as a team."
Said reserve forward Sue Panek: "We had a brief celebration after the Purdue game, but we couldn't have a good celebration unless we won the regional championship. We'll start celebrating then."