NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Turns out the NCAA tournament can bring rivals together. Just look at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee.
The schools are separated by about 40 miles but haven't played each other since 1992. Vandy plays in the Southeastern Conference and really doesn't need another tough game. Middle Tennessee from the Sun Belt is making its 15th NCAA trip.Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell said Saturday he has tried to schedule a game with the Commodores. Vanderbilt's Melanie Balcomb simply said, "We get to play them now."No. 10-seeded Middle Tennessee (26-6) plays seventh-seeded Vanderbilt (22-9) on Sunday at Memorial Gym in the Fresno Regional.Insell would like to play Vanderbilt regularly but says conflicts get in the way."We've called," Insell said. "It's just been one of those situations where scheduling is a pretty tough thing wherever you're at, but in particular at Middle Tennessee. Our nonconference schedule, we want to make sure that we play some of the best programs in the country, and we've been able to do that the last six years."Insell thinks a game would be good for women's basketball."We've been able to schedule Tennessee every year that I've been there, and we'd like to play Vanderbilt," Insell said.Vanderbilt sophomore guard Jasmine Lister has heard the talk leading to this game."I don't really know much about the rivalry between us and how we haven't really played them," Lister said. "They say that we're ducking them, but I know that they're very aggressive and that they have a good offense."Insell knows enough about Vanderbilt to call the Commodores a tough test."It doesn't take away from the respect that we have for their coaching staff or their program, or the school," he said. "There's been some things said, but we're going to stay classy with whatever we do."Balcomb wants her Commodores, who come in winning six of their last 10, to focus on the game. Playing at home for the first time since 2006 in this tournament could be an advantage. The Commodores lost their opening round game to Louisville last year."I hope so," Balcomb said. "I think there is always a comfort level at home and being in your own locker room. I think it's more the fan base. Hopefully, we will get a good crowd and it should be a really good environment for an NCAA postseason game."Insell expects Blue Raiders fans to take the short drive up Interstate 24. Middle Tennessee is 5-14 in the tournament all-time but has lost to an SEC team each of the past two years in the first round, including last season with the team drained by the stabbing death of teammate Tina Stewart two weeks earlier.