Playing on its own campus against an NCAA tournament newcomer, top-seeded Tennessee was in control right from the start yesterday in Knoxville, Tenn., and beat Alabama State, 95-43, to open the Mideast Region.

Shyra Ely had 17 points and eight rebounds, and reserve Brittany Jackson scored 16 on nearly perfect shooting for Tennessee (29-4), which raced to a 12-0 lead after just 31/2 minutes.

Tennessee will play Virginia in the second round Monday -- another home game for the Lady Vols. Indeed, Tennessee can reach the Final Four this year without leaving the comfort of home, with four games at its Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Lady Vols' defense was impressive, holding Alabama State to just 24 percent shooting (17 of 70).

"I told our basketball team at halftime we looked like we'd been caged up for two weeks. Somebody opened up the door and they came out with tremendous energy and passion," Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said.

The Lady Vols are looking for their seventh national title. How big an advantage is staying at home for Tennessee?

By beating Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alabama State, Tennessee improved to 41-0 in NCAA games played at home. And the Lady Vols have won 17 straight home games overall, dating from last season. Summitt believes her team will be challenged to defend its home court, however.

"It's certainly nice to be at home, but watch these next two teams play. You're talking two teams I think have potential to come in here, and if we're not on our game, take care of business," she said.

The 24,535-seat arena was reconfigured for the tournament to seat 17,400, but only 7,000 ticket packages for both first-round games were sold, school officials said. Attendance for the game was to be released later in the day. Tennessee drew an average of 13,904 to home games this season.

In contrast, the 16th-seeded Lady Hornets (20-11) were backed by a band, cheerleaders, a gold-and-black hornet mascot and about 200 loud fans. They packed one of the sections along the sideline, and the tubas, horns and drums of the band played the theme song from "The Jeffersons" television show. Lady Vols fans, used to hearing "Rocky Top" over and over, clapped in appreciation.

And Alabama State actually made a bit of a run at its host, cutting the deficit to six points midway through the first half after 6-foot-5 Crystal Kitt (team-high 16 points, nine rebounds) scored inside.

Tennessee's leading scorer, Gwen Jackson, had 11 points and six rebounds, while Kara Lawson finished with nine points and eight assists.

* NORTH CAROLINA 72, AUSTIN PEAY 70: Coretta Brown scored 20 points and Nikita Bell hit a layup with 20 seconds to go for the Tar Heels in Boulder, Colo.

Brooke Armistead, who scored a season-high 30 points for Austin Peay (27-3), missed a layup at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime.

The loss snapped the Lady Govs' school-record 22-game winning streak.

Bell, who scored the final four points for North Carolina (27-5), finished with 14.